This week’s fourth anniversary of America’s “shock-and-awe” invasion of Iraq brought back memories of a family discussion four years ago on whether to join an anti-war rally to protest the impending war. Our three young sons told us that they had already been discussing the war in school all week and everyone was opposed to it. “Of course we’ll all go,” they said.
So off we went the next morning to join the massive February 16, 2003 anti-war rally at the Civic Center in San Francisco. Police officials estimated that 200,000 people marched and participated in the rally to denounce President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq. Whole families just like us were there to show their opposition to the war, with babies in strollers and old folks leaning on their canes.
When my father-in-law, Romulo Austria, learned that we had attended the rally, he was upset. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have joined you,” he said. This proud man, who was a young guerilla during the war against the Japanese, who enrolled in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) after the war (class of ’51), who obtained a PhD in Engineering at the University of Rome in 1958, who worked for Bechtel as a nuclear engineer, and who had been a Republican, was dead set against the war early on.
“Bush is crazy,” he would tell his tennis buddies. “It’s a lie. There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush is just using this excuse to fool the people,” he said with firm conviction. “Papa,” as I call him, turns 80 this week still firm in his conviction as he was back then that the war in Iraq was and is a tragic mistake.
If Bush had listened to my father-in-law back then, more than 3,200 American soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqis would likely still be alive today. We would not have close to 30,000 American soldiers in veteran’s hospitals like Walter Reed, struggling to survive their war injuries. And we would have more than $600 billion to spend on education, health care and decent housing for the American people. There would be money to fully fund the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.
But why should Bush have listened to my father-in-law when he wouldn’t even listen to his own father? In his book, "A World Transformed," published in 1998 and coauthored with his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, former President George H. Bush wrote that if he had pursued the retreating Iraqi Army back to Baghdad in 1991, the United States "would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
That would have caused the collapse of the international coalition and alienated the Arab members to desert it.
“There was no viable 'exit strategy'... violating another of our principles," GH Bush and Scowcroft wrote. "Furthermore, (had) we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome."
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal on August 15, 2002 (7 months before the invasion), Scowcroft expounded on this point by asserting that an invasion of Iraq "was certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack."
Invasion of Iraq would require the United States "to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive ... (and) very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation." Such actions would result in a "degradation" of international cooperation, and an "explosion of outrage against us" especially in the Muslim world. Such a policy "could even swell the ranks of terrorists."
These points seem so obvious now in 20-20 hindsight; they were obvious to my kids and to father-in-law even back then. When asked why he didn’t listen to the advice of his father and his father’s national security adviser, Bush told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that it’s because he listens to a “higher Father.” That was his reason, he claimed – “God told him” to invade Iraq, just as Allah told Osama bin Laden to destroy the World Trade Center.
Both Bush and bin Laden are basically religious fundamentalists who believe God is on their side, that they’re doing God’s will, even if God had commanded, “Thou shalt not kill.” For Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, God’s commandments do not apply to non-believers or infidels.
Religious zealots are basically all Bush has left in the US to support his failed Iraq policy. (Imagine there's no religion, as John Lennon mused.) The latest polls show his popularity rating at 29%, one of the lowest ever for any US president. Even Donald Trump has come out publicly to declare that Bush is the worst US president ever.
At the anti-war rally we attended in Feb.16, 2003, there were many other Filipinos, a fact the San Francisco Chronicle noted in its front-page coverage of the rally. “In the 400,000-strong (Bay Area) Filipino community,” the Chronicle reported, “many have friends or family members working in the Middle East as maids and construction workers,” said Rhonda Ramiro, a San Francisco resident. An estimated 1.5 million Filipinos are employed in such jobs there.
Several of those marching with her and the 150 members of Filipinos for Global Justice Not War were airport screeners laid off last fall in the wake of a new federal act requiring screeners to be U.S. citizens. "The younger people here know that their schools are bad already and will get worse if there's more money going for the military," Ramiro said.
In that rally, one of my sons bought a colorful “No Blood for Oil” t-shirt which he proudly wore in school the following week, prompting discussions on the real reason for the Iraq war may be.
This past week, The Washington Post reported that President Bush had asked the Iraqi Parliament for a “benchmark” for measuring Iraqi progress – to pass the Iraqi Oil Law that would allow US multinational oil companies to take over their country’s oil. It turns out my son’s t-shirt was right on the mark.
“They hate us because we value freedom” Bush has said time and again. Just exactly what freedoms are valued by Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney? One of them is surely Halliburton -Cheney’s old company, the US corporation that has profited the most from the Iraq War through its no-bid contracts, enjoying the freedom to move its operations from Houston, Texas to Dhubai.
More than 3200 American soldiers gave up their lives for this freedom. Happy 80th birthday, Papa, may you yet outlive this terrible war.