Five years ago last night I walked down to the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and held a candle as part of a peace vigil on the eve of the American attack on Iraq. That evening seems at once to have been just a short while ago, and half a lifetime away.
The American invasion of Iraq began five years ago. The invasion began a war which had been sold to the American public and the world as “necessary” through a series of lies- the lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the lie of Iraq’s support of Al Quaeda, and the lie of an Iraqi tie to the 9-11 attacks. As a “war” it continues as a lie, the largest, most destructive lie of our generation.
Whatever George Bush may tell you, the Iraq War itself ended long ago, just a few weeks after it began, and America won. By the time George Bush made his touchdown on that aircraft carrier and had his picture taken under a “Mission Accomplished” banner, the War was over, the Iraqi government was deposed, and there was no longer an Iraqi army to offer resistance. That, by any definition, was the end of the Iraq War.
What has followed over the last five years has been the occupation of Iraq by American troops, and violent resistance to that occupation. The occupation and the resistance to it have been bloody and costly, unimaginably so. But this is not a war, it is an occupation. That may seem to be a trivial point, but it is not for two reasons.
First, by calling this bloody occupation a “war” George Bush and the Republicans gain the political high ground. It is far easier to support a war than an occupation, and to demand more blood, more bodies and more money for it. You can be sure that when September and October roll around and the Presidential campaign is in high gear, we will hear a lot about “the war” from the Republicans, and by allowing them to define it that way the Democrats have lost a major part of the political battle before they have even opened their mouths.
Secondly, the distinction between a war and occupation is important because history shows that while most wars have definite ends, with winners and losers, it also shows that occupations rarely end until the occupying power gets fed up with wasting blood and treasure and leaves.
George Bush, however, for political and personal reasons is determined to convince the country that we are still “at war”, and that the “war” must continue until we, the occupiers, “win”. So let us for a moment give George Bush the existence of his “war”, because it brings us to the other fundamental lie he is putting forward.
George Bush keeps telling us that the “war” should be run by the military, not the politicians, and that it is the duty of politicians and the public to support the military while it is fighting a war. I can certainly agree that we all owe the troops our support, but there seems to be a huge gulf between George Bush’s definition of “support” and mine.
To begin with, the responsibility of the military in war is in directing troops, not formulating policy, and that is an important point which George Bush has either conveniently forgotten or is deliberately trying to suppress. The policy of war –whether to fight, who to fight, and when to stop, is the responsibility of the President and Congress, and theirs alone. The Constitution says so. In many wars in our history there has been little to debate- “yes”, most everyone said, “by all means, continue the war”. World War 2 is an example of the country coming together for a common goal.
But what about an unpopular war which was misguided to begin with and is being prolonged with no discernible goal? When, and who, gets to say “enough is enough”? It is not (as George Bush suggests) up to the military to make that decision- the responsibility belongs to the President and Congress. The Constitution says so (actually, the Constitution says it is up to Congress alone, but don’t tell George Bush that, because it makes him mad). So when George Bush tells Congress that they are wrong to debate whether to continue the “war” he is wrong- dangerously, Un-Constitutionally wrong.
And what of “supporting” the troops? Yes, we all should certainly support them. The President, Congress and the people owe them the support of only sending them to war with good equipment, with good reasons, and with an achievable goal, and we have failed on all counts. We owe them the support of not asking them to shed their blood or waste their lives futilely, and so we owe it to them to focus on why they are being asked to fight, and to bring them home when there is no good answer. George Bush’s “war” in Iraq, which was launched with lies, has now become an end in itself, and that is the point at which we must step back, take a deep breath, support our troops and say “enough”.