This War is Toast
Published on Thursday, May 6, 2004 by
This War is Toast
by Clay Evans

Following the publication of appalling photos of U.S. military guards torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners, and Seymour Hersh's devastating revelation in The New Yorker that the military knew months ago that such abuse is systemic, U.S. media outlets are all abuzz over a "scandal."

A scandal?

To us comfortable Americans, these abominable acts are on the level of Bill Clinton's idiotic sexual dalliances and such go-nowhere nonsense as "Filegate." The ugliness at Abu Ghraib already has been dubbed "Torturegate" by some wags.

It'll blow over....

But try to put yourself in the mind of an average Iraqi. To him, our scandal is a sinister echo of the long, fearsome years under Saddam Hussein. It is sickening proof, to him, that American "values" include mockery of those different from us, a juvenile (and to Muslims, unholy) obsession with sexual hijinks, a deep lack of respect, and blind arrogance.

The Bush administration sold its war of choice by telling us we faced an imminent (yes, they used that word) threat of attack with weapons of mass destruction and a poisonous alliance between Saddam and Al-Qaida. That didn't pan out (though Iranian journalists have reported there are efforts underway to import "evidence" of WMD; stay tuned).

So, on to the next teleprompt: We're engaged in a grand enterprise to instill democracy in the imperially cobbled-together nation of Iraq. With a lemon-fresh Tide of freedom we will wash away the stain of Saddam.

Right. We've hand-picked "leaders" with no popular support, we've killed uncounted civilians while chasing down people enraged by the chaos and death we have delivered, we've declared majority-rule off limits, and we've imposed a "free market" system, putting Iraq up for bid to Western corporations, without asking the Iraqis' permission.

And as for our cherished, simple-minded belief that we are white-hats battling "evildoers," the photos from Abu Ghraib - and it's not just an isolated pocket of untrained hillbilly reservists; it's going on all over the country, and in Afghanistan - the Muslim world now has photographic proof that Bush's dangerous Manicheanism is a pack of lies. Whatever we do, we can never fix this.

I disagreed with Bush's war from the outset, but I've been clinging tepidly to John Kerry's uninspiring call to "stay the course." No longer.

We're done in Iraq. The genie of Arab outrage is flowing over the Babylonian desert and we will never jam it back into the bottle. We've lost all hope of winning hearts and minds. The longer we stay, the more we'll aggravate the problem, and the more soldiers we'll lose.

I've been straining to think of an example in which any nation truly welcomed invasion and occupation, in which the military fist, chaos, civilian deaths, and evildoings won hearts and minds. If anyone thinks of one, let me know (and World War II France doesn't count: we were booting the Nazi invaders out).

It's time to start planning an orderly exit and bona fide transition of power to Iraqis, under the watch of the United Nations. Yes, our reputation will suffer, but it has already because the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz experiment has failed, and there's no excuse to spill more blood in the administration's ideological petri dish.

Ultimately, the real solution - which doesn't have to entail a bloodbath, if the U.N. is involved - may be to let "Iraq" break into three nations of Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. The modern Middle East was drawn up by Britain and France along such arbitrary lines as railroads, and there is no moral reason to try to hold it together. Does any body really believe a new, independent Iraq wouldn't collapse into civil war anyway?

What hawks never seem to realize is that while war is sometimes necessary, it always breeds inhumanity. There are no "evildoers" and good guys when bullets fly. When enemies threaten you, it's you or them, and you shrug off "collateral damage." And when your leaders preach that "they" are evil, and we have God on our side, anger can morph oh-so-easily into brutality. Think Rwanda. My Lai. Al-Qaida. Hitler.

We've lost. How many more must die before we admit it?

Clay Evans ( is Associate Editor of the Boulder Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)
This column will appear in the Daily Camera on May 9.