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The End of American Exceptionalism?

The Legacy of the Iraq War

by ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ

In the United States, the most significant event of 2011 hands down should have been the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Iraq. But for most Americans, the end of this illegal and immoral war and occupation hardly registers a ripple.

The reason: the continued belief in American exceptionalism.

In the United States, only U.S. casualties matter. According to the Iraq Coalition Count, almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers perished during the war and slightly more than 32,000 U.S. soldiers were officially listed as wounded. No U.S. agency officially keeps track of Iraqi numbers.

Not counting “enemy” casualties seems to be the ultimate form of dehumanization (The non-governmental Iraq Body Count group officially lists between 104, 308 – 113,962 Iraqi documented deaths). That’s the point of a war; dehumanize and demonize the enemy. No need to count them because they are not worthy of being identified or even acknowledged.

In Iraq, we were able to witness, from start to finish, the ushering in of a preemptive and unjustified illegal war, by the United States, sans legal consequences for those who engineered this massive crime against humanity. We learned, during this same time, that society takes more seriously the lives of dogs (Quarterback Michael Vick was imprisoned for cruelty to animals) than the lives of Iraqis.

In the U.S. narrative – as repeated in U.S. media – this war was waged to prevent Iraq from terrorizing the world, never mind that all the “evidence” was trumped up. It is mind-boggling the notion of killing and maiming untold tens of thousands of Iraqis and displacing hundreds of thousands of them, and for U.S. politicians to continue to invoke notions of U.S. sacrifice and heroic deeds in the same breath. All this at the cost of a trillion dollars, not counting future costs.

This is how national myths are created. Coupled with the rise of “The Homeland,” since 2001, the United States now shares the ideological space of dictatorships: Everything for the homeland. That was a deft psychological maneuver. Despite being the world’s sole superpower, the United States, with colonial/immigrant roots, could not previously claim a “homeland.” Now, it’s the mother’s milk of politicians: Enter the Homeland Security industry.

This has led to the exponential growth of the U.S. military machine, for permanent preemptive wars to be fought overseas and at home. In fact, especially with the use of drone technology, the entire world has now become a battlefield, including the United States, obviating the need for trials, etc. The mantra now is that the homeland must also be protected with militarized walls and fences, border patrols, and drone technology.

This “need” to protect the homeland against evildoers at all costs gave rise to the unquestioned post-2001 logic of: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Such logic caused many of us to willingly sacrifice our rights and freedoms. If truth was the first casualty, the U.S. Constitution was the second. But this is not logic; it is evidence that the entire nation appears to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Either that, or that it is soulless. Not the entire nation, but the merchants of war that have exploited fear and hate.

In the United States, for the past 10 years, the Black Man has gotten a short reprieve; now, it is the fear and hate of brown men, women and children that is driving this frenzied effort to “protect the homeland.” But there has been no reprieve because in the largest penal system in the world (upwards of 2 million inmates), the inmates are primarily black and brown. There is a direct connection between permanent war, “the homeland,” the expansion and privatization of the U.S. penal system, the criminalization of youths of color and the degradation of both the U.S. Constitution and human rights worldwide.

All is not hopeless. Domestically, the Occupy Movement is proof that the 99% are no longer falling for the logic of the 1%. And in Arizona, the ultimate symbols of “Homeland Security,” state senate president, Russell Pearce, has been recalled while his political twin, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is reeling from a series of Justice Department investigations that have found his department guilty of engaging in egregious racial profiling. His days are numbered.

In the bigger scheme of things, both are small potatoes. If the World Court were to affirm that there is no statute of limitations for starting illegal wars and indict those that engineered the Iraq War (The Bush-Cheney cabinet, those who made off with book deals as opposed to trials at the Hague), perhaps the world can begin to have a conversation about justice and “American exceptionalism.” It might even prevent further preemptive wars.

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com