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GREED AND HUBRIS
By David Podvin
Everything has its price, and for the American people the consequences of allowing George W. Bush to steal Iraq’s oil are going to be agonizing. Just months after the glorious victory over the Arab incarnation of Hitler, the pretenses for the invasion have all disappeared. Gone is the mirage of the great arsenal that imperiled the United States. Gone is the illusion that Americans would be welcomed as heroic liberators. Gone is the quaint notion that democracy would quickly replace tyranny in an ancient land that has only known tyranny. What remains is a nightmare of death and suffering, courtesy of Corporate America and its functionaries in the Republican Party.
And the worst is yet to come. Having deposed the evil dictator, the United States military is now assigned the task of creating a just society where none has ever existed, while being attacked by people who do not want Americans in their country. Iraq is an artificial nation of warring ethnic groups who can coexist only when united by hatred of a common enemy. It is the Middle Eastern version of Yugoslavia, but conservatives learned nothing from the Yugoslavian experience, and so they demand that we impose our values in a place where imposition of those values is impossible.
Americans are being harangued by shrieking right wing voices demanding the war in Iraq must continue because to “cut and run” would permanently disgrace our country. This is exactly what the Republicans said about Vietnam, and fifty eight thousand needless American deaths later, they have learned nothing from that experience, either. They insist that we can solve the current problem by getting tougher, apparently because having dropped more explosives on Iraq than we did on Nazi Germany was an inadequate display of resolve. According to conservatives and their liberal sycophants who fear being called unpatriotic, America must stay in Iraq because to do otherwise would signal a message to our enemies that we are weak.
In fact, it was the invasion of Iraq that signaled a message to our enemies - the message being that our leader is easily manipulated. The current scenario is exactly what al Qaida had in mind when it terrorized the United States in 2001. Osama bin Laden did not believe he would destroy America by leveling the World Trade Center; he was maneuvering us into destroying ourselves. He gambled that the swaggering bad ass in the White House would react in an insanely disproportionate way. The calculation was that Bush was obsessed with toppling Saddam Hussein, so when provided with a pretext he would let al Qaida off the hook in favor of conquering Iraq.
That is exactly what occurred. According to intelligence reports from England to Israel to the Philippines, al Qaida is stronger today than it was three years ago. Rather than pursuing the terrorists who victimized America, Bush has carried out a personal agenda of avenging the assassination attempt on his father and enriching his patrons in the energy business.
As a result, the United States is trapped in the quagmire to end all quagmires. While they were shouting down opponents to the war for being traitors, the Republicans chose not to mention that militarily vanquishing Iraq would be the easy part. Dick Cheney promised his countrymen this was going to be the liberation of Paris all over again, with grateful flower-bearing natives warmly embracing their saviors. It has therefore come as an unpleasant surprise to many trusting souls that Iraqis are killing Americans and setting their bodies on fire, actions that on the surface seem to betray a profound lack of gratitude.
Some conservative pundits who favored warring against Iraq on the benevolent basis of providing the Iraqi people with democracy are now advocating nuking the Iraqis to teach them some manners. Just as the right wing favored destroying Vietnamese villages in order to save them, apoplectic conservatives now believe that obliterating the town of Fallujah will greatly improve the behavior of its residents.
Conservatives explode in rage when the current disaster is compared with Vietnam - there is nary a rice paddy in view! But the parallel is unmistakable: America has again put its soldiers in a chaotic killing field where they are unable to distinguish friend from foe. In seeking to justify this endeavor that they insist in no way resembles the Vietnam War, Republicans have dusted off all their arguments from the Vietnam War: if we fail to subdue these ideologues, it will have a domino effect…we better fight the enemy over there or we will have to fight them over here…it may have been a mistake to get in, but it would be a bigger mistake to get out…to disagree with the war is to give aid and comfort to the enemy… the only reason the use of force keeps failing to create peace is that we aren’t using sufficient force…
Even today, Republicans feel emasculated by America’s loss in Vietnam. Columnist Dennis Prager exhibited the pathology by saying, “This war is an opportunity for us to show the world that it will be painful to cross America. We lost that in Vietnam, but now we can get it back.” Conservatives have been haunted by the Viet Cong for three decades, and they view beating up on Iraq as a chance to purge their demons.
The occupation of Iraq is actually going to be much worse than Vietnam. The current situation presents comparable logistical challenges to the American military, along with the additional factor of homicidal religious zealotry. The Iraqi culture is far more aggressive than the Vietnamese: pacifist Buddhist monks in Saigon protested the occupation of their land by burning themselves to death, whereas in Baghdad Muslim clerics urge their followers to express dissent by blowing up Americans. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq has always been a cauldron of hatred and violence, and it will remain that way long after America is forced to leave.
