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Occupation: The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq

by George Lakoff

It is time to tell an inconvenient truth about Iraq: it is an occupation, not a war. In wars, armies fight to dominate land. The US won the war three years ago when Bush said, “Mission Accomplished”. Then the occupation started, and our troops were not trained or equipped for an occupation under predictably hostile circumstances. Finally getting the courage to tell the truth that the US is an occupying force drastically changes the picture in Iraq. You cannot “win” an occupation. “Cut and run” does not apply to an occupation. Occupiers have to leave; the only question is when and how. Progressive Democrats agree that it should be soon; they only disagree on details. Political courage is called for. Truth now!

Last modified Sunday, July 2, 2006 06:57 PM

We’ve begun with global warming. Now the U.S. and its military allies need to face another inconvenient truth, this one about Iraq: This is an occupation, not a war.

The war was over when Bush said “Mission Accomplished.” A war has one army fighting another army over territory. U.S. fighting men and women defeated Saddam’s military machine three years ago. Then the occupation began. Our troops were trained to fight a war, not to occupy a country where they don’t know the language and culture; where they lack enough troops, where they face an anti-occupation insurgency by the Iraqis themselves; where most of the population wants them out; where they are being shot at and killed by the very Iraqis they are training; and where the U.S. has given up on reconstruction and can’t do much positive good there.

The Occupation Frame fits a politically inconvenient truth. Most people don’t want to think of our army as an occupation force, but it is. An occupying army can’t win anything. The occupation only helps Al Qaeda, which Iraqis don’t want in their country since Al Qaeda attracts foreigners who have been killing Iraqis.

Our nation has been held trapped in a fallacious War Frame that serves the interests of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. The term “cut and run,” used to vilify Democrats, is defined relative to the following frame:

    There is a war against evil that must be fought. Fighting requires courage and bravery. Those fully committed to the cause are brave. Those who “cut and run” are motivated by self-interest; they are only interested in saving their own skins, not in the moral cause. They are cowards. And since those fighting for the cause need all the support they can get, anyone who decides to “cut and run” endangers both the moral cause and the lives of those brave people who are fighting for it. Those who have courage and conviction should stand and fight.

Once the false frame is set, it is hard to use any pure self-interest frame that ignores the just cause of fighting evil. That is the trap the Democrats have fallen into. Their proposed slogans evoke self-interest frames: John Murtha’s “stay and pay and ”John Kerry’s “lie and die” have an X-and-Y structure that evokes, and thus reinforces, “cut and run.”

These, as well as Senator Jack Reed’s “The Republican Plan to Be in Iraq Forever,” are self-interest frames that accepts the “cut and run” frame and says it is in our interest to leave. We “pay,” we “die,” we are stuck there forever. As long as Democrats accept the war-against-evil frame, any self-interest framing will be treated as immoral — acting as a coward, letting evil win out, and endangering our troops.

The Cut-and-Run Frame put forth as a reason why we cannot withdraw from Iraq fits a gallant war. It does not fit a failed occupation. When you have become the villain and target to the people you are trying to help, it’s time to do the right thing — admit the truth that this is an occupation and think and act accordingly. All occupations end with withdrawal. The issue is not bravery versus cowardice in a good cause. The Cut-and-Run Frame does not apply.

In an occupation, there are pragmatic issues: Are we welcome? Are we doing the Iraqis more harm than good? How badly are we being hurt? The question is not whether to withdraw, but when and how? What to say? You might prefer “End the occupation now” or “End the occupation by the end of the year” or “End the occupation within a year, “ but certainly Congress and most Americans should be able to agree on “End the occupation soon.”

In an occupation, not a war, should the president still have war powers? How, if at all, is the Supreme Court decision on military tribunals at Guantanamo affected if we are in an occupation, not a war? What high-handed actions by the President, if any, are ruled out if we are no longer at war?

Telling an inconvenient truth takes some political courage.

Gandhiji told us in I forget which session, “There is a soul force in the universe which if we permit it will flow through us and produce miraculous results.”
                                            . . . .

“…we have an audacious idea that says nonviolent peacekeeping is effective and infectious.”

                                         Mel Duncan

consider the infinite fragility of an infant’s skull
how the bones lie soft and open
only time knitting them shut

consider a delicate porcelain bowl
how it crushes under a single blow
-in one moment whole years disappear

consider that beneath the din of explosions
no song can be heard
no cry

consider your own sky on fire
your name erased
your children’s lives ‘a price worth paying’

consider the faces you do not see
the eyes you refuse to meet
‘collateral damage’

how in these words
the world cracks open


                                    Lisa Suhair Majaj 
                                      Al Jadid, Winter 1998

“As the death count rises for Iraqis and Afghanis, it is apparent that at its most basic level, these are their wars.  It’s essential that our curriculum confronts this fact truthfully. War is not Hollywood, war is not a macho presidential boast that we’ll ‘smoke ’em out.’
War is life left empty and twisted and brutalized. …

… whose wars?  Our wars. We pay the bills, we elect the representatives who vote the war appropriations, and in daily actions, we oppose, support, or acquiesce to U.S. wars. These are our wars and our students’ wars – to support or to stop.”

                                                   Bill Bigelow

When the rich wage war
it is the poor who die.

                                                     Jean-Paul Sartre

“The desire for peace is equivalent to a desire for dialogue, and the desire for dialogue arises when we think that we can learn something from others…”

“The other party always has something to say.”

Raimon Panikkar from Cultural Disarmament

“A few weeks ago, there was another display of welcome realism when Henry Kissinger and several other similar luminaries, all of them now apparently lapsed Cold Warriors, issued a statement to insist that the United States must become a leader in the pursuit of a nuclear weapon free world. …


It’s not that Mr. Kissinger has gone soft, I assumer he’s still a cold, hard realist, but I guess he’s finally getting a handle on what reality actually is – notably, the fact that you can’t dissuade, by argument or by bombs, others from pursuing nuclear weapons as long as you regard them as the foundation of your own security.”

Ernie Regehr

“In 1929, I believed that the way to bring in a new world was basically – virtually exclusively – a matter of ‘social engineering,’ changing ‘the system,’ economic, political, social. Today I recognize that we neglected too much the problem of what happens inside the human being. Whether there can be a democratic society, for example, depends in the final analysis upon what human beings are, whether they are capable of making moral decisions….”

A.J. Muste  from “The True International” in The Essays of A. J. Muste

“In the face of the threats that nuclear warfare preparations put to all mankind, it is my duty, as a man and as an American citizen, to voice both my protest against these preparations and my pleas for a constructive policy instead. If I remain silent, how am I to answer later, should some high court ask: “…and what, knowing these things to be wrong, were you, a free, responsible citizen of a democracy doing to prevent them?…”

Albert Bigelow from The Voyage of the Golden Rule