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Disorder and Opportunity On the Results of the War on Iraq

On the Results of the Iraq War

by GARY LEUPP

It is hard to be entirely dispassionate and objective in evaluating the results of the attack on Iraq, on the basis of what many perceive to be fabricated charges, and the consequent imposition of (call it whatever you will) a military occupation regime. But let me try, inviting correction and criticism should I in any way err. I list these results in no particular order, and comment only parenthetically.


1. Saddam Hussein has been removed from power.

(Comment: This, in itself, is a good thing. Saddam was a horrible dictator, whose history, now more than ever, deserves some study. Among the more interesting objects of study might be his relationship with the U.S. intelligence apparatus in 1963, when the Baath Party, in which Saddam held a leading position, pulled off a coup and executed thousands of communists; and his relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, whom he met in 1983 and who encouraged Iraq in its very bloody war against Iran.)

2. There has been a lot of looting and chaos.

(Comment: This is just very, very sad, the burning of the library especially tragic. If the Iraqis blame the occupiers rather than themselves for these untidinesses, there may be negative ramifications for the occupiers.)

3. There have been many demonstrations throughout Iraq. These oppose the presence of foreign forces, participants bearing placards with such slogans as "Invaders Should Be Out." Factors generating these demonstrations may include national pride, the toll of civilian injury and death, postwar looting for which some blame the U.S., religious beliefs, and pre-existing anti-U.S. sentiment. Some protests have been very large. Some U.S. officials are surprised by these demonstrations, about which one reads almost daily now in such newspapers as the Boston Globe.

(Comment: Such information might color popular perception of the war, what the Bush administration terms "the War on Terrorism," as it enters new phases. Some Americans may start to wonder whether Operation Iraqi Freedom had anything to do with freedom. Or why the newly-freed Iraqis for some reason get angry at the foreign presence, which some in or around the Bush administration say will have to last several years to lay the basis for what they conceptualize as Iraqi "democracy.")

(Further comment. Occupation officials have so far tolerated the demonstrations. U.S. officials have apparently not banned them, although on at least one occasion they discouraged the foreign press from covering one of them. Rather, they have publicly interpreted them as manifestations of newly-acquired freedom, and pent-up frustration attributable to the long years of Saddam’s dictatorship. While some demonstrations have been labeled "anti-American" in the U.S. press, they have not been linked to terrorism.)

(Another comment: Perhaps these protests will come to be linked to terrorism, or at least criminalized. Lt. Gen. David McKiernan has already warned that Iraqi leaders challenging "Coalition authority" will be viewed as criminals and subject to arrest. See International Herald Tribune, April 24. Anglo-American forces have also made it clear they will not tolerate the establishment of the Islamic state which, for better or worse, some of the demonstrators are calling for. See Sydney Morning Herald, April 25. Rumsfeld has declared that an Islamic state "simply won’t happen." If it turns out that the majority want such a state, the U.S. stance against it might lead to problems. See Phil Reeves’ report in the Independent, April 26.)

4. There is now greater freedom for the Shiites. The Shiites, 60% of Iraq’s population, have since Saddam’s overthrow seized the opportunity to perform religious observances that they could not perform under his rule, and Shiite clerics have moved into the power vacuum, receiving widespread support. They are however divided into factions.

(Comment: Due to some aspects of Shiite religious practice, as reported in the mainstream press, their political opposition to the U.S. might in the near future be dismissed as part of a worldview just too bizarre and alien for Americans to appreciate. So some might be inclined to dismiss Shiite political behavior in toto. However, in some demonstrations, protesters have emphasized Sunni-Shiite unity against the U.S. presence, and Sunnis seem as apt as Shiites to demand the occupiers’ withdrawal [Agence France-Presse, April 25]. It does not look as though opposition to foreign occupation is a specifically Shiite proclivity, but involves members of other faiths, including Chaldean Christians.)

