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In Our Name


Are we justified in feeling a raging contempt for the people who call themselves our “leaders”? I believe so. For more than 10 years, these people have bombed Iraq and kept food, medicine, and sundry vital supplies from children and other innocent Iraqis in our name, yours and mine. If that isn’t worthy of contempt, what is?

And now, if all goes “well” for President Bush, he will escalate this war to headline-worthy dimensions, again in our name. Let’s be blunt about this. In the name of the American people, Bush’s troops will drop bombs on children, women, and men who mean you and me no harm and who have done no harm. Oh, yes, the president will try to minimize civilian casualties, also known as “collateral damage.” I’m sure he will. But the prize he is after is in Baghdad. And it is full of innocent people, almost five million of them. We will be told that the cruel and ruthless Saddam Hussein has stationed military assets among those five million, so try as we may to avoid them, some will have to be sacrificed.

No one should be fooled by this. True, Saddam is cruel and ruthless. And he will have military assets in Baghdad. But guess what: those are not sufficient conditions for bringing agonizing deaths to those children and the others. The sufficient condition is a U.S. president ready and willing to unleash the death squadrons, from a safe altitude of course. If “we” don’t bomb, it doesn’t matter how many anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles Saddam has downtown. Iraqi children will get to live another day.

Which reminds me: when Saddam agreed to let the UN inspectors come back, Bush dismissed this as a delaying tactic. What a tragedy if “we” fall for Saddam’s trick. The fiery deaths of Iraqi children will be delayed. Better to get it over with quickly, no?

There’s a joke going around about a guy who walks into a bar and sees President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell sitting at a table over drinks. The guy walks over to them and asks what they are doing. The president says, “We’re talking over the coming war with Iraq. We’re going to kill several thousand Iraqis and a puppy dog.” “Why are you going to kill the puppy dog?” the guy asks. At this, Bush punches Powell on the arm and says, “See? I told you no one would notice the several thousand Iraqis.”

None of the people in whose name this killing is to occur will know the names of the dead or what they look like. Their children or parents or siblings will know. And they will know who killed them. They will know where the bombs and bullets were made. And they won’t forget. Who can blame them?

In stateside war discussions, the issue of casualties does come up, but it is usually American casualties. I can’t predict how many American military personnel will die in the stepped-up war but undoubtedly some will. The bomber pilots will be out of harm’s way mostly. But when the helicopter gun ships descend on Baghdad, they will be vulnerable. When ground troops move up the streets of the city, they too will take fire.

Is the inevitable killing really justified because Saddam Hussein poses a mortal threat to “us”? The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld farce is wearing a little thin. How long can they keep saying there is evidence of that threat without ever actually producing any? How many times will these pretentious “leaders” alternate between invoking Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and his links to the 9/11 terrorists, for which no evidence has been adduced? When will it dawn on Americans that pious and certain tones are not proof and that fear-mongering is not argument?

And by the way, has it occurred to Bush that only a knave or a damned fool would be rattling his saber before he’s decided what the war objective is? How about it, Mr. Bush? Are we going to blast Iraqi kids to achieve regime change, or disarmament? I guess it depends on which day you catch him speaking.

Someone once wrote a book titled something like Anyone Can Grow Up to Be President: It’s One of the Risks We Live With. Has there ever been a group running the U.S. government that had less respect for the American people? Everything they say and do indicates that to them we are merely providers of revenue to enable them to pursue their “strategic objectives.” They will pause occasionally to assure us that it is all for our benefit. But don’t be impudent and ask for substance along with the assurance. You have no need for it. Your role is to trust and to pay. And if you don’t trust, well, you must be unpatriotic, because you’re either with us or you’re against us. What could be simpler, right? And too many Americans nod their heads to say, “Right.”
Friends today, enemies tomorrow

The objectives of the war against Iraq are the same old geopolitical objectives the American ruling elite has pursued for at least 50 years. They have nothing to do with 9/11. All that happened lately is that Saddam Hussein got too big for his britches and got tired of being an American agent. But until he invaded Kuwait in 1990, he was a valued part of the team. Now that he no longer serves “our” interests, his services are no longer required. Much of the cruelty that Bush and his poodle Tony Blair love to herald occurred while Saddam was wearing “our” colors. In classic Orwellian fashion, that little detail is left out.

It is interesting that the folks who so badly want Saddam’s head on a pike were his biggest boosters in the 1980s when he was fighting Iran. When the U.S. government was shipping the components for biological weapons to Saddam, then-Secretary of Defense Cheney and then-envoy Donald Rumsfeld were making nice with him in the same Baghdad they could be obliterating at any time. The president’s father was vice president and then president during the extended affair with the man they today call the “Butcher of Baghdad.”

The turnaround on Saddam isn’t confined just to government officials. Some of today’s loudest “windbags of war,” as someone has called them, saw him as a Middle East savior in the 1980s. Consider Daniel Pipes and Laurie Mylroie, who can be found on cable channels almost any time of day posing as dispassionate scholars while demanding the bombing of Iraq. In 1987 they wrote an article in The New Republic titled simply “Back Iraq.” What they had to say then is fascinating because today they are indicators of what Bush’s neoconservative brain trust is thinking, particularly Defense Department advisor Richard Perle.

Pipes himself serves on a Defense Department terrorism and technology task force. “The fall of the existing regime in Iraq would enormously enhance Iranian influence, endangering the oil supply, threatening pro-American regimes throughout the area, and upset the Arab-Israeli balance,” they wrote. Just so there is no mistake about it, Iraq was ruled then by the same monster who gassed Iranians and Iraqi Kurds (though this is in dispute), who tortured opponents, and who ruled his population with an iron fist. Today’s Saddam-bashers knew all this back then and didn’t care.

Note that Pipes and Mylroie were not choosing Saddam over Iran merely as the lesser evil. No, he would serve “American interests.” “The Iranian revolution and seven years of bloody and inconclusive warfare have changed Iraq’s views of its Arab neighbors, the United States, and even Israel. . . . Its leaders no longer consider the Palestinian issue their problem. [Its] allies have forced a degree of moderation on Iraq. . . . Iraq is now the de facto protector of the regional status quo.” [Emphasis added.]

Today this same man is said to hate all Americans and to wish nothing less than to nuke us to extinction. To make sense of this, you have to read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.