Prisoners of War

I was not contacted by any government official prior to March 2003 to ask if I approved of the invasion and occupation of Iraq . I am certain that the hundreds of thousands of troops flooding the Gulf, including their commanding officers, were not polled, either. Certainly, the Administration did not bother to canvass the vast majority of Iraqis regarding their preference for being invaded and occupied for an unspecified term.

So, how did this invasion and occupation proceed? The answer to this question raises one of the most basic failures of the current federal system. Almost since inception, there has been a disconnect between the Heartland and the Beltway. They are like two separate worlds. One preoccupied with work, personal security, the erosion of basic services, diminishing personal liberties, the payment of taxes and making those ever shortening ends meet. The other preoccupied with holding power, exercising power and extracting enough revenue to pay for itself. They operate in an inverse relationship to each other.

The Founding Fathers cautioned against a standing army, excessive taxes, foreign entanglements and unbridled power in the executive branch. Today we have them all in spades. We find ourselves invading and occupying foreign nations, spending money we do not have but will have to come up with, and killing people who had no axe to grind with us or vice versa.

The average American knows little about Iraq or its people, but has now seen enough to know that they were sold a bill of goods about the dire threat Iraq allegedly posed. John Q. Public can quickly determine that a nation incapable of defending itself against an invasion was likewise incapable of launching one against the west. Like parents vainly waiting for their child to appear from the fatal wreckage of their family car, Americans wait for news that their military has uncovered weapons of mass destruction, the alleged existence of which permitted some of them to rationalize the slaughter of thousands of Iraqi civilians by weapons paid for with their taxes. In neither case is the hope real, but admitting the obvious is just too painful.

Faced with pre-war polling evidence that Americans were highly skeptical and reluctant about being plunged into a preemptive invasion of another nation, President Bush angrily declared that he would not be influenced by the polls, i.e., he did not care what the electorate thought. Of the 63% of Americans who now say they feel Iraq was worth going to war over, 25% want the troops out now and 33% want us to withdraw if the current casualty rate goes unabated.[1] The reality that $4 billion per month is the ante to stay in the Administration's poker game has also left unemployed Americans who are struggling to make ends meet in a weak economy with nagging doubts.

In Baghdad , other Americans are quickly seeing their beliefs shaken to dust. Like American civilians, they too believed what their government sold them. Theirs was a mission of honor, a chance to save the free world from the imminent threat of WMD and Islamic terrorism, a chance to avenge the horror of 9-11, and a chance to liberate an oppressed people, who would be waiting for them with flowers and cool drinks. Now their betrayal is obvious. As they endure 120 degree heat, sand flies, poor living conditions and the open hostility of those they are 'liberating,' these soldiers steam over the daily taking of their comrades by people who are now a faceless enemy to them. They no doubt take great comfort in their leader's proclamations that those who kill them at random, are remnants of a failed regime or not part of an organized resistance. All the soldiers know is that those killing them are Iraqis. In turn, this leads jittery and frustrated high school graduates to shoot first and administer democracy later. Soon they find themselves breaking into the homes of innocents whom they will rough up, detain or outright kidnap for information that may save their lives. In turn, they are creating more killers who will seek apolitical vengeance against them just as soon as they can bury their loved ones. These soldiers know that every stern look exchanged with an Iraqi citizen may be the harbinger of a fatal encounter in the lawless streets their invasion unleashed. To their additional resentment, the promised rotation out of Iraq for a job well done will have to wait. The job is not well done yet, only rare.

The average Iraqi is still reeling from the American invasion and the sweeping changes it has brought to his daily life. This is particularly bad news for their 'liberators.' Prior to the war, Iraqis had enough reason to resent the U.S. for the 12 years of hardships it had imposed upon them. Yet, Iraqis seemed willing to distinguish between a government gone awry and the basic decency of the average American, whose freedoms, values and lifestyles they admired. Now, Iraqi resentment against the presence and tactics of American soldiers is undeniably on the increase. A centuries-old culture that demands accountability for insults, torment and abuse is tallying the bill against their occupiers. They actively contrast Saddam's ability to restore basic services shortly after Gulf War I with the United States ' inability to do so now. They record that street crime was non-existent under their deposed dictator, while they now live in conditions more dangerous than Escape From New York. It is an angry, festering wonderment.

The Administration has promised that all will be well once its game of 52 Pickup is completed. While rigor mortis was setting in on the Aces of Clubs and Hearts, Iraqis gunned down three more of their liberators in the very town where the Aces had been executed hours earlier by the same military unit. There should be no illusion that the elimination or capture of Saddam will change this death spiral. 'There are many people who would like to fight the Americans, but if they fight now, they'll be considered Saddam's people. So the resistance will be stronger if Saddam is captured or killed.'[2] Before the invasion, Wolfowitz publicly derided General Shinseki for honestly stating to Congress that American occupation of Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of U.S. forces for an indefinite period of time. Wolfowitz now concedes that he miscalculated, and cannot say when the United States will leave Iraq .

Stay the course, they implore us, keep paying through the nose, they insist of us. The Administration decries its critics. Criticism is treason. There is no alternative. Of course, there are also no weapons of mass destruction, there is no accountability and there are no limits to what they may try next. The Administration tells its armed forces the same set of lies and insists that they are on a noble mission, fully supported by both the people of America and the people of Iraq . Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The Beltway's Baghdad branch office continues to puff to the Iraqi people who have already realized--like the American people and military--that they have been conned and are paying dearly. Be patient, democracy will come. Be patient, law and order will be restored. Be patient, you will soon have utilities, food, water and medicine ' like you had before U.S. sanctions deprived you of them. Unfortunately for the neocons, the Stockholm Syndrome has not overtaken their Iraqi captives.

The average American was not asked to order from a menu, but will be forced to pay the tab. The American soldier was given orders and obeyed regardless of conscience. Rumsfeld, in the style of a rapist, told Iraqis they would not be harmed if they did not resist, and that any resistance would be futile. Americans would like our troops out of Iraq sooner than later. Our soldiers want out of Iraq ASAP, and the Iraqis want them out even faster. Unfortunately, none of those wishes will be realized. We are all prisoners of war.

[1] Borger, Julian, The Guardian, August 4, 2003

[2] Robinson, Simon, Among the Rebels, Time Magazine Online, August 4, 2003

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John Peters's picture
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John Peters is an attorney in Michigan, a Libertarian, and a freelance author.