The former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, has joined the growing list of generals and admirals who are coming out against the Iraq occupation. You’ll recall that he was the U.S. general in charge of Iraq when the torture and sex abuse at Abu Ghraib prison took place. Lt. Sanchez calls the Iraq situation “a nightmare with no end in sight” and says that the Iraq war plan was “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic.”
So, where was Sanchez prior to the invasion of Iraq? Oh, like most other military types he was either living with sealed lips or behaving “patriotically” by blindly supporting the president. Like most other military types (Lt. Eric Watada being a heroic exception), Sanchez considers it his patriotic “duty” to click his heels, salute, and say, “Yes, my president. I am here to serve you. Tell me what country you want me to invade and I will do so, no questions asked, and I will kill as many people as necessary to achieve your goal.” (Of course, it’s also the same attitude that many members of Congress had after 9/11.)
This is one reason why people should never believe what active-duty military types are saying about a president’s military operation. Their rosy, optimistic pronouncements are no different, in principle, from those of Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi guy whose rosy, optimistic pronouncements had one purpose — to please his ruler, Saddam Hussein.
The perversity in all this is that many of these military types were among those who were questioning the patriotism of those of us who were opposing the Iraq invasion prior to, during, and after the invasion. Unlike Sanchez and other generals and admirals, we didn’t wait until things had gone bad before condemning what was happening in Iraq. Unlike them, we knew that genuine patriotism does not mean blind support of the government and its military during time of war but rather the courage to stand up against one’s government, including the military, when it is engaged in wrongdoing.
The only reason that these military types are now questioning their war is that things haven’t worked as swimmingly has Bush and they had hoped. If the invasion and occupation had succeeded in establishing a stable, pro-U.S. regime, there is no doubt that these new-found military critics would be celebrating their conquest.
What these people still have yet to confront is the basic immorality of what they have done by invading Iraq: They have killed Iraqi people — lots of Iraqi people — none of whom ever attacked the United States, not on 9/11 or any other time.
I repeat and emphasize: Neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States, which means that President Bush and his military had no moral or legal right to attack Iraq and kill Iraqi people. In the Iraqi escapade, the U.S. government, including its troops, is the aggressor and the Iraqi people are the defenders.
Thus, the fundamental moral issue that the American people must confront in dealing with the ongoing quagmire in Iraq is not that the war and occupation have been mishandled. The core issue is that President Bush and his military were in the wrong, both morally and legally, in attacking and occupying Iraq, given the undisputable fact that neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States.