Now that US forces are fighting in Iraq, we are told that our duty is to fall in behind the president and support the troops in the field. That is nonsense. The first duty of citizens in a democracy is to keep their eyes, ears and mouths open and that is doubly important when our military is put in harm's way. Now that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are in Iraq, they might as well finish the job of ousting Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people a chance at freedom. We wish US and allied forces Godspeed in that task with a minimum of casualties. After all, they are following orders and their service is honorable. Not so for the president who sent them there.
George W. Bush, in pushing aside the United Nations Security Council and international weapons inspectors to "take out Saddam," has presented the image to the world of an arrogant and overpowering bully. He has squandered worldwide support for the US following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to pursue a military adventure in Iraq that is unsupported by evidence, only murky innuendo. Most ominously, Bush has transformed Saddam Hussein from a murderous pariah into a champion of Islam in the eyes of Muslims around the world.
The war threatens to destabilize Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as Pakistan. Al Qaeda will exploit the backlash in Islamic nations. The recruiting boon will fuel its continuing jihad against US and western interests. Even if we can secure our own borders, US citizens travelling abroad will have targets on their backs as long as there is suspicion of US imperialist intentions.
Those who would label us as un-American for criticizing Bush in a time of war ignore a long US tradition of dissent. Abraham Lincoln made his name as a congressman opposing the war with Mexico in 1846-47. In the face of Woodrow Wilson's sweeping crackdown against war critics after the US entry into World War I, former president Teddy Roosevelt declared in 1918, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American Public." Sen. Robert Taft, R-Ohio, said on Dec. 19, 1941, almost two weeks after the US entered World War II, "As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."
The sweep of GOP hypocrisy is stunning as they seek to score political points in a time of war by making personal attacks against Democrats and other war critics. When a Democrat committed troops to military action against Serbia in 1999, Republicans had no qualms about criticizing President Clinton. The Democratic National Committee has compiled seven pages of quotes from Republicans who felt free to criticize President Clinton's foreign policy while US and NATO troops were in a military campaign to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The wartime critics included then-Gov. George W. Bush and congressional leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Sen. Don Nickles, then-Sen. John Ashcroft and many more Republicans piling on to second-guess the president while our troops were in the fight. See www.democrats.org/pdfs/gop_kosovo.pdf.
But with their man in the White House, Republicans feel free to hijack patriotism for partisan gain. House leaders March 21 forced a vote on a resolution of "unequivocal support" for Bush's use of force in Iraq. The House passed the measure 392 to 11, with 22 members voting "present." One who voted against the resolution was US Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving African-American member of Congress. "What I'm telling my colleagues in Congress and citizens is that we must continue to protest this illegal and unconstitutional war," Conyers said. Another opponent was Diane Watson, D-Cal., a former US ambassador to Micronesia, who like the others said she supported the troops, "but I will not be coerced into endorsing the president's failure to resolve the Iraq dispute peacefully. We are not at war because it is necessary. We are at war because the president failed to find a diplomatic solution to this problem."
Bush will be judged on that failure and the disposition of his war. During his campaign for president, he said he wanted the US to be humble in its relations with other nations. He opposed "nation-building" and shunned the role of world peacekeeper. Once in office, that all changed. After 9/11 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly ordered the Pentagon to find links between Iraq and al Qaeda after the CIA discounted connections between Saddam and Osama.
The Bush administration then undermined the authority of the UN and its weapons inspectors, sending them on wild goose chases that failed to turn up any evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, but that didn't stop the buildup to war.
Bush claimed Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, submitting as evidence documents that UN officials later reported were forged -- and crude attempts at that. The New York Times March 23 reported that CIA analysts have been complaining for months to colleagues and congressional officials about the pressure to make their intelligence reports on Iraq conform to Bush administration policies. At the State Department three foreign service veterans have quit in protest over Bush's policies.
The US news media is complicit in the White House's disinformation campaign. At his now infamous March 3 "press conference," the New York Observer noted, "Eight times [Bush] interchanged the war on Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and eight times he was unchallenged." Frank Rich of the New York Times adds, "The unproven but constantly reiterated White House claim of a Qaeda-Saddam Hussein connection has now become a settled fact, not to be questioned at a press conference any more than any Chicago reporter challenges the mythical pregnancy Billy Flynn flogs in his propaganda campaign to save Roxie Hart."
So now the fight is on and allied forces are moving toward Baghdad. Once US forces remove Saddam from power Bush should turn over to the UN the administration of Iraq to make it clear that the US is not interested in gaining an imperial foothold in the Middle East. Existing oil contracts should be honored to blunt charges that Bush is just moving in to give the business to his friends. The UN, with US support, should guarantee Iraq's territorial integrity and keep Turkish troops out of Kurdish Iraq. Iraqis should be allowed to choose their own government without US interference. Finally, Congress needs to disabuse Bush of his grand plans to conduct similar "interventions" in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, every dollar spent on Iraq is a dollar that can't be spent for education, health care or veterans benefits at home. Shameless Republicans would slash $467 billion from domestic programs over the next 10 years, including Veterans Affairs, Medicare and Medicaid, to help pay for a $726 billion tax cut that is mainly destined for high-income families. The budget cuts $15 billion from veterans' benefits (see Dispatches, page 5). It's a slap in the face to veterans as well as the working poor and elderly who can ill afford to lose the assistance.
The best thing we can do to support our troops is make sure they come home as soon as possible -- and have fully staffed veterans' service centers and health clinics when they get back. We already have given up too many civil liberties in the war on terror but John Ashcroft reportedly is preparing yet another measure to further dismantle the Bill of Rights. It's not too early to call your Congress members to put the kibosh on the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, alias PATRIOT II. Also tell them to forget about tax breaks for corporate stockholders until we all have comprehensive health care and our veterans get the benefits they deserve. And let's reduce our dependence on foreign oil, not by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reservation but by switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Toyota and Honda offer hybrid cars that get more than 50 mpg. Tell your local Ford, General Motors and Dodge dealers to get out of the gas-guzzler business. -- JMC