James Taranto, America Hater

The Wall Street Journal is one of the most impeccably written newspapers in America. Maybe that’s why they harbor a plump resident right-wing attack mutt by the name of James Taranto in the cyberslum edition of an otherwise dignified paper. A mystery, however, is why no one has called this McCarthyite neofascist on his slander of loyal Americans.

In a follow-up to a dressing down of the Howard Dean campaign, in which Taranto attempts to smear Dean by depicting me as some sort of wacko pro-Osama com-symp, this fat little Nazi has the gall–and poor legal judgement–to insult me as “America-hating columnist Ted Rall.”

I’m not a thin-skinned guy, Mr. Taranto, but anyone who dares question my patriotism or loyalty to the United States of America has crossed the line–no, he’s leapt way the hell over it. I adore my country, I would lay down my life to defend it, and I’m willing to take the heat from neo-McCarthyite scum like him. When I speak out against the gangsters who have taken over Washington, subverted the Constitution and undermined basic American values like truth and justice, I am merely doing what anyone who cares about our country would do. Bush and his policies are destroying my country–which is why I am working as hard as I can to stop them.

It’s one thing to counter an argument. It’s quite another to impugn the patriotism of the person making it. People who resort to shutting their opponents down, which is the antithesis of the First Amendment which allows our democracy to function, swim in the gutter because they don’t have a valid point of view. They are the true America haters.

It probably reads better in the original German, but Taranto’s original attack piece wallows in outright lies, elementary school smears and inane conjecture:

Ted Rall is like a chronic rash. You really want to scratch it, but doing so only aggravates the inflammation, so if you’re smart you’ll leave it alone. We’ve been pretty disciplined about this, not mentioning his name in almost a year. But there has been a Rall outbreak on Howard Dean’s blog, and, alas, it requires attention.

Look Taranto, just because you may have had some terrible experience with STDs doesn’t mean you should take it out on the rest of us. Follow the lead of the victim who responded to that ad in Germany, the one placed by the psycho looking for someone to kill and eat, and cut the damned thing off if it itches so badly.

Who is Ted Rall? The parts of the column Gross refrains from quoting give you some sense of Rall’s worldview. He likens the Bush administration to the Sept. 11 hijackers: “Who could have imagined back then that a dozen maniacs would hijack our democracy, bankrupt the treasury and subvert our basic values?” He describes Bush’s appealing the Florida election dispute to the U.S. Supreme court as an act of treason. He claims that after Sept. 11 “did Bush begin acting like a dictator.” And he makes this astonishing statement: America is under attack, and Bush is enemy number one. Where does Osama bin Laden rank in Rall’s enemies list? He doesn’t say.

Here, I’ll make it easy for you, Jimmy: Unlike you Republicans, I don’t HAVE an enemies list. While I wouldn’t say that Osama has America’s best interests at heart, I think it’s also safe to say, as any thinking person would, that a treasonous “president” who subverts a national election by hiring Hitler Youth-like goons to invade an elections office, runs up $10 trillion in debt, starts two unjustified wars and opens a concentration camp at Gitmo is more dangerous to the United States than a sick old man hiding out in the middle of Kashmir. Osama may have killed 4,000 Americans in all (and we’re still waiting for proof of what really happened on 9/11) and that’s obviously horrible. But he’s not American. He can’t be expected to give a damn about us. Bush has killed hundreds of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis for nothing but his own greed and self-agrandizement–and he’s one of us. Who do YOU think is the most dangerous?

Meanwhile, here are some other examples of Rall’s work:

* In an April 2001 column for the Mother Jones Web site (which erroneously labels it as having been published a year earlier), Rall endorsed the use of violence by opponents of free trade: “The disruption of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last weekend provides a classic example of doing good while throwing hard objects at big sheets of glass. . . . Lefties just don’t seem to get this fundamental truth of politics: Not only has there never been a revolution without violence, but there’s never been meaningful social change without violence or at least the threat thereof.”

* In an October 2001 syndicated column, Rall argued against liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban and claimed that the Sept. 11 attacks were merely a pretext, “the perfect excuse to do what the U.S. had wanted all along: invade and/or install an old-school puppet regime in Kabul.”

First, these are hardly “examples” of my work. I crank out three to five cartoons and at least a column every week. “Examples” of my work would randomly select from these rather than peruse thousands of pieces to find three for context-free dissection.

