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Stan Goff of Bring Them Home Now! on U.S. soldiers in Iraq:
"They weren't liberating anything"

October 3, 2003 | Page 5

STAN GOFF is a member of the Bring Them Home Now! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. He talked to Socialist Worker about the discontent among U.S. soldiers--and the crisis that the Pentagon faces today.

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WHAT KIND of impact is the occupation of Iraq having on U.S. troops?

IT'S KILLING some of them. It's wounding others. It will make plenty sick and mentally unstable. The Bush administration believed they would be welcomed as liberators because Bush has surrounded himself with people whose principle skill is self-delusion, and whose principle aversion is to hearing anything that doesn't conform to their preconceptions. This makes them dangerous even to their own class, and that's why I suspect Bush will soon be dumped.

People who only want to hear good news from their own perspective are easily taken in by con men, and the con man that got them this time was Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi ex-patriot who has a free room waiting for him in Jordan for about 22 years--in a prison. He's an embezzler and a bunco artist who ripped off Jordanian banks. This is the guy upon who Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and the whole crew relied on--the guy who told them they'd be welcomed as liberators.

Neither were they deterred by intelligence summaries that told them there was no threat from Iraq. They just made some stuff up, repeated it 5 million times to a credulous public and a spineless media, and voilà!

They wanted control of the oil. That was always the reason, and it never changed. All that other stuff about weapons and threats was just political bullshit. That's why it amazes me to hear the press still saying, "Oh wow, it looks like they might have been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction." For all the supposed advantages of a free corporate press, they are about the biggest cowards this side of the moon, and they won't say what is obvious: that this whole administration is a pack of inveterate liars--bad liars to boot.

The morale of the troops didn't start to come apart after the goofy stunt that Bush pulled on the USS Abraham Lincoln. It began to fall as soon as the reality that they weren't liberating anything sank in. Many troops believed that they would be welcomed, and as is always the case in war, a handful of people did behave that way when they got there.

It took about a day, however, after offensive operations ceased for U.S. troops to begin figuring out that the hostility to occupation was pretty much generalized. This, more than any other single factor, has destroyed morale there--far more, for example, than danger and hardship.

FROM YOUR own experience, do you think there is a parallel to the rebellion of U.S. soldiers as the Vietnam War went on?

SINCE THE decision in August to cut U.S. casualties, the U.S. has minimized operations and largely drawn troops back inside the concertina wire. This is because they didn't know what to do. They were taking a beating with the pinprick strikes, and a bigger beating politically because people here didn't want to hear that this wasn't going to be the "cakewalk" that Wolfowitz predicted.

From an operational tempo, that was lethally strenuous. Soldiers have now been subjected to outlandish boredom, where they can concentrate on how slowly the calendar pages turn, how hot it is, how bad the sand fleas are, how much they miss home-cooked meals and sex and air conditioning. The occasional mortar attack gives them something to talk about.

The U.S. is stuck right now, having lost the battlefield initiative, and is losing the war. Certainly, there is an economic draft, but I wouldn't reason in a linear way that this means there is an aversion to combat on account of it.

People respond to combat in wildly different and often unpredictable ways. Many young men think they want to fight because of how militarized masculinity is constructed in American culture, but the reality is not the morality tale they imagine. It is both more banal and uglier.

The good guy/bad guy theme goes out the window right away, and plain racism takes its place as a rule. This is a Vietnam parallel. Gooks or Dinks. Ragheads or Hajjis. It makes it easier to kill people and beat them down. But that's true of most wars, especially imperial wars.

No doubt the morale failures are parallel in some sense to that in Vietnam. It's based on being lied to. The more interesting parallel, beside plain military overreach, is the way that Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board has usurped the Department of Defense--kind of like Robert McNamara's whiz kids. Except that McNamara was about 10 times smarter than Rumsfeld.

That's not some great feat, however. It took McNamara six or seven years to get Vietnam as fucked up as Rumsfeld has done in Iraq in just six months. Maybe that makes McNamara 12 times smarter, I don't know.

THE BUSH administration claims that the resistance in Iraq is being carried out by "Saddam loyalists" and "terrorists." What do you think?

IT'S JUST more Bush bullshit. The resistance is Iraqi and indigenous. It's also fairly coherent, but I'm not sure how. I can only infer that from the smooth and rapid transition that the Iraqi guerrillas made from hard targets to soft ones when the Americans pulled back inside their installations. One day, they were hitting U.S. patrols, the next, they were hitting collaborators and embassies. There is something going on there.

The repetition of words like "remnants" and "foreigners" is a childish cover story to conceal the fact that the Iraqis are not conforming to the neo-con script by being "good little colonials" and accepting the big white man's direction. Lots of Americans--mostly white Americans--are prepared to believe anything because they've invested so much in their simplified, commodified, alienated, racialized world view that the real world is just too much to bear. It's an emperor's new clothes phenomenon.

HOW DO you respond to antiwar activists who are opposed to occupation, but say that it would be "irresponsible" for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq immediately?

THERE'S A moral argument that can be made here, but there is also a practical political argument. While we can say that the U.S. owes Iraq reparations, it's pretty academic, and downright silly in my opinion, to demand that from the guys who are doing the war now. But that's not what this business is. And progressives are getting caught in it, too.

It's racism--listen to the subtext: "Iraqis are incapable of governing themselves." How can the same people who made the mess be expected to clean it up, when their motives haven't changed. You see how many lies this accepts as premises? This is the "white man's burden" in a new outfit--democratization, et cetera. It's just more colonial white supremacy, shouldering "our" responsibility to "civilize" those brown folks.

As for chaos, there is chaos now, and whether and how it ends will be a function not of what we or any other foreign power do, but--as the resistance is showing us with deeds--but of what the Iraqi people will accept. This is the blind spot that is created by Western hubris. We can't see Iraqi agency.

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