The Murder of Iraq: It Never Happened

“We Do Not Subjugate Others”


The doctrinal assumption that “we” (the United States) are inherently benevolent, noble, well-intentioned, helpful, and democratic in our foreign policies is ubiquitous in U.S. dominant media and indeed across the spectrum of respectable opinion in “mainstream” American political and intellectual culture.


“The United States is good,” Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright explained in 1999. “We try to do our best everywhere.”


Three years before, Clinton explained that the U.S. was “the world’s greatest force for peace and freedom, for democracy and security and prosperity.”[1]


“More than any other nation,” Barack Obama said at West Point last December 1st, “the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades. Unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We are still heirs to a moral struggle for freedom.”[2]


“We do not use our power to subjugate others,” Obama added in a nationally narcissistic Newsweek essay (deceptively titled “Why Haiti Matters”) last month: “we use it to lift them up.”[3]


These are core (and preposterous [4]) suppositions that American “mainstream” journalists and pundits who wish to keep their jobs know not to challenge in any fundamental way. Efforts to move media personnel off the premise of American “goodness” are generally futile, consistent with Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”



Business “Not Seeing Much Benefit” From America’s “Investment in Iraq


Examples of the “we are good” myth coloring dominant U.S. media coverage and commentary on current events are endless. I used to collect such examples but I ran out of space.


Still, one such instance I couldn’t toss out recently leaped out at me from a forgotten clipping file. In the middle of last November, New York Times business reporter Rod Nordland published an article titled “Rebuilding Its Economy, Iraq Shuns U.S. Business.” Nordland’s power-serving determination to delete basic historical information on what good old Uncle Sam has really done in the world was quite astonishing.  Orwell would have been impressed.


The core “story” related by Nordland’s piece was what he took to be an enormous irony: Iraq’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for serving as an outlet for surplus U.S. capital and commodities Nordland seemed almost miffed as he detailed and commented up this supposed paradox: 


“Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent…That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.”


“Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, ‘there are two or three American participants, but I can’t remember their names,’ said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq’s state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons, of mass destruction.”


By Nordland’s account, “America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business.”  U.S. firms were being hurt there by, among other things, “a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.”


“American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country’s investment in Iraq,” Nordland concluded. “Being seen as the occupier is just not good for business.”[5]


The ultimate indignity: “The newest edition of the Iraqi Yellow Pages…doesn’t have a single ad from an American company.”


Imagine – such ingratitude after “we” overthrew Saddam and invested so heavily in Iraq, all with the best of intentions, of course, for ”the United States is good” and does not seek “domination.” I  should have sent Nordland an e-mail asking him if he felt there was any relevant connection between (A) “being seen as an occupier” and (B) being an (the) occupier in (of) Iraq.


“Anti-Americanism” Demystified


A Continuing Disaster Zone on a Catastrophic Scale


I do not purport to know whether it true that the invasion of Iraq has been “good for business in Iraq” (whatever that really means) but bad for U.S. companies there.  I am quite certain, however, that Rod Nordland had to stick his head pretty far up Uncle Sam’s backside to pretend to find it peculiar, incongruous, or counter-intuitive that Iraqis might have any “anti-American” bias against U.S. business.  The Iraqis have more than a few reasons to be less- than0eager to do business with Americans. As the U.S. commentator and author Tom Engelhardt noted in January of 2008:


“Whether civilian dead between the invasion of 2003 and mid-2006 (before the worst year of civil-war level violence even hit) was in the range of 600,000 as a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet reported, or 150,000 as a recent World Health Organization study suggests, whether two million or 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, whether 1.1 million or more than two million have been displaced internally, whether electricity blackouts and water shortages have marginally increased or decreased, whether the country’s health-care system is beyond resuscitation or could still be revived, whether Iraqi oil production has nearly crept back to the low point of the Saddam Hussein-era or not, whether fields of opium poppies are, for the first time, spreading across the country’s agricultural lands or still relatively localized, Iraq is a continuing disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory.” [6]


The U.S. invasion’s death count likely went over 1 million by early 2008 – a magnificent testament to Uncle Sam’s heroic determination to lift unfortunate others up (and then down into their graves).[7]


The “disaster…on a catastrophic scale” was due to America’s war ON (not merely “in”) Iraq: the monumentally criminal invasion launched on false pretexts by Washington in March of 2003. As the respected journalist Nir Rosen noted more than three-and-a-half years later, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again.  The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century…. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.” [8]




Prior to “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (“O.I.L.,” subsequently changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom” thanks to the all-too tellingly petro-imperialist implications of the original acronym) the Pentagon had an interesting term for the number of Iraq civilians who would be butchered in the initial U.S. bombing of Baghdad: “bugsplat.” As the distinguished journalist Alan Nairn told Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now” in early January of 2010, “In the opening days of the invasion of Iraq, [the Pentagon] they ran computer programs, and they called the program the Bugsplat program, estimating how many civilians they would kill with a given bombing raid. On the opening day, the printouts presented to General Tommy Franks indicated that twenty-two of the projected bombing attacks on Iraq would produce what they defined as heavy bugsplat—that is, more than thirty civilian deaths per raid. Franks said, ‘Go ahead. We’re doing all twenty-two.’”[9]


