For more than a century, the U.S. has claimed each time it invaded another sovereign nation that it did so selflessly, shouldering the moral responsibility of “civilizing” a backward population. This process became widely known as “the white man’s burden,” after Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 poem of the same name, which described the conquered populations as “your new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child.”
Kipling’s poem was written to celebrate the 1898 U.S. invasion and occupation of the Philippines, which killed well over a half a million civilians during the next several years. The U.S. government crushed the Filipino insurgency–and refused to grant independence to the Philippines until 1946.
In Iraq, the U.S. has managed to kill a similar number of Iraqis, but failed to crush the resistance. The Washington establishment (minus the increasingly isolated and delusional Bush and Cheney) has finally concluded that the Iraq war is “unwinnable,” and the imperial endgame is beginning. Commitments to “bipartisanship” and “compromise” are already echoing through the halls of Congress, as Democrats and Republicans unite to avoid further humiliation and to salvage what remains of U.S. imperialism’s long-standing aims in the Middle East.
Democrats and Republicans have joined together to take aim at the ungrateful Iraqi population, who apparently fail to appreciate the U.S.’ selfless efforts to impose “democracy” through military occupation. On this point, the two parties are indistinguishable.
The Washington “consensus”
As the Washington Post reported, “a Nov. 15 meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee turned into a festival of bipartisan Iraqi-bashing”:
“We should put the responsibility for Iraq’s future squarely where it belongs — on the Iraqis,” argued Democratic Sen. Carl M. Levin, who will chair the committee in January. “We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) followed by noting: “People in South Carolina come up to me in increasing numbers and suggest that no matter what we do in Iraq, the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process and will resort to violence, and we need to get the hell out of there.”
“We all want them to succeed,” agreed Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) But, he added, “too often they seem unable or unwilling to do that.”
Later the same day, members of the House Armed Services Committee took their turn. “If the Iraqis are determined and decide to destroy themselves and their country, I don’t know how in the world we’re going to stop them,” said Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.).
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has also chimed in, quoted in the Congressional Quarterly: “We need to send a message to Iraqis that our patience is not unlimited.” Likewise, presidential wannabe Sen. Barak Obama stated that there should be “[n]o more coddling” of Iraqis. Presidential has-been John Kerry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I believe you have to be tougher, set a date, be clear about the transition of authority, demand more from the Iraqis, leverage a change in their behavior and get our troops out of harm’s way.”
Within a few short weeks, the Washington “consensus” has rewritten the history of the U.S. invasion of Iraq-as if Iraqis invited the U.S. to invade their sovereign nation in 2003 and now have failed to live up to their end of the bargain. The mass civilian bloodshed at the hands of the U.S. military is apparently irrelevant in this equation. But ongoing Iraqi violence is presented as yet more evidence that Iraqis are “unwilling or unable” to govern themselves.
Yet, as Mark Danner writes in the December 21 New York Review of Books, U.S. occupation policies gave birth to the Sunni insurgency. L. Paul Bremer, who replaced Jay Garner to lead the Coalition Provisional Authority in May 2003, quickly moved to dismantle Iraq’s military on orders from Donald Rumsfeld. Garner recalled, “[T]he U.S. now had at least 350,000 more enemies than it had the day before-the 50,000 Baathists [and] the 300,000 officially unemployed soldiers.”
As Danner noted, “By dismissing and humiliating the soldiers and officers of the Iraqi army our leaders, in effect, did much to recruit the insurgency. By bringing far too few troops to secure Saddam’s enormous arms depots they armed it. By bringing too few to keep order they presided over the looting and overwhelming violence and social disintegration that provided the insurgency such fertile ground.”
Lies, and more lies
The war was based on a set of lies, as the vanishing weapons of mass destruction illustrated clearly. So too is today’s talk that a “phased withdrawal” constitutes a genuine withdrawal, prefaced by the clumsy attempt to blame Iraqis for the state of their country.
The much hyped report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG)–itself a product of bipartisan “consensus” among Washington powerbrokers–has already been widely leaked to the mass media. While the report is anticipated to call for halving the number of U.S. forces in Iraq, that still leaves 70,000-redeploying to U.S. bases inside Iraq or just outside, to serve as a “rapid response force.” The ISG is expected to call for combat troop withdrawals perhaps by early 2008-but without any firm deadline. As Phylis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies observed, the ISG holds “virtually the same position as Bush’s own ‘when Iraqis stand up we will stand down.'”
Indeed, as Bennis also notes, “There is no indication in the initial set of New York Times leaks that the ISG will recommend opening serious public negotiations with any of the myriad of resistance forces fighting the U.S. occupation in Iraq.”
To be sure, the hot air will be swirling on Capital Hill come January, when Biden launches up to eight weeks of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq. According to a Biden aide, the hearings are expected to be “intensive and extensive.”
But expect little of substance to come from these hearings, without pressure from below. The electorate expressed its opposition to the Iraq war on November 7. But electoral opposition is clearly not enough to convince the two war parties in power that U.S. troops must leave Iraq-and should never have invaded in the first place. U.S. occupation has brought nothing but violence to the Iraqi people and will do nothing to stem the bloodshed now.
Instead of blaming Iraqis for the misery that U.S. occupation has brought them, U.S. lawmakers should listen to them. A September opinion poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org showed that 71 per cent of Iraqis want the U.S. out of Iraq within a year.
The long dormant antiwar movement must take to the streets to remind this country’s ruling elite that they ultimately must answer to the people they govern.
SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org