Ten years after the invasion, occupation and widespread destruction of Iraq was set into motion the revisionist apologetics are flying fast and furious. These include the denial of culpability for crimes committed, the systematic undercounting of the innocents slaughtered and displaced and the conveniently forgotten hubris of empire in the high theater of technocratic carnage. They also wanly posit the historical epic is behind ‘us,’ the 75% of the populace reported in poll results to have supported the war before news began leaking that its murder and mayhem weren’t achieving their hypothesized results. So to this 75%, a/k/a the American people, is the problem that we murdered too many or not enough? Put another way, what number of murdered Iraqis would be too many if today there were a Starbucks on every corner in Baghdad and Payday Lenders to bridge the cash flow shortfalls of the citizenry that remains?
And whither the good old days? Once upon a time the decomposing corpses of those responsible for destroying an entire nation, murdering a million or more of its citizens, causing the premature deaths of a wee chunk of the home folk and costing it a few trillion of its national ‘product’ would be on display for all to see—a cautionary exhibit against future hubristic incaution. This, if for no other reason than to assure that before another such adventure is undertaken, as the Nazis about to be hung at Nuremberg had it, we are sure to ‘win.’ And as gestures of contrition for these and other transgressions and magnanimity toward those slaughtered and their friends and family who remain, fair trials followed by swift executions of those found guilty at gallows set within public view on the White House lawn for Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Powell and Ms. Rice would place some distance between these architects of distant carnage and the other 75% of this nation who at one point or another supported ‘their’ war.
The culture and political economy of impunity and immunity from prosecution for crimes high—war crimes under legally agreed upon terms, is matched only by the absolute immiseration, persecution, incarceration, torture and purposeful and negligent homicide of those on the other side of this imperial power. No war criminals have yet been charged in the bungled plunder of Iraq and the torch of aggressive war, murder, torture, illegal surveillance and robotic murder have been passed from war criminals past to war criminals present. Likewise, the methods of imperial economic extraction intended for America’s client nations now place much of the same 75% that at one time supported the war on the wrong side of the imperial divide. The murder drones tested on distant battlefields now carry surveillance and murder technologies ‘at home’ to assure phone bills are paid and for-profit prisons filled as the ‘other’ political party divides our collective wealth amongst its new owners.
Of the 75% of war supporters not among its chief architects, but certainly prominent in the supporting cast, is the propaganda wing of the military-oil-banker oligarchy, America’s ‘fourth estate,’ which filled the alchemist’s role of converting fresh and long decomposed bullshit into the solid gold of public ‘opinion’ so effectively. The New York Times, former home of ‘reporter’ Judith Miller, talented conveyor of White House press releases re: weapons of mass destruction, and now occasional home of former full-time dull-eyed hack and ‘liberal’ hawk Bill Keller, sought street cred with the always kind and thoughtful crowd who regularly confess their undying love for this god or that and their fellow man in churches and synagogues across the nation. In Mr. Keller’s (and the New York Times’) favor is that participating in the murder of a million or more innocents and destroying an entire nation-state was ‘just business’ with the articulated goal of re-branding the (New York) Times the paper of choice amongst the NASCAR / trailer park conservatives who prefer their dis-information with a patina of ‘class.’
The task of ‘responsible’ war critics is now to assess the lessons learned from the Iraq debacle while promoting the lowest possible circumference of culpability. The number of Iraqis who died as the direct consequence of the U.S. invasion: 112,000 – 122,000. Fuck you. The only honest effort at counting placed the number at 655,000 by mid-2006. What makes the higher count more plausible than the lower? The lower number is that which can be ‘proven’ in the context of a level of violence that assured most dead wouldn’t be counted. The latter takes the context of violence into account and constructs the higher number using associated information—cross-corroborated family-hospital-morgue records. What then is ‘responsible’ in leaving the historical record to favor those responsible for the deaths of so many innocents? Unless ‘conservative’ means farthest from the truth, America murdered, or caused the premature death of, a million or more Iraqis (2006 number inferred forward using higher known numbers in 2007 – 2009) by the only honest effort at counting yet undertaken.
Likewise, the ‘lessons learned’ were there for all who cared to see prior to the attack on Iraq. Wars of aggression, torture and murder were known to be heinous acts as well as prosecutable offenses under international law since the trials at Nuremberg. Imperial hubris has played a role in major military blunders throughout known history. And the wounds the U.S. (as oligarchic nation-state) received in the Middle East are nearly all self-inflicted. Conversely, the lessons coming from the Iraq debacle are anti-history: the rich and powerful are never called to account for their actions; the institutional rot that accompanies war, murder, torture and plunder has no effect on the viability of these institutions, and the breach of public trust that derives from the lies of officialdom never destroy the social ‘fabric’ to the ultimate detriment of us all. But, in fact, this anti-history isn’t history at all, but rather a series of wishful delusions that exist in the space between actions and their consequences.
