Shout Their Names Into The Wind
by William Rivers Pitt
May 27, 2003
When you stare into the obsidian darkness of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, it stares back at you. The stone of the monument is jet black, but polished so that you must face your own reflected eyes should you dare to read the names inscribed there. You are not alone in that place. You stand shoulder to shoulder with the dead, and when those names shine out around and above and below the person you see in that stone, you become their graveyard. Your responsibility to those names, simply, is to remember.
Such an awful lesson was learned in the forging of that place, not in abstractions of military theory, but in blood and tissue and life. It was a lesson many feared had been lost as American armies were poised at the gates of Baghdad, and would have to be learned again at a terrible cost. A house-to-house battle for the city never materialized, and a fight that could have taken hundreds or thousands of American lives was averted.
It turns out that Soufiane al Tikriti, head of Baghdad's 10,000-strong Special Republican Guard, was paid several hundred thousand dollars on the eve of the battle. In exchange, he ordered Baghdad's defenders to stand down and not resist. On April 8, al Tikriti was ferried out of Iraq by a US aircraft along with 20 family members. To cover for his absence, US forces let it be known that al Tikriti had been killed while fleeing in his Subaru. On April 9, Baghdad fell to American and British forces with little resistance.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld scoffed at repeated criticism from military specialists and generals that he had set a course for war without enough men and materiel. As American forces pushed towards the capitol city, US troops went days without being resupplied with water and food because the supply lines were being harassed and there were too few soldiers to safeguard them. As the battle came to the city itself, the world waited for a bloodbath to take place. Little did anyone know that a wily Defense Secretary had already bought the keys to the city on the cheap. The Fall of Baghdad came not with a bang, but a whisper.
Before this Memorial Day weekend began, the Pentagon assessed American losses at 162 killed in Iraq both during and after the war. There is no accurate accounting for the thousands of Iraqi civilians who perished in the 'Shock and Awe' firebombing and cluster bombing of Baghdad. Like the American casualties, the number of killed and wounded among the Iraqi populace grows daily.
The relatively small force Rumsfeld knew would be sufficient to take Baghdad appears more and more by the day insufficient to bring the promised peace. Terrorist attacks have skyrocketed across the globe, blowback from a war that promised to make the world a safer place. The essential premises for the war itself - weapons of mass destruction by the long ton, terrorist connections, the liberation of the people - have been revealed to be insubstantial actors in a set piece of political theater. It is cold comfort indeed to know that, but for a bag of cash handed over to a mercenary military commander, it could have been much worse.
Consider the man himself, George W. Bush. He successfully parlayed 9/11, the worst intelligence failure in the history of the world, into a war that cost America relatively little blood. He did not have to absorb the terrible Vietnam lesson. The terrorism fears surrounding al Qaeda connections to Iraq and Hussein's vast stockpiles of deadly weapons played directly upon the memory of collapsing Towers and massive death that is now the collective heritage of every American. Bush used that terrible image against his own people by lying repeatedly about the threat posed by Iraq, to bring about a war that served little purpose to anyone but those who stand to profit from it.
The war itself obscured, yet again, the disastrous missteps and policy decisions which opened America to the 9/11 attacks in the first place, and furthermore has pushed to the back burner the fact that the administration has adamantly refused to release a detailed report on what happened on that terrible day. To date he has gotten away with these lies and rank omissions. The ability to pull off a stunt like that without being called to account for it might make a man believe himself capable of any lie, any fabrication, any act the mind can conceive of.
In a February 27 report for Truthout entitled Blood Money, I described some of the ideological and financial motivations behind the Bush administration's push for this war. The men and women surrounding Bush who make the policy of this government have been waiting years for the opportunity to overthrow by military force any number of regimes in the Middle East. They were forced to lie with their bare faces hanging out for months to initiate what was always the first step in this plan, the taking of Iraq. They have managed to accomplish this first step without stunning the American populace with horrific US casualty rates.
