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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Our Opinion

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

As a general sense of unease slowly permeates our daily lives, wonders how much more the situation in Iraq has to “degrade” (as they say in the US military) before the public finally finds the voice to end its current deafening silence. What is happening today in Iraq — and in the United States — long ago moved beyond any issues of disinformation regarding Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. It is now painfully obvious, in fact, that the war had nothing to do with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. The administration’s recent aggressive stance against Iran and Syria clearly confirms that the attack on Iraq was part of a much larger, much more ambitious — indeed, ruthless and unconstrained — agenda of ideological intervention that aims ultimately at a fundamental reshaping and restructuring of the entire Middle East and, frankly and frighteningly, the world.

Under the circumstances, what is relevant here is not the administration’s “unpreparedness” for the “day after” in Iraq. It was transparently obvious that the administration did not care about preparedness when it essentially fired the army’s chief of staff for having the temerity to remain faithful to his oath of office, and to his responsibilities to his country and, of course, to the men in his command. General Eric K. Shinseki told Donald Rumsfeld last year how difficult the “pacification” of Iraq would be, and how many men would be required. For his honesty, he is now General Eric K. Shinseki (Ret.). No, only the most credulous — or the most fanatic Bushites — can continue to maintain that this war was waged to “liberate” the Iraqi people.

From its complicity in the looting of the country’s cultural patrimony, to its failure to restore Iraq’s electrical grid and water-supply system (although this time around, as opposed to Gulf War I, Iraq’s civil infrastructure was not attacked, since the US knew it would have to make use of it at war’s end), to the wanton killings by US soldiers of anyone from foreign journalists to families on their way back from weddings, US actions have verged on sheer criminality — not to mention that, absent any evidence of proscribed weapons, the very invasion of Iraq was a gross violation of international law. (Is it any wonder that the US is so adamantly opposed to the International Criminal Court?) Which is why the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons this past week was par for the course. When Saddam’s regime broadcast pictures of dead or wounded US soldiers, it was (rightly, in our opinion) accused of violating the Geneva conventions; when Mr. Rumsfeld televised the same kind of grotesque images, he was only doing so, he claimed (if with some obvious discomfort), to “assure” the Iraqi people that they were now genuinely “free.”

And so, as the attacks against its soldiers continue unabated, both in frequency and ferocity, wonders how high the body count will have to reach before the people of the United States demand accountability from the current, Supreme Court-appointed administration. What will it take for our fellow citizens finally to be morally outraged by a president whose solution to any opposition to his imperial project is to “Bring ’em on”? There was much “celebrating” last week of the killings of Uday and Qusay Hussein, while very little was said about the failure to capture them. Arresting and bringing them to justice would have had an infinitely more significant effect on cleansing Iraqi society, and helping it to reconstitute itself on a truly democratic basis. Again, however, it is clear that the US does not care about Iraqi society, or about the latter’s democratic constitution. How can it, since it is led by an unelected president who is indifferent to the effects of his debilitating actions on his own society?

When the Constitutional Convention finally ended its nation-building deliberations on September 18, 1787, Benjamin Franklin emerged from behind closed doors and was immediately beseeched by a woman wanting to know what the future of the country would be. “Well, Doctor,” she asked, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” the Sage of Philadelphia quickly responded, but then, after a pause, added, “if you can keep it.” The answer to Franklin’s piercing challenge becomes more problematic as each day passes.

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