How the Land of the Free Became the Dinosaur in the Tar Pit

"From the brief time that we did spend occupying Iraqi territory after the war, I am certain that had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit -- we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of the occupation. This is a burden I am sure the beleaguered American taxpayer would not have been happy to take on."
-- Norman Schwarzkopf, from his 1993 autobiography, "It Doesn't Take a Hero."

"We should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerilla war, it could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability."
-- George H.W. Bush, "A World Transformed," 1998

"Facing a marked increase in the frequency and brazenness of attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq in the last two weeks, military officials are for the first time speaking more openly about the potential for a long-term fight to quell the resistance to the American presence. Although the term is rarely used at the Pentagon, from every description by military officials, what U.S. troops face on the ground in Iraq has all the markings of a guerrilla war. . . ."
-- The Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2003



Believing in the projected brevity and stated purpose of W.W.I, diehard imperialist Rudyard Kipling used his influence to secure a commission in the Irish Guards for his only son, Jack, who was both medically unfit and underage. Wounded in combat, Jack was listed missing in action and confirmed dead two years later. By that time, Kipling's grandiose notions about patriotism and valor were replaced by bitter self-recrimination. "If any ask us why we died; Tell them 'Because our fathers lied,' a haunted Kipling wrote.

By now, more and more Americans are coming to understand how deeply we were deceived as our sons die daily in the long, unforgiving shadow of WMD "exaggerations." Though some tried to warn us, the mainstream media sold the war so fiercely and thoroughly that these small voices had relatively little impact -- particularly when anyone attempting to expose uncomfortable truths was accused of "drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid."

But even so, Norman Schwarzkopf, George H. W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell told us what to expect a decade or so ago. "The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today -- an unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships," Powell wrote in 1992. "Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do."

Bush and Scowcroft were among the reasonable. "Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," they wrote, while Schwarzkopf was similarly sane earlier this year when he told the Washington Post he "would like to have better information" before endorsing the war in Iraq. And despite attempts to paint such concerns as the province of the "loony left," "reasonable people" included military experts; distinguished scientists; the CIA; conservative columnists; the National Council of Churches; traditional allies; The W.W.II generation; businessmen and millions who took to the streets in protest.

Surprisingly, various veterans organizations also became vehemently antiwar. Some found this war so unreasonable, in fact, that they urged soldiers to disobey orders. "Many of us believed serving in the military was our duty, and our job was to defend this country," one group wrote. "Our experiences in the military caused us to question much of what we were taught. Now we see our REAL duty is to encourage you as members of the U.S. armed forces to find out what you are being sent to fight and die for and what the consequences of your actions will be for humanity. . . If you choose to participate in the invasion of Iraq you will be part of an occupying army. Do you know what it is like to look into the eyes of a people that hate you to your core?"

They do now.

Just one day after the U.S. military toppled Saddam's statue, the Guardian's Seumas Milne countered pundits' incessant gloating and braying. "On the streets of Baghdad yesterday, it was Kabul, November 2001, all over again," he wrote, warning against the shortsighted, ill-informed hubris and "grimly ironic" confidence of war enthusiasts. "For most Afghans," he reminded, "'liberation' has meant the return of rival warlords, harsh repression, rampant lawlessness, widespread torture and Taliban-style policing of women. Meanwhile, guerrilla attacks are mounting on US troops. . . and the likelihood of credible elections next year appears to be close to zero."

Sound familiar?

Milne also warned that Iraqis' initial euphoria should not be confused with enthusiasm for the illegal occupation of their country, while Robert Fisk reported that though "America's war of 'liberation' is over, Iraq's war of liberation from the Americans is just about to begin." "The next chapter is going to be a conflict between the Iraqi people and the invaders," Iraqi refugee Dr. Renwar Rueben told reporters. "Sooner or later, the Americans will face the revolutionary anger and aggressiveness of the Iraqi people."

To date, more than 60 Americans have died in Iraq since George W. AWOL played Top Gun before a "Mission Accomplished" backdrop -- and attacks against US soldiers (now averaging about 13 a day), are becoming more organized, more determined and more brazen. One infantry captain, holding the charred helmet of a fallen fellow soldier said, "This is what the Iraqis think of us." But chances are, this young soldier is unaware of the region's more subtle history. Leftover hostility from the Gulf War and from the United State's role in the Iran-Iraq war (as well as from sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children) still simmers, while, according to Dr. Rueben, "Iraqis also know America supported Saddam Hussein's use of a biological bomb against Kurds in 1988," and that the former President Bush "vetoed against condemnation of Iraq for these actions."

Saddam's role in the American-led coup that brought the Baath party to power and his 40 year relationship with the CIA is also common knowledge. "This history is known to many in the Middle East and Europe, though few Americans are acquainted with it, much less understand it," Robert Morris wrote in the New York Times. "Yet these interventions help explain why United States policy is viewed with some cynicism abroad." By the time the war "ended," this cynicism was best expressed by Russia's president Vladimir Putin. "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down the lives of thousands of Iraqi people," he said.