John McCain insists that we must intensify the fighting because Iraq is “ground zero in the war on terrorism”, just as General William Westmoreland said we had to intensify the fighting in Vietnam because that country was “ground zero in the fight against communism.” Time and again, conservatives misinterpret domestic unrest in small, weak countries as threatening American national security, reinforcing the old saying that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to vote Republican.
Conservative man of letters George Will recently wrote, “For the near term, U.S. policy must flow from Napoleon's axiom: If you start to take Vienna - take Vienna. We started to take Iraq 13 months ago. That mission is far from accomplished.” It is logical to assume that emulating a megalomaniac like Napoleon inevitably yields a result similar to the one ultimately experienced by Napoleon – total defeat. America will be a much safer place when Republicans finally learn that imitating failure is a deeply flawed concept.
Liberals literally begged the right wing to consider the Israeli-Palestinian model before counting on an effortless occupation of Arab territory, yet those concerns were sneeringly rejected – every Republican who has ever seen a John Wayne movie knows that the United States exists to impose its will on other people. Now, American soldiers must cope with rock-throwing mobs and suicide bombers, but conservatives still claim that it is just a matter of time before the situation is completely under control. They perceive a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Republicans lunged headfirst into the quicksand of Iraq for reasons having nothing to do with national security. They did succeed in appropriating the world’s fourth largest supply of oil, but Americans are going to incur an infinitely higher price for that oil than it is worth. The cost will be hundreds of billions of dollars in additional military spending – at a minimum – and the countless lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
There is also a profound moral price to be paid; it is not ethical to steal other people’s property. Bush has signed Executive Order 13303, which effectively transfers control of Iraqi oil to American energy conglomerates and frees the companies from all legal liability for their actions in Iraq. He also signed Executive Order 13315, authorizing America to confiscate the property of the Hussein regime, which includes most of the wealth of the country. While making loud noises about freedom and democracy, Bush is quietly robbing the Iraqi people blind, and our nation’s holier-than-thou conservatives couldn’t be happier about it.
Avarice and conceit are a bad combination. Consumed by the biblical sin of pride, Republicans demand that America stay the course in Iraq even though the course clearly leads off a cliff. Nixon kept the military in Vietnam for six years after he first realized victory was impossible, because he did not want to be the first president to lose a war. His vanity led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed, many of them American soldiers.
Now, Bush speaks of “never tarnishing the image of America by retreating.” During the Civil War, both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee staged tactical retreats when it was in the best interest of their armies. They did not attempt to spare themselves the personal embarrassment of admitting a mistake by allowing their troops to be slaughtered. They made life and death decisions based on strategy, not pride.
Bush has taken a winnable fight against terrorism and turned it into a macabre Keystone Cops routine. America was attacked by Saudis, so he bombed Afghans. We were threatened by a guy hiding in a cave in Pakistan, so Bush slaughtered peasants living in huts in Baghdad. There is a very real threat to our national security posed by a sophisticated terror network, but the commander-in-chief is neglecting that problem in favor of rousting peasants in rural Iraq. Instead of spending his time vanquishing terrorists, Bush is busy creating them.
Consequently, the battle is no longer between the civilized countries and the bloodthirsty marauders; it has been transformed into a holy war featuring the crusaders versus the true believers. This is exactly the dynamic that bin Laden sought to achieve in order to radicalize Muslims everywhere, and Bush has made his dream come true.
America is trapped in hell. We can’t “win” in Iraq without eliminating most of the population, and committing genocide might call into question the humanitarian nature of our mission. We can’t just leave Iraq because then we would “lose”, which is unacceptable to Republicans since they would forfeit their newly acquired oil and their eternally tenuous self-esteem.
Bush will therefore continue to occupy Arab soil and fight a limited war that lasts interminably. On the negative side, many more Americans will die and terrorism will increase. On the positive side, the petroleum industry will enjoy record profits, and conservatives will be able to argue forever that we are just one really firm military response away from solving the entire problem.
There is an alternative approach, but it involves using the word that castrates American conservatives: “multilateralism”. The United States should stop dictating events, coordinate with our allies a staged withdrawal from Iraq, and simultaneously wage an all-out assault on al Qaida. This would free America from the current morass while allowing us to focus on attacking the people who actually attacked us. It would make the war against terrorism a matter of collective self-defense, rather than a euphemism for imperial conquest and corporate plunder.
Forming a true international coalition to deal with terrorism would require a president to endure a right wing tantrum about the shameful loss of American sovereignty and the treason of it all. However, it is time to prioritize the national security interests of the United States over the greed and hubris of the Republicans. The most imminent threat to the well being of our nation comes not from the armed peasants in Iraq, but from the super patriots in America. They are addicted to waging unwinnable wars, so before Americans can get around to the crucial business of confronting the terrorists, we must first defeat the conservatives who have their hearts set on fighting another Vietnam.
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