Slate is running a series in which former liberal hawks either excuse
themselves for, or, in the case of Andrew Sullivan, apologize for,
their former support for the invasion of Iraq. Others have weighed in,
too -- Anne Marie Slaughter, here on the HuffPo, and a few, so I hear,
in the New York Times. So far, no one has contacted me, always against
the war, and asked me why I was opposed. I guess they are tired of
hearing from me. But I had a logic and a history, too, and maybe I
should be consulted about what's next. Therefore, I am offering my own
case history. I was against the Iraq War by Christmas, 2000, just as,
we have found out, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush were for the Iraq War
before the 2000 election.
In the May, 2000 issue of the old political magazine, George, I
maundered on about my opinions of the presidential race at some length
(a well-paid length, I have to say, which is why I committed myself).
I figured the four candidates (Gore, Bush, McCain, Bradley) were all
about the same -- well-off baby-boomers who would continue Clinton's
prosperous and vaguely corrupt middle-of-the-road regime. I thought
Gingrich and his nutty friends had been routed, and that Clinton's
popularity, in spite of the chaos of his administration, meant that
the the rightwing would back off.
Ha! Call me ashamed of these views. On the one hand, I wasn't paying
close enough attention. On the other, I didn't know Bush was telling
mainstream audiences one thing and evangelical audiences another. I
also didn't expect a crooked election.
In my view, Greg Palast has made an excellent case that the
Republicans set up and executed a fraud in Florida in 2000. There were
two halves of the fraud -- stripping the voter rolls ahead of time and
blocking the recount afterwards. Possibly, the plan was simply to hand
Florida to the governor's brother as a kind of present. I don't know
that the Republicans stole the whole national election -- I suspect they
just got lucky. What antagonized me was not the loss of the election,
it was the pushy sneering and gloating with which the Republicans
declared the triumph of their dishonesty. The adding of insult to
injury signaled to me that Bush and Cheney and their supporters were
ruthless cheaters -- that ruthless cheating was a deep and permanent
character flaw that all of them shared.
Their agenda was visible by February, when they began to order
American planes to fly over Iraqi territory, an attempt to draw Saddam
Hussein into hostilities. He didn't bite, but I always remembered the
attempt. Once again, dishonesty, bullying. And then there was Enron.
People who don't live in California probably don't remember the
California energy crisis as well as we do. The fact was, the whole
thing stank to high heaven. It was evident while it was happening that
Californians were being extorted and swindled and that it was
Bush/Cheney cronies who were doing it. With Bush and Cheney in the
White House, they knew they could steal from their largest customer
base with impunity, and they did. Another sign of the mentality of the
How does this add up to opposition to the Iraq War? Wasn't I
terrified by the attack on the World Trade Center? Yes, I was, but no
one ever said that the Iraqis were behind the attack. Saudis were
behind the attack. I thought of the attackers as comparable to the
Baader-Meinhof gang of the 70s and 80s -- of a certain nationality, but
not representative of that nationality. I never got Al Queda and Bin
Laden mixed up with Saddam Hussein. I knew that one was Islamist and
the other wasn't. It would be like getting Bill Clinton mixed up with
Jerry Falwell. Mistaken identity.
I didn't know much about Iraq, but I knew a couple of things from the
previous Iraq War. 1) Iraq was not in the midst of a civil war. Saddam
was a tyrant, but the political situation was stable. Therefore, there
was no unrest for the US to exploit. The US could only create unrest
as a prelude to remaking the country as it wished. Saddam was pretty
high on the tyrant list, but he wasn't the only tyrant around. The
liars and cheaters in the White House were simply focused on him for
reasons of their own. I knew this then. And I knew that Bush, Cheney,
and Rumsfeld were liars and cheaters who associated themselves with
liars and cheaters. 2) Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.
