‘Debating’ the Iraq War

The Republican offensive in support of the Iraq war should have crashed shortly after launching: unfortunately, they had some essential allies who helped fuel their shaky effort – the Democrats. As one news report about the House debate put it:

"In both the House and Senate, Democrats appear to be divided into three camps. Some want troops to leave Iraq this year. Others object to setting any kind of timetable. A number of them want the United States to start redeploying forces by year’s end but don’t want to set a date when all troops should be out."

But the Republicans, too, are divided. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) complains that the administration has unnecessarily politicized the war and the debate, as it did in November when Republicans put together a one-sentence resolution calling for withdrawal from Iraq – and turned it into a political circus during which Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) smeared Marine veteran Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) as a "coward." “It was ludicrous,” Gilchrest said. “It had nothing to do with saving lives. It had nothing to do with the war. It was one-upmanship against the Democrats.” The Washington Post reports:

"That sentiment spurred Gilchrest and four other Republicans to break with their leadership this spring and sign on to a Democratic petition pushing for debate. Boehner pledged to do so weeks ago."

The fulfillment of that pledge came in the form of a Republican resolution that sets a new standard for political and intellectual dishonesty. In language redolent of a Soviet-era proclamation from the Presidium, the non-binding statement starts out by declaring:

"The United States and its allies are engaged in a Global War on Terror, a long and demanding struggle against an adversary that is driven by hatred of American values and that is committed to imposing, by the use of terror, its repressive ideology throughout the world."

Yes, we are engaged in a global war, although it is not a "war on terror" – terror being a technique, rather than a specific adversary – but a war against al-Qaeda. What that war is "driven" by has nothing to do with "American values," whatever those might be, and everything to do with American foreign policy – and most especially, at the moment, resentment throughout the Muslim world of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This nonsense that they hate us because of the Bill of Rights, or because of our increasingly sleazy cultural mores, is an article of faith with the War Party: it lets them see themselves as Western knights clad in the shining armor of democracy, rationality, and modernity. The only problem is that it just isn’t true. As Michael Scheuer points out in his best-selling Imperial Hubris,

"The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that ‘Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.’ Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaeda, not American culture and society."

Bin Laden is not shy about proclaiming his war aims, and there has been no lack of pronouncements from al-Qaeda on this score. Again and again they have declared their grievances: Madonna videos and miniskirts are not among them. Instead, bin Laden and his cohorts are driven by the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, and America’s unconditional support for Israel and its apparent indifference to the plight of the Palestinians. Add to this Washington’s support for Arab tyrannies, such as Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt (the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid), the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and constant American pressure on client regimes in the Middle East to keep oil below the real global market price, and the litany of al-Qaeda’s talking points is complete.

In light of this, the House resolution is not only wrong, but dangerously deceptive: if we don’t understand the real war aims of the enemy, how can we possibly hope to win? Yet "victory" in the "global war on terror" is precisely what the resolution claims to support: ignorance, however, especially the sort of self-imposed blindness exemplified by this administration, can only lead to defeat. And that is precisely where we are headed in Iraq.

"It is essential" – the GOP resolution-writers proclaim – "to the security of the American people and to world security that the United States, together with its allies, take the battle to the terrorists and to those who provide them assistance."

But where, exactly, are the terrorists? They weren’t in Iraq until we invaded: now they have carved out a niche for themselves as the most intractably violent of the various insurgent factions. That al-Qaeda has no geographical nexus, no central headquarters or territory it largely controls, is precisely the problem in combating it. The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, and, indeed, was not aimed at al-Qaeda: we did it simply because, it the words of war architect and former DoD big shot Paul Wolfowitz, it was "doable."

The House resolution is a hodgepodge of hastily strung-together assertions, bragging, chest-beating, and ludicrous misstatements. It claims, for instance, that "the steadfast resolve of the United States and its partners since September 11, 2001, helped persuade the government of Libya to surrender its weapons of mass destruction." The reality, however, is more prosaic. Libyan despot Muammar Gadhafi had long been trying to make his peace with the West, offering on May 29, 2002, well before the invasion of Iraq, to pay compensation for the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Bush administration merely took the opportunity to claim a "victory" for its crazed foreign policy by lifting sanctions long after the UN had already done so.

We are informed that the U.S. has achieved some "impressive victories," yet the only one mentioned is the killing of Zarqawi. I’m not sure, however, that we can take all the credit for that one. It looks like he was turned over to the Americans by his own people – and that Osama bin Laden and the Mad Bomber loathed each other. Whether this means a portion of the $25 million reward ought to go, by rights, to al-Qaeda – let’s leave that question to the Pentagon’s lawyers, and move right along to the rest of this ridiculous resolution:

"Resolved, That the House of Representatives –

"(1) honors all those Americans who have taken an active part in the Global War on Terror, whether as first responders protecting the homeland, as servicemembers overseas, as diplomats and intelligence officers, or in other roles."

The sanctimonious sappiness of our lawmakers – Republicans, in this instance – really is something to behold. Is there anyone on earth who opposes this sentiment? Of course not. So why insert it in the resolution? To create a political package deal in which they can sneak in support for the continued prosecution of an enormously unpopular and increasingly costly war.

After calling for honoring "the sacrifices of the United States Armed Forces and of partners in the Coalition, and of the Iraqis and Afghans who fight alongside them, especially those who have fallen or been wounded in the struggle," as well as "the sacrifices of their families and of others who risk their lives to help defend freedom," comes the punch line:

"(3) declares that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;

"(4) declares that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq."

