From Bunker Hill to Baghdad

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Under a brilliant blue sky, on June 17, 1775, a rag tag army of American rebels took on the British Army at Bunker Hill, on the north side of Boston Harbor. Both the British and Americans fought the good fight and when it was over -” in a matter of a few hours -” the Yankees had inflicted heavy casualties on King George’s imperial army and then melted away into the surrounding country side.

Technically, the battle was a victory for the British army -” but the history books take a different view. Bunker Hill was the first major battle of the war for American independence. It proved that irregular lightly armed colonial rebels could make a stand against the mightiest army of the day. Six summers later -” after a series of British ‘victories’ – Americans turned the tide and gained their independence.

When Bush stood on the podium at West Virginia University on July 4th, he saw another opportunity to continue his campaign to re-package and re-sell his war of choice. Once again, the president warned that Iraqi insurgents “seek to drive America out of the region.” And he invoked the memory of battles “from Bunker Hill to Baghdad” to stir the crowd.

One part of his speech really caught my attention. “We remember the band of patriots who risked their lives to bring freedom to a new colony. They kept their resolve, they kept their faith in a future of liberty." Did Americans fight at Bunker Hill to ‘bring freedom to a new colony’ or to stop being a colony and start being an independent nation? Mind you, if the president meant that we are now fighting for ‘a new colony’ in Iraq -” I would not argue with the man. In fact, I also agree with the president’s remark that the rebels in Iraq aim to drive America out of the region. They probably want the Chinese and Belgians to stay out of the region too -” since they consider it their land and their oil.

The disturbing thing about the president’s remark is that they continue to be well received by so many Americans who seem to believe that the United States has a manifest destiny to control the region and its people. The Bush crowd sometimes forgets the American military presence in the region is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until Bush the elder decided on a ‘New World Order’ -” there was only a single American naval base in Bahrain. Fifteen years on, far too many Americans appear to have developed a passion for empire and far too few question the rationale for the military domination of the oil plantations in the Gulf.

Despite their addiction to intervention abroad, Americans remain very jealous about their own independence. In fact, the United States has put together a military establishment that guarantees that not a single American acre can be invaded by any combination of military powers on the planet. Even in the darkest hours after Pearl Harbor and 9/11, very few Americans had serious concerns of losing even a tiny sliver of land to invading armies. Enemies might be tempted to strike America -” but they would be insane to believe that they could hold American territory for more than a few hours.

But these very same patriots who would not concede a square inch of the American homeland seem bewildered that foreigners can also be jealous about their native turf. Was Fallujah our Bunker Hill or their Bunker Hill or their Guernica? Is it not indecent to celebrate our love of independence and insist on our entitlement to empire in the very same presidential speech?

For Iraqis, the very essence of the American imperial project in the Gulf was to strip the nation of its sovereignty and its independence. The notion that the United States invaded Iraq to spread freedom to the region is a juvenile hallucination induced by policy makers who can’t come up with anything better to explain the Mess on Potamia. The struggle for liberty had nothing to do with this war of choice and those who have their doubts are well advised to scrutinize this administration’s cozy relationship with Ariel Sharon and the absolute monarchs and dictators in the region.

Grown ups like Zbigniew Brzezinski are more precise about American ambitions in the region. "America’s security role in the region gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region" (The National Interest, winter 2003/2004).

If the War Party insists that the United States should have a belligerent military presence in the region -” they should at least give us an adult explanation of the ‘national interest’ in the region. At the very minimum, we should all avoid confusion about why the United States has an imperial project in the Gulf – to economically exploit oil-importing European and Asian countries by occupying oil-exporting Arab countries.

Our Gulf wars are not about America’s need for Saudi or Iraqi oil -” they are designed for the benefit of Europeans and Asians who have a much more critical dependence on oil imports from the region. To take advantage of this European and Asian dependence, America has made very lucrative arrangements with the kleptocrats who rule the oil plantations in the Gulf. In return for American mercenary services, all they need to do is exchange their crude for American dollars -” forcing the Europeans and Asians to ingest our chief export -” American currency. That allows us to run a trade deficit of two billion dollar every day of the year. If you want an English translation of “politically critical leverage” it is “If Europe and Asia want Gulf oil -” they must pay for it in American dollars.”

The brave men who voluntarily joined the battle at Bunker Hill were rebels fighting for the independence of their country not the dominance of their currency. Now, we can thank the troops in Iraq for their courage in laying their lives on the line for the almighty buck. But we certainly ought to tell them that they are fighting an entirely different battle than the three-hour engagement their ancestors fought against the British in 1775. From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, we have evolved from colonial rebels to empire builders. It’s enough to make King George III snicker from his grave.

As things now stand, even the president appears to comprehend that sending more troops to Iraq would only aggravate the situation. So far, he has resisted the temptations to succumb to the neo-con hawks calling for escalation. The Pentagon has made it clear that such an increase in our ‘foot print’ would only increase resistance to our presence. By that logic, a complete removal of American forces might eliminate the whole rationale behind this indigenous insurgency.

It seems lost on most Americans that ninety per cent of the military mission in Iraq is currently focused on ‘force protection’ and securing supply lines to our military bases. In effect, we have a situation in which the primary task of the Pentagon is to insure the safety of the troops -” until such time that the policy makers in Washington acquire the spine to admit mission failure and formulate a rapid exit strategy.

Leaving Iraq will be good for America. Evacuating American troops from the whole region would be even healthier. American soldiers went to war based on a pack of lies and dreams of easy glory. They now stand accused of being brutal invaders out to assail the honor and rape the resources of a less fortunate people. The experience of the last fifteen years proves that the costs of the imperial project in the Gulf are simply too high in terms of blood and treasure. To date, over 20,000 Americans have been killed or wounded and a higher toll of Iraqi casualties still remains a state secret. The occupation is running a $5 billion monthly tab. As for results, it is now clear to most observers that the Iraqi adventure has increased terrorism, harmed our security, fleeced our treasury, denigrated our moral fiber and ruined our international standing. The price of oil has tripled, the budget and trade deficits have gone through the roof and the military can’t meet its recruiting quotas.

Procrastination is not an exit strategy. Yesterday would have been a very good day to bring the troops home. A year ago, the Bush administration could have started withdrawing after handing nominal sovereignty to the Iraqis. Almost two years ago, American troops could have been marching home in glory after toppling Saddam Hussein. If in the early days of the occupation, the Iraqis had detected clear signs that the ‘liberators’ were not neo-con inspired occupiers with secret and sinister agendas -” there might have been no insurgency. And let’s not forget that Bush always had the option to not invade Iraq on the strength of ‘fixed’ intelligence.

At some point, King George III decided to throw in the towel and set America free. The time has come for Bush to relent and end this farce. Let the Iraqis have their independence so Americans can celebrate the next Fourth of July without so much confusion about the noble mission of the Yankee rebels who took a stand for liberty at Bunker Hill.

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