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Occupation as Rape-Marriage

“Failure in Iraq is not an option The President needs to get personally involved to build a broad, international coalition. He should immediately direct his Secretary of State to get on a plane to drum up the troops and the money—-and make the deals that are necessary to get our allies and friends to join us in the effort to make Iraq a better place. That is what the President’s father did so successfully 13 years ago. It is high time that this President Bush follow the example set by that President Bush.”

“Anti-war” presidential candidate Howard Dean, supporting the occupation of Iraq, and the first President Bush’s successful deals in that country, in San Jose, California, Sept. 7.

Quite a number of “anti-war” politicians, including former Vermont governor and Commander-in-Chief wannabe Howard Dean, argue that while “we” were wrong to invade Iraq, now that we’re there, we need to stay for years, expand the occupation force, hustle up an international military force to aid us, and make sure that our security isn’t threatened by an Iraq crawling with al-Qaeda and other terrorists. The Dean team calls for a “democratic transition” period of 12-18 months, but tells us up front: “Troops should expect to be in Iraq for a longer period.”

Personally, I didn’t have anything to do with the invasion of Iraq, and opposed it as best I could from the day Bush made it clear that he was going to deliberately conflate al-Qaeda with Saddam Hussein and implement the neocons’ plans for the Middle East.

So I respectfully ask to be left out of that lousy “we.” I further don’t think the American people—even those duped into supporting the war through the calculated hard-sell campaign undertaken by a conspiratorial cabal backed up by an unforgivably unquestioning, cheerleading press—are collectively responsible for the crime.

The troops on the ground, sucked into a horrible situation, who just want to come home, aren’t to blame either.

The Bush administration wrongly and brutally invaded Iraq, and now it wants to stay as long as it takes to meet its (not my, not our) strategic objectives there and throughout Southwest Asia, which if really, democratically discussed among a well-informed citizenry, would surely produce much more dissent among us. As it is, Dean’s argument asserts that:

(1) “we” should accept that we were lied to, but still stay the course resulting from that lie;
(2) that we should accept occupation as a morally legitimate “white man’s burden;”
(3) that we should treat all Iraqi resistance as “terrorism” and suppress it, even if that means a drawn-out struggle, so long as we share the military burden “with our allies and friends.”

But (and maybe Dean knows this) that counter-insurgency effort requires that we blur the lines between a wide variety of resisting groups, while inevitably generating more anti-U.S. sentiment.

As for al-Qaeda: really, there hasn’t been much evidence for its presence in Iraq, although the experts seem to agree that it’s greater post-Saddam than during the secularist’s iron rule. Al-Qaeda thrives within bedlam, and the crudely executed occupation has handed it creative chaos on a silver platter. Maybe the (putatively) al-Qaeda-linked group al-Ansar is active, but the size and strength of this Kurdish-based gang are unclear and probably overstated. Most of the violence directed at the invaders surely originates from Iraqi nationalists of various stripes, and not only Baathists; from a variety of religious fundamentalists, and not only Sunnis; and from the relatives of civilian victims of trigger-happy U.S. soldiers. Defense Department officials have essentially conceded as much to the New York Times ( The occupation seems designed to generate Iraqi, Arab, Muslim and general global animosity towards America; each day it continues, the antipathy mounts, lending a perverse credibility to the claim “it’s better to fight terrorism in Baghdad than in New York,” although in the end (if I may paraphrase Lennon & McCartney), the hate you take is equal to the hate you make. That hatred, fueled by the New American Century millenarian project, is spreading all over the planet.

But what if “we” (as many military families are demanding) just pull out the troops?

Dean rules that out entirely, because at least for several years, an Iraq without American troops will in his view constitute a threat to America. I submit the troops’ continued presence will in fact exacerbate terror threats. There’s no better evidence for that than the fact that demands for immediate withdrawal come not only from the actively violent resistance, but also from those who have so far most closely cooperated with the occupation. These include members of the handpicked Governing Council to the U.S.-trained Fallujah police force. As Brookings Institute analyst Ivo Daalder put it recently, the Council is “not legitimate because we [the U.S. government] installed” it, “and so we [sic] now have the problem of going against the people we [sic] put in power, saying they can’t be trusted” (AP, Sept. 25). Alaska Republican Representative Don Young says that even Ahmad Chalabi, hitherto viewed as a reliable quisling, “now seems like he is no longer one of us. He seems to be one of them now” (Boston Globe, Sept. 27). One of them? You know, terrorists, ragheads, anti-Americans, evil-doers, people who don’t lick boot and say “Thank you, sir” afterwards. (Young’s ire is apparently based on the Council’s support for OPEC oil price and production policies and its—thoroughly understandable—decision to purchase electricity from neighboring Syria and Iran. Wherever in Iraq does Congressman Young expect to find Iraqis who will remain “with us,” with the lights off, to his satisfaction?)

