The USA in Iraq: Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline

Surely, HIMARS will bring peace to Iraq

W.J. Astore

Today brings yet another announcement of more U.S. troops to Iraq.  This time 600 are being sent as logistics support, advisers, and enablers (that term, “enabler,” is fuzzy indeed: enabler of what?  More failure?).  That brings the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to more than 5200, but of course this figure seriously under-represents the American presence in the region.  Nowadays, most “troops” are provided by private contractors, and many of these are U.S. military veterans who discovered they could make a lot more money wearing mufti than in Uncle Sam’s uniforms.  At the same time, the U.S. continues to provide heavy-duty weaponry to the Iraqi military, including Apache attack helicopters and the HIMARS rocket system.  All of this is intended to help the Iraqi military retake the city of Mosul.

That the U.S. is yet again providing more troops as well as heavy weapons as “force multipliers” highlights the failure of U.S. military efforts to “stand up” an effective Iraqi military. The enemy, after all, has no Apache helicopters, no HIMARS system, and no U.S. advisers, although we certainly “enable” them with all the U.S. weaponry they’ve been able to capture or steal.  Despite a lack of U.S. military training and aid, ISIS and crew have proven to be remarkably resilient.  What gives?

Two years ago, I wrote an article at on “America’s Hollow Foreign Legions.”  Back then, I said this:

Military training, no matter how intensive, and weaponry, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, is no substitute for belief in a cause.  Such belief nurtures cohesion and feeds fighting spirit.  ISIS has fought with conviction.  The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army hasn’t.  The latter lacks a compelling cause held in common.  This is not to suggest that ISIS has a cause that’s pure or just. Indeed, it appears to be a complex mélange of religious fundamentalism, sectarian revenge, political ambition, and old-fashioned opportunism (including loot, plain and simple). But so far the combination has proven compelling to its fighters, while Iraq’s security forces appear centered on little more than self-preservation. 

Despite an ongoing record of failure, pulling out of Iraq is never an option that’s considered by the Pentagon.  The only option our leaders know is more: more troops, more weapons, more money.  As I wrote for TomDispatch back in October 2014:

pulling out is never an option, even though it would remove the “American Satan” card from the IS propaganda deck.  To pull out means to leave behind much bloodshed and many grim acts.  Harsh, I know, but is it any harsher than incessant American-led bombing, the commitment of more American “advisers” and money and weapons, and yet more American generals posturing as the conductors of Iraqi affairs?  With, of course, the usual results.

Here we are, two years later, and nothing has changed.  The war song remains the same, as discordant as ever, with a refrain as simple as it is harsh: putting out the fire with gasoline.

5 thoughts on “The USA in Iraq: Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline

  1. Agree with the contents of this article – War – what is it good for? It’s good for making huge sums of money for the MIC. Perpetual war – for perpetual profits. “War is a Racket.”


  2. Like the Reference to Bowie’s Eighties Hit: “Putting Out Fire With Gasoline” ,but its true… A Great Old flic. with Burt Lancaster maybe a little down on his luck at that time in his Acting Career– “Go Tell the Spartans” tells essentially the same story here, but in another of the U.S. really big debacles Vietnam!!


    1. Two scenes from “Go Tell the Spartans” come to mind, Phil. One shows a bespectacled LT, one of the whiz kid types, who’s trying to win the war through quantification. Lancaster, the old crusty veteran that he is, dismisses him out of hand. The second scene involves a South Vietnamese officer, a colonel I think, whose living quarters are incredibly lavish, basically a small palace if I recall rightly, which highlights the corruption of our “ally” in Vietnam.

      Yes, go tell the Spartans we did our duty, which in this case is to die for no reason and for no just cause.


  3. I explained all this in verse a decade ago, Bill. The names (if not the gender) of the lying, theiving, murdering bastards keep changing with every U.S. administration (two-going-on-three now) but the essential beat goes on as undisturbed by awful reality as the fevered schizophrenic dreams of Henry “Der Bomber” Kissinger snarling in frustration: “I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.” Anyway …

    “Who killed Davey Moore?
    Why? And what’s the reason for?” — Bob Dylan

    Who Lost Iraq?
    (after the Bob Dylan song, “Who killed Davey Moore?”)

