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     The front cover of THE WEEK MAGAZINE shows Rummy caught
above his knees in sinking sand, with the caption, "Stuck in the
Sand."  The word "quagmire" connotes water, lots of water, and
even clams sunk in the soggy mire, so one could wonder if this
word quite fits the deserts of Mesopotamia.  But it is meant
figuratively, and has been used before to refer to a mess one
can't get out of.  One is stuck, until the decision is made that
getting out is the only goal left.
     Recall Vietnam.  It was a quagmire for the French, as their
colonialist empire finally became not worth defending.  They were
definitively defeated by Ho Chih Mihn's Vietnamese armed
resistance at Dien Bien Phu, in 1954.
     The USA jumped in, trying to prevent the fall of one country
after another to the Soviet Union.  The domino theory, so-called,
prevented the Americans from understanding the local hostility to
occupation.  So they arranged, at the Geneva Conference of 1956,
to divide Vietnam in half, allowing Ho to liberate only half of
his country.  The US would prevent the "fall" of the southern
half.  It became a messy and bloody quagmire, which lasted
another seventeen years.
     During that time hundreds of proposals to end the Vietnam
War were put forward.  For example:  "The next time a son of a
garbage collector is killed in Vietnam, all garbage collectors
will refuse to move any garbage until the war is stopped."  Or,
"There will be no observance of Christmas of any kind, until the
war is stopped."  One of the best proposals was, "Declare victory
and leave."  The U.S. finally did what the protestors wanted.  We
quit, and left.
     Compare that dismal history to what is happening now in
Iraq.  First the U.S. bombed everything: water system, sewer
system, electricity supply system, government buildings.  Then we
invaded in a blitzkrieg, from south to north.  The Pentagon
leaders indicated that they were not counting Iraqi casualties,
and were "not interested in that topic."
     The acting President declared the war over, after pretending
to land on an aircraft carrier.  He and his neo-con advisers
missed the satire in Tom Lehrer's old song, "They love us
everywhere we go."  They thought the Iraqis would welcome us with
flowers, that they wouldn't mind being bombed to smithereens and
then turned over to an exiled embezzler named Chalabi.  Our
leaders blame trouble on die-hard supporters of Saddam Hussein.
They set up strict check-points and conduct raids, which amount
to breaking and entering, humiliation and murder.
     The acting president even taunted those Iraqis who were
unhappy with the occupation.  "Bring 'em on!" he smirked.  Lately
he has declared, "There shall be no retreat!"  Retreat?  Where'd
that idea come from?
     The British occupied Iraq for forty years, after the
conclusion of World War I, without success.  They never got a
democracy going.  Are our leaders planning to be in Iraq for
forty years?  Polls show that nearly 70% of Americans now believe
we will be bogged down "for years," without achieving our goals. 
It turns out the leaders who got us into this had no exit
strategy at all!  "Quagmire" sounds like an accurate word for
this situation.
     Remember how US TV commentators taunted President Carter, by
noting at the conclusion of each daily broadcast, that "this was
the umpteenth day of the holding of American hostages in Iran,"
counting and reminding us of how may days it was?  Now they
compare the number of US military dead before the declared end of
the war, to those killed since, embarrassing the acting
     The response of our fearless leaders is predictable, and
reminds us who can remember of Vietnam.  "Stay the course." 
"Send more troops."  "Let the Iraqis take care of security."  In
the old days that last one was called "Vietnamization," and it
didn't work.  It won't work now either.  They may kill thousands
more Iraqis, but they won't kill a national liberation movement.
     The word "quagmire" is leaking into the newspapers.  Andrew
Greeley in THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES has an article entitled, "U.S.
Sinking in Iraq Quagmire."  [!]  We face three unpalatable
options, he says, all of which indicate and admit failure.
          [1] Send more troops -- the war is not over.
          [2] Invite the UN to take over Iraq -- after all those
insults.  But why would Canadian or Mongolian, let along French
or German, mothers want to send their sons to Iraq to be picked
off, one or two per day, just because they're there?  Thailand,
Japan, Poland and even Australia are even now backing off from
troop commitments already made.
     [3] Kill Saddam Hussein [or claim to], and leave -- "We know
you don't want us here.  We don't want to be here either. 
Rebuild your country yourselves."
     A fourth option is possible.  "Muddle through."  Again it
sounds just like Vietnam.  And it really means the same as #3
above, only later.  It means, "Quit, finally."  
     We'll have to quit, and leave.  Leave Cheney's oil, after
all.  It's not worth it.
     The word "quagmire," or what we mean by it, has seeped all
the way home to Albuquerque.  David Alire Garcia, of the
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL, interviews UNM Professor and former Senator
Fred Harris, who uses the term, "War Forever."
     But it won't be forever.  We will quit and leave.  We
protestors, students and teachers and many others, did not end
the Vietnam War quagmire.  The veterans, many of whom threw their
purple heart medals over the White House fence in disgust, ended
that war.  "I'll never trust my government again," many said.    
Watch for that same pattern.  It'll be the soldiers and veterans
who end it.  
     Meanwhile, attempts to explain it all as "winning the war on
terrorism" are ludicrous, and they and we all know it.  We'd
laugh, except for all the needless dying.  The U.S. pre-emptive
invasion of Iraq has multiplied the threat of terrorism many
times over.  We've made sitting ducks -- sitting clams -- of our
youth, and removed the barrier of an ocean that used to separate
us from that place of centuries-old hatred and violence. 
"Quagmire" is the word for it, and "exit strategy" has already
become the top priority for all of us.

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Copyright © 2003 Harry Willson

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