David Swanson: Leadership of both parties committed to a militarist agenda
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. President Obama has announced that the war in Iraq is over. The last American troops more or less have left Iraq. Of course, there’s a lot in that “more or less”. Now joining us to discuss this is David Swanson. He’s with RootsAction.org. He joins us now from Charlotte, Virginia. Have I got it right this time?
DAVID SWANSON, ACTVIST AND AUTHOR: Charlottesville. Almost.
JAY: Charlottesville. Okay. Charlottesville, Virginia. Sorry to everyone in Charlottesville. David, so what do you make of the end of the Iraq war?
SWANSON: Well, to the extent that it’s happened, it’s great news. To the extent that we’re passing out credit, not just the Iraqi people but those in the United States who opposed this deserve some credit. But it’s not strictly ending. You know, we have probably 14,000 contractors helping out, about 2,000 diplomats remaining in the world’s largest embassy ever and three consulates in Iraq. About half of those contractors are men with guns, whatever you want to call them. They’re not considered forces, excepting themselves to the treaty in that they aren’t employed through the Department of Defense, which was the loophole the treaty that Bush and Maliki put together provided. However, the United States army has just last month put out a new noncompetitive contract with a group called Olive Group North America for a large number of convoy escort teams–troops and mercenaries–to escort U.S. goods around Iraq. There’s a huge U.S. presence remaining in Kuwait and Qatar and Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, and of course Afghanistan. This is not over in the sense that one would like, and it certainly is not over in the sense that was promised by candidate Obama. This was to be his first act in office. Instead, he’s fought it tooth and nail every step of the way and attempted to keep troops there. And credit in fact goes to people like Bradley Manning, who exposed U.S. crimes in Iraq to Iraq, which refused to extend immunity for U.S. mercenaries and troops beyond the end of this year. And that was, of course, unacceptable to the Pentagon. So President Obama, although he was of course the peace candidate and the anti-Republican candidate and part of that scene, inevitably, years ago as the peace movement pressured Washington, he as president has not taken any steps that he wasn’t forced to with regard to ending this war that I’m–.
JAY: Well, forced, forced to buy who? I mean, let’s–let me argue the Obama side of this, which would be that the–bringing the troops out had to be done over a gradual, phased-out way, without causing, you know, too much disruption in Iraq. He–the Republicans and a lot of forces in the whole military-industrial complex didn’t want to pull out at all. And if you believe the rhetoric of the Republicans, most of the leading Republicans wouldn’t have pulled out if they’d been in power. So, I mean–and who forced them? The antiwar movement’s not so powerful in the United States.
SWANSON: Well, remember that Obama promised to make this his first act in office, to end the war. That was the rally speech that won the applause. And in detail he then promised to pull out over some 18 months. He then reneged on that. And this is complying down almost to the week with what was required by the treaty put together by Bush and Maliki. And there are those who want to give Obama credit for that treaty because he was the Democratic nominee for president, but the reason that that happened was pressure from Iraq, pressure within the Iraqi government, political maneuverings within Baghdad, but also pressure from the U.S. peace movement three years ago, four years ago, which was very strong in this country. Of course, it’s not there anymore, but that treaty is on the books with an Iraqi government that is increasingly aware of crimes committed by U.S. troops and mercenaries in Iraq. And as this withdrawal has been happening, there’s of course been increasing recognition that as U.S. troops leave, chaos doesn’t take over. In fact, violence goes down. This has been a gradual lesson that has been learned over the past few years here.
JAY: Now, the other legacy of all this is that this war took place, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, although when President Obama spoke about it recently, if I understand correctly, he didn’t even mention the Iraqi deaths; he just went through the casualties on the American side. But there’s been no accountability at all for why and how this war began, the fact that it began with such deception and all the rest. In terms of its ongoing legacy, is this not perhaps the most dangerous part of it?
SWANSON: I think that there is a positive legacy here, in that a large percentage of the public in this country and in many other countries was made very much aware of lies taking us into war. And I’ve argued, of course, that this was typical, that every war involves lies. But there was a very widespread understanding, because there were such blatant lies that were quite easily and swiftly disproved, specifically about the weapons and the ties to 9/11. And that was very helpful. That’s helped keep us out of Iran thus far. But the flip side, of course, is that there’s been no accountability, there’s been no–no one has been held responsible or prosecuted for the crime of war-making or any of the atrocities or the lying to Congress or the defrauding of Congress or anything else. There’s been blanket immunity. And there’s been huge pressure by our State Department, as revealed in part by WikiLeaks, to pressure other countries not to hold our officials accountable in any way. Meanwhile, we have millions of Iraqis still not returned. We have a nation in ruin. We have, by most serious estimates, well over a million Iraqis killed. And we have a huge number of U.S. troops who were not killed, damaged by brain damage and PTSD, who are not receiving treatment, and in many cases are being sent back into the global war on terror.
JAY: And the narrative now seems to be from the White House it was essentially a success, and to say otherwise means you don’t support the troops, and that’s history, folks.
SWANSON: Right. This is a president who years ago, several years ago now, called this a dumb war, as if there were dumb wars and smart wars, but who as president has revived the very arguments about the weapons and the ties to 9/11 and the rest of it that were so clearly denounced and led to those charges of this being a dumb war. And he’s transitioned to Afghanistan and to Libya and to the world at large based on these arguments around 2011–excuse me, 2001 and 2003. Remember, another way in which the Iraq War is not ending is that the authorization to use military force from 2003 is remaining in place, and the Senate voted down a measure from Senator Paul that would have repealed that authorization to use military force, because that operation is being expanded to everywhere forever, not Iraq for a certain period of time.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, David.
SWANSON: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget, this is our $200,000 challenge campaign for 2011. We need you to click Donate if you haven’t done that yet, ’cause if you don’t do that, we can’t do this. Thanks for joining us on The Real News.
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