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said the President,
    With his hard head stuck in its hard cement.
    “I just start fires in the minds of men;
    Pour gas on the flames every now and then.
    I accomplished my mission when I robbed the store,
    Then to cover up the crime I went and started a war.
    In a few more years someone else will want the fun;
    I’ll give the mess to them; then I’ll say that I won!
    They’ll lose Iraq
    Who couldn’t see me handing them the sack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t us,” cried the military brass.
    “We just saluted Rumsfeld and kissed his senile ass.
    We long ago swore not to think too hard or much;
    Just do as we’re told and to use that as a crutch;
    So when the hopes go wrong and the shit hits the fan,
    We can always just say: ‘We took our orders from the man.’
    With our medals and our pensions and our private jumbo jets
    ’It’s the only war we’ve got’ and that’s as good as it gets.
    They lost Iraq:
    The suits who tied our hands behind our back.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said the rapping Secretary
    Talking too dense and sounding real scary.
    “We know we don’t know what we don’t know we know
    But we do know how to stage a little dog-and-pony show.
    The Senators and Congressmen whose districts get the pork
    Think the meat’s well done, so they stick in a fork.
    The army’s not the one we want, but let me tell you what:
    We have to go to war with it or see our funding cut.
    They lost Iraq
    Who wouldn’t cut me some semantic slack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “Who the hell cares,” shrugs the televangelist
    Preaching at his pulpit and pounding with his fist
    “I tell folks: ‘vote Republican if you don’t want to die’
    (Watching cable television; lapping up the lie).
    I feed the rubes on fantasies of Armageddon Day,
    When Jesus in his spaceship comes to take them all away.
    I scare ‘em and they love it and they come back for more
    To vote for someone else’s kid to fight in their war.
    They lost Iraq
    Who wouldn’t stop me selling Crusade crack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “We had to hit someone,” said the jaded journalist
    Thumbing through his Rolodex and making up a list
    Of contacts in the government who leak the names of spies
    Whose husbands tell the truth sometimes, instead of packaged lies.
    “My name is Tom Friedman and ‘the world is flat;’
    That shit about a globe you heard just isn’t where it’s at.
    I cheered for Dubya’s war just like the chicken hawk I am
    And then when things went south I blamed a Lebanese imam.
    They lost Iraq:
    Who wouldn’t buy my books from off the rack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “I’ve explained it all,” said the White House mouthpiece man
    Mumbling in mantras with shameless élan.
    “Our zigzag course takes us straight through the plots
    If you just fit the curve to the scatter of dots.
    In the sovereign state of the occupied town
    We could “stand ’em all up” if they’d quit falling down.
    But no matter what the carnage or the number who grieve
    Just remember “Stay the Course” means we’ll never leave.”
    They lost Iraq
    Who hired as spokesman some tired FOX NEWS flack.

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t us,” cried the frightened Democrats,
    As much an opposition as a dozen gnats.
    “We voted for King George’s war and never blushed.
    With just a hint of nastiness, he left us hushed.
    We bought into the syndrome of the sycophant
    Who’d gladly ditch the donkey for the elephant.
    But now that all our compromise has come to nought,
    We’re too ashamed to do the things we truly ought.
    We love Iraq
    And only wished to help Chalabi’s claque.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Don’t look at us,” moaned the undecided block.
    Reliable consumers of a total crock.
    We love it when the government makes up those lies
    And sells them to us like McDonald’s greasy fries.
    Just show us a commercial made by Thomas Hobbes
    About our nasty, brutish lives with few good jobs.
    Then scare us half to death with tales of married queers.
    We’ll swallow anything just like our lousy beers.
    What is Iraq?
    Is it a toothpaste that gets rid of plaque?”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said Saddam Hussein,
    Sitting in his court cage, shouting his refrain:
    “I ran things better and we had a state;
    Now we only have Maliki, an invertebrate
    Who does the step-and-fetch-it as his daily toil
    For Dubya and his crony friends who steal our oil.
    But Mad Dog and his Englishman have come undone,
    Parading ’round in circles in the noonday sun.
    Bush lost Iraq
    When he and Blair launched their unwise attack.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Who the hell do you think?” said Ehud Olmert.
    “You mean you didn’t know Israelis just don’t care?
    A busted, broken Arab land fits in quite nice
    With Zionist delusions of a Paradise
    Where Arab refugees profess to love the Jews
    And swear to every statement made by Karen Hughes.
    The goyim in America will foot the bill
    Providing all the weaponry we need to kill.
    Forget Iraq;
    And take your marching orders from AIPAC.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Who talks of loss at all?” ask the Mullahs in Iran.
    As far as we’re concerned George Bush is just The Man.
    He stumbles and he bumbles then he gives away
    For nothing everything for which we’d gladly pay.
    Dick Cheney writes the crap for him to catapult
    Who never met a thought that he could not insult
    The Shiites in Iraq will get our help, indeed,
    To end the occupation that they do not need.
    We won Iraq
    Who let Bush do the work while we sat back.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “Who said you ever owned us?” cried the people of Iraq.
    “Who asked you for your bloody war and unprovoked attack?
    You seemed to think that killing us and wrecking all we had
    Could win elections for George Bush and make him look less bad.
    Our oil we’ll sell to whom we please. Why don’t you find your own?
    And get yourselves a president at least a little grown.
    In case you haven’t noticed, he’s the one that you should fear
    Whose words smell like the noisome gas escaping from his rear.
    Please leave Iraq
    Then see if you can win your own souls back.”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006


    1. So many countries are simply wars to us, Mike. Vietnam — it’s a “war.” Iraq — it’s a “war.” Afghanistan — it’s a “war.” And so on. There’s that quip that wars are a way of teaching Americans geography, but it’s a very expensive way, and ineffective, since I still think many if not most Americans couldn’t locate Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan on a globe.


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