Words matter. When we say a man “earned” $100 million last years, the implication is that he performed some immensely valuable service for the stockholders by whom he is theoretically employed. Say that the CEO “made” all that money, and the subtext is that he created it. Say that he “took” it or “got his hands on it” and we move closer to the truth.
Bush uses “war” in the same deceptive way. His Iraq war, in the sense that most of us understand the word, ended in a few weeks. Our “enemy” didn’t fight, it is true, but our victory was beyond question.
The next step in many wars — as in this one — is an occupation. Virtually all of our casualties in Iraq have thus been the result not of a war, but of an occupation. Our enemies are not soldiers fighting on behalf of a state, but what we called, after Hitler’s victories in Europe, maquisards or resistance fighters or guerrillas or partisans.
Failure to call the occupation of Iraq by its proper name has been a powerful part of why Bush has been able to continue occupying that unhappy nation. If we can be deceived into believing that it is still a “war,” then we can be made to feel that pulling out would somehow “lose” it.
But the war is long since over, and we won it even on Bush’s terms. His stated aims were quickly achieved. The regime was changed. The WMDs, had they existed, would no longer have been a threat. Democracy, as the president never tires of telling us, has been established.
Now we occupy that “democracy,” and it is impossible to “lose” an occupation. The ball is in the victor’s court. We can stay, or we can go. National honor, even in its most primitive and mindless forms, need not be involved in that decision. We came, we saw, we conquered.
It is true that our soldiers are still dying, but they are not casualties of war. They are casualties of an occupation which is opposed not merely by most Americans but by most Iraqis as well. Our troops are being killed not by an opposing army but secondarily by civilian resistance fighters and primarily by George W. Bush.