Before the Occupation


Of course, “the world’s greatest force for peace and freedom, for democracy and security and prosperity” had already killed a fair piece of Iraq over the previous two decades. Occupation Iraqi Freedom came only after more than a million Iraqis had been liquidated by 12 years of U.S.-imposed “economic sanctions,” with the aforementioned humanist Madeline Albright telling CBS’ “60 Minutes” in 1996 that more than half a million a children killed as a result  was “ a price worth paying” to advance the United States’ inherently benevolent foreign policy goals.  The sanctions were imposed after the Pentagon pulverized Iraq, unnecessarily slaughtering more than a hundred thousand soldiers and civilians Iraqis in a bloody campaign called “Operation Dessert Storm.” And before that, Uncle Sam had helped push Iraq into a disastrous war with Iran – a prolonged conflict that cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. 


Attempted Business Takeover


Also worth remembering,  one of the United States’ first actions after “securing” Iraq was to open it up for sale as a neoliberal playground for full-blown economic takeover by Western and especially (the hope was)  U.S-based corporations. The neocolonial U.S. occupation commandant Paul Bremer III tried to export to Iraq a militant version of the American “free market” model by slashing taxes and labor and financial regulations. At the same time, the Americans gave curious new form of giant multinational U.S. enterprises – terrorist and mercenary for-profit “security” firms like Blackwater/Xe (headed by a evangelical proto-fascist who sees himself as a  Christian crusader chosen for the mission of eliminating Muslims) – free reign to rape, torture, and murder Iraqis with impunity. After their mercenaries massacred 17 Iraqi civilians (more “bugsplat”) in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, Blackwater officials "authorized secret payments" (New York Times) of $1miilon to bribe Iraqi officials to let the company remain in Iraq – a wonderful example of the sort of U.S. business behavior that might help explain a certain amount of “anti-Americanism” in Iraqi economic dealings.



“It Never Happened”


Iraq has largely disappeared from the U.S.-imperial “homeland’s” ubiquitous glowing Orwellian/ (Ray) Bradbury-esque/Huxlean/Vonnegutian Telescreens.  It has been displaced by the supposed “good war” on (“in” by the official parlance) Afghanistan (the supposedly noble conflict Obama promised to pick back up and expand) in accord with the wishes of the U.S. power elite.  But the terrible consequences of U.S. attack and occupation – mass poverty, devastated social and material infrastructure, the loss of technical and professional expertise, the continuing threat and reality of ethnic violence, and much more – live on in Iraq.  So does the U.S. occupation itself, which the not-exactly anti-war President Obama [10] (who has re-flooded Iraq and South Asia with corporate mercenary killers) is not really going to end.


After rediscovering Nordland’s reflections on Iraqi economic ingratitude the other day, I reflected back on some remarkable comments that the British playwright Harold Pinter made while accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005.  Pinter noted that while “the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, and the ruthless suppression of independent thought” in the former Soviet Union was widely known in the West, the United States’ imperial crimes were hidden beneath “a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”  Rapacious “America” had slaughtered and crippled millions, both directly and indirectly, through wars big and small, executions, invasions, coups, the sponsorship of dictatorships, the equipping of repressive regimes, “economic sanctions,” and more.  “But you wouldn’t know it,” said Pinter.  “It never happened. Nothing ever happened.  Even while it was happening it never happened….It was of no interest.”


Yes, in the dominant Western political culture, it has been tossed down George Orwell’s “memory hole,” consistent the Big Brother’s maxim in Nineteen Eighty Four: “Who Controls the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past”


As John Pilger noted in his 2007 book Freedom Next Time, Pinter was “referring to a great silence, unbroken by the incessant din of the media age.” [11]


Nordland is hardly alone in maintaining the official silence on Uncle Sam’s arch-criminality in Iraq, of course.  The insidious, totalitarian and whitewashing hush is across the “mainstream” and establishment board. It has been consistently advanced by no less a revealing agent than the supposed “antiwar” candidate and president Barack Obama, who elicited derisive laughter the world over when he explained last December that “we do not seek to occupy other nations.” In mid February of 2008, still battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama said the following to autoworkers assembled at a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008: “It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together.”[12] For those who knew the depth and degree of the destruction inflicted on Iraq – and the reparations owed – by U.S., this statement was nothing short of obscene.


Less then two months into his presidency, Obama added occupation insult to injury during a “surprise” visit to so-called "Camp Victory" in Iraq. Obama told cheering troops that it was time for the Iraqis to step up and "take responsibility" for the "democracy" and "sovereignty" and “freedom” the noble United States had granted them.[13] These were remarkable comments more than six years into a brazenly imperial and petro-colonial invasion that Obama had never seriously opposed and which he is still finding ways to continue against the expressed will of the Iraqi and American people. Beyond the fact that Iraqis had in fact been standing up against the foreign invaders in the name of national sovereignty since the beginning of the U.S. occupation, Obama’s claim of noble and democratic U.S intent and accomplishment was truly offensive in light of the almost unimaginable havoc the U.S. had wreaked in Mesopotamia.