5. Iran has been accused of interfering in Iraq. Neighboring Shiite Iraq has been strongly warned by the Bush administration not to intervene in what it terms "Iraq’s road to democracy," and accused of "infiltrating forces" into the country to do that. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which claims to command 10,000 troops in towns near the border with Iran, is backed by Iran.

(Comment: The neoconservatives wielding great influence in the Bush administration have clearly indicated their desire for "regime change" in Iran and placed that country within the "axis of evil." Shiite-led opposition to the U.S. presence could be attributed by U.S. authorities to Iranian interference, and since Iran has been linked to terrorism, anti-U.S. actions of the Shiites and others working with them could be represented as "terrorist" and justify expansion of the war to Iran.)

6. The war has allowed Anglo-American forces to search for weapons of mass destruction without hindrance, but so far (April 26), the forces have not found any weapons of mass destruction. President Bush has stated, within one twenty-four hour period, that they may never be found, and that they certainly will be found eventually. (See Boston Globe, April 25 and MSNBC, April 25).

(Comment: Bush seems obliged to bide for time, and appeal for patience. Some represent the lack of evidence for such weapons as an embarrassment for the U.S., and this embarrassment may itself become a factor in the behavior of the Bush administration. Should they be unable to come up with anything, or should Judith Miller’s April 21 New York Times piece turn out to be another Niger uranium-type episode, the embarrassment might give rise to even more reckless behavior than we’ve seen so far. See below.)

7. The U.S. government has made accusations against Syria pertaining to the results of the Iraq war. Specifically, it has warned Syria not to harbor Iraqis that it has targeted (on the basis of what it depicts as internationally recognized legal grounds) for prosecution. U.S. officials have also alleged that weapons of mass destruction have passed from Iraq into Syria, and that Syria has al-Qaeda ties.

(Comment: The neoconservatives, who let me reiterate, wield great influence in the Bush administration, have clearly indicated their desire for "regime change" in Syria. But there appear to be divisions within the Bush administration about how to deal with Syria as well as Iran.)

8. The war caused discomfort to some Iraqis, including at least 2000 civilians dead, and water and electricity have yet to be restored to many households.

(Comment: Resumption of such utilities by contracted foreign firms may or may not diminish the size and frequency of the demonstrations mentioned above. I’m just thinking aloud here, but should those demonstrations expand into a national liberation movement, and should that movement be depicted as a legitimate target of the War on Terrorism, we might see a long ugly conflict.)

9. The war has placed international relations on a new footing. The U.S.
administration has shown its ability to act upon the doctrines outlined last fall in
the "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," apparently authored by Condoleeza Rice (http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html). Such action has produced great strain on existing alliances and has had consequences for the United Nations.

(Comment: When Richard Perle states that France is no longer an ally, and calls upon the democratically-elected German chancellor to resign; and when he and other neocons publicly call for a strategy to "contain" France and Germany, much as the U.S. once sought to "contain" the People’s Republic of China, you know that the world has changed.)

10. Finally: The results of the Iraq campaign provide the war proponents ammunition for further action. The opposition to the occupation is being attributed to Iranian "interference" in the next-door country, and could be used to build the case for regime change in Tehran. The lack of evidence for a massive stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli of the Iraq war, is being attributed in part to their posited removal to neighboring, rival Syria. This attribution builds the case for war on that nation, whose government (significantly termed "fascist" in a recent speech by neocon ideologue James Woolsey) is also scheduled for removal, in some part due to its support for anti-Israel organizations Hezbollah and Hamas.

(Last comment: There is great disorder under heaven, as the Chinese communists when they were communists used to say. But there’s also opportunity, for those who see what’s going on, to methodically oppose the evil the Bush administration has visited to date on the world, and to produce something good out of it. The beginning of wisdom, it seems to me, is to realize we’re all here under heaven, on a fragile planet, on which a tiny cabal— within an administration which barely managed to worm into power in a country with some 5% of the world’s population—threatens all six billion of us with Armageddon. The increasingly popular symbol of that planet is the simple photo of earth taken from outer space. Everybody, in my humble opinion, should have one and display it. "Just say no" to this imperialist madness.)

GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.

He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu