October 1, 2005
By Ken Sanders
was good to see the protesters in Washington D.C. recently, demanding
the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. It was reassuring to
see so many Americans united against an illegal, unjust, and unnecessary
war against a nation that posed no imminent threat to its neighbors,
much less to the United States. It was encouraging to see so many
using peaceful means to challenge a nation and a leadership that
are so steeped in and such advocates of violence.
By the same token, it was, and continues to be, welcome news to
hear the results of so many opinion polls showing an ever-increasing
majority of Americans disfavoring the war of aggression against
Iraq. It is a hopeful sign that more and more Americans are finally
coming to their senses and starting to think that and end of the
U.S. occupation of Iraq might not be such a bad idea. One has to
wonder, however, what these new bad-weather opponents of the war
were thinking three years ago, back when it really mattered. Back
when the war could have been prevented. While it is laudable that
so many Americans are finally awakening to the awful truth of what
we have unleashed in Iraq, these former Bush backers stop far short
of achieving a full epiphany.
Like so many of the Democrats currently taking up space in Congress,
the newly converted critics of an ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq
refuse to confess their original sin of supporting the war in the
first place. Take Joe Biden as an example. While it is mildly amusing
to watch Biden harangue the Bush administration on the Sunday morning
talk shows, one mustn’t forget that Biden counted himself among
the “patriotic Americans” who advocated regime change in Iraq. Similarly,
John Kerry (the man who would have been President were it not for
the shenanigans in Ohio), so fond of criticizing (rightly) Bush’s
handling of the Iraq invasion, gave Bush carte blanche to subvert
international law and go tilting at windmills in Iraq.
In effect, Biden and Kerry, and their pro-invasion/anti-quagmire
ilk, really want little more than for Bush to do a better, more
efficient job of killing Iraqis. They’re not so much opposed to
the very principle of the war as they are embarrassed by the quality
of the occupation. “We’re America, dammit,” they mutter in response
to the televised chaos in Iraq. Presumably, Biden or Kerry would
have done a better job at oppressing the Iraqis and projecting a
more fitting image of the good old U.S. of A. Or so they, and so
many like them, would have us believe.
The consequences of this ambivalence toward the war on Iraq (“The
invasion was awesome! The occupation ... not so much.”) are dire.
So many of the Americans who express their new-found concern in
opinion polls over the “handling” of Iraq, seem to have adopted
the party line of Biden, Kerry, et al. - having made a mess of things
in Iraq, we must remain and clean up after ourselves. Alternatively,
many Americans believe, to paraphrase Bush, that as the Iraqis stand
up, we should stand down. Some drivel like that.
Never mind that the longer we stay in Iraq, the more unstable
and violent the country becomes. Never mind that each week we remain
in Iraq, hundreds more Iraqis die, while thousands more are injured,
orphaned, and widowed. Never mind that our continued occupation
of Iraq is the most effective recruiting tool the terrorists have
ever known. Never mind all of that. According to those like Biden
and Kerry, and (sadly) a majority of Americans, we must stay in
Iraq and perpetuate our error and its dire consequences. We must
finish the mission - although we have long since forgotten what
that mission was.
The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq. It should do so now. The U.S.
should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. It was wrong
to wage a war of aggression against Iraq. It would be, and has been,
wrong to remain in Iraq out of some false sense of civic duty. We
can’t stay to clean up the mess. We are the mess. Staying in Iraq
and fostering the insurgency that kills dozens of Iraqis for every
U.S. soldier, will not absolve us of our original sin of waging
an illegal war. Staying only perpetuates that sin.
Or, as the cliche' goes, two wrongs don't make a right.
But just packing up and leaving after making one wrong (particularly
an extremely egregious wrong) won't make things right, either. In
this regard, Bush and his accomplices are right - we can’t simply
cut and run. Indeed, we must pay reparations.
Leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Secretary of State
Colin Powell is famously said to have advised Bush of the Pottery
Barn rule: you break it, you buy it. Well, we have broken Iraq.