As for my Mother Jones magazine piece, I never endorsed violence. I merely stated an obvious fact: that the WTO protesters broke windows in Seattle because they found that working within the system, sending letters to the editor to papers like the Journal, didn’t move forward their claims. Reporting and analyzing the truth ain’t the same thing as endorsing an action, hombre, and you’d know that if you had a passing acquaintance with the former. And where did I ever argue against liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban? To the contrary, I argued against a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan because I didn’t think we had any interest in Afghanistan’s people–only its critical position along a possible oil pipeline route. I was one of the earliest commentators, both in cartoon form and on my former radio show on KFI Los Angeles, to try to get Americans to do something about the Taliban regime. As most Afghans can attest and as became rapidly evident after 9/11, U.S. occupation has not liberated them from anyone, least of all the Taliban.

* In March 2002, Rall published a cartoon…that mocked “terror widows,” apparently including the wife of Daniel Pearl, who had learned of her husband’s death just two weeks earlier. The strip’s third panel depicts a woman standing in front of a bank of microphones saying, “Of course it’s a bummer that they slashed my husband’s throat–but the worst was having to watch the Olympics alone!

Quoting one panel out of a six-panel cartoon, without the artwork, is pretty friggin’ lame. Could it be that the same cartoon, when seen in context, isn’t all that offensive? Selective spin, however, a standard rightist smear tactic.

* In a column published two weeks ago–on Veterans Day, no less–Rall described Iraq’s pro-Saddam guerrillas as nationalist freedom-fighters: “Dear Recruit: Thank you for joining the Iraqi resistance forces. You have been issued an AK-47 rifle, rocket-propelled grenade launcher and an address where you can pick up supplies of bombs and remote-controlled mines. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the Americans. You are joining a broad and diverse coalition dedicated to one principle: Iraq for Iraqis.”

A classic example of Republirat spin. The column quoted above, which appears in its entirety in my column archives a few clicks away, in no way, shape or form endorses violence against Americans. It is an examination of the appeal of Iraqi resistance fighters, a response to morons like Taranto who claim not to understand why “liberated” Iraqis are shooting at us. He would probably have accused Jonathan Swift of advocating infanticide.

Now, obviously it isn’t Dean’s fault that this vile little creep endorses him–or, to be precise, flirts with the idea of endorsing him: “Maybe it’s premature to endorse Gov. Dean. But right now, given the information we have available, he’s the preferred candidate of us Anybody But Bushies.”

But Dean’s campaign is trumpeting Rall’s support on his Web site, and that ought to be enough to make anyone uneasy with the notion of Dean’s finger on the button.

Yeah, Dean would be SO scary. Unlike the current model of restraint and peaceful diplomacy currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvavnia Avenue. And my endorsement makes him even SCARIER!!! (Cue “Monster Mash” here.)

Fortunately, Dean supporters are a hell of a lot smarter than Taranto takes them for. They know that I’m no “anti-American” and neither is Dean. My upcoming book will lay to rest any doubts of my political stances on a variety of issues once and for all. You, on the other hand…

Have you at last, Mr. Taranto, no decency? Evidently not. A cursory Google search shows that Taranto (known as Tarantoad online) has done this sort of thing before, even stooping to post the home address and phone number of a progressive writer in the hope that rightists would harass him and his wife, who was sick with cancer at the time. No, decency isn’t something known to someone who calls anyone with whom he disagrees anti-American, but know this: calling me an “America hater” to my face would be a very unwise idea.

You may e-mail Tailgunner Jim Taranto at james.taranto@dowjones.com if you’d like to renew your Der Sturmer subscription or whatever.

Generalissimo El Busho Signs on as a Ted Rall Sponsor

Sharp-eyed readers of this website have noticed ads for a certain squinty-eyed dictator over the page for my columns. “For God’s sake, man!” one correspondent wrote. “Children read your column!”

First, an explanation: The banner ads on the Cartoon and Column pages are placed and solicited by uComics, a subsidiary of Universal Press Syndicate, my distribution agency. In exchange for maintaining an extensive archive of my work, they collect the revenue from those ads. I don’t have control over the ad content, nor do I get any money directly. Those banner ads are, however, the only way I can maintain archives that go back several years. Server space is expensive, and I have neither the technical nor the financial resources to do the job myself. The down side, such as it is, is the weird occasional contradiction of ads for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which I have advocated military attacks upon, and Bush, who merits prosecution and impeachment as a usurping warmonger, running on my website.

