Blaming the Iraqis: What Took So Long?

It takes a lot to surprise me these days, but a recent news item in the Washington Post did the trick.  The story, titled “More U.S. Officials Blame Iraqis,” appeared last Tuesday. According to its authors Thomas E. Ricks and Robin Wright, “Americans increasingly blame the continuing violence and destruction in Iraq on the Iraqis.” 


The Americans who are blaming the Iraqi victims include “troops on the ground” and “members of Congress,” with the latter group including key members of the Democratic Party. Examples include U.S. Senator (D-Michigan), who used recent Iraq war hearings at the Senate Armed Services Committee (which Levin will head starting next year) to claim that “we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.” Levin argues for “putting the responsibility for Iraq’s future squarely where it belongs – on the Iraqis.” 


U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) relays his constituents’ alleged complaint that the dysfunctional Iraqis are “incapable of solving their own problems through the political process” and prefer to “resort to violence.” 


U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) thinks that the Iraqis “seem unable or unwilling” to “stabilize their country with the” – get this – “assistance we’ve proffered them.” 


U.S. Representative R. Hayes thinks that “the Iraqis are determined…to destroy themselves and their country” and worries (he claims) that the U.S. “can’t stop them.” 


Joseph Collins, an “international relations expert” at The Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that “we [the United States] have paid a huge price to give the Iraqis a chance at a decent future.”  He says that the responsibility for Iraq’s “failure” now rests on the shoulders of the Iraqis – those “failures” who just can’t seem to run with the freedom we’ve tried to give them.


CIA Middle East analyst Ray Close has told other members of the elite Iraq Study Group that he’s “tired of nitpicking over how we should bully the Iraqis into becoming better citizens of their own country”


 Talk about adding insult to injury. This new verbal sniping at the Iraqi people reminds former West Point historian Andrew Bacevich of the end of the Vietnam War, when many American military officials blamed the “stupidity” of “the gooks” for the problems that the U.S. experienced imposing its criminal will on Indochina (Ricks and Wright, “More U.S. Officials Blame Iraqis,” Washington Post, 28 November 2006). 


Levin, Bayh, Hayes, Collins, and Close should take their lines about “failed” Iraqis directly to the loved ones of some of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been murdered, maimed, and tortured by “liberating” U.S. occupation forces.  Many in those forces have been brainwashed to believe they were “avenging 9/11” and/or preventing future 9/11s by indiscriminately slaughtering – with their drill sergeant’s command to “Kill, kill, Kill!” ringing in their frightened brains – civilian Iraqi “hajis” and “rag-heads”(see the recent overpowering documentary “The Ground Truth”).  Their actions, ordered from above, have devastated Iraqi lives and society for decades to come.  No wonder many of them are experiencing emotional and mental collapse (see “The Ground Truth”).   


But I’m not surprised at the racist viciousness of the terrible comments from the likes of Levin et al. They reflect the standard top-down denial of the mass-murder that the planet’s most powerful military state – correctly identified as “the leading purveyor of violence in the world” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 – recurrently commits against “failed” societies targeted for U.S. “intervention.” 


And I’m not surprised that “elite,” morally failed U.S. foreign policymakers and “experts” would describe their nation’s criminal, racist oil invasion as a selfless, humanitarian effort to help, even “save” the Iraqi people.  Imperial state officeholders and their power-worshipping scribes and advisors have always sought to cloak the quest for global dominance in the disguise of noble intentions and benevolent concern.  It’s nothing new or exceptionally American.     The notion that “WE ARE GOOD and always seek only the best for others” has long been a doctrinal maxim of our imperial class.  This was the standard patriotic claim as we butchered hundreds of thousands of Filipinos (in the name of “freedom”) at the turn of the last century. It was the conventional top-down wisdom as we killed millions of Indochinese (destroying them “in order to save them,” according to one military operative) during the 1960s and 1970s.  There are many other examples in American history, going back to the genocidal Indian (elimination) Wars and the bloody seizure of the Southwest (from Mexico) and leading up through the 1991 assault on Iraq (including George Bush I’s  “Highway of Death” atrocity) and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s defense of the murder of 500,000 Iraqi children – a “price worth paying” for the advancement of inherently noble U.S. foreign policy intentions, she told a national television audience – by U.S.-led “economic sanctions” during the 1990s. The bipartisan axiom of American benevolence prohibits an honest or comprehensive look at either the full-spectrum misery our recurrent “resort[s] to violence”(Lyndsay Graham) – interesting statements of our commitment to being “better citizens” (Ray Close) of the international community – inflict on anonymous overseas others (unworthy and thus faceless victims) or the savage and also murderous domestic (“homeland”) hierarchies that both feed and reflect imperial policies.


At the same time, pointing the finger at the alleged failures and inadequacies of weaker and targeted others, is a well-established “power elite” habit in the  U.S. The poor, American privileged classes have always claimed, create their own misery through laziness, and wasteful and “riotous living.”  The dangerous, propertyless “masses,” conventional ruling-class wisdom taught, are “unfit to rule” in their own name, making substantive democracy a naïve and destructive dream.  Numerous privileged American political and cultural authorities were happy to explain how white America was doing “inferior” Native Americans and blacks a favor by dispossessing, slaughtering, and otherwise dominating them.  The defeated Reconstruction governments of the post-Civil War South “failed,” ruling doctrine held for many decades, not because of white racist attack and northern white betrayal, but because of black Southerners’ inadequacy.


For some time now, as King feared, dominant white U.S. opinion has claimed that the people responsible for the persistence and deepening of concentrated black urban poverty are – who else? – the black inner-city poor themselves.  This story line ignores numerous powerfully interconnected ways in which black America remains subject to societal forces and practices that generate race-class inequality beneath noble rhetoric proclaiming color- and class-blind “Equal Opportunity.”     One of those forces is Empire.  America’s imperial militarism takes money that could lift up some of the more than one million black U.S. children living at less than half the nation’s notoriously inadequate poverty level and invests that money in the murder of Iraqi families.  Another part of the stolen revenue lines the deep pockets of top war managers and shareholders at such benevolent and humanitarian institutions as the Boeing and Raytheon corporations.     


From the assault on America’s First Nation’s  people and the rise of black chattel slavery through the neo-slave Jim Crow era, the age of the immigrant-proletarian slum, the construction of the black ghettos, the dispossession of the native white farmers, the imperial “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (as Noam Chomsky once described the war on Vietnam) and the rise (since the mid-1970s) of a racially hyper-disparate mass incarceration state inside the U.S., ruling American doctrine has always insisted that the people on the wrong sides of the nation’s imperial guns and related savage domestic inequalities suffer because of their own inadequacies and “failures.”


So what’s the big surprise? Only that it has taken so long for American “elites” of both corporate-imperial parties to go public with victim-blaming sentiments regarding Iraq.  Only that what Post writers Thomas Ricks and robin Wright call the “festival of bi-partisan Iraqi-bashing” has taken so long to emerge. 


After all, the fact that the bipartisan imperial invasion of Iraq has become something of a “FIASCO” (the title of Ricks’ recent bestselling book on the Bush administration’s “military adventure in Iraq”) and the consequent need for “elite” scapegoats has been clear for quite some time.  With all due respect, what took so long?     


 Paul Street ([email protected]m) is an independent writer, speaker, historian, and social policy researcher in Iowa City, IA.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, November 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005); and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007).



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