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There’s only one way the war against Iraq could have gone worse: if Bush hadn’t been lying about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program. But short of a Manhattan mushroom cloud, it’s hard to imagine a darker scenario than the one we are in. No WMDs. No Saddam. Millions of new enemies. Billions in new debt. And an estimated 35,000 guerrillas exacting a terrible tithe – one dead American soldier for every day we stay where we don’t belong.

For the cameras, military and Bush Administration officials keep putting a brave face on their folly-turned-quagmire-turned-debacle. Hey, that’s their job. The most recent “bring ’em on” moment comes courtesy of General Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meyers assures us that the President of Iraq’s bloodied mug will soon join those of his sons broadcast on Death TV, and that such appearances will reduce attacks on U.S. forces: “If [Saddam is] still alive, it’s just a matter of time. He is so busy saving his own skin, he is having no impact, no impact on the security situation.”

A day after Meyers’ rosy prediction, Iraqi resistance fighters bombed an American Humvee in central Baghdad, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding three others.

Paul Wolfowitz was certain the Iraqi people, eager for liberation, would throw roses at our troops. Cakewalk city, promised Cheney. Major combat is over, Bush announced at his thumbs-up aircraft carrier photo op. We’ll only need to stay a few months, swore Tommy Franks. We know exactly where the WMDs are, insisted Rumsfeld. We’ve found the WMDs, said Bush. Well, we will find them, they all say, though not often anymore. Every single thing they tell us turns out to be dead wrong.

Now they say things are getting better. Read the paper. Watch the tube. Email a soldier stationed in Iraq. Does the occupation of Iraq seem like it’s getting better to you?

We’ve got 148,000 occupation soldiers sweating out summer days hotter than most Americans will ever experience in their lifetime. Facing a minimum two-to-four-year occupation timetable, the Pentagon won’t say if or when those guys will come home to their relatives, some of whom are so frustrated that they’ve formed the group Military Families Speak Out to demand the return of their loved ones. At the present rate of carnage, an American soldier’s chances of coming home in a bag are one in 400, and nobody knows how many Iraqis are dying. Pundits compare this to Vietnam, but that’s unfair. It took years for LBJ to screw up Vietnam this badly.

It’s time to stop throwing good lives after bad. We came for Iraq’s oil, but we’ll never extract crude without seducing Iraqi hearts and minds. That war was lost before we fired the first cruise missiles in March, for a few simple reasons. First, Iraqis spent the ’90s dodging American bombs and trade sanctions. We never knew their pain; they’ll never forget it. Second, our invasion allowed looters and rapists to take over the cities. Anyone who is short a car or a daughter rightly blames us for their loss. Third, we’ve transformed one of the Arab world’s few semi-modern secular states into an anarchic Third World dump. Iraqis hate us. They trust us to do the wrong thing each and every time.

Central Command has issued a directive to U.S. forces: When a car approaches your checkpoint, fire “warning” shots at its engine. If it doesn’t stop, kill everyone inside. This policy results in a lot of dead, unarmed, Iraqi civilians accustomed to standard roadblock protocol (whereby motorists pull up and present ID to police). Some drivers don’t hear the bullets pinging off their engine blocks; others assume they’re being ambushed by bandits and floor it. Either way, they die. This happens all over the country, yet it never occurs to the geniuses at CentCom to issue new orders. On July 28, U.S. Task Force 20 murdered five innocent Iraqi drivers in Baghdad’s Mansur section in this way. “All of the soldiers shot immediately,” says Abu Hassan, a local store owner. “The people are angry and very upset.”

This isn’t going to get better. We’re stupid and mean occupiers, which only makes the Iraqis’ seething resentment over our inability to restore water and electricity worse. More Iraqis will join resistance groups like the Revenge Army and Black Brigades. The attacks will continue, as will our inept attempts to quell dissent. Iraq will devolve into an Israel/Palestine-style spiral of attack, retaliation, retaliation, rinse, lather, repeat.