The clear implication that all dates for withdrawal are necessarily arbitrary is indicative of the sort of intellectual solipsism and even nihilism at the core of the War Party’s belief system. In that case, why not stay forever? This, of course, is precisely what these nutbars have in mind. Or else why build an American "embassy" that is more like a small city – and why delete (in committee) the provision in the military appropriations bill forbidding funds for the construction of permanent bases?

I’ll spare my readers the Soviet-style onward-soldiers-of-liberation boilerplate that encrusts much of the rest of the text. Suffice to say it is suffused with phrases like "noble struggle," declares its support for "the efforts of the Iraqi and Afghan people to live in freedom," and congratulates the "prime minister" of Iraq for winning the elections, even though he represents a party that is dedicated to imposing Shariah law on the Iraqi people and has been funded for many years by the mullahs of Iran.

Never mind that a Shi’ite theocracy modeled on Iran is what’s taking shape in Baghdad – that is, if the country can survive the strenuous efforts of Kurdish separatists and southern secessionists to strangle the nascent postwar Iraqi state in its cradle. Above all, don’t dare ask if the alleged "nobility" of this crusade was much in evidence at Haditha. Just remember this: the majority opposes this war, thinks it was a mistake from the beginning, and wants us out as soon as possible. That is what the authors of this resolution are trying desperately to evade and obfuscate, but they won’t succeed. The GOP is headed for an election-day disaster due to this war, and we are bound to see a growing number of antiwar Republicans as this becomes all too apparent to the GOP faithful.

Don’t believe the hype about the supposed "debate" engendered by this spurious resolution. Our claim to be exporting "democracy" to the rest of the world is disingenuous at best, as our "representatives" in Congress flout the popular will and aid and abet the continuation of the slaughter. This phony resolution was foisted on the Congress by the Republican leadership, at the orders of the White House, and all amendments were forbidden. As Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) put it:

"This really isn’t a debate. This is just sort of a political event, and it’s very deceptive. It’s something like what we’ve done numerous times, but only it’s going to take longer. We’ve had resolutions like this before designed for political purposes.

"It does a couple things. It says that we want to fight the war on terrorism, at the same time we support the troops. Who’s against that? Who could vote against this? Very few will vote against this. But the bottom line is the resolution says we support the status quo, we support the current policy, and there is no desire whatsoever to consider an alternative to this.

"So, it’s a political trap that is designed to get everybody to vote for this. And to us, it is not fair. But I wanted to quote a few things here to make my point about the denial of a real debate. The first sentence of the H.Res. 861 says, ‘Declaring that the United States will prevail in the global war on terror’ – so this is all about terrorism, ignoring the fact that terrorism is a technique, has nothing to do with fighting a war in Iraq. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist. So are we addressing that subject as well? That’s a cop- out. That is not addressing the real problem."

The real problem, as Scheuer puts it, is that the United States is the one "indispensable ally" bin Laden and his followers have. Our foreign policy of unbridled aggression, with our strategic doctrine of "preemption" as its centerpiece, is al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool. The entire ideology of al-Qaeda, as well as its strategy of targeting the U.S. homeland, is predicated on the idea that the Americans are out to subjugate and destroy the Muslim world. George W. Bush has done everything possible to confirm what was once a vague suspicion and is today a certainty in the minds of many millions.

There is no real debate over the most important issue now facing our nation, and there hasn’t been since the administration made it clear that it was hell-bent on war no matter what the "evidence" of Iraq’s WMD – and no matter what cost in troops and treasure. The Democrats are hopelessly divided and ineffective due to their extreme cowardice in facing up to the essential issue: do we go, or do we stay? Americans want out in increasing numbers, but Establishment opinion has yet to catch up to the zeitgeist. Most Democrats want to "redeploy," rather than withdraw, to somewhere "over the horizon," i.e., in neighboring Jordan, perhaps, or back to the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, etc. They want, in short , to continue the occupation, albeit at a distance, with a "rapid reaction force" ready to race in at a moment’s notice the first time the Shi’ite theocracy shows signs of tottering – or of falling completely under Iranian influence.

This won’t work for a number of reasons, chief of which is the complete inability of the Iraqi military to fight off the insurgents, never mind its natural tendency to dissolve into its constituent ethno-political components. U.S. troops would no sooner leave than they would be called back forthwith, to stave off the chaos we unleashed by invading and smashing the Iraqi state to smithereens. Like Humpty Dumpty, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t put Iraq back together again. In Baghdad, and Kuwait, our troops are still sitting ducks – living reminders of American regional hegemony, and therefore the target of terrorist attacks.

The withdrawal of our troops from Iraqi soil, even if it was total and occurred tomorrow, would not erase the American footprint from the Middle East – and might even contribute to making it deeper. Those troops would simply relocate someplace nearby – if the Democrats have their way – and the conflict would merely be transferred to another environment, where the same destabilizing effects would soon be felt.

There is only one way to defeat the terrorists who dream of reenacting 9/11 on a larger scale, and that is by draining the sea of popular support in which they swim and multiply. This requires a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy, a complete turnaround, in which the goal of global hegemony is replaced with the defense of the continental United States – the only proper policy for a constitutional republic such as our own. Defense, not domination, is the hallmark of a rational foreign policy – and until we learn, or rather relearn, that lesson, al-Qaeda will continue to outwit and elude us, while gaining stature in the Muslim world and rallying increasing numbers to its bloody banner.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].