It breaks my heart to hear “they died defending our freedom” used to eulogize US service women and men who die in Iraq. Though all military people I have known have been very clear about their own personal dedication to “defending our freedom,” those who send them into battle often use that phrase as false advertising, to garner support for much less noble causes.
George H. W. Bush chose to invade Panama in 1989 “to drive out that notorious drug lord Manuel Noriega, restore democracy, and defend ‘American’ (only US American) life.” The ad was for public consumption. Behind the scenes, Bush paid Noriega generously for years as a CIA operative. It didn’t matter that he was a drug dealer until Panama wanted its independence from the US control (not democracy) they had known since their 1903 inception. Who died to continue US control? Over 3000 Panamanians died and 15,000 were left homeless when whole neighborhoods in the poorest areas were bombed; 23 US service personnel died. Whose freedom was defended?
The Bush-Cheney team chose to invade Iraq in 2003 because “Hussein was linked to the 9/11 attacks, had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons at the ready, and was prepared to attack the US within 45 minutes;” i.e., we needed to attack to “defend our freedom.” As those claims were discovered to be lies, the ads shifted to the “need to remove that evil dictator who gassed thousands of Iranians and Kurdish Iraqis.” However, behind the scenes lurked a different reality. Hussein had been recruited as a CIA operative, assisted and sustained by the US in his rise to power in Iraq, and given money, weapons and technical assistance—even the ingredients for the poisonous gasses he used on the Kurds and Iranians—by the Reagan-Bush administration represented by a smiling Donald Rumsfeld. As is often the pattern, it didn’t matter that Hussein was a ruthless dictator as long as he worked for us; our government aided and abetted him until they didn’t need him anymore. Whose freedom was defended?
The real thrust for the invasion, carefully hidden from public view, is the “PNAC.” In 1996/7, a neo-con think tank made up of Dick Cheney, “Scooter” Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Richard Perle and Jeb Bush, among others, produced a political game plan called “Project for a New American Century.” They produced list of goals that included the take-over of Iraq, regardless of the status of Saddam Hussein, to gain military ascendancy in the Middle East and control of Iraq’s oil reserves. A subtext of PNAC, called Rebuilding America’s Defenses, extended the goal to unchallengeable US global domination, supported by a quiet, accepting electorate at home. To achieve the needed level of (fear-driven) popular support, they actually stated, would require the equivalent of “a new Pear Harbor.” After such a cataclysmic event, the ensuing fear would make it easy to get popular support for anything that could be advertised as “defending our freedom.”
In Memorial Day speeches this year, Bush invoked the mantra that the valiant dead gave their lives in a war that started on 9/11 (our new Pearl Harbor), to defend freedom and the homeland against the threat of terrorism. To invade Iraq to defend against the threat of terrorism is as misleading as the rest of the “reasons” proposed. Before the US invaded, Iraq posed no terrorist threat to the rest of the world; and since the invasion, most of the armed resistance is aimed at getting the US and its cohorts, mercenaries, and corporations out of their country.
Instead of defending freedom, ours or theirs, our government, now run by PNAC members, is imposing and extending control. The Iraqis know it, wary after past British occupation, and so does the rest of the world. If the world’s most powerful force invades a country, kills over 11,000 people, quashes dissent, makes mass arrests without charges, violates the Geneva Conventions, allows the systemic abuse of prisoners, and imposes a constitution that will allow multiple permanent foreign bases and continued foreign corporate control of the country’s natural resources, then that country—any country—will become a hotbed of dissent.
The fact that our troops are fighting in Iraq is not only not protecting us, but is one of the factors increasing hostility for the US worldwide. It is rousing more distrust and resentment, inspiring more people in more countries to join in the effort to bring down an arrogant bully.
To date, 832 US service personnel have died, 112 from other compliant countries, and upwards of 11,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians. And whose freedom is being defended?
It’s time that we the people stand up and defend the lives of our military personnel from decision makers who would send them to die for their own power and wealth, disguised by the rhetoric of freedom.
Dr. Virginia Hoffman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Lecturer at Loyola University Chicago