This arrangement will likely continue, unless someone steps forward with a sizable sum of money with which I could launch a full-scale redesign from the site’s current 1995-style format and purchase some server space somewhere. Since that’s probably not going to happen, these quirks will probably reoccur from time to time.

Just Shoot Me

My book is done! WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIBERAL: HOW WE CAN TAKE AMERICA BACK FROM THE RIGHT has been zipped off to the publisher. Today, I sleep. (Is it good? I’ll put it this way: I was nervous about it a while back but now I’m not. If you care about the state of the country and understand that we are in big, big trouble on a number of fronts, you’ll find this worth reading.)

Oh, and obviously I wasn’t on Fox last night. Stuff happens, etc., anyway I’ll know more later and will tell you when I do.

Got the photo

Not to worry, we’re covered for the cover. Thanks to all.

Early Alert: Rall on Alan Colmnes – FOX NEWS

Looks like I’ll be on Alan Colmes’ solo show tonight on Fox News, circa 11:15 am. It isn’t confirmed yet and I don’t know whether it’ll be via phone or they want my ugly mug in studio (or in situ, as they say in Latin), but anyway, now you know. Subject is my column “Why We Hate Bush.”

You Could Be Famous…For More Than One Day, Too.

I need a high-resolution photo a demonstration or protest to add to the cover artwork of my upcoming magnum opus WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIBERAL: HOW WE CAN TAKE AMERICA BACK FROM THE RIGHT (Soft Skull Press, 2004). I’m really hoping for a shot of the front of a march, people carrying signs. Either color or black and white is fine. If you have such a thing and you have all the rights to it (i.e., you took the photo yourself), please e-mail it to me in JPEG or TIFF format as soon as you can.

If I use your photo, you’ll get a hundred bucks (with a pledge of residuals should I sell zillions of copies), original artwork for one of my cartoons, and a credit line on the copyright page of the book.

Specs: Photo must be no less wide than 6 inches at 300 dpi or more.

Musical Mysteries

Why do some bands fade away? Last year’s debut album by the electroclash/neosynthpop outfit Soviet (We Are Eyes…We Are Builders) remains in heavy rotation on the Rallian jukebox. Think early 1980s Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark updated à la Ladytron, and if you don’t know or care what the fuck (hi, John Kerry!) I’m talking about, skip this section. Anyway, it’s an incredible record and I’m waiting at the door’s at Kim’s Video and Records for the second one to come out but these guys don’t even have a listing for their CD on Amazon. What the f—?

So this post has a two-fold purpose. First, does anyone know what’s going on with this brilliant electonica group? Second, if you haven’t done so already and you like that ’80s stuff like Human League/OMD/Soft Cell, pick this sucker up.

Why We’re Losing in Iraq

A piece in yesterday’s New York Times says it all:

BU HISHMA, Iraq, Dec. 6 — As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire.

In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in.

The Americans embarked on their get-tough strategy in early November, goaded by what proved to be the deadliest month yet for American forces in Iraq, with 81 soldiers killed by hostile fire. The response they chose is beginning to echo the Israeli counterinsurgency campaign in the occupied territories.

So far, the new approach appears to be succeeding in diminishing the threat to American soldiers. But it appears to be coming at the cost of alienating many of the people the Americans are trying to win over. Abu Hishma is quiet now, but it is angry, too.

In Abu Hishma, encased in a razor-wire fence after repeated attacks on American troops, Iraqi civilians line up to go in and out, filing through an American-guarded checkpoint, each carrying an identification card printed in English only.

“If you have one of these cards, you can come and go,” coaxed Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, the battalion commander whose men oversee the village, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. “If you don’t have one of these cards, you can’t.”

The Iraqis nodded and edged their cars through the line. Over to one side, an Iraqi man named Tariq muttered in anger.

“I see no difference between us and the Palestinians,” he said. “We didn’t expect anything like this after Saddam fell.”

The practice of destroying buildings where Iraqi insurgents are suspected of planning or mounting attacks has been used for decades by Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli Army has also imprisoned the relatives of suspected terrorists, in the hopes of pressing the suspects to surrender.

The Israeli military has also cordoned off villages and towns thought to be hotbeds of guerrilla activity, in an effort to control the flow of people moving in and out.

American officials say they are not purposefully mimicking Israeli tactics, but they acknowledge that they have studied closely the Israeli experience in urban fighting. Ahead of the war, Israeli defense experts briefed American commanders on their experience in guerrilla and urban warfare. The Americans say there are no Israeli military advisers helping the Americans in Iraq.

