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"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."
HAVEN'T WE DONE ENOUGH?
July 3, 2014
[NOTE TO READERS: We consider the present crisis in Iraq to be an epochal one and are therefore taking the opportunity to review at some length our engagement with the issues it raises.]
On June 25, Prof. Juan Cole said that "the whole country of Iraq . . . is in its last throes." The vast plain where the Tigris and the Euphrates meander toward the Persian Gulf has often witnessed historic spasms. Iraq is part of the Tigris-Euphrates watershed known as Mesopotamia, where the Romans fought it out with the Parthians and suffered one of their most serious defeats when Crassus and seven Roman legions were defeated at Carrhae in 53 BCE. Negotiations over a truce went sour, and Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome, was killed.
That was only one of dozens of epochal moments in a region that European imperialists like Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) identified as a "pivot" or "heartland" of world history in his famous 1904 article, "The Geographical Pivot of History." The region's centrality goes back to the days when Bronze Age societies initiated the first real arms race. It's telling that for all the subsequent (and current) hand-wringing about democracy in Iraq, the initial (and fraudulent) justification of the United States in Iraq invoked new weapons technology.
Now Iraq seems to be breaking apart.
Extraordinary events are occurring. On June 29, a restored caliphate was declared on Iraqi territory in the west. To the north, the Kurds of Iraq, who make up about one sixth of Iraq's population and have enjoyed effective autonomy from Baghdad for years, announced on July 1 that in a few months they will hold a referendum on independence; few doubt the outcome. The rest of the country is now involved in a sectarian war. American diplomats call for unity, but when they had power in Iraq they used sectarian tensions to combat the appeal of pan-Iraqi nationalism. The American adventure in Iraq has come a cropper. A conflict that has cost the United States more than $2 trillion and will cost it more than $1 trillion more in years to come (by Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz's estimation) is now morphing into a regional conflagration erasing historical boundaries. It is sure to continue for many years more. The United States began an avalanche, and now the avalanche is sweeping down the mountainside. The mountain is not geographical, however, but socio-historical in nature, and none of us is wise enough to understand its shape or its force.
It is not our intention to dehumanize the conflict with the metaphor of an avalanche. But in cultures of honor (as opposed to cultures of law) a cycle of violence isn't ended easily. In the West, conscience and law, generalized duties and rights often take the place of the group loyalty and obligations that dictate others' judgments, so it easier to oppose war. But in Iraqi culture, and more generally in Arab, Persian, Pashtun, and Turkish societies, as well as in Italy, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and the Southern U.S., traditional concepts of honor and shame have a stronger grip on human imaginations. This hold on human souls is often expressed in the military and in warfare, and experienced as a violent imperative.
Given these realities, we know that calls for peace in today's Iraq will get no traction. The avalanche will continue to barrel down the mountain, sweeping away thousands more, guilty and innocent alike, in its path. The U.N. has just announced that 2,417 people were killed in Iraq in June 2008, making it the most deadly month since 2008. It will get worse. Meanwhile, the U.S. national security state continues its practices. It is keeping a sharp eye on control of resources, formulating justifications that help obeisant Americans to sleep soundly, and generating corporate profits.
UFPPC was formed in November 2002 to oppose the Iraq War. We've organized marches and demonstrations, lobbied elected officials, done research, and hosted speakers. But we've also put our views on the record from time to time. True, we have none of the resources of the U.S. national security state: no spies, no satellites, no troops or contractors to order about, no salaries for stables of "fellows" to proclaim the wisdom of our policies. But perhaps all those things make it harder to read the handwriting on the wall. So before we address the present situation, let's take a moment to review what this group of part-time peace activists has had to say about Iraq over nearly twelve years.
Here's a review of some of the statements UFPPC has adopted over the years about Iraq.
* In August 2003, when the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, UFPPC said it showed that "the war is not over," that the Iraq war was "the expression of values and attitudes that are not those of the American people and that cannot be the basis of a sound national policy," and accused the Bush administration of waging "a systematic campaign of disinformation and lies designed cynically to manipulate not only our fears but also the very ideals we hold dear as a people." And we went further. We asserted that the Iraq war was revealing that "our government has become the captive of groups that do not represent the will or the interests of the American people, democratically expressed."
* In June 2004, we endorsed the essence of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, even as we recognized how slim were its chances of bringing peace. And later that month, precisely ten years ago, we applauded a group of diplomats and military leaders who issued a statement saying the Bush administration had adopted "an overbearing approach to America's role in the world, relying upon military might and righteousness, insensitive to the concerns of traditional friends and allies, and disdainful of the United Nations."
