Iraqis must think the American definition of liberation a strange one.
First, we destroy all of the key government buildings that we can find in a search for Saddam Hussein.
Then we relentlessly attack the Iraqi military, which of course counts among its troops, members of tens of thousands of Iraqi families.
Then we launch a cruise missile that destroys an urban market in Baghdad, claiming that it was intended to hit a battery of rocket launchers placed in the area by the Hussein regime.
In all, coalition forces have most likely killed a few hundred civilians, and injured hundreds more.
And all of this, after twelve years of painful sanctions that have reduced the nation’s life expectancy dramatically, helped boost malnutrition, and contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. Although some would seek to blame those conditions on Saddam himself, the fact remains that before sanctions were imposed, Iraq was a vibrant nation economically, and the citizens of the country–though certainly subject to repression of a vicious nature–were not by and large starving, or unable to attain medical care. Saddam didn’t change after 1991; what changed were the external forces affecting the well-being of the Iraqi people.
Yet Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and the bunch expect not only Americans, but more importantly the Arab world (and Iraqis themselves) to accept the assurances of our benign intent; to believe that this has nothing to do with oil (as if we would wage war to oust a dictator in a nation whose main economic export were pomegranates); to believe that we care only for the freedom of Iraq, despite having long financed, armed and stood by the very same dictator we now hope to destroy.
They expect the Iraqi people to welcome U.S. and British troops as liberators, and cheer the war effort, despite the fact that it was the U.S. and Great Britain who sold this “monster” the very materials that we now insist he must no longer possess, and stood by while he gassed Kurds and Iranians, even lying about the latter to make it seem as if the Iranians had been the ones doing the gassing.
Only a profound disrespect for the intelligence of the Iraqi people and the Arab and Muslim worlds could possibly lead one to believe such a scenario is likely. To believe that they can forgive and forget the history of which they are acutely aware. A history that includes U.S. support for the cruel Baath party, dating back even to before the ascent of Hussein to power; a support we offered because they were so efficient at slaughtering the progressive and democratic forces in that nation–forces that were also nominally socialist and thus a danger to be crushed.
Only a belief that the rest of the world sees us the way we see ourselves–a view so out of touch with reality that it simply boggles the mind–could lead one to believe that Iraqis will welcome U.S. domination of the Gulf region, or the U.S. administering a provisional government there until truly free elections can be held. They can, after all, look at what we have done in Afghanistan, which is destroy a tyrannical regime, devastate a nation with bombs, install a leader who was not the choice of the people, and then abandon the country as usual, so that areas outside of the capitol are now being run by fanatical warlords, rapists, murderers and Taliban-throw backs. Quite the liberation that, they must be thinking.
Oh sure, most Iraqis will welcome the demise of Saddam Hussein. But there is a difference between welcoming regime change and cheering the forces that imposed that change by force. Even now, according to a report in USA Today, Iraqis in neighboring Arab states are returning home to fight Americans. Though they insist they despise Hussein, they are also clear about the desire to fight the invaders and fight for their country, which they see as being destroyed, not saved. A few days ago, news reports noted that Iraqis in Basra were smiling and cheering as American troops came marching in, but that as soon as the troops got out of sight, they would just as quickly turn to the reporters on the scene and curse the Americans, and praise Saddam.
Even worse, Middle East experts are almost uniformly expressing the opinion that this war is proving to be the best recruiting tool al-Qaeda has had in years, meaning that even if the Iraqi people viewed the bombing as a form of liberation–albeit a loud, destructive and painful one–to the extent this view is rejected by most of the Arab and Muslim world, our actions may yet provoke one, two, many 9/11′s.
It’s all really very simple. People generally don’t like to see their homelands invaded or bombed. We certainly wouldn’t, after all. As much as Americans badmouth our government and its politicians, there is a tendency to put aside that anger and criticism when faced with war. In the U.S. this is happening even though we are not the ones being attacked. Imagine then what facing bombings would tend to do for American public opinion. Surely it would tend to rally most of us behind the leaders of the country, even those not particularly popular with many folks. So too in Iraq or anywhere else on Earth.
But the arrogance of the powerful makes it impossible to see all that. It is the same arrogance that prompted whites to view the genocide of Indian peoples as progress, and a civilizing mission (for those we didn’t kill), and a mission for which the savages should have been grateful.
The same arrogance that allowed the belief that we were doing Africans a favor by enslaving them, and “bringing them to Christ.”
The same arrogance that inspired the notion of “destroying the village in order to save it,” in Vietnam.
The same arrogance, and fundamentally the same racist and supremacist mindset that forever and always inspires the masters of the universe to believe their own hype and expect everyone else to be so gullible, unintelligent and child-like as to accept it too.
The same arrogance that allows us to believe that we and we alone have the right to dictate who will and will not have weapons of mass destruction; who will and will not have to follow United Nations resolutions; who will and will not be able to launch “preventative war.”
The same arrogance that allows Donald Rumsfeld to shriek hysterically at the violations of the Geneva Conventions by the Iraqis for merely showing American POW’s on film and thereby “humiliating them,” but which allows him and others to think nothing of the far more serious violations of the same Geneva Conventions evidenced by intentional U.S. bombing of Iraqi water and power stations during the first Gulf War: a certifiable war crime according to Article 54 of those Conventions.
The same arrogance that ultimately explains the widespread hatred of the U.S. throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world.
The same arrogance that puts not only Iraqi lives at risk, but ultimately our own.
Tim Wise is a writer, anti-racism activist and father.
He can be reached at email@example.com