Writing in the July issue of Army magazine, an American brigadier general said American officers had recently traveled to Israel to hear about lessons learned from recent fighting there.

“Experience continues to teach us many lessons, and we continue to evaluate and address those lessons, embedding and incorporating them appropriately into our concepts, doctrine and training,” Brig. Gen. Michael A. Vane wrote. “For example, we recently traveled to Israel to glean lessons learned from their counterterrorist operations in urban areas.” General Vane is deputy chief of staff for doctrine concepts and strategy, at the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command.

American officers here say their new hard-nosed approach reflects a more realistic appreciation of the military and political realities faced by soldiers in the so-called Sunni triangle, the area north and west of Baghdad that is generating the most violence against the Americans.

Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.

“You have to understand the Arab mind,” Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. “The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.”

Whether or not we really understand the Arab mind, Arabs are gonna kick our ass. And based on this article (you gotta register to read the whole thing, but hey–it’s the New York Times…you might wanna read something else by them someday), we may be asking for it.

The Magnus Opus

WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIBERAL: HOW WE CAN TAKE BACK AMERICA FROM THE RIGHT goes to my publisher, Soft Skull Press, on Monday. Light at the end of the tunnel! I just hope it isn’t a bullet train.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure until the last month that this was going to be any good. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to pull together my political thinking into one coherent text, as well as my first book of prose composed of completely original content–no reprinted columns, nothing that has appeared elsewhere before. Once you get in there with all that raw data, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

During the last few weeks, however, it came together. I don’t know whether people will like it or not–I can never tell that sort of thing–but I’m happy with it. It’s the hardest, and one of the most personal, works I’ve ever done.

Galley review copies of WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIBERAL should be available in January or so. If you’re a book critic or editor, please contact courtney@softskull.com to receive one.

Resolved: the national security interests of the United States would be best served by an immediate troop withdrawal from occupied Iraq.

I addressed the Yale Political Union on the above subject. In response to requests, I am posting the text of my speech here.

TED RALL’S ADDRESS TO THE YALE POLITICAL UNION

December 3, 2003

Thank you for inviting me here tonight. As someone who has been both expelled by and graduated with honors from Columbia University, a place you rarely think about, I know that you’ll accept the sympathies that I’d like to offer on behalf of a beloved Yalie George W. Bush. My condolences are exactly as sincere as they are chock full of detached bemusement. Sadly, this middle-aged white man, once so full of promise and now filled to the brim with the waste product of a wasted life, finds himself, in the immortal closing voiceover from Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” in a world of shit.

Of course, Governor Bush’s situation is a desperate one. As he begins campaigning to win his first legal election, a race that pollsters predict will be nearly as tight as the last one, Bush’s economy has bled more than 3 million jobs. But the news isn’t all bad. He has also created 3 million freshly-minted Democrats. As this year’s budget deficit has skyrocketed, even his long-suffering Congressional lapdogs are considering cutting up his credit cards. Worst of all, of course, the war in Iraq—which was an uphill battle to begin with—has been irretrievably lost.

Whether the voters send Bush back to Crawford in January 2005 is of marginal importance to anyone but his major campaign contributors. Whether the United States of America strengthens or fades away, however, means everything.

No politician or political party is worth allowing harm to befall the greatest experiment in representative democracy ever undertaken. One man’s fate pales next to the risk of threatening the security of the world’s sole remaining superpower, its largest economy and the cornerstone of international stability. George W. Bush may save his presidency, or more accurately win what he stole, by following my advice to pull out of Iraq. But Bush doesn’t matter. What matters to you and me is the national security of our wonderful country, and that interest would be best served by an immediate American troop withdrawal from occupied Iraq.

The costs of invading and occupying Iraq have been enormous. As of yesterday, 434 American and about 100 coalition soldiers have died in combat, accidents and “friendly fire” incidents; several thousand have been grievously wounded. CNN estimates that 3,500 Iraqi civilians died during the invasion; because the Pentagon refuses to keep a tally of Iraqi casualties during the current guerilla war, it’s impossible to determine how many Iraqis have died since. There have been countless deaths of innocent Iraqis, including this past Sunday, when U.S. forces reported killing 54 Iraqi “insurgents” in Samarra. Most turned out to be civilians, including a local teacher and two Iranian pilgrims. According to the Associated Press, “Many residents said Saddam loyalists attacked the Americans, but that when U.S. forces began firing at random, many civilians got their guns and joined the fight. Many said residents were bitter about recent U.S. raids in the night.”

