Pretty much everyone but the dead know that the US occupation of Iraq is now entering its sixth year. When one looks for comparable circumstances in recent history, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land of course comes to mind, but so does the US war on Vietnam and the French war on Algiers. Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration and other war supporters to frame the Iraqi adventure positively-as in the liberation of Europe from Nazism-the fact is that the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation bear all of the worst elements of the three colonialist endeavors mentioned in the second sentence of this paragraph.
The comparisons run from details like the brutal arrests of men and boys merely because they are males by occupying troops to the greedy profiteering and self-righteous pontificating about the occupied peoples inability to govern themselves. They include the murders of innocents by the occupying troops and the turn towards terrorism by the resistance forces fighting against the occupier and his puppet government. Add to this list the attempts by the occupiers to turn the subject peoples against themselves by creating situations and dynamics that accentuate differences inside the occupied nation and one has a brief description of the current reality in Iraq.
If we listen to those occupying troops who have been in Iraq, we hear some of them now telling the world that not only are they against the war, but that they are actively opposed to it. Unfortunately, many of their fellows in uniform, meanwhile, tell themselves that they don’t really care. After all, they say, it’s out of our hands. The politicians and the generals are the ones who make the decisions. Perhaps this apathy is understandable on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan where caring too much may only make death more likely, but it is inexcusable for those of us not in uniform to not care what happens to the Iraqis, Afghanis, and the individual service men and women on the ground. After all, we have nothing to lose but our refusal to accept the responsibility we must take for the murder and destruction carried on in our name by those men and women. To continue to shirk that responsibility will only precipitate actions even more reprehensible than those already known.
In Frantz Fanon’s last work A Dying Colonialism, he writes about the situation faced by the French five years in to the Algerians’ war for independence. In essence, he states that France would either have to intensify its military escapade or leave entirely and let the Algerians decide their own future without France. This is similar to where Washington sits right now. It must either enhance its military and political control (whatever there is of the latter) or it must eventually withdraw and let the Iraqis figure out the future of their estranged nation. Since the political will of the American people does not seem to exist to send more US troops into the fray, but it does exist for a US-armed and paid combination of official military and militias to do Washington’s work there, the US commanders hope that the combination of Iraqi security forces and Sunni-dominated Awakening militias will do the occupier’s bidding and enhance US control. The likelihood of success for this endeavor is, to say the least, questionable, especially given the tenuous allegiance of the Awakening Councils to the US military . Yet, there is no alternative for an occupier unwilling to conscript its youth into colonial service but is insistent on maintaining an empire to gratify its citizens’ consumptive desires. Then again, just because there does not seem to be an existing political will to expand the occupation does not mean that such a will can not be created. Nor does it mean that the Pentagon and the politicians might not decide to expand the occupation, no matter which way the political winds might be blowing.
In the mainstream US press, commentators wonder what went wrong. How could Washington let certain domination slip from its grasp? How could a military so dominant in every regard fail to destroy all opposition in Iraq (and Afghanistan-which has been going on for two more years than Iraq)? Why aren’t the oil profits from Iraq paying for the occupation and the remaking of that country in Washington’s image? In his March 16, 2008 commentary John Burns of the New York Times glowingly describes the attack on Baghdad in March 2003 as if it were the ultimate fireworks show that would certainly free the Iraqi people from the terrible dictator Saddam Hussein-a dictator some Iraqis would now prefer over the occupation and its callous destruction. How could this have gone wrong, he wonders, echoing the refrain of his fellow apologists for imperial America? Of course, his answer is not that the war and occupation are illegal and immoral but that they were mismanaged. Like most of the rest of the US population-politicians, citizens, bureaucrats and others-these commentators forget the Iraqi people and their distaste for occupation. The Iraqis may not throw the occupiers out of their country, but they will not allow them to succeed in their mission. The current state of stalemate, insurgency and internal strife is not making things easier for the Iraqi people, but neither is it allowing the US and its marionettes in Baghdad to install the regime they desire.
The world has seen horrible scenes of carnage coming out of Iraq the past five years. Car bombs and suicide bombs. Cities leveled by US bombs and missiles and children with skin melted by white phosphorus and other chemical weapons. Prisoner abuse and torture by US forces and decapitations by men claiming to be insurgents. Wedding parties and funerals attacked from the air and helicopters in pieces in the ground. None of this seems to faze the men and women calling the shots. They sit inside their offices and travel in motorcades protected by mercenaries that shoot at anything they distrust without fear of reprisal. These things happen because the US invaded Iraq and continues to occupy it. They would not be occurring if this was not the case. Yet, it is this exact situation that is provided by Washington as the reason the occupation must continue. Like Israel in the Palestinian territories, Washington chooses who it will work with and on what terms, despite the obvious fact that those chosen represent only one (not necessarily very popular) element of the subject peoples, if that.
Underlying the entire philosophy of the antiwar movement is the question of what constitutes the Iraqi nation. Is it the Green Zone government or is it the various elements of the insurgency and their supporters? If one considers the former to be the legitimate regime, than they can only go so far in their opposition to the occupation. Why? Because that regime requires the presence of US forces to exist for now and the foreseeable future. That is why the so-called antiwar Democrats and their supporters are not calling for the complete withdrawal of all US forces-military, CIA, mercenaries and others-but speak instead of a timetable for the withdrawal of combat forces only. This element of the antiwar movement does not oppose the US mission in Iraq. They only want to go about it in a way where fewer Americans are in danger and all of the dying is done by the Iraqis. Essentially, they are no different than the war hawks who talk and write about a one-hundred-year occupation. If one considers the disparate groups of the resistance to be the representatives of the Iraqi nation, then the only stance they can take is for the complete and unconditional withdrawal of all US forces of any kind from Iraq.
The absence of occupying forces would naturally allow the Iraqis to determine a future that would most likely be considerably more stable than anything Washington might impose. Indeed, the possibility even remains that most of the various factions currently at odds would eventually reconcile enough to work together. This scenario makes even more sense if one considers that part of the US strategy in Iraq has been to inflame the differences between different elements of Iraqi society. In addition, certain lines between the Green Zone government and the resistance are somewhat blurred because there are elements in the current Green Zone government that agree more with one or the other resistance groups yet have a place in Maliki’s regime. This fact would be resolved by the Iraqis, too, once the occupiers left.
The occupation of Iraq is not in the interests of the world’s peoples. Even those of us in the US are paying for this exercise in greed and death. Economically, this adventure is costing more per day now than it did when it began. Already, hundreds of thousands of American men and women have taken part in the occupation and thousands more are on their way this year. Close to 4,000 have been killed in Iraq, (with more than 800 more killed in Afghanistan). Unknown thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion and occupation; millions more have been uprooted from their homes, while thousands languish in prisons merely because they are male and/or because they oppose the occupation of their country. Those who benefit from this exercise are few, yet it continues. Why? Because of the indifference of those who can end it. It is not enough to merely be against the war. One must actively oppose it. It is not only our consciences that should demand this, it is also our future.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org