And didn’t that recent (under-reported) Zogby poll (“the first scientific survey of Iraqi people”) show that the Iraqi people “want to ‘control their own destiny,’ without the intervention of outside forces” and that 58.5% do not want the U.S. or U.K. to “help” set up a government in Iraq? (Financial Times, Sept. 11, 2003). Asked whether the U.S. would “help” or “hurt” Iraq during the next five years, 35% said help, 50% said hurt. Will a protracted occupation bound to produce more and more “collateral damage” improve these figures to the occupiers’ advantage?

Some war critics view the invasion of Iraq as a “mistake.” It was no such thing. It was a conscious violation of international law, and the appropriate object of global condemnation. It was a crime carefully planned and undertaken, although its perpetrators may have miscalculated its outcome. The suffering it has and continues to generate makes the following analogy woefully inadequate, even if some might find it a little bit harsh.

There are some societies, past and present and widely distributed (Celtic, Kyrgyz, Ethiopian, etc.), in which a man who kidnaps and rapes (from the Latin rapere or raptum, to seize) a woman might, if he “does the right thing” and pays a bride-price to her family, and marries her, somehow undo his crime. (For a Biblical example, see Deuteronomy 22:28-29.) But most of us today don’t accept that logic. Nowadays, what decent people with common sense want to do is to separate that victim from the rapist, by as vast a distance as possible (and ideally by a row of bars). The criminal can do no good for her, other than pay reparations—and even those payments can of course never undo the crime. His obnoxious presence will hurt her rather than help her.

The ravisher here is not the common soldier, pressed into a supporting role in the Rape of Iraq, and his or her own life violated thereby. The culprit is something called U.S. imperialism, which has serially raped countries since the occupation of the Philippines in 1899, and even before that. Those directing that imperialism, like rapists faced with bride-price demands, now look to their longtime buddies for help in dealing with the consequences. But most of the latter, who given their own histories don’t really occupy a higher moral plain than their ally (and might even secretly, enviously crave their own “piece of the action“), wince a bit at his request for aid. They advise their friend to just free his victim rather than buy her, and they deny him both their money and their physical complicity.

Meanwhile some even closer to the rapist, who once counseled against the crime, and are so damned proud that they once said, “Best not to do that,” or “I don’t agree with that,” now endorse the rape-marriage of prolonged occupation. In doing so, they endorse the violation in its aftermath—as something, after all, not really all that shameful—and take the rapist’s side as he seeks to buy legitimacy. Shame on them. (Not us, who don’t believe in rape as a matter of principle, and want nothing to do with it. But shame on them.)

* * *

“US officials need to get our [expletive deleted by the Post] out of here,” Staff Sergeant Charles Pollard, stationed in Baghdad as part of the 307th Military Police Company Sergeant Sami Jalil, an Iraqi police officer under Pollard’s command, said: “The truth has become apparent The Americans painted a picture that they would come, provide good things to the Iraqi people, spread security, but regrettably Iraqi people hate the Americans.”

—Washington Post, as cited by the antiwar Green Left Weekly, July 9.

“Actually, —the Iraqi people are happy that we’re there. At least in Kirkuk Daily we’re told by the Iraqi people that live there that ‘we love you, we are glad you’re here, thank you for helping us.’ So that’s a lot of uplifting times there when people tell us that.”

—widely-referenced U.S. Army Spc. John Perkins, talking to pro-war CNN’s Iraq-attack enthusiast Bill Hemmer, Sept. 26.

“Don’t you love me now?”
—-Boxer Mike Tyson, after raping Desiree Washington, July 19, 1991.

GARY LEUPP is a professor of History at Tufts University and coordinator of the Asian Studies Program.

He can be reached at:


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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at:

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