Back in the mid 18th Century, the east coast of North America was a pretty rough-and-tumble place. The British, our colonial motherland, had outlawed slavery, but here in the colonies, the inhuman practice thrived everywhere. Similarly, while Britain had developed what was, warts and all, probably the fairest sort of legal system for its day anywhere in the civilized world, things were a lot more vicious and unpredictable in the wilds of North America, where, especially outside of the larger urban centers, justice was a pretty brutal affair in which local prejudice, and might, made right.
No doubt many in England viewed their military actions in the Colonies in messianic terms as bringing the benefits of British civilization to the Americas (it’s always been, and remains, a common conceit among colonial and imperial powers). If that meant burning down recalcitrant villages, massacring militias and arresting, imprisoning and hanging hundreds of revolutionaries, so be it. As time went by, the British Crown and the Parliament must have begun hearing concerns expressed by the Redcoat senior command that loyalist troops and the civilian population in the 13 colonies were not measuring up as junior partners in this civilizing endeavor-that local soldiers were inexplicably unwilling to fire on their compatriots in battle, or that they were deserting, God forbid, to the other side, and that the broader public seemed increasingly to view the Crown’s troops as the enemy.
Funny thing. Now our army in Iraq is experiencing the same sort of thing, and the top brass here too are acting astonished. In an AP story on Wednesday, Maj. General Martin Dempsey said that during recent hostilities, 40 percent of the new Iraqi “security force” trained by the U.S. to share the burden of battle during the occupation had walked off the job rather than fight, and that one in 10 of the members of that force had “actually worked against” the so-called Coalition of the Willing. That’s a 50 percent failure rate.
Martin, who obviously suffers from imagination deficit disorder, expressed surprise and dismay at this record on the part of the newly outfitted Iraqi forces and said, “We have to take a look at the Iraqi security forces and learn why they walked.” He went on to say that there seemed to be a puzzling reluctance by Iraqis to take up arms against their countrymen and added, “It’s very difficult at times to convince them that Iraqis are killing fellow Iraqis and fellow Muslims, because it’s something they shouldn’t have to accept,” though “over time I think they will probably have to accept it.”
Dempsey completely misses the point that what many in the new security forces are no doubt upset about is precisely that it is Americans who are killing Iraqis and Muslims, and that to the extent that Iraqis are killing Iraqis, it’s a mess which America has created-all of which no doubt explains why they don’t want to join in the carnage, even for a paycheck. Besides, while there certainly are Iraqis killing Iraqis in today’s “liberated” Iraq as the General says, I don’t think even he would suggest that the number of Iraqis killed by the insurgents even begins to approach the number of civilians killed by US forces over the past year.
The AP story said that the “failure” of Iraqi security forces to “perform” could hurt the United States’ “exit strategy” from Iraq, which it says is dependent upon handing “authority” over to the Iraqis.
There are a lot of big assumptions in this one sentence, however, none of which holds up very well on closer inspection.
First of all, is it appropriate to term it a “failure” if Iraqis don’t simply follow foreign orders and join in massive American assaults on Iraqi cities like Najaf and Fallujah? Or might that more properly be called the success of Iraqi nationalism? Should Iraqi forces, which are supposedly protecting Iraq, be expected to “perform” for American commanders? And just what is this “exit strategy” referred to here? To the best of my knowledge, the Bush administration has yet to articulate any exit strategy. Oh sure, they’ve talked about a “handover of sovereignty” or “authority” on June 30, but in the same breath, they always add that the U.S. will continue to maintain over 100,000 troops in Iraq-making it clear that this is something that will not be up to the new as-yet-to-be-named Iraqi government. Some exit. And besides, with all those U.S. troops in Iraq, just what is this “authority” the article refers to that the U.S. will supposedly be handing over to Iraqis? It’s certainly not the authority to defend their country, as the U.S. plans to continue with its occupation regardless of the wishes of the new government in Baghdad. And it’s not even the authority to make laws, we learned Thursday during congressional hearings. Apparently even that most fundamental responsibilityof government will not be granted to this government to be, according to administration officials.
Maybe if Maj. Gen. Dempsey, and his superiors at Centcom and the Pentagon and in the White House, should stop a moment and try to imagine how they’d have felt, if they’d been police or militia members back in 1760 or 1770, and British troops, dragging some of their neighbors out of their homes and arresting or shooting them, had asked them to join in and help out with the repression. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so surprised at the poor “performance” of the new Iraqi security forces.
Nation-building, as Bush was fond of saying back during the 2000 campaign, is a messy business, but it must be admitted that this administration is doing a remarkable job of building a national consciousness in Iraq. It’s just not the nation that they had in mind.
DAVE LINDORFF is completing a book of Counterpunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.