Burnt Offering: 3,000 Sacrifices to Greed and Folly


A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a piece about the 3,000th American military casualty in Iraq. For various reasons of scheduling, time pressures, etc., the piece never ran. But I thought I’d offer it here — even though that grim milestone is now receding in the distance as we surge toward ever-greater levels of pointless death. This is a somewhat revised version of the original, which was written on Jan. 4, because at that time the details of Bush’s new "Operation Cannon Fodder" had not yet been revealed.

I. The Spider’s Nest

At some point in the last week of December, the toll of American military dead in Iraq passed 3,000. These shades are the "strange fruit" of 9/11: unnecessary, unfated deaths seeded in that earlier cataclysm, which has been so ruthlessly and cynically exploited by the Bush Administration.

The day after 9/11, I had a deadline to write a column. Although much was still obscure in those early hours of aftermath — chiefly, where and how the inevitable stroke of revenge would fall — one thing at least seemed clear. "Blood will have blood," I wrote; "that’s certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs."

Although the Bush Administration struck a reluctant, glancing blow at Afghanistan in response to the attacks — essentially lending American air power, a few troops, and bags of bribes to one faction of warlords, druglords and sectarian extremists in the long-running, many-sided Afghan civil war — Iraq was the nest in which most of the eggs of 9/11 were hatched. We now know that in the earliest moments, when the dead were still burning beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon wall, Donald Rumsfeld was frantically urging his minions to find some way to tie the attack to Saddam Hussein. "Best info fast," he scribbled in one of the celebrated "snowflakes" of carping and command that he constantly showered upon his underlings. "Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. at the same time. Not only [Osama bin Laden]. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

We also know that this admonition was followed to the letter in the months ahead: "things related and not" — especially "not" — were indeed swept up, then packaged into the most relentless and mendacious warmongering campaign in American history. Without the deliberate manipulation and exaggeration of the fear and confusion generated by the 9/11 attacks, not a single American soldier would have perished in Iraq. Not a single lament would have been drawn from their loved ones. Nor would more than 20,000 of their comrades have been maimed, nor many thousands more stricken with the invisible wounds of emotional torment, psychological dislocation, broken marriages, broken homes, broken lives.

None of the 3,000 — whose numbers are growing every day — had to die. No genuine national interest compelled the war that has consumed them. Although polls show that a majority of U.S. soldiers in Iraq believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 — a demonstrable lie in which they have obviously been deliberately schooled in order to keep their blood up for battle — the fact is that the war was planned long before the 2001 attacks. Its architects laid out their vision clearly in a September 2000 document called "Rebuilding America’s Defenses," in which the imposition of an American military footprint in Iraq was termed a strategic imperative that "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." In other words, not only were 9/11 and the "War on Terror" and "weapons of mass destruction" irrelevant to the invasion, so was Saddam Hussein. It didn’t matter whether he was there or not. And this "transcendent" imperative was just part of a far-reaching plan of massive military expansion — and aggressive military action — to achieve "full spectrum dominance" over global affairs in the coming century

However, these architects — who, under the umbrella of the "Project for the New American Century" and other related pressure groups, included Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Scooter Libby, Elliott Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, William Kristol, Thomas Donnelly and others — recognized that their wholesale militarization of American policy and society would be a tough sell to voters who might wistfully prefer the Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness to global empire. Thus the September 2000 document acknowledged that the "revolutionary" changes it envisaged could take decades to bring about — unless, of course, the nation was struck by what PNAC called "some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor." (For more detail on the report and its history, see Dark Passage: PNAC’s Blueprint for Empire. Sarah Meyer offers an even more in-depth, heavily-sourced examination in Rebuilding America’s Defenses — A Biopsy on Imperialism.)

September 11 gave them their wished-for "new Pearl Harbor." Within days, George W. Bush — the second-place candidate installed in office by the Supreme Court’s self-declared extra-special, one-time-only ruling in favor of his campaign, which employed one Justice’s wife and another Justice’s son — was invoking 9/11 to justify "a new kind of conflict" that would require massive military expansion and aggressive military action all over the world. Within days, Cheney was citing the attacks to justify what he called going over to "the dark side, if you will" — an early indication of the lawless system of secret prisons, torture, rendition, "extrajudicial killing," warrantless surveillance and other arbitrary actions of unfettered executive power that were to come. Bush summed up the grim future that his administration was furiously constructing from the PNAC blueprint in an August 2002 speech: "There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland."

With these long-term plans at last kicking into high gear, it was only a matter of "fixing the intelligence around the policy" of invading and occupying Iraq, as the process was aptly described in the "Downing Street Memos" — the official UK papers that documented Bush and Tony Blair’s knowing collusion in "manufacturing consent" for the war. Thus did these two self-proclaimed Christian leaders of the world’s most advanced democracies betray their own soldiers to needless death. Thus did they knowingly, willingly, with full cognizance of their legal, political and moral responsibilities for the action, set in train the murderous engine of aggression that has killed more than half a million innocent Iraqi civilians — the vast horde of wasted lives beside which the American losses, as grievous as they are, pale in comparison.

