A Message to American Military Personnel: Bring the War Home

To: All Active-Duty United States Military Personnel


From: A Concerned U.S. Citizen





The ongoing United States invasion of Iraq has cost the lives of more than 4,000   American soldiers and 1.2 million Iraqis. The Democratic-majority U.S. Senate has just (20 minutes ago as I write this essay on the afternoon of May 22, 2008) passed $165 billion “to fund the war in Iraq until President Bush’s successor takes over.”  Congress will provide another seven month’s funding to sustain the bloody, miserable, and prolonged occupation of Mesopotamia.


With money provided by Democratic and Republican legislators, the Pentagon is building a gigantic hyper-militarized Baghdad embassy that will be the largest “diplomatic” outpost in world history.  It will employ 1,000 U.S. U.S. government personnel, including hundreds of CIA operatives.


Meanwhile the U.S. maintains a number of huge military bases across Iraq, all permanent by design.


None of the remaining corporate-sponsored presidential candidates – John McCain, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton – is going to end the occupation between now and the next election cycle. Beneath the Democratic Party’s rhetoric of withdrawal, a president Obama or Clinton and a Democratic Congress could be expected to maintain a high level of U.S. presence in Iraq indefinitely – unless forced to do otherwise by an aroused citizenry.


There is no functional citizens’ antiwar movement currently capable of forcing “homeland” political authorities to break from the status quo of enduring occupation.


A majority of Americans have long supported a rapid withdrawal from Iraq but are unwilling and/or unable to do anything serious to bring it about.  For various reasons relating to the poverty of America’s ever-more dangerously post-democratic political culture, there is no relief coming for troops from the civilian side. This is a nation where citizens are politically divided, distracted, uninterested, and submissive, and where "elites" are happy to keep them that way.


The Washington war planners enjoy lives of luxury and opulence.  So do the leading owners and managers of America’s so-called “defense” companies, who have made a profit-killing off all the human killing in Iraq.


Meanwhile, untold thousands of U.S. soldiers struggle with lives altered by injuries received in the execution of illegitimate orders. Despite majority public antiwar opinion at home and abroad, hundreds and perhaps thousands more U.S troops are slated to die and receive terrible injuries in Iraq in coming months and years.





This is all very bad news.  The good news is that you don’t actually need a functioning democracy, a powerful antiwar movement, or an antiwar president to end the horrendous nightmare in Iraq.


You can finish it by declining to participate. You can refuse to deploy to Iraq.


You can refuse to carry out actions related to sending others in Iraq. If you are already there, you can refuse to carry out your orders. You can refuse to turn your guns on people who reasonably (see below) see you and your commanders as illegitimate colonial occupiers, since the United States does not own Iraq (or the Middle East or the world) and the Iraqis do not want you there. 


You can end the occupation. No willing participation by troops, no occupation. It’s that simple.


What are Bush, Cheney, McCain, Rice, Gates, Pelosi, Clinton, Obama and the rest of the American power elite and political class going to do? Go to the Hell they have made in Iraq to fly the attack helicopters and man the tanks and machine guns and walk the patrols themselves? Send their children and/or other loves ones to dodge IEDs and sniper fire? Never!


Hand the whole thing over to Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy? Not possible – not the whole occupation. 




But my idea isn’t just that you COULD end this war.  You already know that.  My bigger point is that you SHOULD end it.  You OUGHT to end it, immediately, for reasons that go beyond the eminently reasonable goal of saving your own lives, limbs, and sanity. 


The occupation is criminal, unnecessary, wrong, mass-murderous, and profoundly stupid.  “The mission” in Iraq lacks basic moral and legal legitimacy.       


Let’s start with the legal aspect. The invasion had no United Nations (UN) backing.  None of the other UN Security Council members shared the U.S. and English government’s position that UN resolutions going back to 1990 were adequate to legitimize an invasion in 2003. 