Many times over. Not just through the ironically-named Operation
Iraqi Freedom, but through Desert Storm and the years of murderous
sanctions that came in between. Arguably, we started breaking Iraq
in the 1980's when we supported a budding despot named Saddam Hussein.
Sure, he used chemical weapons against the Iranians. We loved him
for it. Sure, he was unfamiliar with the quaint vagaries of human
rights, and even gassed his own people. Still, he did hate Iran.
Besides, who were we to complain? After all, he acquired from us
the precursors and equipment necessary for his chemical and biological
Of course, there are those who blame Saddam for the suffering
of his people under the years of sanctions insisted upon by the
U.S. To be sure, Saddam deserves plenty of blame. However, it’s
not as though we were ignorant to the plight of the Iraqis under
the sanctions regime. It’s not like we were shocked to learn that
the sanctions which we spearheaded left tens of thousands of Iraqis
dead and ten times as many malnourished and ill. It’s not like we
didn’t anticipate that Saddam would maintain his opulent lifestyle
under sanctions, at the expense of all other Iraqis. So, yes, Saddam
is to blame for the suffering of his people under sanctions. But,
he only did everything we expected him to do. We continued the sanctions,
nonetheless. Are we not, then, just as much, if not more, to blame?
Regardless, and even discounting the murderous sanctions regime
imposed upon Iraq by the U.S.-led Security Council, the U.S. still
owes Iraq for the damage, degradation, and death caused by the U.S.-led
invasion. Beginning with Desert Storm, where the U.S. deliberately
targeted Iraq’s water supply and electrical facilities, and continuing
with Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. has knowingly and intentionally
targeted Iraq’s civilian population and its civilian infrastructure.
U.S. forces have razed and occupied hospitals in Fallujah and Al
Qa’im, preventing the civilian casualties (a.k.a. collateral damage)
from getting medical treatment. Similarly, U.S. snipers have targeted
Iraqi ambulances and medical clinics, and have prevented health
care workers from entering cities subjected to “major offenses”
by the U.S.
In cities like Fallujah, where the U.S. employed prohibited incendiary
weapons (i.e., napalm), entire families were laid to waste. Most
structures were rendered uninhabitable. But even without napalm
and firebombs, U.S. bombing of Iraq has left the nation in ruins.
Beginning with Shock and Awe and continuing throughout the war,
aerial bombing has decimated Iraq. The infrastructure lies in ruins.
Iraqis have no reliable electricity and, as a result, no reliable
source of clean water. Dysentery and cholera run rampant. The air
and land are irreparably polluted with the dust of America’s depleted
uranium munitions. Cases of cancer and birth defects are rapidly
The list could go on. Suffice to say, following Operation Iraqi
Freedom, Iraq is a wasteland.
As a consequence of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United Nations
Security Council issued Resolution 687 in 1991. Resolution 687 held
Iraq “liable under international law for any direct loss, damage,
including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources,
or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations, as
a result of Iraq’s unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait.”
As of July 2005, Iraq has paid $19.4 billion in reparations to Kuwait,
and still owes $33.1 billion.
It should be beyond dispute that the damages inflicted upon Iraq
by the U.S.-led coalition dwarf those inflicted by Iraq upon Kuwait.
Secretary General Kofi Annan has already publicly declared that
the invasion of Iraq “was illegal” under the U.N. Charter. (Bush
& Co. quickly wrote Annan off as a political hack with an axe to
grind. Of course, if he had declared Bush’s war legal ....) That
being the case, Annan should lead the call for the imposition of
reparations against the U.S. and its co-conspirators for the death
and destruction they have wrought as a result of their illegal war
Yes, we must leave Iraq. We must leave now. However, we must also
pay for reducing another country to rubble. We must pay for our
arrogance of power.
Ken Sanders is a writer in Tucson whose publishing credits include
Op Ed News, Z Magazine, Common Dreams, Democratic Underground, Dissident
Voice, and Political Affairs Magazine, among others.