The U.S. public wants out of Iraq. The Iraqis themselves want the occupation to be over. What’s a poor U.S. soldier to do?
As the Iraq War drags into its fifth year, the U.S. army finds itself in an untenable situation. Whatever welcome the Iraqis extended to the troops has worn exceedingly thin. Roadside bombs have largely replaced the thanks once offered for deposing Saddam.
So don’t think of March 19 as an anniversary, Iraq War veteran Geoffrey Millard writes in the second week of FPIF’s Iraq Focus. He was there for the second “anniversary,” and it was nothing like a celebration.
“In Iraq there were no bands playing or people dancing,” Millard writes in Four Years of War. “In Iraq the elderly did not reverently refer to this day as reliving the happiest day of their lives. In Iraq we did not have funny hats and noisemakers. We had Kevlar helmets and M16s when I was in Iraq. The only dancing to be done while I was stationed at FOB Speicher in Tikrit Iraq was to the pops of machine gun fire and the bangs of mortar rounds exploding all hours of the day and night.”
Don’t fall for the “war is glory” bunk, urges Camillo “Mac” Bica in An Open Letter to My Fellow Veterans. Talking vet to vet, he writes that “in our gut, down deep in places we no longer wish to go, dark places, frightening places, we know the truth. We lived it. We were there. We saw the insanity, the horror, the chaos, the suffering, and the death.” And because of this terrible and special knowledge, “We who know war for what it truly is have a profound responsibility to again come forward, shoulder to shoulder, and bear witness to the truth about war. If our sacrifices and those of our brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short by war, are to have any meaning at all, we must raise our voices in unison.”
In his 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo describes an injured vet who can only communicate with the outside world by tapping his head against his bed. The response by the hospital staff is to sedate him into silence. No thanks abroad, no thanks at home. The crippled vet was not the best poster boy for the war, and the doctors and the generals and the journalists didn’t want to listen. “They might not answer him,” Trumbo writes, “they might ignore him but at least they would never be able to forget that as long as he lived here was a man who was talking to them talking to them all the time.”
The soldiers are tapping out their messages to us. We may not want to hear their war stories. But we need to listen.
Casualties of War
It’s not only the message that doesn’t get out about Iraq. It’s often the messenger, too. As Dahr Jamail writes in Another Casualty: Coverage of the War, “Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. Along with names and dates, the Brussels Tribunal has listed the circumstances under which Iraqi media personnel have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This extremely credible report cites 195 as dead. If non-Iraqi media representatives are included, the figure goes beyond 200. Both figures are well in excess of the media fatalities suffered in Vietnam or during World War II.”
U.S. relations with Europe have also suffered as a result of the Iraq War. “Indeed, the invasion of Iraq led to one of the most damaging diplomatic rows in transatlantic relations since the end of World War II,” writes Chris Lindborg in Iraq and the Transatlantic Alliance. “Since the invasion, the Iraq War has continued to erode trust and military resources. With the recent British decision to withdraw a substantial number of troops from Iraq, the coalition of the willing is now on its last legs. The only glimmer of hope lies with recent poll data that reveal that Europeans and Americans share similar views of global security threats.”
And then there are all the things we could have spent the money on. As Anita Dancs writes in The War Not Worth The Cost, “For what the government has spent so far, we could have provided health care coverage for all uninsured children since the War began four years ago this month; and granted four-year scholarships (tuition and fees) to a public university for all of this year’s graduating seniors; and built half a million affordable housing units; and fully funded the amount the Coast Guard estimated is needed for port security; and tripled the federal commitment to renewable energy and energy conservation. There still would be enough money left over to cut this year’s budget deficit in half.”
We should be looking at how our military spending can be redirected toward a more positive international presence, argues Marcus Raskin in You Want a New Direction? Here’s One: “As a start, the United States should shift its policies 180 degrees in the United Nations and work to establish a program of economic and social development, in which the United States pledges to give between 1% and 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for economic development, education, and confidence-building measures between peoples and states.”
What great construction project has Washington embarked on in Baghdad? A new, billion-dollar embassy. As Adil Shamoo writes in The Problem with Building an Embassy Fit for an Empire, the embassy will encompass 21 buildings on 104 acres and will house 5,000 staff. It will be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, with 20 times the budget of the U.S. embassy in Beijing. “One would think that we would be more clever than that in camouflaging our occupation,” Shamoo argues. “Are we to believe that Iraqis will not take notice of this massive complex in the heart of Baghdad?”
Ron Paul, Cluster Bombs, and the Pentagon
Anti-war sentiment comes from all across the political spectrum. Rep. Ron Paul is a Texas Republican, an obstetrician, and a believer in minimal government. He’s also one the sharpest critics of U.S. military interventions overseas. And he’s worried about U.S. preparations to go to war against Iran.
“Going into Iran doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Paul said in an FPIF interview with Michael Shank. “It’s going to expand the war, spread the war, and probably close down the Straits of Hormuz. We don’t have the authority nationally or internationally. It’s just the most foolish thing I could conceive of. And yet it looks like there’s bipartisan consensus that we can’t take anything off the table. We can’t even take off the table that we might use a nuclear first strike to go after Iran. They don’t even have a weapon and our CIA says they probably can’t get one for 10 years. And even if they did have one, what are they going to do with it? Are they going to attack us? They wouldn’t do that.”
One recent attempt to restrain the excesses of war is the Oslo Process to prohibit the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Cluster bombs are particularly nasty creations. Think of land mines dropped from the air. If unexploded during conflict, they are left behind to kill and maim civilians. The Bush administration failed to send a representative to the Oslo conference to ban these munitions. But several U.S. senators have introduced legislation to rectify the error. As Scott Stedjan and Laura Weis write, “By adopting S. 594 and supporting the Oslo Process, the United States can prevent the next large-scale humanitarian catastrophe before more countless innocent people are injured or killed.”
Believe it or not, some people argue that we are not spending enough on the Pentagon. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Martin Feldstein cries over an “underfunded Pentagon.” Spending $550 billion plus, more than the defense expenditures of the next 40 nations combined, is “probably not enough to ensure the security of the United States.” Feldstein urges us to spend the money to deter Russia and China, small regional powers like North Korea, and non-state terrorists like al-Qaida. Withdrawal from Iraq, in other words, will not mean a peace dividend if Harvard economics professor Feldstein and his supporters in both parties have their way.
More money for the Pentagon? No thanks.
FPIF, March 26, 2007