Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over: The Real Meaning of the Iraq War
Eddie J. Girdner
It has now been ten years since the American tanks rolled across the Iraq border from Kuwait in 2003 to invade and occupy Iraq. My feeling that morning of March 20 in Ankara, Turkey, as I watch the action unfold on TV was dread. I thought of all the Iraqis who would die needlessly. The American, British and other soldiers who would die, some thinking it was for freedom, some abstract principle. It was far worse than I could have ever imagined.
For the American people, the case for invasion had been built upon lies and propaganda. Members of the Iraqi National Council, who had been paid millions of dollars by the CIA, told the Bush Neoconservatives what they wanted to hear. Saddam was built up as an evil monster and the people told that the US must rid the country of him. The specter of weapons of mass destruction was built up as a menace to the world. Secretary of State, Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations is well remembered. It seemed phony to me at the time.
For those who came of age in the Vietnam War era, there was no excuse for believing such rubbish as was being dished out by US President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. It would be an illegal war. Another round in US imperialism, the game of controlling the world and the vast energy resources of the area. Three million Iraqis died and 4488 American troops were killed. It is estimated that over 100,000 American soldiers were wounded. The US established a colonial administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority, under Paul Bremer to run the country for the first year. But the occupation continued.
Today, the grand vision of the Neoconservatives has been shredded. The quest to bring the countries of the Middle East into line to serve American and European capital, the post-cold war neoliberal world, has failed miserably. The Bush Neocons could not bend the Arab world to their will. They could not make the Arabs “love America.” The grand experiment went badly off the rails in the first year, as those who knew anything about the Middle East predicted would happen. The US occupation opened the gates of hell and ripped the country apart. What the Iraqis hated most was the Americans and British occupying their country. America was the only force on earth that could have made Saddam Hussein look good to the Iraqis.
The harping on weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a joke. The new rationale of democratization, with the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI), could not be taken seriously. The US was forced to crush democratic opposition to the occupation, privatization, and the US plans to turn energy resources over to major American corporations. Ironically, the US invasion spurred a genuine push for democracy from below, the Arab Spring, exactly the sort of democratization the US wished to prevent.
The occupation wrecked the country. Many billions of American taxpayers’ dollars were squandered. At least eight billion dollars disappeared with no accounting. Millions fled the country. The occupation brought sectarian tensions and violence. The grand plans for the energy sources have turned out very different from what the Americans anticipated. The Iraqi people firmly supported keeping oil in the public sector under the state oil company. The US occupation and attempted privatization spurred oil nationalism which has meant that the Iraq Parliament cannot pass an oil law and the major oil companies have been forced to bid for less profitable technical service contracts, except in the north. Under the Kurdish Regional Government, international oil companies have been given production sharing contracts which are more profitable.
Only in the north, the Kurdish Region, the people have gained, it seems. However, the vast oil resources are being signed over to international oil companies who will reap stupendous profits at the cost of the Iraqi people. It is unclear if the struggle over oil, between Baghdad and Erbil, will result in dividing up the country in future.
Empires come to an end when they can no longer be sustained, given the real existing conditions in the world. This is the point which the US empire is quite quickly approaching. The US can no longer control the Arab regimes of the Middle East. The Neoconservatives thought they could just stir up chaos, wreck countries, and then reconstruct them to serve the needs of the global capitalist neoliberal empire. That was a pipe dream.
What the Iraq War taught the world is that America is not that shining city on the hill that is going to lead the world to the glorious millennium. That Neo-Wilsonian vision is dead. Global opinion of the United States has been turned upside down and the world no longer trusts the superpower, regardless of the eloquent speeches of President Obama.
The United States has not quite understood that, as is seen by the sabre rattling over Iran. Johan Galtung has predicted that the American Empire will end around 2020. No one can know for sure if that prediction is correct. But it may be the best hope for global peace and humankind. Its time to turn out the lights on the empire.
Better make a new plan, Sam. The Party’s over.
Eddie J. Girdner is author of Socialism, Sarvodaya and Democracy (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House. 2013).
March 18, 2013.