Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive!
CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Playing God in the Middle East

by MICHAEL BRENNER

We are now in the 10th year of the first decade of the ‘war on terror.’ So the inevitable anniversary assessments are beginning to appear.  Iraq reappraisals specifically are back in vogue.  They favor the drawing of balance sheets.  Most will be skewed in an alchemic attempt to put the face of success on an unmitigated disaster.  Even a more tempered approach at calculating cost/benefits, though, leaves something missing – something of paramount importance.  It is the effects on Iraqis themselves.  Not Iraqis in the abstract, not as figures in a statistical tabulation of sects.  Rather, as flesh and blood and feeling persons.  Frankly, most of the discourse about Iraq from day one has had a disengaged quality to it.  That is the norm for dominant powers on the world stage, and for the seminar strategist.  That was not always the norm by which Americans referenced war and violence abroad in the 20th century when we truly believed in our proclaimed ideals.

To illuminate the point, here are some too readily slighted facts.  100,000 – 150,000 Iraqis are dead as the consequence of our invasion and occupation.  That is the conservative estimate.  Untold thousands are maimed and orphaned.  2 million are uprooted refugees in neighboring lands.  Another 2 million are displaced persons internally.  The availability of potable water and electricity is somewhat less than it was in February 2003.  The comparable numbers for the United States would be 1.1 – 1.6 million dead; an equal number infirmed; 22 million refugees eking out a precarious existence in Mexico and Canada; 22 million displaced persons within the country.  We did not do all the killing and maiming; we did most of the destruction of infrastructure.  To all these tragedies we are accessories before and during the fact.

Digits make less of an impact on us than observed reality.  That is always the case.  And very few have been in a position to see the human effects of our actions first hand – or even second-hand given censorship on filming casualties.  So let me suggest a couple of ways to approximate that experience.  Step one.  Go to RFK stadium, imagine it full.  Do that 3 times and then imagine them all – men, women and children – in their graves.  Repeat the exercise – this time imagine them hobbling on one leg, lying crippled or blind on a cot in a cinderblock house.  Imagine them as Americans – men, women and children – who placed USA stickers on their cars, chanted USA! USA! watching the Olympics, eating hot dogs and drinking Coke.  Imagine them now six feet under.  Imagine them all as the victims of an invasion and occupation by Iraqi Muslims who were deceived by their lying leaders who hid their own dark purposes.  An occupation that featured the likes of L. Ahmed Chelabi IV and run amok Bashi Bazouks.  Imagine that these altruistic Iraqis keep a Vice-Regal Embassy on the banks of the Potomac, giant airbases scattered around the country, and 550,000 troops (proportional) – all out of concern for our health and safety.  Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Imagine your counterparts in Baghdad now drawing up balance sheets.

Step two: go back to the study and reconstruct your own Iraq balance sheet.

Does this imply that pacifism is the only ethically acceptable conduct?  No – but it does give us a better fix on the true meaning of our shameful adventure in Iraq.  Moreover, keep in mind that the Iraqis never gave us permission to do those things to them.  We willfully imposed ourselves on them, did so based on the accusation of a fabricated threat that never existed.

Who assigns value in the equation to the dead, the maimed, the orphaned, the distressed, the uprooted?  Who assigns value to being free of Saddam’s police? Who distributes the values among Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turcomen? Who decides on the relevant time frame? Who determines what constitutes sufficient evidence to support any of these judgments?

Who has the right, the authority, the legitimacy to do this?  To do so before the event?  To do so after the event in a post hoc justification of the acts that produced these effects?

Who is prepared to reach a definitive judgment? Is it God? Or is it those who instigated and supported those actions in the self-righteous conceit that they were acting as His surrogate?  Personally, I place myself in neither category.

“Let humanity be the ultimate measure of all that you do” is a Confucian admonition meant to guide the behavior of officials.  America today pays it scant regard.

MICHAEL BRENNER is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 26, 2016
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail