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There will be no winners in the Iraq war

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the lies told to justify the Iraq War. Since then there has been a relentless barrage of revelations by former insiders, whistleblowers and journalists, showing the true (and shocking) extent to which the US president and his advisors peddled falsehoods.

Last month, the US House of Representatives published its report examining the public statements made by president Bush and his key officials in the lead-up to the war. The report identifies 237 specific misleading statements made by these officials. Ten of these statements, according to the report, were simply false. We were told many, many things by these people: that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons; that the Iraqi regime was a “threat of unique urgency”; that there was a clear link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda; that “within a week, or a month” Saddam could give his weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda, which could use them to attack the United States and kill “30,000, or 100,000…human beings”.

President Bush himself, according to the report, shares the unique distinction of having made the largest number of misleading statements in a single appearance – eleven – of any of the officials. He did this on October 7, 2002 – just three days before a crucial congressional vote on the Iraqi war resolution. This information is contained in a report compiled by his own parliament.

Clearly, these people were taking the US public (and the rest of the world) for a very dangerous ride. That they are still in office in a country that espouses the highest ideals of democratic accountability is a mystery to me.

Why all the lying? Simply because Bush & Co. came into office already convinced of the need to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. The visceral reasons for this conviction would not withstand public attention and scrutiny, so other reasons had to be constructed. This fixation on Iraq has been confirmed by a former insider, Richard Clarke, who served as a counter-terrorism advisor in four administrations. In his book, ‘Against All Enemies’, Clarke alleges that Bush repeatedly ignored the imminent threat presented by al Qaeda as he pursued his singular obsession with Iraq. Even after al Qaeda’s horrific ‘9/11’ attack on America, Bush is reported to have told Clarke: “…see if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way.”

The revelations continue. Veteran investigative journalist Bob Woodward has claimed in a newly published book (‘Plan of Attack’) that Bush had asked his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for a plan to invade Iraq as early as November 2001 – and that Rumsfeld subsequently gave General Tommy Franks a “blank cheque” to develop a war plan. Yet all senior US officials spent the whole of 2002 denying that there was any plan to invade, and maintaining the deceit of working through the United Nations.

The biggest lie of all is the one that war hawks in the US administration tell themselves: that war doesn’t hurt any more. They seem to regard war as some sort of video game, where modern computer-guided weapons allow us to ‘take out’ our enemies with precision and with minimal casualties. Ready, aim, bang, game over, we win. This dangerous mindset is the one that has taken the US into the very dangerous waters of pre-emptive war and occupation of a foreign country.

Those on the ground tell a rather different tale. A reader of this column has shown me photographs of the kind that you may never see in the mainstream media: of little Iraqi children maimed, disfigured and dismembered by the bombing. You need a strong disposition to look at these images: they are amongst the most distressing I have encountered in my life. These children are everywhere in Iraq – orphaned, scarred, and traumatised beyond our comprehension. Let us not hide behind rhetoric and finely nuanced lies: this is what war is all about. Senseless carnage wreaked upon helpless innocents. When you go to ‘take out’ Saddam in a war, you ‘take out’ many of the children you purport to be going there to save. That is the fact of war.

Fortunately, much as you may attempt to suppress truth, you cannot suppress the human spirit of healing and care. Out of the bombed-out remains of the war zones, there always emerge a few people who devote themselves to rebuilding the shattered lives of the victims. Childhood’s Voice is an Iraqi NGO that runs the Season’s Art Therapy School, which offers free services to children suffering from stress disorders and trauma, as well as to street children and those from poverty-stricken backgrounds. The war has caused a massive influx of children into this school, suffering from panic attacks, phobias, anxiety and learning difficulties.

These children are having their self-esteem and social confidence gradually rebuilt through team-based art education and art therapy. They are being taught to love and be loved again, even in the middle of all the havoc and destruction wreaked on them by their crazed dictator and by their misguided invaders. The school’s founders live under constant threat of unforeseeable violence, and in the grinding poverty of a shattered country. Yet they are devoting themselves and their resources to reconstructing the lives of these children.

A few such people, focused on a simple act of love, are worth thousands of high-powered officials and analysts who see only numbers on a screen. The latter cannot see the world anymore, just the balance sheets of justification. “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them”, said Albert Einstein. George Bush, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Ariel Sharon may not have committed the same crimes, but they certainly exist at the same plane of awareness: that the end justifies the means, that the gun rules, that might is right, and that truth is a convenience. They will not solve the problem.

No, we need to look to those who can see things from a higher level. Thich Nhat Hahn is a man I have referred to before in this column. He is a Buddhist monk who saw the horrors of the Vietnam War at first hand. Martin Luther King proposed him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his consistent emphasis on reconciliation in all circumstances. His words are worth listening to. He tells us that the roots of war are in our own minds, in our tendency to take sides. We cannot have peace if the peace we want is the defeat of one side in order to satisfy our anger. We need the vision of “inter-being” – that we all belong to each other. Reality cannot be cut into little pieces and defined as ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. Every side is ‘our’ side. There is no evil side.

If only more of us were able to understand this wisdom, perhaps we wouldn’t be quite so ready to reach for a weapon at the slightest provocation to defend ‘our’ side. If only.

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