Based on the principle of unilateral “preemptive” war, the invasion repudiated the UN Charter’s determinations that (i) international security is a collective matter and (ii) self-defense is the only justification for war.  Both the UN Charter and the war crime principles laid out by the U.S. and other Allied powers in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War Two forbid aggressive, unprovoked, and so-called preemptive war.  In fact, aggressive war was the “supreme crime” for which top Nazis were tried and hung at Nuremburg.


Any doubt that the Bush administration acted illegally and with criminal intent in invading Iraq can be dispelled by reading the London Times of May 1, 2005. Exactly two years after aggressive war-perpetrator George W. Bush jumped out of a fighter jet to ridiculously proclaim “Mission Accomplished,” the Times published sections of a leaked memorandum summarizing an internal meeting that took place between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top ministers on July 23, 2002. During the meeting, the July 23rd “Downing Street Memo” (DSM) reveals, Sir Richard Dearlove, Chief of the British Intelligence Service (M16), related an important piece of information he received during a meeting earlier that year with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet.  As far as the Bush-Cheney administration was concerned, Dearlove learned, “military action [against Iraq] was now seen as inevitable [by top U.S. policymakers]. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).  But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” 


At the same meeting, the DSM shows, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw noted that the legal case for invasion “was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.”


Additionally, Dearlove noted that the Bush administration and Pentagon had given little thought to how to deal with Iraq “after military action.”


We have long known that the case for (one-sided colonial) war made by the Bush administration – with no small help from dominant U.S. media – was deliberately deceptive. The White House and Pentagon charges that Saddam possessed significant stocks of WMD, that he posed a threat to the U.S. and the West, and that he was linked to 9/11 and al Qaeda were all bogus by design.  


It is worth noting that is highly illegal for U.S. government officials to make materially false statements to the American people and to build a case for war (or any other policy) on fraudulent claims to the citizenry (United States Statutory Code, Title 18, Part 1, chapter 47, section 1001).


Even if the Bush administration had had real concerns about Iraqi WMD instead of phony charges cooked up to justify attack, the invasion was premature.  UN weapons inspectors had hardly started their work before the U.S. invasion began.




As “Iraq” has been replaced by “the economy” as the leading U.S. election issue, the Iraqi people have continued to suffer under a U.S.-imposed Holocaust. According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of Current History, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again.  The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.  Only fools talk of solutions now.  There is no solution.  The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”


As veteran journalist and author Jonathan Steele notes in his important book “DEFEAT: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq” (2008), the latest reliable mortality estimates from the leading British medical journal The Lancet “suggest that more people have been killed in Iraq during the occupation than during the 32 years of Saddam [Hussein]’s rule.  Even the [research group] Iraq Body Count, which uses a statistically more conservative methodology and tabulates deaths confirmed by at least two sources,” Steele notes, “produces a death toll of civilians killed by violence that averages around 16,000 annually over the first four years of the occupation.  The annual rate of killing exceeds Saddam’s.”  (Steele 2006, p. 250).


The supposed “antiwar” candidate Obama said the following about Iraq when talking to General Motors workers in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13th 2008: “It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together.”


Yes, we are "putting Iraq back together" with an illegal occupation that has killed 1.2 million Iraqis so far. This after an earlier devastating assault (the absurdly one-sided Persian Gulf “War” of 1991) and a decade plus of deadly, mass-murderous U.S.-led "economic sanctions,” generally conceded to have killed well more than half a million Iraqi children.  


It is no wonder that most Iraqis have long seen the U.S. and British troops in their midst as oppressive imperial occupiers, not liberators.  They have long wanted those “foreign invaders” to leave their country. A survey commissioned by the U.S. State Department and leaked to the Washington Post in the summer of 2006 determined that the large majority of Iraqis wanted US troops out immediately and believed that an American departure would decrease sectarian violence and make their country safer. Three-fourths of Baghdad’s residents said a U.S. exit would make them feel more secure


American troops in Iraq or ready to deploy there, listen: the Iraqi people, who your president and commanders claim to be liberating, want you out of their illegally occupied country immediately. Honor their wishes.





American military personnel, please ask yourself a question: why are U.S. troops really in, or going/going back (yet again?) to Iraq in the first place?


