In his most recent editorial, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times discusses the great progress he sees in Iraq, and attributes it to President George Bush’s troop ‘surge’ of eighteen months ago. A look at just a few of Mr. Friedman’s bizarre comments causes one to wonder why he is writing for the Times and not for Mr. Bush himself.
“One of the first things I realized when visiting Iraq after the U.S. invasion was that the very fact that Iraqis did not liberate themselves, but had to be liberated by Americans, was a source of humiliation to them. It’s one reason they never threw flowers.”
So Mr. Friedman apparently buys into Mr. Bush’s definition of liberation. Let’s see now: following the invasion of a sovereign nation, one sets about to kill approximately 1,000,000 of its men, women and children, and drives an estimated 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 from their homes, many of them from the country. These ‘liberators’ deprive the remaining citizens of basic services such as electricity and potable water, and storm into their homes in the middle of the night. They then ransack those homes looking for who knows what, and drag any male over the age of twelve out into the darkness and take them to who knows where, as their anguished mothers, sisters and wives scream in despair.
As families are driving to perfectly legitimate destinations they encounter ‘checkpoints,’ where foreign soldiers gesture to them, shout unintelligible words and then shoot them all. This, to Mr. Friedman, apparently represents liberation. Yet one questions whether or not it was their humiliation at being thus liberated that caused them to leave their flowers in their gardens, rather than strewing them beneath the feet of such liberators. Perhaps they had better uses for their flowers: putting them on the coffins and graves of their ‘liberator’s’ victims.
“That also helps explain why Iraqis initially never took ownership of their governing institutions, like the Coalition Provisional Authority, or C.P.A. They never fought for it. It was handed to them. People have to fight and win their own freedom, and that’s what gives their institutions legitimacy.”
Well now; is this not most interesting? The Iraqis never ‘took ownership’ of their own government, not because it was forced upon them by an invading and occupying army that had, and continues to have, little knowledge of their culture and even less interest in learning anything about it. They did not ‘take ownership’ of a government run by a foreign nation that bombed their hospitals but protected their oil fields during the initial invasion. No, a people must liberate themselves, says Mr. Friedman, in order for their government to have legitimacy in the eyes of the common citizen.
But now, he says, circumstances in Iraq are different; the U.S. troop surge has enabled the Sunnis to ‘liberate’ themselves from Al-Qaeda, and the Shiite ‘mainstream,’ represented by the U.S. puppet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to ‘liberate’ certain areas from pro-Iranian death squads. So it appears, at least to Mr. Friedman, that things are going well in Iraq.
Does it not occur to Mr. Friedman that by his own logic, the Iraqi people must continue to oppose U.S. oppression? This is what they must now do, and have needed to do for over five years. If “people have to fight and win their own freedom” in order to gain governmental legitimacy, obviously U.S.-style democracy (capitalism plus elections financed by the corporations that thrive on that capitalism and which will do whatever is necessary to preserve it) must be opposed; the Iraqi people must fight for their liberation from the U.S. Mr. Friedman’s symbolic ideas of liberation won’t work.
And the Iraqi people have chosen to continue to fight. One week before Mr. Friedman published his Pollyannaish view of Iraq, fifty-one people died in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad when explosives hidden in a mini-bus were detonated, sending tensions between the Shiites and Sunnis spiraling once again. Since this happened in a neighborhood supposedly protected by pro-American forces it is not sitting well with many of the grieving and angry citizens there. This will surely cause many to demand a return of the Mahdi Army to recommence its protection of Shiite neighborhoods. This militia is led by Moktada al-Sadr, no friend or fan of the U.S. occupation.
Three days before Mr. Friedman’s article, a suicide bomber killed fifteen people outside a government complex. Perhaps the woman who strapped the bombs to her body and hid them beneath her clothing was unaware of the new ‘liberation’ that seems to please Mr. Friedman so much.
But, cautions Mr. Friedman, all is not yet well; we must not too soon anticipate those flowers finally flying through the air to be trod on by the boots of ‘liberating’ soldiers. No, says he, ‘civil war could still be in Iraq’s future.’
In Iraq’s future? When the citizens of that nation have been united in nothing for five years except their hatred for the U.S.; when millions die and are maimed because of age old tensions between the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis that were held in check before being released by the U.S. invasion; when a trip to the marketplace is fraught with mortal danger; when once-integrated neighborhoods have became so dangerous for one group that that population’s members have had to flee for their lives; when the Prime Minister is unable to pass any meaningful legislation, much less do anything to stop the violence that wracks the nation he supposedly governs, it must be recognized that Iraq in its current state fits the definition of civil war.
Perhaps Mr. Friedman simply wants to justify his support for the invasion and, like Arizona Senator and GOP presidential candidate John McCain, will attempt to skew reality to fit his particular point of view. But the fact remains that the Iraqi people are far worse off today under U.S. oppression than they ever were under their previous murderous dictator, Saddam Hussein, and things were no picnic for them during his reign. Despite Mr. Friedman’s interpretation of a new liberation (he concedes that the U.S. invasion for ‘liberation’ five years ago “didn’t count”), the Iraqi people will not be truly liberated until such time as there are no more foreign soldiers terrorizing them, directed by a greedy, money-lustful government that covets their oil. Only when they are allowed to find their own system of government, or possibly multiple governments, will they be truly liberated. This cannot and will not happen while U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.