No one talks about the Iraqi soldiers who died in battle, performing their duty against a better-armed force, but the Department of Defense guesstimates those losses at anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 men. They were husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. If you travel into combat zones, as I did a few years ago to Afghanistan, you’ll start to forget the distinction between our victims and their victims. They were human beings, just like ours. Few if any were “terrorists.”

The Pentagon, which Congress recently appropriated $1 billion for Afghanistan and $86 billion to occupy and rebuild Iraq, freely acknowledges that Congress has merely made a down payment on the sandy killing fields. At a monthly cost of $1 to $2 billion, plus Halliburton’s exorbitant estimates of the price of restoring oil and other infrastructure, the lowest estimate for a five-year occupation is currently running at a whopping $500 billion. If Bush ordered a pullout today, the United States could nationalize its colleges and universities and allow every student in the country, including here at Yale, to pay zero tuition—yet still come out ahead. And that’s not accounting for interest. Bush’s tax cuts and new Homeland Security bureaucracy helped turn President Clinton’s estimated $4 trillion projected ten-year federal budget surplus into a $6 trillion deficit. We don’t have the money for this war. We’re borrowing it by issuing Treasury bonds and notes to foreign investors. Even if we keep the occupation under budget, which would make this the first-ever case of government avoiding budget overruns, we’re going to lay out a hell of lot more than half a trillion dollars before this is all over.

Expense alone, however, should not preclude the United States from waging war. No one would say that it wasn’t worth the enormous price we paid to destroy Nazi Germany, fascist Italy or imperial Japan. Of course, Bush tried to make that case. Taking on Iraq, he tried to convince us, would be like fighting World War II all over again. Saddam Hussein, he told us, was the Adolf Hitler of the Middle East. Some of my editorial cartoonist colleagues helped out by drawing the Iraqi dictator with a teeny Bavarian mustache, but the analogy still didn’t play.

Saddam, Bush said, had invaded his neighbors and gassed his own people. What went unspoken was that he’d attacked Iran on behalf of Ronald Reagan, when he was still working as a U.S. puppet. Or that, as the U.S. has done so often and continues to do in places like Central Asia, we looked away as our valuable “strategic ally” brutalized Iraq’s Kurdish minority. True, since invading Kuwait and being driven out by a U.S.-led coalition in 1991, Saddam Hussein had presided over a violent and despotic dictatorship. In that he was no different than such U.S. allies in our so-called “war on terror” as Saparmurat Niyazov, Islam Karimov, Nursultan Nazarbayev and General Pervez Musharraf. But Iraq hadn’t invaded anyone since 1990, which is further back than most Americans can remember.

The failure of the Saddam-as-Hitler argument led to the Bush Administration’s repeated claim that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the U.S. and its allies—perhaps Israel and Saudi Arabia. Here are just a few of the lines Administration officials used in their build-up to war:

Dick Cheney, speaking to the VFW national convention on August 26, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

George Bush, addressing the UN General Assembly on September 12: “Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”

Ari Fleischer, at a January 9 briefing: “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.”

Bush’s State of the Union Address on January 28: “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”

Colin Powell, to the UN Security Council, on February 5: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.”

Bush, in a March 17 speech to the nation: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

I could go on—Lord, could I go on—but my voice and your patience wouldn’t outlast a full reading of these statements.

Iraq’s longest-range missiles could only travel a maximum range of 400 miles, by the way. I’m thinking that maybe Saddam planned to Fedex them to Washington. Anyway, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a laundry list of weapons, down to the exact number of liters of anthrax medium, that the United Nations would find in Iraq should it choose to validate America’s crusade by committing troops. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told ABC on March 30 that he knew exactly where Saddam’s WMDs were, naming sites and cities. “We know where they are,” he said. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” We know now that there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq. We also know that the Bush Administration didn’t even think it knew where they were. They made it all up, pulling bits and pieces from out-of-date CIA reports so they could blame “faulty intelligence” later on.

If Rumsfeld hadn’t been lying, why didn’t U.S. weapons inspectors find nuclear, biological and/or chemical weapons where he said they’d be? When you state you know where something is and it doesn’t turn up where you’d promised, you had to be lying. To be charitable, the best one can say for the White House’s alleged “case” against Saddam Hussein is that, as of 1998—the most recent date for which reliable weapons information was available—Iraq had chemical and perhaps biological weapons.