[The Iraqi civilian death count is based on studies published in The Lancet, one of the world’s most respected medical journals. Although, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the scientific model used in the Lancet for calibrating mass death rates is exactly the same procedure accepted by the U.S. government and the American media for counting victims in Rwanda, Bosnia, the Congo and other conflict areas, once again we meet with an extra-special, one-time-only exemption for George W. Bush: both the Administration and the media have consistently rejected the Lancet numbers for Iraq as "unsound" or "questionable." They are neither, of course, but as with the votes in Florida, so with the dead in Iraq: the true accounting must be discredited.]

II. Blood on the Tracks

These plans for "unipolar domination" of the world through military aggression, geopolitical extortion (play ball with our corrupt crony capitalism — what Bush calls the "single sustainable model of national success" — or you’ll get it in the neck) and war profiteering on an unprecedented scale had their origins in the waning days of the first Bush Administration, in the Pentagon offices of then—Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. They were refined during the years of the Clinton interregnum not only at PNAC, a relative latecomer to the militarist talking shops, but also in such groups as the Hudson Institute, the Center for Security Policy and, especially, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Now Bush has drawn on AEI "scholar" Frederick Kagan to fashion his genuinely demented plan for a major escalation of the Iraq War: the famous "surge" that has dominated the shoptalk of the Beltway in the past month — the same month in which American soldiers were dying in near-record numbers while Bush cleared brush on his fake ranch. (The spread was purchased as a campaign prop in 1999 but is invariably referred to by media sycophants as his "beloved" homestead, as if he’d spent years of his life communing with the soil there, rather than the odd month now and then on vacation). While he dithered — consulting with his "brain trust" on the best way to ignore the suggestions of the Iraq Study Group and the clearly expressed will of the American people to bring the American occupation of Iraq to an end — more than 100 U.S. soldiers were shot to death or blown to pieces. An almost equivalent number of Iraqi civilians were murdered every day during December by the death squads of the factions brought to power by Bush and their sectarian opponents in the nationalist insurgency that arose in response to his invasion.

What the Kagan plan called for — and what Bush accepted in a slightly diluted form (which, of course, the Kagan quickly and cravenly embraced — is a re-invasion of Baghdad, with thousands of additional U.S. troops thrown into savage urban warfare in "critical Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods." (The latter of which are now practically non-existent, thanks to the virulent "ethnic cleansing" in the city by Bush-backed Shia militias and their Sunni counterparts). In the unintentionally revealing language that permeates so much of the war-porn generated by the well-fed, stay-at-home armchair generals of PNAC, AEI and the White House, Kagan — a young, portly academic with no expertise whatsoever in the Middle East — writes in the Washington Post that "the only ‘surge’ option that makes any sense is both long and large."

The mass-murdering blandishments that Kagan poured in Bush’s ear demanded that already-overstrained American ground forces "accept longer tours for several years," as he stated in his AEI report, "Choosing Victory." The citizen-soldiers in National Guard units will also have to "accept increased deployments during this period," it seems. Meanwhile, Kagan will no doubt continue to discuss the finer points of "counterinsurgency" and "clearing neighborhoods" with congenial colleagues at Washington’s finest restaurants — while also insisting, as he does in "Choosing Victory," that "the president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this age."

In this plan — and the version of it Bush adopted for his "New Way Forward" — we see the hideous obscenity of the whole criminal enterprise laid bare. The bloodlust of physical cowards like Bush and Cheney and Kagan — their overpowering need to see other people kill and die — is now reaching genuinely irrational proportions. The war in Iraq was launched solely to serve the political ambitions, personal fortunes and radical ideologies of a small group of American elitists (and the delusions of grandeur of its little handmaiden in the UK). It had no larger strategic benefit or moral purpose, despite all the ever-shifting rhetoric to the contrary. It has not enhanced American security. It has not given the Iraqis a better life. It has not spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. It was not designed to do these things. But neither has it accomplished its true aim, as clearly defined by PNAC and others, of establishing a solid American military presence in Iraq as a launching pad for further expansion of the "single sustainable model of national success" and the juicy contracts that would follow.

Every single person killed as a result of Bush’s war — Iraqi and American, British and Italian, Polish and Japanese, soldier and civilian — has died in vain. The fantasy war of "sweets and roses" was lost from the very beginning (although a less wretchedly inept occupation might have mitigated at least some of the depredations spawned by every war of conquest). The real war of the "unipolar dominationists" is also clearly lost. There is no way clear to any realistic scenario where American troops remain in Iraq as the "invited guests" of a stable, supine client government in Baghdad. Any expansion of the war at this point — any continuance of the war in any form whatsoever — is thus nothing more than an exercise in wanton slaughter to "save face" for the defeated elitists and allow them to offload the inevitable Gtterdmmerung onto their successors in office.

This is the significance of 3,000th U.S. military death in Iraq. It is, literally, a milestone, a marker in the sand on a long and bloody trail whose end is still nowhere in sight.