Editorial: The Work Ahead to Stop the Occupation of Iraq

As we look ahead to the elections this fall, the best chance for slowing down the dreadful war in Iraq is fast approaching.

Increasingly the public has been able to focus on the gruesome costs of the war -- the tragic loss of thousands of American and Iraqi lives, the tens of thousands of permanent physical and mental injuries, the obscene war profiteering, the stories of U.S.-hired mercenaries who carry out death squad tactics on innocents. And then there is the complicity that all of us feel as citizens and eventual underwriters of this imperial disaster in the Middle East. Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress cut taxes after the United States invaded, but the final price tag of this war will be paid by none other than the American taxpayer, rest assured -- a bill to the tune of many thousands for each of us.

A little more than three years after the invasion, a wide majority of the country is now fed up with the Iraq disaster. By 61 percent to 35 percent -- the equivalent of an election landslide -- the public disapproves of George Bush's "plan for victory" in Iraq.

Unfortunately the outrage that we feel about the stories coming out of Iraq is not shared by many politicians in Washington. In Congress, virtually all Republicans still support the war and more than half the Democrats. Pro-war Democrats need to feel the heat, and Republicans need to hear from increasing numbers of their constituency that enough is enough. Already, long-time neocon and war-supporting Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman is feeling the heat in Connecticut as his primary opponent Ned Lamont soars in the polls primarily on an anti-war platform.

But so far the two conflicting dynamics -- Bush's intentions to stay in Iraq indefinitely and massive public dissatisfaction with the occupation -- have yet to connect in a meaningful way. November's midterm congressional elections represents the first real opportunity to make Bush and the Republicans pay a political price for their unpopular stance.

But it won't be easy. The country is sharply divided, and in important ways, this is a regional war -- a war of red state districts and huge corporations with much of the vociferous support for the war coming from the South, Texas, and conservative states in the West. The Republicans have dominated the message on Iraq for years with the simple strategy that any dissent about "progress in Iraq" will be met with claims that it amounts to "cutting and running" or "not supporting the troops."

There are two vital approaches we must take to the 35 percent of the American public who still thinks Iraqis will eventually shower us with flowers and kisses. The first has been laid out in dramatic fashion by Democratic Rep. John Murtha, whose military credentials are impeccable. Murtha often leads quoting the poll that "72 percent of the American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within a year." The unavoidable conclusion from this is that to support the troops is to support a pull-out from Iraq. Murtha has had the courage to challenge the war's prosecutors in the White House and Congress. "To all the Republicans who sit in their air-conditioned offices and talk of the courage it takes for them to keep young kids in harm's way -- I say enough," Murtha recently wrote in a fundraising letter on behalf of Democrats.

The second approach is to spread the message about the colossal price tag of this war. Early on, Bush's people gave absurdly low numbers of the cost of the war -- one estimate was in the single-digit billions. Some administration officials who had the temerity to suggest numbers in the hundreds of billions, which in retrospect were still absurdly low, were shown the door.

In January 2006 Noble prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, a leading Harvard budgetary expert, released a report concluding that the final cost of the war is likely to reach $1.27 trillion, which as American Prospect's Mathew Yglesias explains today on AlterNet is like spending a million dollars for a million days -- or 2,737 years.

Astounding isn't it? Yglesias goes on to demonstrate the many challenges and social ills that could be addressed with all that money: Universal preschool across America -- a concept Republicans have typically attacked as irresponsibly expensive -- could have been funded for 37 years with the Iraq price tag.

Starting today, AlterNet is rededicating its editorial resources and energy to focus on the occupation of Iraq -- and specifically on the war profiteering and the invasion of Iraq by dozens of large, politically connected corporations that are reaping billions of profits from the devastation of the war.

In the past few weeks, AlterNet has run a series of articles about the Iraq war that were read by hundreds of thousands of people and generated powerful discussion about the state of the occupation. We bring these to your attention again:

  • Iraq's War Porn by David Swanson
    Swanson writes about the power of images that display the true horrors in Iraq -- the unfathomable humiliation and violent attacks in cities across that country, and the effect these images would have on the public if the media incorporated them in daily coverage.

  • Stick Your Neck Out, America by Ray McGovern
    McGovern reminds us that for the most part, Americans are blissfully unaware of their power -- even as the country drifts toward a fascist state. Although public resistance to the occupation of Iraq has so far not had much impact, it's not too late to act.

  • When AWOL Is the Only Way Out and The Marine Who Saw Too Much
    by Peter Laufer
    These two excerpts from Laufer's book "Mission Rejected" offer an up-close look at the pressures and mental scars that tours in Iraq have had on two former soldiers.

Look for AlterNet to provide extensive coverage on war profiteering and the effects the occupation is having on the coming general election. We will highlight elections in which Republican incumbents are threatened, and push hard opinions to force war-supporting Democrats to "clarify" their positions. We'll do the best we can to stop this nightmare, and we hope you will do the same.

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