This appears to have been inspirational.
The Bush administration is on the cusp of beginning a program to actively destabilize and overthrow the ruling government in Iran. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Rumsfeld said last week. This is the same rhetoric he used successfully to rally support for war in Iraq. The American government has suspended all contact with the Iranian government in the aftermath of several terrorist bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after intelligence services intercepted transmissions which reportedly indicate a connection between those bombings and terrorists operating in Iran.
Accusations have been raised that fewer than a dozen al Qaeda terrorists are operating in northeastern Iran, an ironic fact which underscores the degree to which the Bush administration has failed to successfully pursue their 'War on Terror.' The region of Iran reportedly used by these terrorists shares a border with Afghanistan. Today, that area is a lawless no-man's land dominated by drug runners and resurgent Afghanistan-based Taliban members.
Said resurgence has come in large part because the Bush administration has decided to spend no money on rebuilding Afghanistan after the war. Iran handed over all the terrorists it knew of after 9/11. If there are terrorists in northeastern Iran, they are there because the Bush administration failed to finish what it started in Afghanistan, just as it has thus far failed to finish what it started in Iraq. Iran's government has no more control over that region than we do, but the alleged terrorists there will be one premise for the next conflict. Given Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest's penchant for manufacturing facts to suit a desire for war, it would surprise few to discover at some point that the alleged connections between Iran and the Riyadh bombings were made of smoke.
What is not made of smoke, however, is Iran's nuclear weapons program. This program is supported by both conservative Iranian clerics and by democratically elected reformers like Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for one reason alone now. Both groups saw what happened to Iraq, a nation that had no such powerful weapons to defend itself against American invasion. Like North Korea, 'axis of evil' member Iran has seen what being defenseless means in this brave new world. Thus, we see how much more safe Bush's war in Iraq has made the planet.
The center of the administration's plan to overthrow Iran is, in many ways, an irony in itself. Iran is a democracy on many levels. It has elections and elected officials, many of whom are allied with President Mohammad Khatami's desire to wrest Iran away from the fundamentalist mullahs and transform it into a more secular state. A vast majority of Iranians favor this reform, but have come to detest the United' States' hyperactive military policy.
Flynt Leverett, who recently left the Bush administration, said, "It is imprudent to assume that the Islamic Republic will collapse like a house of cards in a time frame that is going to be meaningful to us. What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States with regard to our terrorist concerns." In other words, we will have a nuclear nation whose road to reform was torn apart by an American administration more interested in starting a third war than in cleaning up the messes caused by the first two.
More ironic is the manner in which the Bush administration may come to force the issue of destabilization. In a meeting between Washington and Tehran in early January, the administration told Iran that it would attack camps of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, a major group opposing the Iranian government that was operating in Iraq. During the war, MEK camps were bombed. To the fury of the Iranians, a cease-fire between the MEK and the US was negotiated. It seems the Bush administration was impressed by the military discipline and armament of the MEK, and has come to see them as a potential military force to be used against the Iranian government.
The MEK is cited as a terrorist group by the State Department.
The Bush administration has opened two wars that are now far from concluded, and appears ready to begin a third with the help of known terrorists. They have done so while actively suppressing the truth behind the 9/11 attacks, and while manufacturing evidence to justify their actions. The aftereffects of these actions - a dynamic increase in terrorist attacks and recruitment, chaos in Iraq, chaos in Afghanistan, an America that is more wide open than ever to assault - will be felt for many years to come.
When you stare into the obsidian darkness of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, it stares back at you. It demands that you shout the names of the lost into the wind, where they will be carried on a slipstream of memory into the farthest reaches of time. The darkness demands that you do not forget, that you do not let leaders lie their way into butchery and failure. To this point, we as a nation have failed to fulfill that responsibility. This must change.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is author of the bestselling book War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know (Context Books, 2002) with Scott Ritter, and The Greatest Sedition is Silence (Pluto Press, 2003), now available at http://www.silenceissedition.com.