Freedom doused at home

What have coalition forces really achieved in Iraq? At what cost?

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2003

The war is over, and I'm told we've won, although our leaders haven't declared victory, yet. At this point, what victory have we claimed? And at what costs?

We are told that we have liberated Iraqi people from an oppressive dictator, and we see images and hear stories of Iraqis embracing and welcoming American soldiers, and I am inclined to believe these to be genuine claims. But at the same time, we have potentially subjected ourselves and our troops to what could be a long, drawn-out occupation campaign that puts more American lives at stake rather than bringing them home.

We are told that we have rescued Iraq from murderous villains who ruled with bloody force, and then read about children who, after the fall of the previous regime, mind you, are wounded by unexploded cluster bombs -- "miniature explosives contained inside a larger bomb designed to explode and scatter the smaller bombs throughout a given radius" -- sent by their would-be saviors.

We are told that U.S. military action in Iraq was meant to build a strong and democratic civilization, and that some of the troops that remain in place in Baghdad do so to keep the peace in the wake of looting. But then I read that thousand of archaeological artifacts were stolen from Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities, the storehouse of most of the evidence of the country's cultural beginnings and, in my mind, a vital part of any civilized society. Where were U.S. troops when this happened? Oh, they were across town guarding Iraq's Ministry of Oil.

We were told by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and nerve weapons. If true, this violates United Nations mandates set in place following the first U.S. conflict with Iraq in 1991. But as of Friday, after months of searching by U.N. weapons inspectors, and a month of action by thousands of U.S. troops, no warfare chemicals have been found.

So in my mind, if there is victory, it's dubious at best. I was first in line to say that I was opposed to this war that struck me as a combination of knee-jerk paranoia following the tragedies of Sept. 11 and capitalistic greed on the part of our leaders. We earmarked Hussein's regime as a refuge for al-Qaida agents responsible for terrorist acts against our nation, when really, they could be anywhere. None of the al-Qaida leaders we've found thus far were picked up in Iraq.

The fact that the Bush administration strayed away from naming this current war Operation Iraqi Liberation, choosing instead to use the word "freedom" speaks to the diplomatic savvy that has been in question for months. If you made a three-letter acronym from the aforementioned title for U.S. activities in Iraq, it would be painfully ironic, and very telling, I suspect.

Taking all of this into consideration, however, I could honestly give a rat's tail about what goes on in Iraq so long as our troops are safe and not there. What troubles me is what this conflict has done to us at home.

As a nation with many states -- including our own -- struggling to make ends meet, our leaders chose to commit more than $80 billion to war funding, as opposed to taking care of our own. We turn more or less a blind eye to a more credible threat in North Korea, where the country has the capabilities of striking West Coast states with long-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. PATRIOT Act, with its authorization of wire taps, represents legislation that challenges the premises of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which promises the right to be safe in our homes against unreasonable searches and seizure.

Most disturbing, however, is the assault on the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and to assemble peaceably, and its meaning. On April 1, after a warning from police, Soldotna cab driver and fishing guide Jeff Webster dumped a bucket of cold water on two women protesting the war -- a second time. He was charged with harassment and pleaded not guilty to the offense Thursday in Kenai.

Webster's son, Shane, is a U.S. Marine in action in Iraq, and Webster said his actions were to protect his son.

"It's an attack against my child," he said of anti-war protests. "Someone you've protected all (his) life and now he's in harm's way. What can you do?"

Something -- anything -- positive, I would say. He could have done anything to address the frustration he expressed to me of not knowing whether his child was safe, rather than committing a criminal act, considered by the state as a misdemeanor.

But what is even more disappointing is that a portion of the community has championed this attack on another human being, and Webster's lawyer, Anchorage attorney Wayne Ross, intends to tap dance around the letter of the law to acquit his client.

"There is no criminal offense for throwing water," said Ross, who ran for governor as a conservative Republican in 1998 and 2002.

Alaska state law handbooks define harassment as subjecting another to offensive physical contact.

In a column I wrote shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, incident, I said that turning on our neighbors in the resulting fear and confusion helped terrorists reach their objective, destroying our way of life.

Webster has been quoted as saying that those openly protesting the war were "showing our future enemies how to beat America from within."

The truth is, Mr. Webster, your actions are doing our enemies' job for them.

Marcus Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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