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Iraq War is Looking Increasingly Like a Quagmire

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 21, 2003

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Iraq War is Looking Increasingly Like a Quagmire

Interview with former Calif. state Sen. Tom Hayden, long-time anti-war activist, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

As the press focuses more attention on the White House credibility gap over Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction, public support for the war and the president has slipped considerably as measured by recent opinion polls. The Bush administration has been on the defensive since it was revealed that the president referred to a document known to be a forgery in his January State of the Union address, using it to back up his claim that Baghdad was attempting to build nuclear weapons and justify his plan for war.

But as deadly attacks on occupation forces in Iraq continue, with nearly a dozen assaults launched daily against U.S. soldiers and a growing death toll, some observers are now pointing out the dangers of what could develop into a protracted guerrilla war. Some 100 American troops have been killed, either by hostile fire or in accidents since U.S and British forces overthrew Saddam Hussein's government on April 9. Growing instability prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to say that resistance to occupation may be stepped up during the next month and that more American troops might be required to control the situation.

Responding to the deepening crisis, L. Paul Bremer III, President Bush's administrator in Iraq, pushed up the timetable for establishing an interim government in Baghdad. The new Iraqi Governing Council was convened on July 13, and is comprised of 25 representatives selected by the U.S. to act as advisors while American officials retain the power to overrule the body's decisions. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with veteran antiwar activist and former California state Senator Tom Hayden, who assesses the potential for a long and costly U.S. military campaign in Iraq, often referred to as a "quagmire" during the Vietnam war era.

Tom Hayden: I’ve been trying to keep track of the body count, which was the famous term invented during the Vietnam War. Of course, there’s no body count kept for Iraqi victims of the war by the Pentagon. It’s in the thousands, according to some academic researchers. But I thought that we ought to have some clear accounting as to the death toll of GIs and so I’ve been carefully watching the count since April 9. Now that’s an important day because the United States just recognized it as the new national holiday of Iraq: the day that the U.S. troops entered Baghdad, and if you will recall, threw the American flag over the statue of Saddam Hussein.

Since that time, I’ve wondered how many Americans have died. After all, that was supposed to be the day of triumph. It was followed shortly after by the (end of war) ceremonies that were heavily publicized on the aircraft carrier. And by the research I’ve done, looking at CNN, New York Times and L.A. Times -- I might have missed some -- but here is the number: As of the day that Saddam’s statue was pulled down, 103 American soldiers had died in the Iraqi War. As of now (July 14, the day of this interview), another 96 have been killed, including the nine Americans in that bombing in Saudi Arabia. That would make the total 199, unless somebody has died in the last 24 to 48 hours. They’re a little slow with the count. So, what does that mean? There’s been a doubling of the number of American GIs killed since the statue was pulled down. I think this is a major credibility issue for the administration and kind of shameful because you have a president that has held a press conferen ce declaring “mission accomplished.” So there’s a kind of a vested interest in understating the importance of these deaths because the story now is how to airbrush the president’s image of victory. Gradually, though I think the truth is getting out and Americans are becoming more discontented.

The issue of the “quagmire” is this: I guess that they’re trying to never officially use the term “quagmire” because there’s bad memories of Vietnam. Quagmire is, I guess, a “no-no” from the point of view of the public relations people in the White House. So, it’s going to be a very gradual effort, but I think we do have to continue to struggle over the meaning of this war and the lessons of this war, because that’s what a lot of these wars are about. In certain ways, the administration is fighting the symbolism of the Vietnam War and trying to replace it with this new symbolism. It’s the case that truth is the first casualty in war and here, it seems to be the first casualty in peace.

Between The Lines: Now sitting here as we are in the United States, we don’t really know the depth of anger that’s driving the guerrilla attacks on U.S. and British forces. We hear from the administration of course that it’s remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party; there was a recent claim that it was volunteers from al Qaida who were executing these attacks, so we really don't know where this guerrilla movement is going, if anywhere. But on the other hand, is there not the temptation for the Bush administration to pour more troops into Iraq to eviscerate the guerrilla forces that are attacking them? Is that not also a recipe for quagmire?

Tom Hayden: That's the danger of quagmire. You can't declare victory and pull out because there will be a collapse. You can't be defeated because you got your whole army in there. So it just goes on and on and on and what usually happens is people at home begin to worry about costs and then the military starts to complain. I found this quite interesting that the military families are now getting angry with the Pentagon. There was a piece on the front page of the New York Times the other day about a meeting at a military base in Georgia, where there were 800 people or so, mainly military spouses and they tried to explain why the boys wouldn't be coming home any time soon and according to the news account, the military officials doing the explaining had to be escorted out of the meeting because the spouses were seething at them.

I mean, how would you feel if you were a soldier who went over and your family, your mother and father, sister, brother, wife, loved ones and yourself all believed the White House claim about the weapons of mass destruction and the imminent danger that this guy posed and you believed that you had fought and won the war and then discovered that apparently large numbers of people hate you and want to shoot you and you're being reassigned from military duties to guarding trash pits or guarding intersections like a traffic officer? Demoralization sets in, which I think the White House has to watch. You're going to hear complaints from the rank and file of the military families and when that happens, the peace movement gets a whole other dimension. First, there's morality issue, then there's the cost issue and the things we can't do because the money is going over there, and then the quagmire problem that makes the military extremely restless. That eats into the Republican coaliti on, don't you think?

Visit former Calif. State Sen. Tom Hayden's website at

Related links on our website at

- "Say It: This Is a Quagmire," by Tom Hayden, July 7, 2003

- "A Firm Basis for Impeachment," Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2003

- "A Quagmire for Bush?: Americans are increasingly skeptical about the war in Iraq and the intelligence leading up to it," Newsweek, July 12, 2003

- "Poll: U.S. Losing Control in Iraq," July 10, 2003

- "Ten Appalling Lies We Were Told About Iraq,", June 23, 2003


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending July 25, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A compiled by Anna Manzo. AOL users: Click here!

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