2011-12-21 "The Big Lie Marches On: We must have an honest accounting of the Iraq War" by Robert C. Koehler from "CommonDreams.org"
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and
nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the
Wound is now available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his
website at commonwonders.com.
The war is over, sort of,
but the Big Lie marches on: that democracy is flowering in Iraq, that
America is stronger and more secure than ever, that doing what’s right
is the prime motivator of all our military action.
And the troops will be home for Christmas. Hurrah! Hurrah!
(The men will cheer, the boys will shout, and we’ll all feel gay, except maybe Rick Perry.)
war in Iraq will soon belong to history,” President Obama told the
troops at Fort Bragg last week. “Your service belongs to the ages. Never
forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two
centuries — from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your
grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you —
men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and
Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.”
as he fulfilled his campaign promise and shut down the Iraq operation
after nearly nine years of occupation, slaughter and nation-wrecking,
the president had no choice but to extol the glory of our fake values,
to pretend — to those who fought it — that this was an honorable war,
waged in self-protection and righteous vengeance.
Maybe, even if
Barack Obama has a grand plan and does, as so many people believe,
intend to change the national direction — to make compassion and honesty
our primary governing values — he can only do so incrementally. He
still has to, you know, humor the fist-pumpers and American
exceptionalists. He still has to lie.
I don’t know.
that the Big Lie is seductive, because there’s so much power attached to
it. On the outside looking in, when you’re just a state senator from
Illinois, or whatever, the invasion of Iraq may look like a dumb war.
But on the inside of the operation, with so much power at stake, the
pragmatic necessities of empire, a.k.a., our national interests —
control of oil, dominance in the Middle East, the well-being of defense
contractors — morph into patriotic values, and seem, all of a sudden,
worth the cost in human lives, environmental devastation and even the
well-being of future generations.
If there’s no such thing as a
president who can tell the truth about a fraudulently launched,
devastatingly counterproductive military adventure, or speak critically
about militarism in general — because the truth would, oh, bring down
the economy — we have an inadequate system of government, whose
fundamental purpose is to resist change and perpetuate itself no matter
This is a problem. There may be no way to change such a
system from the inside, which was clearly Barack Obama’s mandate, as
well as his promise, when voters swept him into office, and the world
cheered, in 2008.
The mistake the Obama constituency made was to
believe that we can leave the details of change up to a designated
leader. It’s not democracy that’s inadequate, but a system of
representative government in which only the enormously wealthy, or those
who have indentured themselves to moneyed interests, can cross the
threshold into leadership positions. In such a system, those who oppose
the interests of war and empire can’t possibly be represented. It is
these interests that declare the Iraq war a success and, in so
declaring, lay the groundwork for the next war and the continuation of
the military-industrial economy, even in the face of the increasing
pointlessness of war.
“Why is war in decline? For one thing, it no
longer pays,” declared Steven Pinker and Joshua S. Goldstein in an
op-ed in the New York Times last week. “For centuries, wars reallocated
huge territories, as empires were agglomerated or dismantled and states
wiped off the map. But since shortly after World War II, virtually no
borders have changed by force, and no member of the United Nations has
disappeared through conquest.”
Their premise is that, despite
appearances to the contrary, history is in the process of declaring war
obsolete. This is an achingly slow process, with lots of backsliding,
but trust us, they say, wealth now emanates more from trade than the
control of land, and war only hurts trade. As prosperity increases and
central governments grow stronger, War, the Apocalyptic horseman with
the human face, rides off into the sunset.
While I agree with
their historical assessment, I take issue with their implicit
contentment to sit back, enjoy the prosperity, and let large, impersonal
social forces do the job of eliminating war. I also disagree that trade
itself has no use for war — not when we have a military-industrial
economy that is committed to fresh wars against whomever or whatever
looms next as a convenient enemy.
I think we’re caught in a
paradoxical moment, when history’s long arc has indeed begun to swing
away from the logic of brutal domination, but those in power still
depend on it and seek to perpetuate it under cover of the Big Lie.
urge the convening of a truth commission that refuses to sit and wait
for history. We must have an honest accounting of this war that may have
killed as many as a million Iraqis and helped wreck our economy even as
it enriched a few powerful profiteers. A disastrous war may be over,
but there’s no cause for cheering until we free our government from the
interests that waged it.