IT was perhaps inevitable that this month’s Iraqi elections would be cited by those who unequivocally backed the US-led military occupation of Iraq as post hoc vindication of their support for the superpower’s gratuitous invasion seven years ago. Equally inevitably, they ignore the human cost of the war.
In their big picture, there’s no room for the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, most of whom would have been alive today but for the firepower unleashed against them by the world’s most powerful military force. They also tend to forget that the last time they hailed ink-stained fingers in Baghdad as evidence of America’s benevolence, Iraq descended into the worst spiral of violence it had experienced.
Hopefully, that will not happen again. No one in their right mind can doubt that Iraqis have suffered more than enough in recent years. Saddam Hussein’s purges within the Baath establishment took their toll – given all the silly comparisons made between him and Hitler, it’s easy to forget that he modeled himself on a different dictator, Josef Stalin. The war against Iraq, in which he was supported not only by Gulf Arab neighbors but also by the Reagan administration, took a considerably bigger toll.
Having been informed by US representatives that his relations with Kuwait were essentially an internal matter, he stupidly invaded that Gulf state and consequently faced a war that involved not only the dominant post-Cold War superpower but also its chief erstwhile rival, as well as Baathist-ruled Syria, among other states.
Yasser Arafat refused to take up cudgels against Iraq, and suffered the loss of Arab support as a result, although it’s worth remembering that the Madrid conference that instigated the Oslo peace process is unlikely to have eventuated but for the desire of George Bush Sr’s administration to placate the Arab world.
Saddam’s military action against revolting Shias, meanwhile, was watched over by the semi-occupying power that had militarily overwhelmed him. It was the same power that had barely reacted to his genocidal initiatives against the Kurds, which relied on chemical weapons sourced from the US – rather than the USSR, which was equally keen to provide arms for the butcher of Baghdad.
The 1991 war was followed by sanctions intended to curtail Saddam’s ambitions. Bill Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright claimed that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of those sanctions was a price worth paying for keeping Saddam under check. But once Clinton’s successor was elevated to the White House after failing to win the majority of votes in November 2000, he and his neoconservative colleagues were determined to go further.
All they needed was an excuse, and al-Qaeda – quite possibly unknowingly – provided one. Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were indeed keen to provoke a confrontation between the US and the Muslim world, but it’s likely that only in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that it would involve Iraq – whose ruler they despised as much as the US did, not least because, notwithstanding his opportunism, Saddam was wary of Islamists. It may be a bit of a stretch to describe Iraq as a secular state but, in the context of the Muslim world, it came relatively close.
That is no longer the case. There weren’t as many photographs in international newspapers of Iraqi voters with purple fingers as there were in 2005, but one that I did find striking depicted stained digits attached to a pair of women (presumably) whose faces were veiled in blackness. This variety of attire may not have been unknown in Saddam’s Iraq, but it has become much more ubiquitous since the American invasion.
It is, of course, not surprising to find all manner of hawks crowing over an ostensibly democratic exercise in Iraq whose results would not have been particularly different had a US-designated committee of collaborators congregated to pick the winners. I confess to being outraged, however, by a comment that uses the Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker as a hook on which to hang a series of preposterous presumptions.
That the comment in question happens to have been written by a friend makes it all the more aggravating. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this friend claimed some years ago to have been “mugged by reality”, which is all too often an egregious euphemism for having gone over to the dark side. I was nonetheless taken aback by the degree of kowtowing to unreality that this conversion – on the road to Baghdad, rather than Damascus, I guess – entails.
This friend, who writes for the website The Daily Beast, first of all thrills to the notion that The Hurt Locker is not an antiwar film – which is a matter of interpretation (I haven’t seen the film, but others, including Michael Moore, have a rather different take on it). He then goes on to hail the aggression against Iraq as “the purest example of the American soldier fighting for an abstraction: democracy in a faraway land”. That’s right, forget the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. It was always a fight to replace Saddam Hussein with Nouri al-Maliki or Ayad Allawi, remember?
He then contends that “the American soldier has … acquitted himself superbly” and that “the all-volunteer professionalism of the armed forces has made all the difference”, compared with Vietnam.
I am compelled to wonder: can he really be unaware of the recently reported birth defects in Falluja, reminiscent of the effects of chemical warfare in Vietnam? Is it all that easy, four decades after My Lai, to overlook Yusufiya and Haditha? Is it all that easy to condone a system that turns young people – whether coerced by legal or economic circumstances, or driven by pathological impulses – into homicidal maniacs?
“A worthy society,” he claims, “makes worthy warriors; a free society … makes soldiers who understand wars for freedom, even the freedom of others.” Lofty words of which al-Qaeda and its likes would no doubt have been proud. This level of delusion among those gifted with intelligence is profoundly depressing.