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Thursday, August 19, 2010

A War that Broke Two Nations

Combat troops withdraw to Kuwait
The war in Iraq is over -- except that it's not. Last night, the last combat troops rolled out of Iraq, entering Kuwait on their way home. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" has come to a close, even if our presence in the country is ongoing and active. "The remaining 50,000 troops are viewed as trainers and logistics support to the Iraqi government," writes Juan Cole. "But they include special operations units, helicopter gunship crews, and other war fighters who are still going to be engaged in combat but will not be categorized as being in Iraq for that purpose. Iraq has no air force to speak of, and the US will be providing the air support until at least 2018." This time, no one's being stupid about it; no "Mission Accomplished" banners hang anywhere, there are no "WAR OVER!" headlines in newspapers or crawling along on cable under the chins of talking heads. It's just a quiet, orderly, incomplete withdrawal from a nation we had no business occupying in the first place. Cole writes of the "true significance of Thursday's last convoy":

...It is a symbol of a turnaround in US policy, a repudiation of the Bush administration doctrine of preemptive war. "Preemptive war" is a euphemism for the rehabilitation of aggressive war, which the world community attempted to abolish in the United Nations charter. While many blame Obama for escalating the Afghanistan War, that war at least grew out of the al-Qaeda attack on US soil, which was planned out in Khost and Qandahar, and it has the backing of the UN and of NATO, which invoked article 5 of its charter (an attack on one is an attack on all).

In contrast, the Iraq War was virtually without legal foundation. In the United Nations order, there are only two legitimate preconditions for going to war. One is clear self-defense, in response to an aggressive attack. (The Gulf War, responding to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, is a case in point). The other is authorization by the UN Security Council. But W. had neither precondition on his side when he invaded Iraq, and so he acted lawlessly, as Obama saw clearly at the time.

The US Republican Party has increasingly become the party of fear. Shock and awe was designed to scare the international community. At home, the party sought to rule on behalf of the super-wealthy and of White nationalists and the Christian Right by making the public afraid -– of terrorism, of Muslims, implicitly of minorities. Fear as a tool of statecraft has no place in an Enlightenment republic.

As obvious as Cole's statement is, there are some who'd disagree. While Bush at least tried to make a distinction between Islam and terrorism, it'd be hard to argue that he tried hard enough or enjoyed any success on that front. Our current situation, where the right has become a pack of cowards afraid of religious liberty, demonstrates that well enough. The War on Terror has become a War on Islam. And Bush's statement that "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" has many concluding that President Obama is with the terrorists, since he supports the Constitutional principle of religious freedom. One in five now believe the president is a Muslim -- an increase driven mostly by Republican responses to a new Pew poll. Islam is the enemy, the president is siding with Islam, therefore the president is the enemy. A decade of neoconservative fearmongering as produced a nation of lunatic cowards who wave the flag and talk about liberty a lot, but whose only real issues are safety from various and sundry international conspiracies that exist mostly in their imaginations.

But of course, the rehabilitation of George W. Bush and his catastrophically stupid invasion has been underway for a long time. And, for some, now is the time to step up the effort.

The Hill:

...McCain criticized President Obama's approach to the Iraq War as a senator, saying if he and congressional Democrats had their way, the war would have been lost.

"If Barack Obama had his way as a United States senator," U.S. troops would have had to withdraw early and "over time radical Islamic extremists would have taken over that country," the senator said on KFYI Radio in Arizona.

"We would have surrendered -- waved the white flag of surrender and lost," he said, adding that "none of those people [Democrats] are being held accountable."

Actually, if Barack Obama had had his way, we would never have even been in Iraq. In 2002, as an Illinois state senator, Obama said, "What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income -- to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression... That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics... I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."

Beat that, Senator McCain.

Yesterday's withdrawal was not the end. Not by a longshot. But it was an important step toward peace. It was also a step that no sane nation should ever have had to take. There was no reason to invade Iraq and, having made that mistake, the only reason to stay was to try to limit the damage from that idiotic action. The war became a self-justifying thing, a monster put together from the remaining shreds of our sense of responsibility and our conscience. As Colin Powell warned would be the case, we broke it, so we bought it. And we're supposed to forget we broke it on purpose. We're also supposed to ignore the fact that we've turned into a nation of pansies, afraid of our own shadows and the mosque down the street. We mistake bluster for strength and belligerence for courage and we believe that hate is a virtue, so long as that hatred is pure and passionate enough. If the hatred is of high enough quality, we call it "patriotism."

I'm tempted to say that we may have done as much damage to America as we did to Iraq, but that would be insanely hyperbolic. Still, it'd be hard to argue that the long period of hate and fear and lies and idiocy that was the Bush administration and their wars have left us unscathed. This isn't the country we used to be. This is a stupid country, a fearful country, a reactionary and gullible country, poorer now both morally and materially.

But last night, we took one step down a long road, back in the right direction. It's going to be a real hike, but we don't have any choice but to take it.


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