It doesn't help, of course, that Bush's soulless "bring them on!" invitation, inspired Iraq's 'nonexistent' guerillas to reply or that Donald Rumsfeld asserts "criminals" are attacking US troops. Doesn't the Secretary of Defense understand the difference between criminal activity and guerilla warfare? "A little background, especially for our Confused Rummy," Vietnam veteran Stewart Nusbaumer wrote, "criminals kill for money, guerrillas kill for politics . . . Iraqis are killing Americans to take back their country!"

Occupation requires iron resolve, however, and "Washington's overlord in Iraq," L. Paul Bremer is just the man for the job. "We are going to fight them and impose our will on them, and we will capture or... kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country," he declared. Given this, it might be time to contemplate Nusbaumer's second Vietnam-inspired lesson, namely: "knowing when your butt is sinking fast into a hopeless quagmire." Though the "Q" word makes the Pentagon surly and uneasy, the incompetence and arrogance that have led to this point are maddening, especially now that ridiculed concerns are coming to fruition. When Gen. Eric Shinseki told the Senate 200,000 troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz (who's largely responsible for this fine mess ) deemed his estimate "wildly inaccurate." But thanks to anti-US hostility and guerilla-style attacks, Bremer is requesting up to 50,000 additional troops atop the 150,000 or so already in place.

And though neoconservative hawks insulted our allies and made it clear that the U.S. could go it alone (Perle even thanked God "for the death the UN," for God's sake ), there are murmurs that U.S. troops are stretched too thin. Will we have enough to fight King George's perpetual wars? With 32 states linking selective service registration to drivers' license applications since 2000 and with 89% compliance, if "old Europe" doesn't come around, young Americans may have to. And though Bush stated early on that "the country shouldn't expect there to be a draft," after a list of lies, can anyone believe a word he says?

Americans aren't the only ones dying for Bush's sins, of course. Thousands of Iraqis perished in the war and others were blinded, maimed and orphaned. And though many rightfully argue that Iraqis would continue to be tortured had Saddam stayed in power, those who use Saddam's cruelty as justification for the lies that usurped our democracy often sidestep crucial information. Though mass graves are certainly testimony to Saddam's barbarity, rarely do Bush apologists mention that some of these graves contain the remains of Shiites George H. W. Bush urged to rise up against Saddam, nor do they address why America installed a strong-arm dictator in the first place. In October, 2001 Scowcroft explained it to PBS' "Frontline":
LOWELL BERGMAN, FRONTLINE: Wasn't there an uprising?
BRENT SCOWCROFT, Former National Security Adviser: Of course.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Didn't we see their military killing people?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And we didn't intervene.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Of course not.. . . . because-- first of all, one of our objectives was not to have Iraq split up into constituent parts because it's our -- it's a fundamental interest of the United States to keep a balance in that area. . . between Iraq and Iran.. . . suppose we went in and intervened and the Kurds declare independence and the Shi'ites declare independence. Then do we go to war against them to keep a unified Iraq?
"I have come to believe that the greatest civic sin is to lie to the people," Charley Reese wrote. "It ought to be considered the unforgivable sin. It undercuts the very basis of self-government. That concept, pioneered by America's Founding Fathers, says that the people can make the right decisions in the long run provided they are given the facts. If they are lied to, they are denied the opportunity to make the right decisions. They are, rather than choosing their destiny, being manipulated by others for hidden reasons."

The day Saddam's statue fell, and everyone wanted to feel good, television stations were interviewing soldiers' wives. Time and time again, these women gushed about how anxious they were for their husbands to return. Yet in September, 2002, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman predicted the scenario that's now unraveling. "This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman," Bookman wrote. "Once that is understood, other mysteries solve themselves. For example, why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled? Because we won't be leaving."

"They kept telling that as soon as you get to Baghdad you would be going home," one soldier's wife told the Guardian. "The way home is through Baghdad, they said." And though Bush promised troops would not remain in Iraq "for one day longer than is necessary" officials are talking about "maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq" and staying there indefinitely. Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "This idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more -- we've got to get over that rhetoric. It is rubbish. We're going to be there a long time. We must reorganize our military to be there a long time."

Sadly, military families who thought "Mission Accomplished" meant troops would come home are now paying the ultimate price for their trust. "What are we getting into here?" one sergeant asked. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn't in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?"

Ah, there's the rub. Soldiers marched into Baghdad thinking they were defending the Land of the Free, but instead, as Schwarzkopf warned, they're "like the dinosaur in the tar pit," and "bearing the costs of the occupation." Now that it's clear Saddam's weapons of mass destruction did not pose an immediate danger to the United States, why, one wonders, did George W. Bush risk the scenario his father foresaw? Rhetoric aside, for what hidden reason did he possibly "condemn" soldiers to fight in "an unwinnable urban guerilla war?" Was it for global domination? Or war profiteering? Or for oil? The answer is out there somewhere -- along with Osama, Saddam and the ever elusive Truth.

Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure. Visit Buzzflash to read the original version of this article including links to sources.

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