It didn't matter what fuzzy pictures the Bush administration showed
us, Saddam had already showed us, in 1991, that he couldn't even get
many Scud missiles to Israel. Was I now to believe, after twelve years
of sanctions, that he had built himself not only weapons but also a
delivery system? Never believed it for one moment. And those who were
telling me he had done so had proved themselves liars and cheaters. 3)
Bush and Cheney were hungry for war. Nothing they said could hide
their eagerness. The story they put out, they had found out
things, and they had explored all options, and now the invasion was a
last resort, was evident bullshit. They never for one second had the
demeanor of men who were thinking things over and weighing least bad
options. They were hot to attack and impatient with anyone who stood
in their way (the name Hans Blix springs to mind). The drumbeat began
before the election of 2002 and continued through the winter. The
Downing Street Memo later proved that they intended all along to
attack, but their body language gave it away every time they were on
In other words, I was against the Iraq War because I distrusted the
motives of its architects, because the story they cooked up was full
of holes, and because when they were telling that story, their body
language revealed their bad faith. I was also against the Iraq War
because I could imagine myself as an Iraqi. Let's say China decided
that regime change in Sacramento was necessary, so they landed an army
at San Francisco and Los Angeles and carpet bombed us into throwing
Arnie out. Would I embrace them? Would any American embrace them? The
shock of invasion would certainly arouse anger and resistance. So, I
saw, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had no realistic understanding of
human nature to add to their other personal failures.
Being against the Iraq War wasn't hard -- it was easy. The Iraq War
made no sense, even as a wish. All wars cause death and destruction.
To wish for a war on one's own soil is suicidal but sometimes
necessary. To wish for a war on someone else's soil is to wish death
and destruction on others, that is, it is like being an accessory to a
murder. How hard is it not to want to be an accessory to a murder?
But, say the converted liberal hawks, now what?
Here's what. First, we recognize that the Bush administration
committed a crime in the name of the American people. Then we do what
it takes, both psychologically and financially, to repair the crime.
The very first thing that this means is that every American who has in
some way profited from this crime must relinquish the fruits of the
crime. That means the oil companies. That means the contractors. That
means the US government. We cannot keep anything that the Iraqis owned
before we took it away from them. We cannot have their land. We cannot
have their oil or its profits. We cannot have any sort of power over
them. Here is what is preventing the US from leaving Iraq -- the US
still wants something from Iraq and the Iraqis that we have no right
to. It is the desire to salvage some part of what the Bush
administration thought would be easy to claim that is keeping us
there, and it is the unspoken complicity of the Democrats and the
"prowar liberals" in this that makes it so hard for them to accept the
failure of the enterprise.
The reason that the Iraqis are involved in a civil war is that, in
addition to longstanding rivalries, some of them placed their bets on
the US war machine and others did not. Bets on the US war machine were
bad bets, and those who made them stand to lose. In every invasion,
there are those who collaborate with the invaders. If I were to
collaborate with the Chinese invading California, I would know that I
was in grave danger, after the Americans drove off the Chinese, of
being hanged as a traitor. We owe these people asylum and a new start.
Those who don't want to leave have to figure out how to get along.
They might not do it. We can help them do it by not taking sides. By
backing out of the regions that we occupy, and then offering our
services only when asked. The soldiers and the contractors still in
Iraq can occupy their time by cleaning up the mess of equipment and
pollution they have created. They can stop being soldiers and start
being janitors. It is going to take a long time just to drag away all
the war-making equipment, just to sweep up the debris, just to put
back together the broken things. That's what we should be doing now.
By this, I don't mean remaking the government in the western image or
in some way that will insure that the Iraqis have our type of
government. We need to insure that they have the sort of government
they want. No conditions.
All of the above is not easy. In fact, given the determination of
every single faction of the US power clique that some sort of benefit
to the US must be achieved, it's impossible. Therefore, this is what I
predict. Neither the executive nor the Congress have the moral
fiber or the tenacity or the courage to see the Iraq war for what it
is, and so the situation will continue to disintegrate, dragging the
US economy and government with it. It will turn out that the
Republicans wrecked two nations and the pro-war liberals let them do
it. And it will turn out that the rest of the world will come to
believe that the US got what we deserved.