Owning Iraq

by Dr. Christina J. Johns

War is ugly. Thatís why the decision to go to war should be made deliberately and carefully, after all other options have been exhausted, with a somber consideration of all the ramifications and the costs. As John Kerry put it, the U.S. shouldnít go to war because it wants to; it should go to war because it has to.

But, the George Bush and his administration came into office wanting to go to war with Iraq. After 911, wild horses could not have held them back.

Itís no wonder the Bush/Cheney crowd was so ready to go to war. The war they were scripting was a fine little war. George Bush would celebrate victory in a flak suit standing on the deck of a destroyer amid cheering soldiers in front of a banner saying "Mission Accomplished." Cheering Iraqis were to throw garlands of flowers on U.S. tanks rolling into Baghdad to "liberate" Iraq. Friends and colleagues were to reap billions and billions rebuilding the country. What was not to like?

One year later, however, the rosy little war the administration planned, has become very real. Violence against U.S. forces is escalating at an alarming rate. More than 700 American soldiers (and who knows how many contract workers) are dead. Dozens of hostages have been taken. The coalition is falling apart. Jubilant Iraqis are dagging bodies of U.S. civilians around the streets in a public display.

Now that the script has gone terribly wrong, George Bush looks and acts like a deer in the headlights. Letís just look at recent events.

U.S. soldiers are sent in to forcibly close down an Iraqi newspaper because it has written things that offend military officials. Soldiers are then sent to arrest the top aide of a dangerously popular insurgent leader. The result is a major flare-up of violence against U.S. troops. In addition, the strategy manages to unite against us ethnic groups that have been enemies for centuries.

Then, four contract workers are killed and their bodies dragged through the streets accompanied by cheering Iraqis. Marines are directed to surrounded Falluja and run to ground those guilty of the atrocity. AFTER surrounding the city and sitting there for days it occurred to somebody that attacking Falluja would hand insurgents a major victory. Withdrawing from Falluja would bring about the same result. As a solution, the administration announces that a former military official from Saddam Husseinís regime will be put in charge of Falluja. Not only is this guy going to be put in charge, he is going to be allowed to wear the uniform he wore while in the service of Saddam Hussein.

When the rest of the world reacted with stunned disbelief to this preposterous suggestion, the administration decides that their Hussein guy hasnít been properly vetted. They decide to use someone else - a different Hussein guy. The public is told soldiers around Falluja are withdrawing. The next day it is announced that there will be no withdrawal from Falluja.

The Administration, seemingly incapable of doing anything else, is still trying to keep the real war out of sight by suppressing images of bodies and coffins. But, the real war keeps slipping out. The disgusting photographs of U.S. soldiers gleefully posing with humiliated and tortured Iraqi prisoners are just another part of that real war. Bush was quick to condemn the participants, but their actions should have been expected.

Studies of wartime propaganda demonstrate that states get people to kill by dehumanizing the enemy. Bush himself refers to Iraqis as "thugs" and "criminals."

If you start a war, convince a bunch of 20-year-olds they are fighting a just and noble struggle against murderous barbarian thugs and criminals, then put them in a situation like a prison, where they are in almost total control of those thugs and criminals you will wind up with soldiers gleefully celebrating mistreatment and humiliation. War creates this type of mentality. War, in fact, virtually requires this type of mentality. And, George Bush was the one who wanted to go to war.

Colin Powell told George Bush that if he invaded Iraq, he would own it. I wish it were that simple. Bush invaded Iraq, but unfortunately we are the ones who own the country and the war in all its ugliness. Weíd better get somebody to run it that knows what heís doing.


Dr. Johns is a criminologist and freelance writer. She is the author of Power, Ideology and the War on Drugs: Nothing Succeeds Like Failure, State Crime, the Media and the Invasion of Panama, and The Origins of Violence in Mexico. Her website is www.cjjohns.com.