by Laura Snedeker
Five years ago, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, an event much anticipated in neoconservative circles and much dreaded by Americans who feared the disastrous effects of an illegal war.
“My fellow citizens,” Bush said from the Oval Office. “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”
Five years spent lost in the desert have proven his words wrong. The military forces he spoke of were mostly American troops assisted by a few troops from nations such as Britain and Spain, countries that went against domestic popular opinion to support the president’s foolish endeavor. The military operations designed to “disarm Iraq” turned up trailers designed to produce hydrogen gas to power balloons instead of biological weapons facilities. Worse, instead of freeing Iraq and protecting the world from “grave danger,” the destructiveness of the war unleashed an insurgency, sparked a civil war, and transformed the country into a haven for the terrrorists of al-Qaeda.
The president took it one step further to provoke proud, sentimental, naïve nationalism in his American audience. “The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military,” he said.
The bold vision of heavily armed humanitarian missionaries marching into Baghdad to topple a terrible regime was replaced by the cold, unforgiving reality on the ground. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, a torture prison under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, continued under the equally brutal jurisdiction of the U.S. military. Pictures of gleeful American soldiers forcing detainees to humiliate themselves and tales of horrific tortures belied the cheery tales of nation-building. The generals, willing to prove that they were prepared to destroy Iraq in order to save it, unleashed hellfire on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and lowly grunts massacred people in the city of Haditha.
Did the president admit his mistakes and commit the last year of his presidency to righting his many wrongs? Speaking at the Pentagon last week, President Bush continued to assert that the invasion of Iraq had been the right course of action. “Operation Iraqi Freedom was a remarkable display of military effectiveness," he said, neglecting to mention the years of chaos that followed the invasion.
“The liberation of Iraq took incredible skill and amazing courage,” he said. “And the speed, precision, and brilliant execution of the campaign will be studied by military historians for years to come.”
It is undoubtedly true that the U.S. military crippled the Iraqi government in days and disposed of it in mere weeks, but it is hard to imagine a different outcome between two so unmatched foes. The U.S. military’s ability to utterly decimate a Third World army was hardly a remarkable feat.
“The best way we can honor them is by making sure that their sacrifice was not in vain," the president said of the troops who died in Iraq. “Five years ago tonight, I promised the American people that in the struggle ahead ‘we will accept no outcome but victory.’ Today, standing before men and women who helped liberate a nation, I reaffirm the commitment. The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. And with your courage, the battle in Iraq will end in victory.”
The deaths of 4,000 soldiers do not make a war just, and victory cannot justify their deaths or the war in which they died. Desperate to prove that the Iraq War was not a futile war of conquest, desperate to prove that he did not go into Iraq without a plan for getting out, the president appealed to Americans’ most base instincts. But no victory celebration, real or staged, can bring honor to what is fundamentally dishonorable and deceitful, or resurrect those who have died in vain for a lie.
(Political graphic © copyright The Project for the Old American Century, which allows the use of its material with the appropriate credit.)
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by Laura Snedeker