August 7, 1998 A pick-up truck laden with explosives pulls up in front of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, at 10:38 a.m., and the detonation destroys the Embassy and kills hundreds. Almost simultaneously, the U.S. mission in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is hit. The death toll is 224 persons: more than 5,000 are injured.
Coincidence? Not likely.
Those connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda we heard so much about in the period leading up to the invasion turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Osama bin Laden surely didn’t have an Iraqi presence before the war, but he sure as heck does now.
In this ironic sense, then, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was perfectly correct the other day when he averred that “Iraq is the central battle in the war on terror.” Seen from Osama bin Laden’s perspective, it is. What Wolfowitz neglected to mention, however, is that the terrorists have gained a foothold in Iraq thanks to the U.S. and that Bin Laden owes his victories to our own policies. On account of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, Al Qaeda not only has a ready-made pool of potential recruits at its disposal, but is being provided with plenty of American targets close at hand.
U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are sitting ducks for terrorists, easy pickings for suicide squads bent on wreaking as much deadly havoc as possible. The kind of war we are in was prefigured in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Ronald Reagan’s wise response was to withdraw. How long before George W. Bush stands at a similar decision?
It was big news that, for two days, there were no reports of U.S. combat casualties, but this relatively long silence was punctuated by the Jordanian Embassy explosion, like a period at the end of a sentence. That, and a report of two more Americans killed, should dispel any illusions about what the U.S. is up against: the war, far from winding down, is rapidly escalating.
Having lured us into the dark heart of the Middle East, Osama bin Laden and his allies have U.S. soldiers right where they want them: surrounded by a hostile populace, on the defensive, and vulnerable to the low-intensity low-tech war of attrition now being waged against them.
It is an unwinnable war because it has no end point. There is no light at the end of this long, dark and perilous tunnel and no good reason to crawl in there to begin with. At a certain point, the Bush administration will be faced with a stark choice: either continue to expose U.S. troops to continuous attacks in an area that is not defensible, taking casualties until public opinion at home rebels, or avoid all those needless deaths, not to mention the expense, and bring the troops home. As the casualties mount, the clock is ticking .
If Wolfowitz believes that Iraq is the central arena in the war on terrorism, then perhaps he hasn’t heard the warnings about Al Qaeda preparing for another attack on the U.S. mainland. While the neocons in government and their amen corner in the media are hailing our alleged success in Iraq in bringing security to most of the country, the appalling lack of security in America’s airports puts us all at serious risk.
Iraq has been “liberated” but who will liberate us from the “Patriot” Act, and the further efforts of Attorney General John Ashcroft to increase the already expanded power of government agents to conduct secret searches and spy on American citizens? We will free the world and enslave ourselves. It will be a fitting price to pay for our hubris.
The idea that we cannot withdraw from Iraq, that such a demand is impractical, immoral, irresponsible, or what-have-you, ought to effectively end the tiff over whether or not we have got ourselves involved in a “quagmire.” We are in up to our ears. Yet there is still time to pull ourselves up, and out, before the disaster unfolds, and we ought to do so as fast as humanly possible.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I received a lot of letters commenting on my last column, in which my enthusiasm for the grassroots movement Howard Dean’s candidacy has generated is mistaken for adulation of the candidate himself. But the letter-writers have a point: put not your trust in politicians! The Dean campaign’s burgeoning success is interesting to me as a measure of antiwar sentiment, which is quite apart from whatever positions Dean might take at any particular time. I have no doubt that Dean will disappoint many of his supporters, and that, if elected, he will prove just as amenable to the schemes of the War Party as his predecessors in the Oval Office. It is inescapable, however, that partisan politics come to the fore at least every four years, and this time around foreign policy is necessarily the central issue of the campaign season. I must say that I had a lot more confidence in Pat Buchanan as the pro-peace candidate than I ever will have in Dean. But we play the hand we’re dealt.
The presidential campaign is going to divert a lot of time, energy, and resources away from the peace movement, and into the coffers of various candidates who, like Dean, promise the world, and wind up delivering far less. (This is not to say that Dean will necessarily betray his supporters. He deserves the benefit of a doubt.) But rather than abstain and distance ourselves from our readers as they go through this learning experience, it is far better to accompany them on their journey so we can be there, at the end, when they realize they’ve been had.
