NEW YORK—We shouldn't still be having this conversation.
To anyone possessing a milligram of common sense, it has been obvious from the start—before the start—that invading Iraq would be disastrous. Any American capable of reading between the lines sensed trouble when the Bush Administration's giddy predictions of flower-throwing Iraqis never materialized to greet our advancing columns. Even the silliest Pollyanna must have shuddered a little when it came to light that the war's singular Kodak moment, the toppling of Saddam's statue in Fardus Square, turned out to have been just as phony as the "evidence" recited at Colin Powell's UN speech.
A year later, 630 U.S. soldiers lie dead, young lives sacrificed on the altar of the vainglorious ambitions of an insane cabal of neocon morons hell-bent on transforming the Middle East into an American Raj. Thousands more, some of them so misled by their unelected president that they thought they were avenging September 11, lost their limbs and eyes to bullets and bombs fired by people they expected to be their new best friends. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been murdered by the professional liars illegally occupying the White House in a search for weapons the experts damn well knew Iraq no longer possessed.
The delusional leaders of our occupation army are fond of pointing to signs of progress. Occupation viceroy Paul Bremer likes to rattle off statistics: 2,500 renovated schools, three million vaccinated children, 18,000 reconstruction projects underway, healthcare spending up 30 times, a 29 percent increase in the value of the Iraqi dinar. Hey, it's the least we can do—after all, Iraq wouldn't need new schools or hospitals if we hadn't bombed their old ones. But, in the end, infrastructure doesn't much matter.
There are three categories of civilians in an occupied country: patriots, collaborators and opportunists. In the calculus of hearts and minds, anything short of 100 percent popularity qualifies as total failure. It's an impossible standard, which is why no nation has ever successfully invaded and occupied another in the 20th century. Even if a majority like living under foreign control, a dubious assumption at best, an occupation is nonetheless doomed. As long as one percent of the population spends its evenings blowing up enemy convoys, fence sitters will be scared to collaborate. In Iraq, that one percent—or five, or whatever—shows no sign of letting up.
Read and understand: They hate us simply because we're there. Leave, and the hatred goes away. If you doubt that, visit Hanoi as a tourist.
Exacerbating an impossible situation is the fact that we're playing right into the hands of the insurgency. Last week residents of Fallujah hung the carbonized corpses of ambushed American mercenaries (not, as widely reported, civilians) from a bridge. This week a U.S. army of retribution has surrounded the city to carry out Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal cry for vengeance: "It would be good not only for elemental justice but for Iraq and its future if a large force of coalition troops led by U.S. Marines would go into Fallujah, find the young men, arrest them or kill them, and, to make sure the point isn't lost on them, blow up the bridge." The Associated Press reported that a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship, mimicking Israeli tactics on the occupied West Bank, fired missiles into residential neighborhoods.
The Iraqi resistance wants us to retaliate; provoking us into lashing out is why they attack us in the first place. Each act of retaliation kills and injures innocents, proving to the opportunists that we're the monsters the patriots say we are. We're radicalizing the previously moderate segment of the population.
Were there some possible future, even 20 or 30 years from now, wherein enough stability had been achieved to allow us to hand off power to a democratic government that truly represented the interests of all Iraqis, I'd argue that we should tough it out no matter the cost. The chance of that, however, is zero.
"The message to Iraqi citizens," says Bush, "is that they don't have to fear that Americans will cut and run." The Iraqis don't fear our departure; they crave it. Moreover, they count on it.
"We can't leave," Newsweek quotes an officer with a major security firm in Iraq (hmm). "If it takes a million f***ing American lives, we have to stay."
The hell we do. Sooner or later, one way or another, we're leaving—as defeated and bankrupt and demoralized as we were when we fled Saigon. The only question now is: how many more people are we going to kill before we cut and run?
A postscript to last week's column: Readers have asked how much it would cost to keep enough fighter jets in the air over the United States in order to limit response time to a 9/11-type emergency to less than ten minutes. The answer, according to Air Force experts, is about $1 billion a year, less than half of our foreign aid budget for Egypt.
Ted Rall is the author of Wake Up, You're Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right, released this month.
Copyright 2004 Ted Rall
Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall
Ted Rall online: www.rall.com