At this point re-addressing the lies of the attack on Iraq is so much noise. Weapons of Mass Destruction—where are they? Payback for the attacks of September 11, 2001—Iraq had nothing to do with them? To democratize the Middle East—read the first Iraqi Constitution and terms of political economy (written by the Bush White House) if you’re really that gullible? The ‘real’ reasons combine imperial conquest, domestic and global political aspirations of connected Neo-Conservatives, personal retaliation for Saddam Hussein’s alleged attempt on George H.W. Bush’s life, military expansionism and to secure the second largest known oil reserves in the world. And let us not leave out belligerent stupidity and near complete ignorance of history. Are any of the latter ‘legitimate’ goals? In the first, none are the stated goals. In the second, even were they deemed to be so by god, launching aggressive war, murder and torture are war crimes prosecutable under treaties signed and ratified by the U.S.
American culture, the national mythology, which feeds on Nietzsche’s ‘resentment’ informed by capitalist propaganda, sees in the ruling class that led us into Iraq the loveable scoundrel, the soldier of empire whose courage and wits have made ‘us’ the nation we are. George W. Bush was raised to understand resentment better than most likely have context to imagine—exploiting it is a central strategy of the plantation management cum factory ownership / management ‘skill-set’ taught the southern aristocracy from birth. But what passes for swashbuckling bravado, his ‘bring it on’ comment inviting violent retaliation for the U.S. invasion, is an affectation used, along with the threat of a rope around one’s neck or a Pinkerton’s nightstick to the head, to keep the hands in the fields and the workers in the factories. The calculated resentment epitomized by Mr. Bush’s pseudo-populist belligerence effectively hid his (America’s) grotesque slaughter behind a cartoon facade–the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, sisters, brothers, friends and communities murdered, brutalized, lives destroyed, social demons unleashed, that are the true consequences of America’s actions.
With as yet not fully realized irony the plutocrats and ‘their’ institutions that brought war and its death, destruction and carnage to Iraq now bring it home. Tiring of Mr. Bush’s hick-schtick and needing a technocratic language to effectively sell bank bailouts and Quantitative Easing to a populace now spending more time with unemployment checks than with the sales pitches for ‘smart’ bombs of yore, the new boss, same as the old boss, Barack Obama, claims the right to murder ‘terrorists,’ a/k/a anyone he wants to, abroad as well as in the ‘home land.’ The same ‘responsible’ critics of the war over there offer unqualified assurances the ‘liberal,’ ‘progressive,’ Mr. Obama means to murder only ‘bad guys’ here in the U.S. But, the entire remainder of American history aside, anyone reading the FBI files recently released under the Freedom of Information Act knows the peaceful protesters of Occupy Wall Street were only a few short months ago considered fair targets for state murder. And one of the lasting gifts from Mr. Bush and his fellow war and economic criminals is a political economy ringing America’s major cities dependent on finding domestic ‘terrorists’ for house payments and dental bills to be made. A quick guess is find ‘them’ they will.
More broadly, and stepping further back in time, the U.S. was born as imperial project and has always carried these internal dynamics with it. Mr. Bush, with ‘his’ war, and now Mr. Obama, with his own imperial predations and bailouts of connected insiders, represents the interests of a predator class that only sees national boundaries when it serves their interests to see them. In the mythology, ‘our’ lovable rogues stole oil from the Iranians and bananas from the Guatemalans while acting in what was claimed to be the national interest. That in recent decades the ‘national interest’ was expanded to cut your wages, loot your pension, destroy public education and healthcare and steal ‘your’ house with a predatory loan, all for the benefit of America’s ruling class, puts you, the 75% who flew your flags and regaled in dim idiocy like ‘freedom ain’t free,’ squarely on the wrong side of empire. That most Americans have more interests in common with ‘the enemy,’ ordinary Iraqis, than with America’s ruling class, makes the nationalist hatreds so easily rallied more toxic and self destructive than could ever be inflicted from without.
America’s war on Iraq is among the sadder epics in millennia of blood-soaked, tragedy filled history. Those murdered and those whose lives were destroyed have no heroic storyline, no grand narrative to ease their pain or to provide the sense there is any possible rhyme or purpose to this miserable existence. They were murdered; their and their family’s lives destroyed, by antique Cold Warriors and dull-eyed bureaucrats in the service of pirate capitalists and the legions of resentful fools they so easily rallied to do their bidding. Today there is weak remedy in justice, fair trials for the culpable with punishment commensurate with their crimes. Even this, far more just than the idiot, lunatic violence visited upon their victims, seems a remote possibility at present. But with anti-history framing the space between actions and their consequences, finding justice for those wronged would serve justice, and with it history.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York