The American Legacy In Iraq

Quotes of the week leading up to the presidential news conference:


‘I want heads to roll,’ US President George W. Bush told top US officials here last week following the murder of four and mutilation of two American contractors in Fallujah.” (Matthew Gutman, “Analysis: Will rolling heads crush rebellion, or Iraq itself?” Jerusalem Post, 4/11/04)


‘The fighting now is different than a year ago. Before, the Iraqis fought for nothing. Now, fighters from all over Iraq are going to sacrifice themselves,’ said a Fallujah native who gave his name as Abu Idris and claimed to be in contact with guerrillas who slip in and out of the besieged city three and four times daily.


“He spoke in a mosque parking lot emptied moments earlier of more than a ton of donated foodstuffs destined for Fallujah — heavy bags of rice, tea and flour loaded into long, yellow semitrailers by a cluster of men who, their work done, joined a spirited discussion about the need to take the fight to the enemy. They included a dentist, a prayer leader, a law student, a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi police and a man who until 10 days earlier had traveled with U.S. troops as a member of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.


“‘Our brothers who went to Fallujah and came back say: “Oh, God, it is heaven. Anyone who wants paradise should go to Fallujah,”‘ Abu Idris said.” (Karl Vick and Anthony Shadid, “Fallujah Gains Mythic Air,” Washington Post, 4/13/04)


‘The situation in Iraq has improved,’ Mr. Bush said, though he conceded that ‘it was a tough week.’” (David Stout, “Bush, With Mubarak, Links Progress in Iraq to Mideast Peace,” New York Times, 4/12/04)


Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate. One senior officer said that America‘s aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of ‘unease and frustration’ among the British high command.


“The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen — the Nazi expression for ‘sub-humans.’ Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: ‘My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are.’” (Sean Rayment, “British commanders condemn US military tactics,” [British] Telegraph, 4/12/04)


‘My intent is to destroy Sadr’s militia, absolutely destroy it,’ said Col. Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, which is leading the operation dubbed Operation Duke Fortitude. ‘And then to capture or kill Sadr. That is our mission. We’re just waiting to be unleashed.’” (Jeffrey Fleishman and Edmund Sanders, U.S.Reclaims Major Roads in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 4/13/04)


Unleash the dogs of war, they say, and this, it seems, our man in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, has done. It’s been something of a magician’s trick — in the space of weeks, turning widespread inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and dislike into something akin to a national resistance movement. It’s the sort of thing, like a hole in one, winning the lottery, or drawing a straight flush that you couldn’t plan to do in a million years. A kind of mad miracle in reverse. And now, in prime time, our President gets up at his first news conference of the year (New York Times, 4/14/04) — it’s only April, after all – to tell us again that “we’re makin’ progress”; that “now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world”; that “we’re changin’ the world” (you bet); that “the consequences of failure” in Iraq are “unthinkable” (and so he’s suspended all thought processes); that we’re not “an imperial country,” nor are we facing a “popular uprising”; that we are opposed by only a “violent few” in a “relatively stable” Iraq which itself is but a “theater” in a global war against “The Enemy” (singular) whom we must never “appease”; and that with Saddam’s fall The Enemy “lost an ally in Baghdad.”


Is there any question that the “theater” we’re in is the movie theater of the Bush administration’s dreams and fantasies. I don’t know about you, but I wanted to call out to the President who can’t remember a mistake he’s made or ever felt genuine responsibility for anything (though he’s ready to “grieve” with the best of them), “Wake up, George, the movie’s over. It’s real people dying out there.”


This is the man who, as the joke goes, was born on third and thought he hit a triple, and last night, before the nation, he certainly seemed not only removed from reality but eager indeed to remove Americans from the same. In his dreamworld, those Saddamist weapons of mass destruction clearly exist and the Iraqis, all except the odd terrorist, Baathist “remnant,” and Islamist fanatic, love us to death.


While he talked of “negotiations” with the rebellious cleric Muqtaqa al-Sadr, he also managed to lay out a negotiating position that, as one commentator said afterwards, left Sadr remarkably little “wiggle room.” (It’s worth remembering that the “theater” we’re in is a global one and, though it was the pre-dawn hours in the Middle East, his news conference was being carried live on Arabic TV networks.) He assured his (global) audience that there was “no safe alternative to resolute action,” a phrase that managed to resonate with Operation Vigilant (or Valiant) Resolve, the partially suspended assault on Fallujah. (There are now, by the way, several harrowing, mutually confirming eyewitness accounts from inside the city, including a vivid description by Rahul Mahajan, who writes www.empirenotes.org, an on-the-spot blog from Iraq, and at the openDemocracy.net website by Jo Wilding whose last line is: “It’s a crime and it’s a disgrace to us all.”)