No more than 2 percent of the Iraqi population has ever believed that America overran Iraq with the intent of promoting democracy and freedom (things that cannot in any event be exported through the barrel of a gun). 


Most Iraqis have long figured that the U.S invaded to deepen American control over Iraqi oil and to send a message of American dominance across the petroleum-rich Middle East. 


This is certainly an accurate belief.  Iraq would not have been invaded and occupied if it lacked oil and was located outside the world’s energy heartland – the Middle East.  The notion that the U.S. came to “export democracy” is something of a joke given: (i) the stifling authoritarianism of its own corporate-dominated political system (where majority opinion is close to irrelevant on numerous key policy issues); (ii) U.S. insistence on staying long after most Iraqis wanted us out; and (iii) the United States’ oil-based sponsorship of the Saudi Arabian regime – one of the most (if not the most) anti-democratic governments on earth. As the leading U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky recently noted:


“It is sheer jingoist sentimentality to believe that the US has any interest in allowing Iraq to govern itself.  There is nothing in history or logic to suggest that, nor in current planning, with bipartisan support: the construction of the huge ‘Embassy,’ a city within a city, and the enormous military bases around the country, all designed to be permanent, surely.  History, logic, and what is going on before our eyes indicate clearly enough that Washington has always intended to establish an obedient client regime in Iraq, and still does, and will do what it can to achieve that, whatever the further cost to Iraqis.  An independent Iraq could be a nightmare for US geostrategic objectives in the region.” 


The notion of an oil-stocked Persian Gulf nation like Iraq being free to do whatever it wants is completely contrary to longstanding bipartisan U.S. foreign policy doctrine holding that U.S. control of Middle Eastern energy resources is critical to the maintenance of American global dominance





British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove’s observation that Washington was heading into Iraq with “little discussion” of the aftermath of “military action” is both revealing and damning.  As Steele shows, “Washington’s war planners took no account of the nature of Iraqi society or Iraq’s history, or indeed the deep well of Arab resentment throughout the region that would doom a Western occupation.” 


The Bush administration, Steele demonstrates, sent U.S. military personnel into Iraq with a preposterously flawed historical template – the successful post-WWII occupations of German and Japan, “which met no resistance and went on peacefully for years.” By Steele’s deeply knowledgeable account:


“The fact that Iraq was in the Middle East seemed to escape Washington’s notice.  The Bush administration did not understand that Arabs feel great sensitivity to assaults on their honor, dignity, and independence, especially by Westerners.  Most occupations fail.  In the Middle East, they fail absolutely.  If analogies were relevant when Washington’s war planners prepared their attack on Iraq, it was Israel and Palestine that should have been the template, not Germany or Japan. Sending U.S. and British troops to occupy an Arab county in the twenty-first century was bound to be as difficult as it has been for Israeli troops to occupy the West Bank for the last 40 years…In both cases the struggle is perceived in the Muslim world as a Western army assault on Arabs” (Steele, DEFEAT, pp. 245-46).


If Washington’s planners had taken an honest and serious look at Iraqi and Arab society history and the record of Western invasions and occupations in the Middle East, they would have left Iraq within a year (or less) of their easy victory over Saddam. 


The current bipartisan U.S. political consensus on “what went wrong” in Iraq is childish nonsense.  It holds that the occupation could and should have “worked” if only Cheney and Bush had employed more sophisticated military and political strategies after Saddam’s fall. Besides ignoring the criminal and immoral nature of an invasion that “should” have “worked,” this judgment – shared by many leading Democrats – is completely incorrect from a simple strategic standpoint. As Steele shows, the occupation was fundamentally flawed from the start. “No matter how efficient, sensitive, generous, and intelligent the U.S.-led” occupation authorities had been, they “could not have succeeded.  The central problem was not that the Americans made mistakes.  The occupation itself was the mistake” (Steele, DEFEAT, pp. 1-2).


Once the U.S. stayed past a year, the invasion was destined to be seen by the preponderant majority of the Iraqi people as a colonial oil occupation and to become an ignominious debacle.


