FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Playing God in the Middle East

We are now in the 10th year of the first decade of the ‘war on terror.’ So the inevitable anniversary assessments are beginning to appear.  Iraq reappraisals specifically are back in vogue.  They favor the drawing of balance sheets.  Most will be skewed in an alchemic attempt to put the face of success on an unmitigated disaster.  Even a more tempered approach at calculating cost/benefits, though, leaves something missing – something of paramount importance.  It is the effects on Iraqis themselves.  Not Iraqis in the abstract, not as figures in a statistical tabulation of sects.  Rather, as flesh and blood and feeling persons.  Frankly, most of the discourse about Iraq from day one has had a disengaged quality to it.  That is the norm for dominant powers on the world stage, and for the seminar strategist.  That was not always the norm by which Americans referenced war and violence abroad in the 20th century when we truly believed in our proclaimed ideals.

To illuminate the point, here are some too readily slighted facts.  100,000 – 150,000 Iraqis are dead as the consequence of our invasion and occupation.  That is the conservative estimate.  Untold thousands are maimed and orphaned.  2 million are uprooted refugees in neighboring lands.  Another 2 million are displaced persons internally.  The availability of potable water and electricity is somewhat less than it was in February 2003.  The comparable numbers for the United States would be 1.1 – 1.6 million dead; an equal number infirmed; 22 million refugees eking out a precarious existence in Mexico and Canada; 22 million displaced persons within the country.  We did not do all the killing and maiming; we did most of the destruction of infrastructure.  To all these tragedies we are accessories before and during the fact.

Digits make less of an impact on us than observed reality.  That is always the case.  And very few have been in a position to see the human effects of our actions first hand – or even second-hand given censorship on filming casualties.  So let me suggest a couple of ways to approximate that experience.  Step one.  Go to RFK stadium, imagine it full.  Do that 3 times and then imagine them all – men, women and children – in their graves.  Repeat the exercise – this time imagine them hobbling on one leg, lying crippled or blind on a cot in a cinderblock house.  Imagine them as Americans – men, women and children – who placed USA stickers on their cars, chanted USA! USA! watching the Olympics, eating hot dogs and drinking Coke.  Imagine them now six feet under.  Imagine them all as the victims of an invasion and occupation by Iraqi Muslims who were deceived by their lying leaders who hid their own dark purposes.  An occupation that featured the likes of L. Ahmed Chelabi IV and run amok Bashi Bazouks.  Imagine that these altruistic Iraqis keep a Vice-Regal Embassy on the banks of the Potomac, giant airbases scattered around the country, and 550,000 troops (proportional) – all out of concern for our health and safety.  Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Imagine your counterparts in Baghdad now drawing up balance sheets.

Step two: go back to the study and reconstruct your own Iraq balance sheet.

Does this imply that pacifism is the only ethically acceptable conduct?  No – but it does give us a better fix on the true meaning of our shameful adventure in Iraq.  Moreover, keep in mind that the Iraqis never gave us permission to do those things to them.  We willfully imposed ourselves on them, did so based on the accusation of a fabricated threat that never existed.

Who assigns value in the equation to the dead, the maimed, the orphaned, the distressed, the uprooted?  Who assigns value to being free of Saddam’s police? Who distributes the values among Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turcomen? Who decides on the relevant time frame? Who determines what constitutes sufficient evidence to support any of these judgments?

Who has the right, the authority, the legitimacy to do this?  To do so before the event?  To do so after the event in a post hoc justification of the acts that produced these effects?

Who is prepared to reach a definitive judgment? Is it God? Or is it those who instigated and supported those actions in the self-righteous conceit that they were acting as His surrogate?  Personally, I place myself in neither category.

“Let humanity be the ultimate measure of all that you do” is a Confucian admonition meant to guide the behavior of officials.  America today pays it scant regard.

MICHAEL BRENNER is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

More articles by:

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

August 20, 2018
Carl Boggs
The Road to Disaster?
James Munson
“Not With a Bomb, But a Whimper” … Then More Bombs.
Jonathan Cook
Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail –By Design
Robert Fisk
A US Trade War With Turkey Over a Pastor? Don’t Believe It
Howard Lisnoff
The Mass Media’s Outrage at Trump: Why the Surprise?
Faisal Khan
A British Muslim’s Perspective on the Burkha Debate
Andrew Kahn
Inhumanity Above the Clouds
Dan Glazebrook
Trump’s New Financial War on the Global South
George Wuerthner
Why the Gallatin Range Deserves Protection
Ted Rall
Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat? No.
Sheldon Richman
For the Love of Reason
Susie Day
Why Pundits Scare Me
Dean Baker
Does France’s Economy Need to Be Renewed?
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail