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One year later, Iraq war is still wrong

Monday, March 29, 2004

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Written by Scott Piatkowski

George W. Bush likes to refer to himself as “a war President”. He seems to believe that such a self-awarded designation grants him special privileges to lie and to break both American and international law. More importantly, he and his Republican masters appear to think that it should automatically entitle him to an electoral victory in November.

The idea of “a free pass” has been hinted at in virtually every aspect of Republican campaign strategy. Still, it took an obscure congressman by the name of Tom Cole (Republican – Oklahoma) to fully lift the veil on this particular approach to courting votes. According to Cole, “if George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election, it's that simple. It will be interpreted that way by enemies of the United States around the world. What do you think Hitler would have thought if Roosevelt would've lost the election in 1944? He would have thought American resolve was [weakening]. What would the confederacy have thought if Lincoln would have lost the election of 186[4]?”

Since the recent election in Spain (the results of which were clearly influenced by the bombing of a commuter train a few days before), Bush’s apologists have been working overtime berating Spanish voters – and, by implication, North American voters as well. Marcus Gee of The Globe and Mail joined in a chorus of condemnation in a column headed “Imagine the terrorists' chortles of glee”. Gee warned, “This is a fateful moment for the world's democracies. The question before us could not be plainer. Do we stand together against the mortal threat posed by Islamic totalitarianism and terror? Or do we allow these murderers to divide and defeat us? For that is quite obviously their strategy: divide and conquer. If the events of the past week are anything to go by, it is working. The commuter-train attacks in Madrid have succeeded beyond the terrorists' fondest hopes. Not only did they cause shocking bloodshed -- 202 dead as of yesterday, tying the toll of the Bali bombings in 2002 -- they also toppled their first government.”

Gee argues that pulling out of Iraq (which the new left-wing Spanish government has announced that it intends to do) is “precisely what the terrorists wanted”. I think he’s wrong in his criticism, for three reasons. First of all, he is presupposing that the invasion of Iraq was predicated on the need to fight terrorism. It is now clearer than ever that the Iraqi occupation is what Gee calls “a repressive occupation motivated by oil lust and imperial ambition” (though he uses that terminology only so that he can ridicule it as “a conspiracy theory”, it’s actually a pretty fair description). The alleged links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein have been shown to be every bit as illusory as the weapons of mass destruction that were fabricated to justify the war. Ironically, it was the incursion of the Coalition of the Killing into Iraq that did eventually bring al Qaeda style terrorism to the country, after the so-called “end of major combat”.

Another key fallacy employed by Gee (and Congressman Cole, for that matter) is the notion that Osama bin Laden wants the Americans and their allies to retreat from Iraq – or Afghanistan, or wherever. In fact, after 9/11, when Bush declared “a war on terrorism” (a war that, like the war on drugs, can never be won), that was “precisely what the terrorists wanted”. It’s much harder to convince potential followers to wage a holy war against the west if the west won’t play the role of big, bad aggressor. By attacking Iraq, Bush and his Coalition of the Killing provided another excuse to those who would seek to justify bombing commuter trains or flying planes into tall buildings. A hard line government being replaced by a progressive, anti-war government was certainly not al Qaeda’s objective. It is more likely that they hoped for the opposite result: solidifying the former Spanish government’s hold on power and escalating the clash of world views.

Lastly, Gee badly underestimates the sophistication of Spanish voters. He presumes to read their collective minds, and concludes that they simply decided to give in to the terrorists. I would suggest that they carefully considered the policies of a government that misled them about its reasons for going into Iraq, and then deliberately misled them about the identity of the bombing suspects. They chose the only sane option available to them.

It appears quite likely that American voters may be ready to do the same thing. With the passage of the first anniversary of the initial attack on Iraq, support for the war in Iraq continues to plummet in the U.S. Polls show that George W. Bush would lose if the election were held today. That may not be what the terrorists want, but it’s exactly what the United States of America – and the rest of the world – needs.


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