Thanks in part to their possession of an embassy in Baghdad, French officials understood that a Western invasion of Iraq would create deep resistance and provoke what French President Jacques Chirac called “a strong reaction from Arab and Islamic public opinion.” This was an elementary observation. 


American military personnel: it was unforgivably foolhardy for Washington to send U.S. troops to be killed and maimed en masse in the execution of an imperial invasion certain to provoke prolonged and powerful defiance. There is no excuse for such sheer stupidity on the part of the United States’ foreign policy “elite.” 


More then four thousand American troops have paid the ultimate price for the abject idiocy of Washington’s criminal war planners.  Tens of thousands of current and former U.S. soldiers are dealing with terrible problems resulting from participation in blood-soaked Iraq disaster: severe brain injuries, lost vision, lost hearing, lost limbs, lost memory,  lost families, shattered nerves, broken psyches, crushed spines and souls, and…the list goes on.





Please note that the privileged people who order and profit from the colonial occupation of Iraq do not put themselves or their fortunate sons and daughters’ lives on the line in that country. They can wear all the flag lapel pins they want.  They can join the President in foregoing golf – a great sacrifice! – for the duration of the war. Will they forego the use of their arms and/or legs and eyes for the rest of their lives? 


Perhaps they should mine their golf courses with IEDs and position the woods and hills surrounding their putting greens with snipers – Iraq War veterans looking for a job back home, perhaps – to turn their aristocratic sport into a daily date with possible death or crippling. 


No, they and their loved ones are exempted by class privilege from “service” in the rolling slaughterhouses of Empire. They:


Fasten the triggers for the others to fire

And sit back and watch

While the death count gets higher

They hide in their mansions

While young [working-class] people’s blood

Flows out of their bodies

And gets buried in the mud

(Bob Dylan, “Masters of War,”1962)





American military personnel, I ask you to consider that the occupation of Iraq is illegal under both national and international law. Besides being stupid beyond words, it is unnecessary, immoral, and monumentally mass-murderous. 


It is opposed by the majority of Iraqis it absurdly (George Orwell would be impressed) claims to “liberate.”


It is opposed by the majority of Americans, who need to liberate themselves from a false “homeland” “democracy’ that renders public opinion irrelevant on Iraq and numerous other policy issues both foreign and domestic.


The Iraq War is contrary to the interests of your own nation. The United States’ global stature and its ability to take care of pressing and growing “homeland” problems like poverty, homelessness, inadequate health coverage, and joblessness have been immeasurably harmed by the criminal Iraq Fiasco. 


Under long-established international law and ethical codes, it is not just your right but also your duty to disobey criminal and immoral orders.


U.S. National Security specialists: please recall that federal officers take an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and not to blindly follow the orders of the president.  


The president’s occupation, enabled and supported by Congress and both leading U.S. political parties, is a grave legal and moral transgression.  It is also a monumental strategic blunder. 


American troops: many of you have served in Iraq in the names of “freedom” and “democracy.” Please keep your democratic sentiments alive and apply them to places where they are sorely needed – in the streets, workplaces, schools, culture, media, politics and daily life of the United States itself.  There are terrible democracy- and freedom-deficits right here in “the world’s greatest democracy” the U.S., the world’s leading mass incarceration state, where the top 1 percent owns nearly 40 percent of the wealth and a probably larger share of the politicians and policymakers.  This is a country where tens of millions of children go without adequate food, clothing and shelter and where 47 million people lack basic health coverage while leading corporate investors and managers take regular pleasure in shocking personal luxury. 


The wealthy masters laugh and lie while you and/or your comrades bleed and die. They profit while working-class soldiers hope to survive ridiculous wars of colonial occupation ordered by idiotic criminals who can’t be bothered to examine elementary facts about the nations into which they send Americans troops to kill and be killed.    


We need democratic regime change at home.  We need soldiers for freedom and democracy inside America. We need to bring the war home. Fight the rich and powerful, not their wicked wars.



Paul Street ([email protected]) is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004). His next book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2008)

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