The Orwellian irony and ugliness of it all went unnoticed (it too never happened) in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and The Chicago Tribune, and on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX “News,” and the “Public” Broadcasting System, where functionaries’ salaries are no less dependent on toeing the doctrinal line than they are in the State Department.


Paul Street ([email protected]) is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; Segregated School: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008). Street’s next book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010), will be released next summer. Street’s article "The Enemy At Home" will appear in the March 2010 issue of Z Magazine, on newsstands.





1. Albright and Clinton are quoted in William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2005), front matter. 


2. “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan” (December 1, 2009), read at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-address-nation-way-forward-afghanistan-and-pakistan


3. Barack Obama, “Why Haiti Matters,” Newsweek (January 25, 2010). For a devastating critique, see Michael Hureaux Perez, “An Open Letter to President Obama on Haiti,” Black Agenda Report (February 3, 2010), read at http://kanan48.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/eshu%E2%80%99s-blues-an-open-letter-to-president-obama-on-haiti-by-michael-hureaux-perez/. For troubling reflections on the “good” United States’ imperial response to the Haiti earthquake tragedy, see Justin Podur, “Limited Compassion in Haiti,” ZNet (January 24, 2010), read at  http://www.zcomm.org/limited-compassion-for-haiti-by-justin-podur;  Perez, “Open Letter;” Ben Ehrenreich, “Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti Rather Than Helping Haitians?”  Slate (January 21, 2010), read at http://www.slate.com/id/2242078/. As Hureaux Perez pointed out, Obama’s essay wasn’t really about Haiti; it was about the United States.


4. Obama’s West Point assertions were too much for Matthew Rothschild, editor of the monthly left-liberal magazine The Progressive.  In an essay titled “Obama Steals Bush’s Speechwriters,” Rothschild offered an historically informed response:


“Well, let’s see: The United States led the world to the cliffs of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. The United States invaded one Latin American country after another, and subverted other governments there covertly. The United States helped overthrow governments in Ghana and the Congo, and supported racist forces in southern Africa. The United States plunged into the Korean War, and then supported one dictator after another in South Korea. The United States killed between two and three million people in Indochina. And the United States supported Suharto in Indonesia, who killed nearly a million people, some at the behest of the CIA, after taking power in 1965. The U.S. also supported Suharto’s invasion of East Timor ten years later, which took another 200,000 lives.”


“Obama can call that “global security,” if he wants to, but it’s dripping red.”


“… what does having almost 1,000 military bases in more than 100 countries mean, then?:”


“…the United States has invaded or overthrown dozens of countries in the last six decades, and it doesn’t need to occupy them if it can install a puppet regime instead.”


See Matthew Rothschild, “Obama Steals Bush’s Speech Writers,” The Progressive (December 2, 2009), read at http://www.progressive.org/wx120209.html.



5. “Although,” Nordland actually hastened to ad, “the United States, legally speaking, has not been an occupying power since June 2004, when the Security Council formally ended occupation, many see it that way. Even Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has described Americans as occupiers to curry electoral support.” Rod Nordland, New York Times, November 13, 2009 (top page of business section).


6. Tom Engelhardt, “The Corpse on the Gurney: the Success Mantra in Iraq,” Antiwar.com, January 18, 2008, read at www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=12229


7. Project Censored, “Over 1 Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by U.S. Occupation” (2009), read at http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/1-over-one-million-iraqi-deaths-caused-by-us-occupation/


8. Nir Rosen, “The Death of Iraq,” Current History (December 2007), p. 31. 


9. Allan Nairn, “‘Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill’ – Journalist and Activist Allan Nairn Reviews Obama’s First Year in Office,” Democracy Now (January 6, 2010), read transcript at http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/6/obama_has_kept_the_machine_set


10. Obama’s earlier history of supposedly being “against the Iraq War” is (if might understate matters) less- than impressive.  He never denounced or acknowledged the illegal or immoral nature of the invasion, opposing it never on principled and only on pragmatic imperial grounds – that is, not as a crime, but as a strategic mistake for American power.  He has never acknowledged the egregious damage the occupation has done to Iraq or the legitimacy of calls for the payment of U.S. reparations to Iraq. He has never been particularly opposed to the occupation and has done much to support it in a practical sense.  He has clung consistently to the childish claim that the Cheney-Bush administration invaded Iraq with the benevolent and idealistic (if excessive and “foolish”) intention of exporting democracy and “freedom.” For a detailed history of state senator, U.S Senator and presidential candidate’s Obama’s not-so “antiwar history” on Iraq, see Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), pp. 134-152.


11. John Pilger, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 4.


12. WIFR Television, CBS 23, Rockford, Illinois,   “Obama Speaks at General Motors in Janesville,” February 13, 2008, read at http://www.wifr.com/morningshow/headlines/15618592.html


13. Steven Lee Meyers and Helene Cooper, “In Baghdad, Obama Presses Iraqi Leaders to Unite Factions,” New York Times, April 7, 2009.



Leave a comment