It is hardly shocking news that, having lied us into war, this administration is now lying about the number and circumstances of American casualties. The official number of “combat deaths,” according to the Pentagon, is 52, as of this writing. But the Guardian reports:
“The total number of US deaths from all causes is much higher: 112. The other unreported cost of the war for the US is the number of American wounded: 827 since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Unofficial figures are in the thousands .
“U.S. military casualties from the occupation of Iraq have been more than twice the number most Americans have been led to believe because of an extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media.”
So much for the myth of America’s “antiwar” media.
As the body bags come home, along with a steady stream of limb-less and otherwise shattered soldiers, how long can the administration keep up the pretense that we have “won” the war, and the rest is just a mopping up operation?
Rumor has it that the Bushies are “looking for ways to press Israel to halt construction” of the infamous “Wall of Separation,” and are even considering “a reduction in loan guarantees for Israel.” But these loan guarantees, totaling $9 billion, and also including $1 billion for costs incurred by Israel during the Iraq war, were approved as additions to the annual $2.64 billion aid request. As is so often the case when we’re talking about government expenditures, this “punitive” measure really only “threatens” to reduce the increase in aid.
What does it take to get George W. Bush mad at Ariel Sharon? The Wall of Separation is taller than the Berlin Wall, and was built as a direct affront to the U.S. with our money! Now the Israelis have decided that Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens are ineligible for residency permits. In passing such a brazenly racialist measure, the Knesset is taking a giant step down a road many of Israel’s most fervent supporters do not care to travel. The Anti-Defamation League is saying that Israel should reconsider and “explore other methods to ensure Israel’s security needs.” Yet others, such as Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, support the new law “on the grounds that it is necessary ‘to protect the Jewish nature of the state,'” reports The Forward. Foxman, he added, “should retract his statement.”
The Wall has also caused a controversy in the American Jewish community, with Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress, circulating a critical letter, also signed by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, that calls the Wall “potentially problematic.” A mild enough critique, but it was enough to set off the senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Leibler, who wrote to Bronfman demanding that he “retract and apologize forthwith” or tender his resignation. Bronfman’s response, as recorded by The Forward, is a classic:
“Nothing Leibler ever says surprises me because he is a right-wing dog.”
C’mon, Edgar, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?
Finally, I note that Antiwar.com columnist Anthony Gancarski is none too pleased with my enthusiasm for the Dean phenomenon, but not for any good reason that I can see, aside from what is perhaps a congenital pessimism. His rather dour column informs us, darkly, that Dean has hired Steven Grossman, a former AIPAC president, to serve on his staff but Grossman’s position, as Gancarski also tells us, is as a fundraiser, not Secretary of State in Dean’s shadow cabinet. Gancarski writes:
“Aside from Dean’s position on the Iraqi war, I don’t see much in his candidacy that makes me feel hopeful, but then again I take AIPAC very seriously, having seen what they’ve done to politician after politician who didn’t toe their line. A cynical observer might argue that Dean recognized early that the road to the Presidency runs through AIPAC headquarters, and that he’s doing whatever is necessary to make that passage as smooth as possible.”
But, as I explained at great length in my column, there isn’t anything aside from Dean’s position on the Iraq war that is relevant or even worth considering. All that matters is that he opposes the war and he’s rising in the polls. What else do we need to know?
If “the road to the Presidency runs through AIPAC headquarters” a facile overstatement, at best then Dean is certainly taking the road less traveled. AIPAC’s stance on the war the central foreign policy issue of the campaign is the exact opposite of Dean’s. How Gancarski could conclude that Dean “accepts ‘AIPAC’s view’ of foreign affairs” is beyond me.
Opponents of U.S. intervention abroad have always taken George Washington’s wise counsel, in his “Farewell Address,” as a guide to America’s proper relationship to the rest of the world, and it deserves to be read closely. I would remind Gancarski that, in addition to advising us against “excessive partiality for one foreign nation,” the Father of our country also warned against “excessive dislike of another.” On the subject of Israel, or any other foreign country, non-interventionsts aren’t for or against, they are neutral. My only objection to Israel and its supporters in this country is their desire to run U.S. foreign policy to suit Israeli instead of American interests. Dean’s opposition to the Iraq war is irrefutable evidence that, at least in the foreign policy department, he’s nobody’s shill.