James Baker’s & Lee Hamilton’s report from the Iraq Study Group on the situation in Iraq and their recommendations on how to proceed avoids three of the most important aspects of this catastrophic situation. Thus, it does nothing to avert the mythic disaster that inevitably befalls a country -- like ours -- determined to ignore the strictures of reality.
1. The report never talks about the manner in which the U.S. Congress and people were manipulated into war by this administration. The lies and deceptions used to engineer this war were a betrayal of the Constitution and of our democratic Republic. Any solution must not just figure out how the U.S. can exit from the war, but, equally important, how such deception can be avoided in the future. To do this we all have to face the truth of what happened. The Study Group did not address this issue; it provided cover for the administration. By implication it took the administration to task for poor planning and incompetence, but that is not nearly enough. Crimes were committed. An essential ingredient of the success of a democracy is its willingness to demand accountability. Without people being held responsible, nothing lasting can be learned. We are indeed doomed to repeat our history if no one is held accountable for the mistakes and crimes of the past. I have heard it said that the Baker-Hamilton report was a devastating criticism of the administration’s handling of the war. But there is no way it could be devastating enough unless it included criminal indictment. In fact, then it would not be devastating. It would be liberating.
2. The report never disavows the actual goals of the invasion. We all know that the goals were neither self-protection from extraordinary weapons, nor the interdiction of Saddam’s phony connection with Osama, nor the building of democracy in Iraq. The goals involved the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases at a central location in the Mid-East, and the privatized control of a vast supply of oil, and, under the Bremer Rules, the privatization of all of Iraq’s essential business. The Baker-Hamilton report states that U.S. forces should stay in Iraq for an indefinite time to protect our “national interests.” What this “bi-partisan” committee is trying to do, in the inverse of a Pyrrhic victory, is find a way to lose the war but still win the war’s objectives. This duplicity will not be lost on Sunnis, Shiites, or anyone else in the region. There will be no peace until the U.S. leaves Iraq, turns over its bases to the Iraqis and forgoes all imperial ambitions, including the oil. Even then, of course, the violence may worsen. When you sow the whirlwind, it, not you, is in control. ( It’s important to note that James Baker has very close ties to the oil industry and has worked for the Carlyle Group, the international corporate entity made up primarily of former multi-national government officials, like George H.W. Bush, who have used their insider connections to make billions selling arms & oil.)
3. The best way to end the conflict is for the U.S forces to be withdrawn immediately. Much of the violence is in reaction to the presence of the U.S. occupying force. The Study Group admits this, but then ignores it. Much attention is given to the training of Iraqi forces, with the warning to the Iraqi government that it has to now take responsibility for the violence in Iraq --- as though it is their fault. Before they take responsibility, we have to. Who started this war? Who made the unprovoked attack? Who destroyed the infrastructure of the country and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians? Who whistled the tune for this particular “cake walk?” Who should pay for the reparations? Who created a situation so awful that there are no good solutions? The U.S. has to make it very clear that this is our fault and our mess to clean up ---- which brings me back to the beginning. We can’t take appropriate responsibility for the end of this affair if we don’t take responsibility for the beginning. It was not bungling. It was a crime against humanity. Implicit in the Iraq Study Group’s report is that they approved of a pre-emptive war sold to the American people by deception and that they approved of the neo-colonial goals. They’re pissed that the heist was handled so badly.
I am very fond of quoting James Baldwin who said, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction.” For nearly four years the Bush administration has shut its eyes to the reality of the situation in Iraq, and we can all see how close we are to destruction. They also employed every underhanded means they could to mask that reality from the American people. They have arrogantly claimed that they could create reality faster than anyone else could hold them accountable, that they could outrun the consequences of their acts. Oh, the hubris of power! Did Dick Cheney or Karl Rove never read a Greek tragedy? (They could have learned the same lesson from the Road Runner.) All of us who refuse now to see the larger realities and to hold people accountable for them will also face destruction. The Iraq Study Group’s proposals are not a good start toward a realistic solution. They seek both to ignore the initial betrayal of our republic and to hide the objectives which they are still hoping to achieve.
Our job, as citizens, is simply to speak reality to power. None of us wants to confront how bloody abominable this situation --- both in Iraq & in our duplicit government --- really is, but we must. It’s a fire we must walk through with no knowledge of what’s on the other side. It has nothing to do with partisanship. It has to do with salvaging the republic. And it’s a fire we must walk through so that we can have the opportunity to walk through the other conflagrations burning ahead --- global warming and energy depletion --- while there is still time.
Robert Shetterly [send him mail] is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the author of Americans Who Tell the Truth. See his website.