Like father, not like son; Bush should have listened to his daddy

Little George should have read Big George’s book – or at least Big George’s article – that offers wisdom on the current state of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

On March 2, 1998, when Iraq was then front-page news during the Clinton administration, George H.W. Bush and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, cut a passage from their book, “A World Transformed,” and published it in Time magazine. Titled “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam,” the article imparts great wisdom to anyone who should follow in George H.W. Bush’s tracks.

Through the book, the United States could understand the perils of occupation. Occupation is, as we have just learned, costly. George H.W. Bush and Scowcroft state, “Extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq Ö would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending (Saddam) was probably impossible.” Despite Gen. Tommy Franks’ callous comment, “We don’t do body counts,” reports that the number of civilian Iraqi people dead during the Iraq war and occupation resides between 7,792 and 9,605. For the moment, the total coalition fatalities is at 433, while the number of U.S. wounded is at 2,149, or roughly 10 percent of U.S. soldiers in Iraq ties/Summary.aspx.

Occupation is also expensive. George H.W. Bush and Scowcroft said, “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.” Interestingly, given what we know about the money cobbled together last month by the United States, their comment that, “The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well,” seems apt.

Indeed, their statements are not far off the reality unfolding before us today. Our coalition is, indeed, unraveling despite the recent U.S.-forced U.N. resolution regarding Iraq. Pakistan and many other nations seem hard-pressed to send money or troops. Britain, our largest supporter on the bully pulpit, could only put forth a paltry $915 million at last month’s donors’ conference.

Meanwhile, other coalition members such as Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are sending a combined total of approximately 1,000 troops to Iraq for peacekeeping. But their funding sources are suspicious. When asked on National Public Radio last week about how Nicaragua, for example, planned to pay for this effort, the ambassador to the United States said Nicaragua received funding from a nation that wishes to remain anonymous.

As U.S. citizens also learned this year, the cost of unilateral U.S. aggression and imperialism ignores the U.N.’s mission. Noted George H.W. Bush and Scowcroft, “We have been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world.” The clincher: “Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.’s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish.” At the conclusion of their article, they write, “We also believed that the U.S. should not go it alone, that a multilateral approach was better.”

What’s great is that the quotations cited above were crafted by none other than “W’s” father. Obviously, the conditions in Iraq were somewhat different in 1991 than 2003. In 1991, we’d only begun to destroy Iraqi water supplies after the Gulf War, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. In 2003, the United States again violated the Geneva Convention. According to Charles J. Hanley’s recent Associated Press article, “U.S. selling off Iraq-owned companies,” “The U.S. plan for Iraqi privatization is controversial. Some critics interpret Article 47 of the Fourth Convention, protecting civilians in wartime, as outlawing major alterations in an occupied country’s economic system, through its prohibition of annexation of occupied territory.” In other words, the fact the United States has given major rebuilding contracts to U.S. companies such as Halliburton is in violation of Iraqi laws that stated that Iraq would work only with neighboring Arab countries.

Big George warned Little George of the dangers of unilateral aggression against Iraq, not to mention outright occupation. Big George wrote in 1998, “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”

Ironically, George H.W. Bush. forces us to come to grips with the bitter truth. It is telling that when we discover irony we realize the deep tragedy we have led ourselves into.

Joel T. Helfrich’s column appears alternate Tuesdays. Send comments to [email protected]