For the most part, the fighting phase of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq is over. As such, there's a natural national impulse to exhale in relief over the relatively low number of U.S. casualties, and feel thankful for the safety of the troops--many of whom are friends and family. We needed a break. Our notoriously short attention spans were straining. The incessant war news onslaught was a bit much, particularly given the continued Fox Newsification of the media, which resulted in coverage as "fair and balanced" as a 24-hour Pentagon infomercial.
The pace was too frenetic to keep up for long, especially considering that it pre-empted some of the other March madness. Footage of "liberated" Iraqis in Baghdad toppling the Saddam statue, albeit with a major assist from a U.S. tank, made for the perfect end to a made-for-TV movie. Any director worth his salt would have faded to black right there. Unfortunately, there's a substantial epilogue to this story, and the cameras have to keep shooting.
Not that this war's producers haven't tried to roll the credits on "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The Pavlovian panic-masters in the Department of Homeland Insecurity are still playing us, carefully calibrating the level of public fear necessary to garner frightened support for the administration's dubious policies. We went to code Orange at the start of the war (Can't protest. Must. Buy. Duct. Tape.), despite the fact that there have been no cases of Iraqi terrorism or terrorist plots on U.S. soil. Our former pal Saddam had his hands full just trying to protect his many statues and posters.
Alert levels were promptly dropped back down to Yellow at war's end. Unnamed sources close to Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said that they'll eventually go all the way down to White, but it's against custom to have such a threat level before Labor Day.
The right-wing war cheerleaders are absolutely gleeful, and you can't really blame them. After some tense times in the early going, events pretty much transpired the way you'd think they would when a nation with a military budget larger than those of the next 24 largest militaries in the world combined (not counting the nearly $70 billion allocated especially for the Iraq war), goes up against a nation with virtually no air force--one that we decimated more than a decade ago.
What's got the chicken hawks really crowing, however, is that the achievement of this overwhelming victory against a reluctant adversary--overhyped by both the left and the right--has become an end in itself. After spinning the wheel of war pretexts several times (weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat, terrorist collaboration, violation of United Nations resolutions), the Bush administration finally ended up with a winner in "Liberate the Iraqi People." It's catchy. It makes us feel good about ourselves and our global hegemony--angry, anti-American demonstrations notwithstanding. Bush's advisors would have a wonderful future ahead of them on Madison Avenue, if they weren't all headed back to the Halliburtons, Enrons and Bechtels when their moment in the sun is over.
If ever there was a time to remind our politicians and the American public that the pretenses given for this war of convenience were patently false, that time is now. Was Iraq an imminent threat to the United States? No. Were they in possession of significant amounts of prohibited weapons? We haven't found any yet. (We won't let the UN inspectors back in, as required by resolution, but we'll have a special contingent of the Rampart Division of the LAPD go in and do a thorough search.)
Legally, as an occupying power under the Geneva Convention, and especially morally, the United States has an obligation to fix things in Iraq. Unfortunately, we don't have a good track record in cleaning up after ourselves. One need only look as far as our previous military adventure. After going to Afghanistan, exacting vengeance upon the entire country for the actions of their non-representative, dictatorial regime, we thumbed our noses at the UN's requests for peacekeeping forces, leaving Hamid Karzai's government in control of nothing beyond Kabul's city limits. Since our great victory there, that country has descended into fractious infighting among rival warlords, and opium poppy production has skyrocketed (fueling heroin trafficking increases that have alarmed Pakistan and that will exacerbate U.S. drug problems). The chaos that exists in Afghanistan today is the kind that gave rise to the Taliban in the first place. Oh yeah, and we still ain't found bin Laden.
In Iraq, the stakes are higher. UNICEF reported that the impact of the first Gulf War, combined with sanctions imposed by the then-U.S.-led UN, resulted in an estimated half a million additional deaths of children under the age of 5 in Iraq from 1991 to 1999. There is no clear plan now on how to restore Iraq's infrastructure, and provide adequate humanitarian aid to its people (60 percent of whom were dependent on the UN's "oil for food" program, even before the onset of the latest war). And yet, we've got the wells pumping already, with U.S. officials actively planning to privatize Iraq's oil--to the presumed benefit of U.S.-based corporations.
Incredibly, the U.S. government is handing out Iraqi reconstruction bids to companies like Bechtel--which recently received a $680 million deal, and has a board that reads like a Who's Who of the handful of Reagan Republicans not working in the current Bush administration--and Halliburton, whose former CEO is Vice President Dick Cheney.
And even as Iraq's oil wells were safely secured, its museums and national library were looted and vandalized in plain sight of the U.S. military, which, under international law, is obligated to keep the peace. Lest anyone think this was a mere oversight, several cultural advisors to the Bush administration resigned after revealing that they and other leading antiquities scholars had advised the president and the Pentagon over the last few months about which sites would require protection. Objects of incalculable monetary and historical value were destroyed forever as a direct result of this war and our country's blatant disregard for anything other than Iraq's oil.
On the political front, U.S. officials are now claiming surprise at the rapid organization of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslims. The Shia, representing 60 percent of the population, were suppressed and oppressed under Hussein's Ba'athist, secular, Sunni-led government. Many of these newly liberated folk are expressing strong interest in creating their own Islamist government, a theocracy, if you will, similar to that existing in neighboring Iran. You remember Iran. We paid Saddam Hussein to fight that country for us back when we were friends in the 1980s.
When recently asked about this turn of events, "tha Don" Rumsfeld said, "If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen." The fact that this quote came from an Associated Press story headlined "Rumsfeld: Iraqis Free to Form Own Government," only underscores the complicity of the American press in the proliferation of doublespeak.
It's like saying, "pick whichever red balloon you want." I give my kids choices like that. But I don't pretend that my crib is a democracy, either. Seems to me that whether the people of Iraq choose to use their U.S./God-given right of self-determination to select Democracy, Communism, or a three-person Supreme Star Chamber composed of the most flexible clowns in Cirque de Soleil as their government, that's their business.
Wouldn't it be ironic, though, if our new, post-war Iraq ended up looking just like Iran? Hey, maybe we should give them a Shah. That certainly worked well before.