Pro-war or anti-war, most Americans think we’re obligated to stick around until we’ve rebuilt Iraq. Get real! You have only to look at Afghanistan to see that we’re never going to build schools, skyscrapers and superhighways in Iraq. We will never establish a democratic regime. Sooner or later, after the American public has quit caring and stopped paying attention and gotten sick of losing a soldier a day, we will withdraw. And when – not if – that happens, Iraq won’t be any closer to democracy than it is today.

Why not admit that the invasion was a mistake now, before more people die in a meaningless war? Cut bait and bring home the troops. Sure, the French will mock us; we deserve it. Iraq may become a Shiite theocracy, but nothing – except a brand-new president with a new take on foreign policy – can stop that now. Disaster is inevitable.

It’s infinitely better to take a few PR lumps in the international community than to keep feeding the fedayeen a fresh-faced youngster every day. Please, Mr. Bush: Bring the troops home.

Postscript: Fans of macabre cartoonist Edward Gorey should seek out The Iraqi Tinies, a short comic booklet that brilliantly updates Gorey’s sinister sarcasm – “A is for Ahmed anticipating annihilation” – for the U.S. war against Iraq. Contact artist Derek Mainhart at

Ted Rall

Ted Rall is a cartoonist and is the author of Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan.

– Percentage of the 108th U.S. Senate that engaged in combat while serving in the armed forces: 9

– Percentage of homeless men in the U.S. that have engaged in combat: 40

– Percent of lower ranking army personnel that experience “substantial financial difficulties”: 40

– Percentage of first-year members of Congress that are millionaires: 43

– Average tax cut to millionaires in President Bush’s tax package: $93,500

– Number of children in military families that won’t get the new child tax credit: 121,000

Institute for Southern Studies.

Copyright © 2003 Institute for Southern Studies.

In the fall of 1971 my friend Elton Manzione found a gig driving deadhead Hertz rental trucks back to New York City from Atlanta. He asked me if I wanted to go on the next run up north with him, and a few days later he came rolling into Athens in a large six-wheeled truck.

We had gone about 75 miles north on I-85 into South Carolina when we saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road. We pulled over and picked him up. Elton opened the back cargo door and the guy climbed up and into the back of the truck. Elton closed the door and jokingly said that if we encountered any more we would stop, pull over and give them a lift to where they needed to go. It seemed like a good thing to do. These were times when members of the counter culture had a hard time getting from point to point on the highways and byways of America. We had to try our best to look out for and care for each other.

We found our next hopeful just north of Greenville. He gleefully climbed into the back with our first rider, and away into the night we merrily went.

We picked up another three or four more moving onward into North Carolina, our first couple among them. Somewhere around Charlotte we stopped at a truck stop for food and fuel. Did we make quite the sight! There were eight of us, all hippies, and we wandered into the restaurant and proceeded to seat ourselves in the professional drivers section. This brought a round of hostile stares from all the truck drivers seated in the place. We didn’t care in the least. This was professional driving, and we were entitled to sit there anyway.

So we rolled on into the night. We let our first rider off in North Carolina close to Davidson College. He gave us a joint as a token of his appreciation for getting him to where he needed to go. We smoked the joint and while we were stoned it came to us that we needed to have a name for our service. We decided upon “The Free Cities Bus Service.”

As the night gave way to the early morning’s light we were now just into southern Virginia. The interstate was not completed back then, and there were a couple of long stretches of either two-lane or three-lane blacktop. We had 15 to 18 riders now, including four or five women.

We had cleared Richmond just before the morning rush hour and Washington, DC. loomed a couple of hours ahead. Just outside the District we stopped for a little food and rest for three or four hours, and we reached the bridge from Delaware into New Jersey by late afternoon, early evening.

We were only two or three more hours from Elton’s parents’ house just outside Newark. We were tired and ready to rest for the night.