On May 13, Major General David Petraeus, Commander of the 101st Airborne, became the first official to tell the truth: “I just don’t know whether it was all destroyed years ago—I mean, there’s no question that there were chemical weapons years ago—whether they were destroyed right before the war, (or) whether they’re still hidden.” As The New York Times has since reported, the WMDs probably were destroyed back in 1999, a fact that U.N. inspectors under Hans Blix would have verified had he been allowed to do so by a Bush Administration hell-bent on war. Ironically, Saddam believed that if he came clean about his compliance, he would appear defenseless.

In 1998 I owned a bootleg copy of the first Belle and Sebastian EP, but if recording industry cops broke down the door to my apartment, it wouldn’t be there today. Knowing that Saddam had proscribed weapons in 1998 didn’t mean that he had them in 2003. But, as Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are aware, it’s tough to make the case for “imminent threat” based on archival data.

After testing various rationales for war, with the international community and many Americans continuing to balk, Bush rolled out his ultimate and ultimately baseless charge: Saddam Hussein, he and his cabinet members implied so often that 70 percent of the public accepted it as Gospel truth, had planned and carried out 9/11. Not Osama. Not the Saudis. Saddam. The Bushies backed off from this gigantic, jumbo-sized lie under pressure from the media, but as soon as the journos stopped paying attention (which seems to happen a lot nowadays) they were back at it.

But you already knew all that. Bush’s litany of lies are old news to those of us who make an effort to stay informed. The rest of the world hasn’t moved on, though. For our traditional allies like France and Germany, as well as individuals both Muslim and otherwise, Bush’s brazen falsehoods to justify war will forever color the subsequent occupation. Even if the Iraqi people had greeted us with wine and roses, even if all the news from Baghdad were positive, they would never accept Bush’s ends-justify-the-means approach to preemptive warfare—or more accurately, arbitrary warfare.

War is a nation-state’s most extreme undertaking. It must be entered into seriously, not with smirks or fake cowpoke rhetoric. For war to be considered legitimate, it must be presented as a desperate last resort for self-preservation rather than the continuation of diplomacy—or the expansion of commerce—by other means. An overwhelming majority of people must be convinced that there is no other choice. The arguments used to build consensus for conflict must be truthful in form as well as substance. Otherwise you get Vietnam, which “began” with a fictional attack on a U.S. destroyer in the Tonkin Gulf.

Speaking on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 2, Bush said that “The use of force has been and remains our last resort.” Yet another lie. There was no justification and no national consensus for Gulf War II—and it certainly wasn’t a last resort. And that may be reason enough to pull out now. No matter how you see the war, as a well-intentioned mistake based on flawed intelligence or as a cynical, evil gambit to carry out a plan hatched by Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Richard Perle called the Project for a New American Century before Bush came to power, the U.S. never enjoyed a tacit, legitimately-constructed consensus at home or abroad that what it was doing was necessary or justified.

Lies, Governor Bush, do matter.

Now that we’ve got more than 130,000 soldiers occupying Iraq, don’t we have an obligation to finish the job? If we pull out now, won’t Iraq disintegrate? How can we tell the widows and widowers of American soldiers that their loved ones died for nothing?

No. Yes. And we have no choice.

Since there weren’t any WMDs, we obviously don’t need to stay in Iraq to destroy nonexistent weapons. That leaves the fait accompli argument, falls flat on its face. The only reason for the U.S. to remain in Iraq, as provided by either Administration apologists or pro-war liberals like Thomas Friedman, is to plant the seed of democracy in the Middle East. Under this model, victory in Iraq—from the U.S. perspective—requires establishing sufficient peace and tranquility in the streets and alleys of Iraq to create conditions where democracy and free enterprise can flourish. A post-Baath Party democracy would bring Sunnis, Shiites, Turcomen and Kurds under the umbrella of a vibrant multiparty Iraqi federation. Presumably, the long-oppressed citizens of neighboring Arab states, watching the happy news on Al Jazeera, would agitate for change, which would force some regimes to reform and spark velvet revolutions against others. One wonder what the Kuwaitis think of this idea, but that’s the vision of the neo-conservatives.

Trouble is, it’s impossible.

