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Wolf DeVoon

Occupation of Iraq

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Might as well talk about something important, right?

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Like the Vietnamese, Iraqis not ready to surrender hearts and minds to U.S.

By Stephen Hume

07/17/03: (Vancouver Sun) The most poignant evidence of the bungling that characterizes America's Iraq misadventure was filed by a Los Angeles Times reporter a few days ago.

It told of a U.S. army convoy loaded with frozen chickens. The poultry was thawing in the fierce desert heat as trucks drove about trying to give them away to hungry families in Fallujah. Instead of gratitude, the convoy encountered hails of stones hurled by children.

"We would rather eat rocks than eat chickens from Americans," one Iraqi said.

"Hey, it's a slow process, winning the hearts and minds of the people," explained the convoy's up-beat commander.

He can say that again. Let's see, to give away 2,000 chickens to starving people, he needs an escort of 16 armored vehicles, machine guns and combat troops. Is there something here that suggests self-delusion in Washington?

Yes, there is. After all, Fallujah is where, on March 29, a U.S. pilot shredded a street full of children at play with a "daisy-cutter" bomb. Ten died, 12 were gruesomely injured.

The resentment of American generosity festering in Fallujah is instantly comprehensible after reading British correspondent Ed Vulliamy. He visited some of the bereaved and wrote about it with brutal clarity for The Observer on July 6.

"What remains of a beautiful girl called Bedour Hashem lies on a piece of floor at a relative's house, having been discharged by the American military hospital, with no room for her at the local one," Vulliamy wrote. "She is shrivelled and petrified like a dead cat. Her skin is like scorched parchment folded over her bones. Unable to move, she appears as if in some troubled coma, but opens her eyes, with difficulty, to issue an indecipherable cry like a wounded animal."

Then soldiers in American uniforms show up and try to make amends with a chicken.

Some of us are old enough to recall the last time rhetoric about "hearts and minds" was trotted out in ironic contrast to images like this. Remember the naked child fleeing the napalm blast down a road in Vietnam and the White House's inability to comprehend why so many peasants found Communism preferable to the army's attempts to win their sympathy and support?

That was 30 years ago and the eventual price of the foolish assumptions it represented was more than 50,000 American and at least 1.3 million Vietnamese dead -- and the "hearts and minds of the people" never did come around. Instead, the U.S. lost the hearts and minds of a generation of its own young people -- both in uniform and out.

Nobody thinks Iraq will become another Vietnam but the resonance is inescapable. Iraq may yet become the political quagmire for President George W. Bush that Vietnam proved for Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

When I read of a young American soldier talking about his fear at the threat of ambush everywhere and his frustration when he couldn't distinguish the enemy from the civilians -- gosh, even the little kids can turn out to be snipers -- my heart sank and I thought of the My Lai massacre.

Correspondents report that officers admit morale in American units stationed in Iraq is at rock bottom while U.S. General Tommy Franks says U.S. troops might have to stay for four years, maybe more.

To be sure, Paul Bremer, the American civilian in charge, said Tuesday that British and U.S. troops would be withdrawn as soon as a new constitution and a democratic government were in place, perhaps as soon as next spring.

But even as he was waxing optimistic, the Voice of America was quoting military officials to the effect that thousands of U.S. troops who were expecting to go home have now been told they will stay in Iraq indefinitely because of the continuing low level conflict. Apparently, more than a dozen armed encounters occur every day on average.

One can't blame the soldiers. They follow orders. They always suffer for the callous stupidity of politicians who start believing the propaganda they spin to support their ideological agendas.

That's clearly what happened in the run up to the Second Iraq War, cheered on by tough-talking Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and his even more hawkish adviser Paul Wolfowitz.

In hindsight, it's increasingly clear that despite the protestations of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, intelligence that should be evaluated objectively and acted upon wisely was shamelessly manipulated to provide a spurious case for an ideologically motivated war.

More and more, the invasion to remake Iraq looks like a half-baked idea cooked up by undergraduate political science students convinced that their seminar is a mandate to remake the world in the image of their theories.

It was so simple. Saddam Hussein was to be surgically removed by a relatively small number of superior soldiers backed by advanced technology. The liberators would be greeted by joyous multitudes, intoxicated by democracy.

Instead we've got Saddam organizing an underground resistance in the country where modern guerrilla war was invented, 11-year-old snipers, civil infrastructure in chaos in a country that may never embrace a U.S.-imposed government and casualty lists mounting. And it turns out there never was a Plan B for dealing with these eventualities.

Expect the go-it-alone boys to soon be calling for an international "peacekeeping" force. But don't expect too many takers since going into Iraq won't mean keeping the peace, it will mean serving as the proxy occupying power.

I note that India, asked to provide 17,000 troops, has suddenly developed cold feet. Soon the zealots who a few months ago were dismissing the United Nations as irrelevant will be huffing about its responsibility to send peacekeepers to Iraq.

Yet the U.S. is still a democracy. With 145,000 troops -- a significant share of the U.S. army's operational strength -- tied up in Iraq and the makings of an ulcerous low-level guerrilla conflict shaping up in the background, the questions directed at Bush and his arrogantly self-assured apparatchiks by other Americans will become harder and harder to evade.

The deceitful rationale for a war that will cost an estimated $100 billion by the end of 2004 and now propels the U.S. toward its largest deficit in history has already begun to unravel.

CIA director George Tenet fell on his sword last week, taking the blame for not adequately telling the White House that information Bush would cite in his State of the Union address about Iraq trying to by uranium in Africa was false.

But others claim White House officials had been informed. The pressure to discover who knew what and when they knew it won't abate any time soon. Don't be surprised to see other scapegoats start walking the plank.

If the president's swaggering deputies did indeed abuse intelligence reports to make a more compelling case for war against Saddam than the facts warranted, some will have to go.

And if the American people conclude that the White House hyped the necessity for something so grave as killing school children like those in Fallujah, George W. Bush will wind up a one-term president, just like his dad.

[email protected]

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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Guest RadCap

You want to talk? Talk.

You want to link? Link

Do not simply go around cutting and pasting articles from other sites. That is mere propagandizing.

Also, your topic is in an inappropriate catagory.

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What's your point?

The article seems to be saying that the US occupation is bad because some Iraqis are suffering as a result of it. Well, what about all the Iraqis whose lives have improved? Journalists in general have a bad habit of looking only at a few concrete examples of something and trying to prove a general thesis with them.

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Guest Grantsinmypants

Who cares if Iraqis are suffering? That's what they get for being too lazy to over-throw Sadaam. American soilders shouldn't be expected to become targets for car bombers just so that a few school children will want to eat their chicken.

Bush and Blair made Iraq out to be more of a threat than it actually was? First of all, it never was that big of a threat. That's why it wasn't that big of a deal to extinguish that threat. A big threat was the USSR during the cold war and a big deal would have been military confrontation with them. However, big or small, a dictatorship will always, sooner or later, become a threat to a free nation. That's because the only thing that dictators are good at is making war, and there are only so many other dictators one can fight.

Why do journalists and the average Joe pretend to know what the hell they are talking about when they say how big of a threat, if any, Iraq was to the US?

The only people that know that are people in high levels of government and NSA and CIA operatives. Unless all of those people are suicidal, politically or otherwise, I just can't think of a reason why they would make all of this stuff about Sadaam being a threat up, much less act upon it.

Debating whether or not last spring's war was the most intelligent thing to do tactially given the wider state of world affairs is the only thing that the average person should be considering if he wants to make good use of his time. Everything else is grabbing at straws.

Grant Williams

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