On the New Jersey Turnpike we were moving along when we noticed a trooper southbound, but that changed quickly. He took one look at us and visions of two hippies in a rental truck loaded with illegal drugs started dancing around in his head.

We made it another half mile north, and then the blue lights came on his car and we pulled over along the side of the turnpike. We both got out, and the first words out of the trooper’s mouth after examining our papers was he wanted us to open up the back of the truck. We were polite and respectful, and we obliged him and went to the rear of the truck and lifted the latch. The look on the trooper’s face is one that I’ll never forget so long as I live.

There were about a dozen riders still in the back of the truck. Two of them were engaged in lovemaking, and the trooper’s vision of a drug bust went up in smoke. He stated telling us that we could not have passengers in the back, and we respectfully told him we would be glad to oblige him by having them get out of the truck right here if this was his wish. Then he started thinking about having 12 or so hitchhikers on his stretch of the turnpike. His face turned red and he told us that we were to get off at the next exit and put our riders out there.

We once again respectfully told him we would only be too glad to follow his orders and once again we were off upon the turnpike. We did not get off at the next exit. Elton and I laughed the rest of the way that night. We let our riders off where they needed to be dropped.

We made it to Elton’s parents and slept like logs that night. We turned the truck in just outside of Newark and he flew back to Atlanta. I hopped a train from New Jersey and made my way to Connecticut. I stayed there for a week or so before I returned to Athens. These are the facts truthfully and honestly related by yours truly.

E. G. (Rick) Baker

E. G. (Rick) Baker is a local writer and consultant.

In last week’s Flagpole Pete McCommons reported that at the BikeAthens midsummer party “the stout was black as strong coffee… ” The libation McCommons enjoyed was actually a dark lager, according to Walter O’Niell, who brewed it. McCommons has since enjoyed the stout itself and now appreciates the difference.

These excerpts are taken from an April email correspondence between Mayor Heidi Davison and Michael Wegner, a homeowner in the Boulevard area. Wegner began by telling the mayor, “I campaigned and voted for you, along with all of my home-owning and renting friends who are now being targeted as lawbreakers.” Included here are what Wegner thought were significant statements by Davison, along with his own answers. This exchange, which may or may not be moot now, provides background on how we got where we are with the rent law.

Heidi Davison: We have a very liberal definition of family in Athens, which includes second cousins and foster children, providing for the diversity we have and want to encourage in our neighborhoods.

Michael Wegner: Is this somehow supposed to appease the people who are getting screwed by these ordinances? “Oh, don’t worry about your whole living arrangement/ home life being turned upside down, we are going to let your second cousin move in!” And to suggest ACC is being liberal by considering foster children “family”? That is an affront to every foster child on the planet. That’s like bragging that ACC has a liberal definition of “citizen” because it includes blacks and Hispanics.

HD: I have heard from a surprising number of people (including some friends) regarding concerns that they may be unable to meet their mortgage payments if current laws are enforced.

MW: If you are ever surprised by the number of people you hear from, that indicates a need to pay close attention and open your eyes to ideas that you might not have been aware of previously.

HD: I must admit to being puzzled regarding any plans that someone would make to purchase a home that they could not afford without knowingly and willingly violating existing local ordinances.

MW: When many of us bought houses, there was clear indication, from the government itself, that the definition-of-family rule would only be enforced in response to neighbor complaints. I was personally reassured about this by the mayor of Athens-Clarke County soon after the original ordinance was passed. Meanwhile we have been good neighbors, and have coexisted peacefully without complaints.

HD: Having been through the process of obtaining a mortgage on several occasions, I have yet to find a lender that would approve a home loan without proof of wages demonstrating an ability to meet their mortgage obligations.

MW: Clearly this is happening on some level, without ACC’s knowledge. Maybe you need to draft an ordinance that prevents banks from giving loans to homeowners that might need roommates to help make their payments.

HD: Even in severe financial times we never defaulted on our loans nor did we break the law to make those payments.