First of all, there is no such thing as Iraq anymore. The Kurds have enjoyed de facto autonomy since the early 1990s. They have their own currency, stamps and national anthem, and they’ve made clear that they’re never coming back. Earlier this year U.S. invasion forces, by failing to force Kurdistan back into Iraq, ratified the nation’s permanent partition into at least two states: a future Republic of Kurdistan and a rump Iraq. Furthermore, our policy of deBaathification is alienating the 40 percent Sunni minority by depriving anyone who joined the party under the deposed regime of the right to earn a living. Desperation is growing. Civil war, Iraqis on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide agree, is probably inevitable.

Neighboring states, in particular Turkey and Iran, are also playing a destabilizing role within Iraq. Turkey, fearful of renewed pro-independence agitation from its own Kurdish minority, is funding Sunni factions operating in Mosul and other border areas along the northern “green line” between Kurdistan and Iraq proper. Iranian hardliners, meanwhile, believe that they see the future of Iraq—and that it looks a lot like Teheran circa 1978. In Iraqi politics, tribe and clan affiliation have always been a preeminent determinant. Even in an ideal Jeffersonian-style democracy, Iraq’s 60 percent Shiite majority will enjoy continuous dominance, creating a perpetually neglected and/or abused Sunni minority. The American-led deBaathification policy pushes demography to further extremes of social polarization. The U.S. has made little to no effort to contain street violence, tacitly condoning revenge killings of leading Sunnis. As Iraqi clerics return from exile in Iran and their fundamentalist allies provide funding for agitation, Iraq’s secular status is being eroded daily. The not-so-great irony is that a liberalizing Iran, whose overtures have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Bush Administration, is financing a radical Shiite revolution in Iraq.

The antiwar left accuses the Bush Administration of failing to prepare a plan for postwar Iraq, but that’s not strictly true. The Pentagon’s plan, as it has been in previous wars, was to stand by and let things develop, to see which factions—among the State and Defense Department-approved lists of anti-Baath Iraqi exile groups—would ultimately emerge with popular support. Top officials were warned that, après Saddam, le deluge, but they couldn’t believe it. The removal of a strongman with more than two decades to consolidate power created a power vacuum which no one, least of all Ahmed Chalabi (who left Iraq at the age of 12), could fill.

We can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.

We might have avoided some of the current problems by preparing a successor government and taking steps to prevent looting and random violence. Inexplicably the Defense Department refused to allow U.S. Army civil affairs detachments to cross the border from Kuwait until after the worst rioting was already underway. You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and we blew it.

Then, after we failed to install or find a viable pro-American post-Saddam regime, various insurgent groups—former regime figures, Shiite radicals, Islamist guerillas and even Kurds—perceived a chance to seize control for themselves. Unfortunately, they can’t fight each other until they get rid of us. Like the diverse component groups allied to form the French Resistance during World War II, they’re united in a marriage of convenience, one that’s launching an average of 35 attacks daily and dedicated to killing so many Americans that the U.S. public withdraws its support for the occupation. Our policy of overwhelming retaliation, ranging from arbitrary arrests of Iraqis said to be anti-American, to humiliating searches of homes and pat-downs of wives and daughters, to bombing cities located near ambush sites, is killing and maiming countless innocents. It’s playing into the hands of the resistance. It didn’t work for the French in Algeria. Ask any Israeli whether the politics of retaliation are effective in the Occupied Territories. The more clumsily and aggressively we react to attacks by Iraqi resistance fighters, the more angry recruits they find among an increasingly radicalized population. The most effective way to build popular support, by killing Iraqis with kindness, seems neither likely nor feasible. Ours is a poorly-trained occupation army largely composed of uneducated young men who’ve never traveled before they enlisted. They neither speak Arabic nor understand the complex tribal and religious politics of the country they’re attempting to run. If you’ve been to the Middle East, you can’t help but shudder with shame and disgust at the sight of men awaiting interrogation with gunny sacks over their heads as laughing soldiers pat down their wives and daughters. It isn’t right; even worse, it’s downright stupif. With U.S. troops coming under daily attack, however, sympathy and understanding are in short supply.

The resistance knows that it’s winning. It possesses a huge stockpile of weapons and significant funding, with more of both pouring in across poorly guarded borders with Syria and Iran. Resistance forces are operating on their home turf. Time is on their side, but not on ours. During the 20th century, no nation has ever invaded another sovereign state and kept it for long. Iraq is not likely to become the first exception. The last time we fought a war on as large a scale as Iraq, indigenous fighters drove us out of Vietnam. Make no mistake: the Iraqi resistance thinks they’re going to win the same way, applying the same ruthless dedication and relentlessness some of them used against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and they’re probably right. Retired Gen. Theodore Mataxis, wrote the following in the forward to the Russian army’s review of its Afghan war: “What guerrillas do not need is military victory. Guerrillas need to survive and endure over the years or decades of the conflict,” he wrote. The winning side in such a war prevails “because of higher morale, greater obstinacy, stronger national will, and the determination to survive.”