So now we evidently await Operation Duke Fortitude. (In that bizarre name could there be a hidden reference to “Duke” of Doonesbury fame, who recently took control of his own comic-strip town in Iraq?) Who makes up these names up anyway? What “theater” have they been in for the last year?


Sooner or later, against all reason, against every “lesson” that should have been learned in this war (or, dare I say it, Vietnam), it’s quite conceivable that Col. Pittard will be “unleashed” and sent into the holy city of Najaf to take out Muqtada al-Sadr and his relatively modest “militia” with, naturally (as Brig. Gen. Kimmitt, our military spokesman in Baghdad just loves to say), “precision.” There are “negotiations” going on at the moment, but from the President on down, you can just feel the overpowering urge to bring force to bear on the situation. In this “theater” of war, we really don’t negotiate, we smite. So just for the sake of argument, imagine if 2,500 marines, involved in a mass act of vengeance without mercy against a city of 300,000 in response to an act of brutality by very small numbers of men, could generate a wave of sympathy and support throughout Iraq and the Arab world, what an operation of carnage inside Najaf could do?


Late in his news conference the President commented that “the legacy that our troops are going to leave behind is a legacy of lasting importance.” The legacy to which he referred was “freedom,” of course — as in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But I was thinking about a line from a recent Washington Post piece by Pulitzer-Prize winner Anthony Shadid (4/10/04). He was describing Firdaus Square, where one year ago Saddam’s statue was pulled down to such televised acclaim and which, on the anniversary, was off-bounds to Iraqis, deserted and guarded by American troops. He wrote of the guards: “Tanks stood vigilant with names like ‘Beastly Boy’ and ‘Bloodlust’ scrawled across their barrels.” And I started to consider that legacy of which the President spoke.


In a sense, it’s already laid out, name by strange name, military operation by military operation. “Resolve” and “fortitude” are mixed in, but also scifi names like “Operation Planet X.” There are operations filled with “scorpions,” “sidewinders,” and “vipers”; operations filled with “iron” (hammer, justice, grip, promise); with mythical beasts like “bulldog mammoth” and cross-bred creatures like “ivy [could that be as in Ivy League?] serpent”; with the names of American Civil War heroes (Chamberlain, Longstreet); even with the name – “Red Dawn” – of a 1984 John Milius movie in which the Communists invade America, get bogged down in a quagmire war, and are finally destroyed by young American guerrillas. Remind me again, what theater is it we’re in when we’re in Iraq?


So it’s true, as the President said last night; we already have a historical legacy on the record — a legacy of sorts that begins with the name Operation Iraqi Freedom. Had the invasion of Iraq been more realistically named, it would have been called something like Operation Bush Administration Freedom to Act Any Way We Chose in a Foreign and Conquered Land. Symbolically, it’s worth remembering that the American liberators/occupiers arrived largely without translators, or in fact Iraqis of any sort, and felt free to inscribe any names of their choosing on Iraqi reality. But, of course, reality has a way of striking back, of -– sooner or later -– breaking through.


Here, then, from an administration whose first and last principle is force, or the threat thereof, is our legacy in shorthand and in their own words. Tom


Operation Planet X (May 15 2003)


Operation Peninsula Strike (June 9 – 12, 2003)


Operation Desert Scorpion (June 15- , 2003)


Operation Scorpion Sting


Operation Spartan Scorpion


Operation Sidewinder (June 29 – July 7, 2003)


Operation Soda Mountain (July 12-17, 2003)


Operation Ivy Serpent (July 12, 2003)


Operation Ivy Needle (August 26, 2003)


Operation Longstreet (September 2003)


Operation Chamberlain (October 15, 2003)


Operation Sweeney (October 15, 2003)


Operation Ivy Cyclone (November 7, 2003)


Operation Ivy Cyclone II (November 17, 2003)


Operation Iron Hammer (November 12, 2003)


Operation Bulldog Mammoth (December 4, 2003)


Operation Red Dawn (December 13, 2003)


Operation Iron Justice (December 18, 2003)


Operation Rifles Fury (December 21, 2003)


Operation Iron Grip (December 24, 2003)


Operation Market Sweep (January 13, 2004)


Operation Saber Turner II (February 2004)


Operation Trailblazer (February 2004)


Operation Suicide Kings (March 17, 2004)


Operation Iron Promise (March 24, 2004)


Operation Vigilant Resolve (April 7, 2004)


(With thanks to Nick Turse for research aid and to the invaluable military information website www.globalsecurity.com where, to find this list of operation names, click here)


[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]

Leave a comment