MW: Alright already, why don’t you just lock us up, lawbreakers that we are… It’s against the law to have oral sex too – and in fact, that is a fair analogy – both are laws that we have been assured would generally remain unenforced.

HD: Our community’s Guiding Principles (crafted by a large group of citizens and adopted by the mayor and commission in November, 1998) say: we will adopt measures to increase the percentage of owner-occupied housing…

MW: If you really want to continue to encourage owner-occupied housing, you will at the very least exempt owner-occupied homes from the tight definition-of-family restriction and respect the commitment current homeowners w/roommates have made to their community. We have bought and renovated the homes that no traditional “family” would move into. We’ve taken run-down former rental homes and worked hard to make them viable “family” homes. It is awful to target us now after all the years and work we have put into our homestead.

HD: Every action of the mayor and commission must be gauged against our Guiding Principles.

MW: Then you might as well turn in your badge, because failure abounds. Barnett Shoals Road blatantly violates the guiding principles, and the commission has consistently gone against public desires while catering to special interests. You can’t claim loyalty to the Guiding Principles while passing a plan like Barnett Shoals.

HD: The problem is that the majority of the problems exist where there are large numbers of renters in single-family neighborhoods who are not families.

MW: Then find away to target those areas instead of wreaking havoc with a county-wide ordinance. [Commissioner] John Barrow has suggested that there are viable possibilities for getting neighborhood-specific or student-specific with enforcement or the proposed ordinance.

HD: Families – whether couples or single professionals – cannot compete in the current market with investors who buy property with cash or offer a higher bid then turn the property into rental, receiving far more in collective rent from several than they can by renting to a family or placing the house back on the market. This is a common occurrence in Athens. Houses that should be available for home ownership are removed from the mix.

MW: “Houses that SHOULD be available for home ownership?” Every house in the county is available for home ownership. And the fact is, many houses are, through the natural evolution of the market, being bought by “single families” and are, in fact, unavailable to landlords because their high selling prices deem them unprofitable as rentals.

HD: I want those who desire a home to have that dream fulfilled; I also want neighborhoods that are mixed-use, density and income. Our land use plan and the Guiding Principles have defined that as a community goal and I want to work hard to achieve that.

MW: It’s achieving itself. Concentrate on enforcing existing ordinances. Licensing landlords and holding them accountable for problem tenants is also a fine idea. $125/year is no big deal. However- affidavits, inspections and uprooting the homes of homeowners with roommates is unnecessary, unfair and in all likelihood unconstitutional.

HD: I encourage you to talk to those who have lived in problematic areas and to the compliance officers to get a better understanding because it is so easy to say what one thinks should be done until you begin to hear the horror stories and how common they are.

MW: Once again, the rule of the ACC government has been education over citation. We would like to see a bona fide attempt at cracking down on problem areas.

HD: Moreover, it is important to recognize that these problems are not limited to Five Points – a common accusation. One must suspend the notion that “all is well in my neighborhood so there must not be a problem” and begin to really hear and understand that problems do exist in many areas and it is impacting the quality of life for our neighbors, next-door or across town. There is an entire neighborhood that has tipped so far into rental – it is single family – that when you talk to the long-time homeowners about their numerous problems they will tell you they are afraid to go outside – they have given up. Hard as that may be to believe, it is true. No one should have to live like that!

MW: Target that neighborhood, then. Plus, I’d wager $20 you you’re referring to Five Points!

HD: When one neighborhood suffers we all suffer and problems spread making no one immune. There is no denying that some of our neighborhoods are in distress and we must look out for them

MW: Target those neighborhoods please.

HD: Neighborhoods are the backbone of any community; what would we be without them? If we lose most of our families to the outer edges of the county, we encourage sprawl.

MW: Not happening folks. Traditional families continue to buy up homes in my neighborhood and others. And if you want to discourage sprawl, please remember: in your capacity as elected official, every lot you rezone, every road you build encourages sprawl. Live by your words, please.