Now that American-British lies and distortions about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaida links have been thoroughly exposed, Bush administration officials have had to create new rationalizations for the Iraq war.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late July that “military and rehabilitation efforts now under way in Iraq are an essential part of the war on terror. In fact, the battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terror.”
Last Tuesday, George W. Bush told the American Legion, “a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East would be a further defeat for [the terrorist networks'] ideology of terror.”
And in early August, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice compared the U.S. mission in Iraq with the civil rights movement: “[W]e must never, ever indulge in the condescending voices who allege that some people in Africa or in the Middle East are just not interested in freedom … or they just aren’t ready for freedom’s responsibilities. … [That] view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad.” Rice implied that those opposing the U.S. occupation are the moral equivalent of white supremacists who thought black Americans incapable of citizenship. To critique the Iraq occupation is to stand in the schoolhouse door.
The Bush strategy is clear: If WMD and terrorist links fail as rationalizations for war, don’t worry; let us now praise the liberation of Iraq. It turns out that all along the invasion was about creating democracy in Iraq so that Americans will be more secure.
The brutality of Hussein’s regime had long been known, not least to U.S. planners during the decade the United States supported him through the worst of his atrocities.
But liberation rhetoric is designed to divert people from questioning U.S. intentions. For the sake of discussion, however, let’s take Bush’s claim at face value and ask, How serious is the United States about establishing a meaningful democracy in Iraq? How liberated are Iraqis?
Rebuilding a country devastated by three wars (the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, the 1991 Gulf War, and this year’s invasion) and 13 years of punishing economic sanctions is no small task. But, as Wolfowitz has admitted, U.S. planners gave little thought to those problems. The United States is spending $3.9 billion a month on military operations but has allocated only $2.5 billion over two years for reconstruction.
Liberation, most would assume, also means allowing people to decide their own fate. Yet the crucial decision to privatize as much of the Iraqi economy as possible has been effectively made by American officials to be ratified by a handpicked Iraqi council.
U.S. officials also have eliminated most import tariffs, which has resulted in a flood of goods into the country – and hundreds of factory closings and increased unemployment. Iraqi companies dealing with 13 years of economic crisis and progressive decay under sanctions can’t compete with foreign goods.
One also might assume basic freedoms are part of liberation. Yet the Coalition Provisional Authority chief, Paul Bremer, gave himself the power to squelch Iraqi media engaged in “incitement,” which in practice means clamping down on those who oppose the occupation. Under the headline “Bremer is a Baathist,” one paper editorialized, “We’ve waited a long time to be free. Now you want us to be slaves.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has fired on crowds of peaceful demonstrators. The worst instance, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, was in Falluja in April when 17 were killed. In a botched raid on a Baghdad house in July, troops fired on Iraqi civilians in a crowded street and killed up to 11, including two children. In one night in August, six Iraqi civilians were killed at unannounced U.S. checkpoints. All of this seems to suggest that, in the minds of occupation authorities, Iraqi life is cheap.
Most Iraqis are happy to be free of the regime of Saddam Hussein. But it’s increasingly clear that the well-being of Iraqis was not the reason for regime change.
Officials are quick to deny it had anything to do with increasing U.S. military control over that strategically crucial energy-rich region, or with control of the flow of oil and oil profits — even while they acknowledge plans to create permanent military bases, use their new leverage against other countries in the region, and privatize Iraq’s oil.
We’re supposed to trust them, though all the signs point in the opposite direction. After all, they haven’t led us wrong on Iraq before, have they?
Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the forthcoming “Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity” (City Lights Books). He can be reached at [email protected]