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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Spring 2003 (Volume 33, Number 1).)

On the Oil-Slicked Road to Empire: Are We Really Safer Now?

By Barry Romo, Dave Curry & Joe Miller

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Couldn't they at least save a museum full of cultural treasures?

If a war is wrong before it starts, it's still wrong after it starts. It's still wrong even after a victory. By crossing the Kuwait border and invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was wrong. And by crossing the Kuwait border and invading Iraq, George Bush was just as wrong.

This was not a war of self-defense. This was not a war against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This was a war for money and power, not democracy and safety. And with its victory, America moves closer to the status of empire.

If it wasn't about oil, why did the coalition of the willing get guards to the petroleum ministry and not to the international museum of antiquities?
US forces are protecting the oil but not the hospitals.

Months ago the Bush administration made public its goal to "democratize" or "denationalize" Iraq's vast oil resources. Democratizing oil would have to involve bringing in the multinational corporations that control oil in the so-called "democracies." Market mechanisms already developed in democratic countries would insure dividing the spoils fairly among the competing companies.

According to Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, the United States invaded Iraq because Saddam posed a threat to his neighbors and had weapons of mass destruction. However, 99% of Saddam's neighbors didn't buy this.That's why 99% of the coalition of the willing was made up of the US and the UK. And, where are those huge stockpiles of WMD? Hell, where are any?

Photo ops and scenes of crowds of enthusiastic civilians have already given way to tens of thousands of demonstrators chanting for America and Britain to leave. How long before chants change to grenades? We've seen US/UK casualties and some POWs, but nothing about the Iraqi dead. There is no body count here because we killed a lot of them, and that image doesn't fit the press conference scenario.

Bush says he cares a lot about democracy, but he's not quite sure what kind. The Shiite Muslims constitute 60% of the population. What do we do if the people of Iraq want an Islamic state? Senators Lieberman and Lugar are already making noises about how the US would have a hard time accepting Islamic rule in Iraq, even if this were the result of a popular vote. Shades of Henry Kissinger and Pinochet's Chile!

There is big talk about self-determination, but the Kurds cannot have a state. How come Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Vatican City, and on and on can have self-determination but not the Kurds? After the US betrayed these poor people for the last 30 years, covered up their genocide with WMD by Saddam when he was our great and good ally and called for them to rise only to be massacred, shouldn't we assure them of a homeland, just like everyone else? Don't the Kurds deserve this as much as the former republics of the Soviet Union?

The Pentagon has gone out of its way not to inform, but only to provide glimpses from the GIs of Iraqi soldiers not willing to give up, of being bombed and shot and decimated. One military lifer on TV, commenting on the returning POWs, said that they would have nightmares for a while but that they would go away soon. Tell that to the 'Nam vets that can't sleep. Hell, tell that to WWII combat vets!

GIs and veterans from this war can't really expect any better treatment when they get home than was provided for Vietnam vets or vets from Gulf War I. They are not even home yet and already they are talking to the media about guilt over killing women and children and even Iraqi soldiers. The Senate recently cut a bill to raise combat pay in half. More budget cuts for GIs and soldiers are on the way. The VA hospitals are closing. Too bad a yellow ribbon doesn't pay the rent.
Americans are less safe in our own country than ever in the country's history. We continue to have homeland security alerts and anthrax scares. Many Americans live in fear of terrorism, a fear that is encouraged by our government. At the same time, jobs and health care become increasingly out of reach for all of us.

The historian of the decline of Rome noted: "The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic." Rome gained control by its superior military might. Rome maintained control by establishing military garrisons in conquered nations. The Pentagon is already pushing for long-term access to at least four bases in Iraq. The new Imperial America flouts its power, imposes its will, and stops even the development of rising regional powers. The US hadn't even taken Baghdad and Rumsfeld was already threatening Syria. In addition, a majority of these neo-cons inbred in the Pentagon are threatening Iran. No one knows who we will invade next, but don't expect much of a breather. Our troops are in the area, and they are there to stay for a while. We should not be fooled by the chess-playing moves of Rumsfeld in shifting troops from one area to another.

Iraq, along with its oil and humanitarian problems should be turned over to the UN and international humanitarian organizations. American troops must return home. The Iraqi people and the Kurds must determine their own future.

We do not have to go along with this empire building. We should not allow more US troops to be used as cannon fodder in this "Project for the New American Century"! We in the peace and social justice movement should not allow ourselves to become demoralized because we did not stop this war. We should celebrate and build upon the worldwide movement that was in the streets and in the city council chambers and parliaments as an opposition to the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld war. We should be centrally involved in every possible effort to engage in "regime change" here in the United States.

In particular, as veterans, we played and continue to play a central role in challenging this march to empire. We know what it's like to have been lied to in a war - many wars, in fact. We know what it's like to be part of a military machine that is only in place to defend the economic and political interests of a narrow stratum of people who want to maintain their power and position. We know what it's like to come home to shrinking veterans' benefits and closing VA hospitals. In the thirty-six year history of VVAW, we also know what it is like to take the long view and maintain our activism for the long haul.

We should be in the forefront of evaluating this war and its consequences. We should help to educate our brothers and sisters in the military and in the larger community as to the meaning behind the neo-con effort at empire-building and the real costs, human and otherwise, of this effort. In the end, we are not safer with the "victory" in Iraq. The struggle for a peaceful and just world order continues, and we cannot afford to hang back now!

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