* In July 2004, noting how difficult it was to make our views understandable to our media-besotted fellow citizens, we analyzed how "the pursuit of unjust national aims through war" was effecting the corruption of our very language. Torture could not be called torture, it seemed, crime could not be called crime. We said: "Those in power . . . insist on descriptive terms that justify their actions, while finding the means to suppress, censure, or marginalize true descriptions." (In May 2011, when Obama bin Laden was hunted down, we extended our analysis of national security state mystification when we noted the president spoke more about 9/11 than about bin Laden in announcing his death, and concluded that al Qaeda had come to function in our national discourse as a "floating signifier," signifying whatever those in power want it to signify in order to legitimate their power.)
* In August 2004, as the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq neared 1,000, we refuted the "many Americans [who] imagine that it can be right for our military to continue to occupy a country where it was wrong for it to go in the first place." We saw that our fellow citizens were exempting themselves from basic moral principles: "No one should be judge in their own cause—but many Americans believe that the Pentagon is capable of judging its own misdeeds in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—yet millions of Americans take for granted that the United States should dictate to others policies that it would never be willing to accept for itself," etc. By spurning these principles, we said, "the security and foreign policies that have been pursued by the Bush administration are recipes for disaster that are making us more insecure with every passing day."
* In October 2006, when the Lancet study revealed that the Iraq invasion had cost more than half a million Iraqi deaths, we said it was proof that "United States policy in Iraq is counterproductive, exacerbating the very problems it purports to address." We said that the "the Vietnam moment is at hand" in Iraq and that it was time to leave.
* In November 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, UFPPC noted that he had won the nomination of the Democratic Party "in large part because of the support of antiwar voters." In campaigning, Obama had promoted himself as a wise steward of foreign policy, but at UFPPC we already prepared for disappointment: "We lost any illusions about Barack Obama being an antiwar leader two years ago, when UFPPC's Monday-night book discussion group conducted a study circle entitled "Barack Obama and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr." . . . It was clear from the ambiguous formulations to be found in, especially, The Audacity of Hope, that Sen. Obama had decided to proceed only part of the way down the road toward the "radical revolution of values" that Martin Luther King Jr. called for in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech. . . . We fear . . . we'll never hear him say as president the words 'militarism' or 'military-industrial complex.'"
* In November 2010, we noted that the war in Iraq was "scarcely mentioned in the election campaign. News of horrific acts of violence in Baghdad . . . and revelations about U.S. war crimes from WikiLeaks came out during the campaign, but, as usual, scarcely any of it registered in the corporate press as worthy of front-page coverage, editorials, or further investigation. Like quite a few of our 31,929 veterans wounded in Iraq, stories like these have no legs."
* In June 2013, with the effort to prosecute Edward Snowden, we lost our last shred of hope in Barack Obama, and said: "We still agree with Barack Obama that hope is 'that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.' We still agree with him that hope is 'the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.' But we no longer think that he is one of them."
Now, in July 2014, Iraq is coming apart. The process may take months, or it may take years. But when it happens, the United States will have been the chief proximate cause of the event. What should the United States do now?
Initially, on June 13, President Barack Obama said that "American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again." But on June 16, he informed Congress that "up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel are deploying to Iraq. . . . This force . . . is equipped for combat." On June 19, the announced he was sending "additional American military advisers—up to 300." And on June 30, he announced the dispatch of 300 *more* troops. The advisers he is sending are supposedly not "combat troops," because by a sleight of hand the administration does not define Special Forces like Green Berets, Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs as "combat troops." But even CNN said the decision amounted to "U.S 'boots on the ground' in Iraq, no matter how the administration characterizes it."
Supposedly, President Obama is trying to set preconditions to U.S. strikes inside Iraq: either "a direct threat to U.S. personnel or a more inclusive and capable Iraqi government" are supposed to precede more American military involvement. So far there are no signs of such a "more inclusive and capable" government, but that strikes are coming is as predictable as the profits at Northrop Grumman. Who can miss the irony? Having won the presidency because of his opposition to the Iraq war, Obama is now returning American soldiers to Iraq.
Barack Obama seems to be making a tragic mistake. It makes sense to regard the new outbreak of violence in Iraq as the beginning of a new war, the fourth in thirty years, after the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991), and the Iraq War (2003-2011). The U.S. did not fight in the first of these wars; it should not be involved in this one.
The United States cannot save Iraq, and the path the president is choosing will lead to deeper U.S. involvement in the conflict in Iraq's neighbor, Syria, where three years ago Obama and other international leaders covertly determined to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. This proved easier said than done, and it was ever-increasing support for rebel forces in Syria that strengthened the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham to the point that it was able to initiate in early June the lightning campaign that has allowed it occupy much of Iraq and to declare itself to be "The Islamic State."
It is manifest that the United States cannot save Iraq, and history demonstrates that the more the U.S. military intervenes in Iraq, the worse the outcome will be. Americans should not kill and die to defend boundaries European imperialists secretly drew and imposed a century ago. Haven't we done enough? Our nation is responsible for setting the stage for the present disaster. We should not turn our backs on the ruin we caused, but future American involvement in Iraq should be in the nature of humanitarian reparations and should be administered through the institutions of the international community.
UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY
"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."