Wanna bet which side has all of the above in Iraq?

When evaluating the feasibility of continuing to fight in Iraq, we shouldn’t ignore the danger of contributing to the spread of regional and international instability. As I’ve mentioned, Turkey is nervously eying its southeast as the possible site of another bloody civil conflict or border war with a nascent Kurdish state. At the brink of bankruptcy and threatened by rising Islamic fundamentalism, Turkey is the strategic lynchpin between Europe and Asia, a crucial ally to Israel and the U.S., and the highest civilized achievement of secular Islam. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia are currently wavering between following Ankarra and Islamabad as their model, and the world’s largest untapped oil reserves—six times more than Saudi Arabia—hang in the balance. If Turkey disintegrates as a result of the Kurdish/Iraqi conflict, revolution could spread like a wildfire across the Caucasus, the Balkans and even Eastern Europe.

Furthermore, Bush’s preemptive war doctrine is encouraging nuclear proliferation. Nations that merely flirted with acquiring nukes until they “let” themselves be bought off not to go all the way have drawn the obvious conclusion from the invasion of Iraq: once Bush gets his teeth in your ass, nothing you can say or do will make him let go. Kim Jong Il of North Korea ramped up his nuke program in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and may have built as many as four completed warheads. He has threatened a nuclear attack on the West Coast of the United States, and Bush has all but promised a non-aggression treaty as a reward—er, result. Iran may follow suit. We want the world to see Al Qaeda as the biggest threat to world peace, but the world sees us starting all the wars. Nukes look like the perfect antidote to American militarism.

Finally, we don’t have enough troops to remain in Iraq. As things stand, the U.S. only employs about a quarter million men and women in combat positions in its standing volunteer army. 130,000 are in Iraq, with 20,000 more on the way. 10,000 are in Kabul. We’ve got 30,000 more scattered around the world, not including those stationed in the Korean demilitarized zone. National Guard and reserve units are stretched beyond their limit. If we were attacked by a real foe, by an enemy that truly possessed weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves. Rumor has it that the Selective Service System is gearing up for a new draft to begin after the election in 2005. But, as the army learned during Vietnam, resentful draftees are no substitute for professional volunteer soldiers with years of training and experience.

The war in Iraq is sapping wealth and manpower, as well as political focus, from a real war on terrorism, a war that we never began in earnest. Three years and three weeks ago, 19 Saudi and Egyptian hijackers murdered more than 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. To this day, the Administration has made next to no effort whatsoever to bring the organizations that planned and carried out those attacks to justice. The nations that funded and harbored the criminals, countries which would have made more appropriate targets of American military action than Afghanistan or Iraq—despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt—have enjoyed increased American aid since 9/11. The criminals remain free while we bog down our troops with a war that is so pointless that even its real objective—securing strategic dominance over the second largest oil reserves on earth—remains elusive.

Someday the U.S. will realize that the cost of occupying Iraq to fight its people far outweighs the potential benefits of a democratized Middle East. We will inevitably conclude, moreover, that our stated war aims—peace and stability, unity and democracy—are unachievable given the situation in Iraq and the nature of our strategy. Gulf War II was lost the day it was conceived; the only question is how long it will take for an American president to accept the truth and order a withdrawal.

Yes, Iraq will probably fall apart. A Shiite revolution is likely. Iraqis and other Arabs will despise us for replacing Saddam Hussein with something even worse: lawlessness and chaos. It’s awful and it is our fault, but nothing can be done about this mess now. No one can save the occupation, but there would be some long-term benefits of leaving Iraq. Were we to admit to the United Nations and the world that we committed a grace error of miscalculation and hubris when we began dropping bombs on Baghdad, it might begin to humanize us. Until now, being American has always meant never having to say we’re sorry.

Thousands of people, some innocent and some not, have died for this fraud of a war. It’s already obvious to all but the most pigheaded that, sooner or later, we will abandon Iraq just as we’ve abandoned Afghanistan. Why prolong the pain? Let’s cut our losses and get out now. Everyone who has lost their lives in Iraq has died for Bush’s lies. Everyone who dies from this day forward will die for nothing.

(c) 2003 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

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