[Noam hosts a forum in the Z Sustainer chat board, where the below exchange took place]
Z Sustainer: How can the United States actually help the Iraqi people, without keeping troops in the country?
Noam Chomsky: There was a revealing front-page article about this in the Wall St Journal, April 19, discussing a conflict between the State Dept and the Pentagon about tactics for "rebuilding Iraq" and winning support from Iraqis. It describes how the reconstruction was first handed over to Halliburton, Bechtel, etc., with the predictable effect of tossing tens of billions of dollars into their deep pockets with nothing much to show for it. Then State and DOD took over with their different approaches. Story opens with a description of a State Dept supervisor explaining to an Iraqi engineer how to repair shoddy work. Next sentence reads: "`We can't build this for you,' he snapped."
Iraqi engineers performed near miracles of keeping the country functioning after the utterly devastating 1991 war, which aimed specifically at destroying infrastructure for a viable society, then through the Clinton sanctions that were denounced as "genocidal" by the two successive directors of the "oil-for-food" program who resigned in protest., and up to the Bush invasion. The reporter, Yochi Dreazen, who knows Iraq well, describes the comment as "the core of the problem," but doesn't amplify. It's not hard to do so. Why should they rebuild the country for its new owners?
The wailing about how the Iraqis are not up to it is not an unfamiliar one from conquerors. Right now, some very interesting work is being done by a former Russian soldier in Afghanistan, on the coverage of the Afghan invasion and occupation in the Soviet press. Very familiar, including distress that the Afghans are just not up to it and have to be held accountable. Colonial administrators, slave masters, and others like them constantly express great irritation at the shiftlessness and irresponsibility of their wards, not properly following commands — issued for their benefit, of course.
How can we help the Iraqi people? By putting them in charge, and doing what they instruct us to do – which, judging by US-run polls, would mean getting out pretty quickly. And though the question cannot be included in US-run polls for doctrinal reasons, I don't think it is hard to guess how Iraqis would respond if asked whether we ought to pay enormous reparations for crimes of the past half century, including strong US support for Saddam through his worst atrocities, horrendous sanctions that destroyed much of the society, and finally an invasion and occupation which brought about a catastrophe that they compare to the Mongol invasions.