November 14, 2006
Dear Secretary Gates,
I will not judge you now for what you’ve done in the past. Vietnam and Iran-Contra happened when I was working for the government, too. One thing we all have to hold out for is the possibility of change, including personal change. Without both forgiveness and redemption, what’s the point, after all?
This letter is with regard to the future.
You have been put in the unenviable position of cleaning up a mess. At least, that is the perspective of your cohorts, most of the Republican Party, and the majority of the Democratic Party. They see the US invasion and occupation of Iraq as a mess, a dilemma, a political hot potato. That’s because most politicians have tendencies of personality that DSM IV devotees might call narcissistic personality disorder.
I won’t digress to argue here that these "personality" traits are actually job descriptions. The behavioral descriptions stand, in any case.
A pattern of grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, entitlement, and lack of empathy are the chief components in the diagnosis of NPD.
They lack empathy. They see the destruction of a modern society, and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, and the inevitable toxic aftermath, and the unanswered pain and grief of this war as their problem, as if each of them had an abcessed tooth. They feign empathy, when the spotlights are on, but this war is threatening to their own careers, not the content of their nocturnal dreams.
The Republicans appointed you to make Donald Rumsfeld their sacrifice after the election; and most of the Democrats will welcome you in order to manipulate their constituents into believing that the war can be managed until the defeat can be dropped in someone else’s lap.
That’s the point of my open letter, sir. Donald Rumsfeld didn’t lose the war. It was never winnable. Not only that, the United States never had any legal or moral right to impose an armed occupation in Iraq. And the fundamental fact that the vast majority of Iraqis do not accept the occupation, and are willing to fight to resist it, cannot be changed by better management.
Killing time until politicians can figure out how to save face is killing people — Iraqi and American. Every day that goes by with this US occupation distorting the political landscape of Iraq is forcing Iraqi groups to deal with one another in light of who is and who is not with the Americans, instead of dealing with one another as Iraqis… as the residents of Iraq. In other words, sir, the American occupation of Iraq is the primary source of inter-Iraqi bloodshed; and painting this as ethnic rivalry might be a great public relations palliative for people in the US, but it is a deadly deception.
There are a lot of pressures, that the American public doesn’t generally understand, to stay in Iraq.
We are generally ignorant of the Washington Consensus which seeks to subordinate the whole globe to the interests of the US State as the guarantor of profit for transnational corporations and a tidy return-on-investment for Wall Street speculators. A very few of us know, yet, that this bipartisan consensus is a consensus on the primacy of American imperialism.
The American public, not from any lack of intelligence, but from incessant indoctrination, does not know that defense contracts serve as a surrogate for disappeared export markets, and we haven’t put it together yet that without an infinite "war on terror" to justify these contracts, the American economy’s basic weaknesses would be exposed: unsustainable growth, accumulation through dispossession, mountain ranges of household debt, and dollar hegemony. When we do put it together, it will expose the manipulative perfidy and hypocrisy of the two ruling-class-run parties who seldom bicker about the Washington Consenus itself, only about how it is managed.
Most of us don’t know, sir, but you probably do know. All these economic and political wagons have been hitched to the war; and the war will not be "won." The war will simply further grind down the people who live there and those who occupy Iraq — while politicians figure out how to save their political hides — killing people, maiming people, pouring grief on the survivors, and driving people mad… all the while giving more momentum into the catastrophic cascade that this invasion has triggered.
Here is what we might petition you to do, sir. Take this portfolio as Minister of War and publicly offer to resign it if the order is not given immediately to end the war… begin the prompt and unilateral repatriation of US troops back to the United States.
Tell the world you have erred, sinned even, and that you are seeking your own redemption by redeeming the lives of others. Secure your place in the history of this species as the voice of sense and morality that rallied a nation to end its aggression.
The "problem" will not go away with a gradual reduction of US troops trength. The "problem" will not be solved by sending more troops. That this war will be lost by the US — as the US government deserves — is not a decision that will be made by the US State. It is a decision that has already been made, by Iraqis. It should not have taken us more than four years to figure this out.
Donald Rumsfeld made mistakes, to be sure, but time doesn’t offer take-backs. The main mistakes were confusing the tactical content of war with its political content and the belief that the Iraqis would accept foreign occupation. No decision you make will correct that. If Rumsfeld would have decided differently at any juncture, the resistance would have adapted itself to those decisions as readily as it adapted itself to the actual actions. It was not the conduct of the war that was the "mistake." It was the war.
A vast, bureacratized, conventional, state military cannot defeat a decentralized, determined resistance with popular support on its own ground. The invader can only elect to leave or exterminate them all or delay the inevitable while the bodies continue to pile up. The world will not stand by while you exterminate them all; so now you can elect between one or the other… leave, or dither while others die.
Choose to leave, and enforce that choice with the immense but latent power you have to shock the world with the truth from your current position, and you will be reviled in the short term — as Dr. King was by both parties and the press in 1968, when he turned openly against the Vietnam War — and be remembered by history as a redeemed human being who bore witness and stopped human suffering.
Choose to issue more of the "bipartisan" pablum from both parties about a semi-puppet government "taking responsibility" first, and of "exit strategies," and you’ll drink cocktails paid out of Georgetown catering budgets for the next couple of years — and you’ll be remembered, if at all, as just another functionary of a dying empire.
An exit is not a strategy. It is a command.
You are standing at the fork in the road, sir.