June 21, 2006
Great Moments in the History of Imperialism
National Public Radio foreign correspondent Loren Jenkins, serving in NPR’s Baghdad bureau, met earlier this month with a senior Shiite cleric, a man who was described in the NPR report as “a moderate” and as a person trying to lead his Shiite followers into practicing peace and reconciliation. He had been jailed by Saddam Hussein and forced into exile. Jenkins asked him: “What would you think if you had to go back to Saddam Hussein?” The cleric replied that he’d “rather see Iraq under Saddam Hussein than the way it is now.”
When one considers what the people of Iraq have experienced as a result of the American bombings, invasion, regime change, and occupation since 2003, should this attitude be surprising, even from such an individual? I was moved to compile a list of the many kinds of misfortune which have fallen upon the heads of the Iraqi people as a result of the American liberation of their homeland. It’s depressing reading, and you may not want to read it all, but I think it’s important to have it summarized in one place.
Loss of a functioning educational system. A 2005 UN study revealed that 84% of the higher education establishments have been “destroyed, damaged and robbed”.
The intellectual stock has been further depleted as many thousands of academics and other professionals have fled abroad or have been mysteriously kidnapped or assassinated in Iraq; hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, other Iraqis, most of them from the vital, educated middle class, have left for Jordan, Syria or Egypt, many after receiving death threats. “Now I am isolated,” said a middle-class Sunni Arab, who decided to leave. “I have no government. I have no protection from the government. Anyone can come to my house, take me, kill me and throw me in the trash.”
Loss of a functioning health care system. And loss of the public’s health. Deadly infections including typhoid and tuberculosis are rampaging through the country. Iraq’s network of hospitals and health centers, once admired throughout the Middle East, has been severely damaged by the war and looting.
The UN’s World Food Program reported that 400,000 Iraqi children were suffering from “dangerous deficiencies of protein”. Deaths from malnutrition and preventable diseases, particularly amongst children, already a problem because of the 12 years of US-imposed sanctions, have increased as poverty and disorder have made access to a proper diet and medicines ever more difficult.
Thousands of Iraqis have lost an arm or a leg, frequently from unexploded US cluster bombs, which became land mines; cluster bombs are a class of weapons denounced by human rights groups as a cruelly random scourge on civilians, particularly children.
Depleted uranium particles, from exploded US ordnance, float in the Iraqi air, to be breathed into human bodies and to radiate forever, and infect the water, the soil, the blood, the genes, producing malformed babies. During the few weeks of war in spring 2003, A10 “tankbuster” planes, which use munitions containing depleted uranium, fired 300,000 rounds.
And the use of napalm as well. And white phosphorous.
The American military has attacked hospitals to prevent them from giving out casualty figures of US attacks that contradicted official US figures, which the hospitals had been in the habit of doing.
Numerous homes have been broken into by US forces, the men taken away, the women humiliated, the children traumatized; on many occasions, the family has said that the American soldiers helped themselves to some of the family’s money. Iraq has had to submit to a degrading national strip search.
Destruction and looting of the country’s ancient heritage, perhaps the world’s greatest archive of the human past, left unprotected by the US military, busy protecting oil facilities.
A nearly lawless society: Iraq’s legal system, outside of the political sphere, was once one of the most impressive and secular in the Middle East; it is now a shambles; religious law more and more prevails.
Women’s rights previously enjoyed are now in great and growing danger under harsh Islamic law, to one extent or another in various areas. There is today a Shiite religious ruling class in Iraq, which tolerates physical attacks on women for showing a bare arm or for picnicking with a male friend. Men can be harassed for wearing shorts in public, as can children playing outside in shorts.
Sex trafficking, virtually nonexistent previously, has become a serious issue.
Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims have lost much of the security they had enjoyed in Saddam’s secular society; many have emigrated.
A gulag of prisons run by the US and the new Iraqi government feature a wide variety of torture and abuse — physical, psychological, emotional; painful, degrading, humiliating; leading to mental breakdown, death, suicide; a human-rights disaster area.
Over 50,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by US forces since the invasion, but only a very tiny portion of them have been convicted of any crime.
US authorities have recruited members of Saddam Hussein’s feared security service to expand intelligence gathering and root out the resistance.
Unemployment is estimated to be around fifty percent. Massive layoffs of hundreds of thousands of Baathist government workers and soldiers by the American occupation authority set the process in motion early on. Later, many, desperate for work, took positions tainted by a connection to the occupation, placing themselves in grave danger of being kidnapped or murdered.
The cost of living has skyrocketed. Income levels have plummeted.
The Kurds of Northern Iraq evict Arabs from their homes. Arabs evict Kurds in other parts of the country.
Many people were evicted from their homes because they were Baathist. US troops took part in some of the evictions. They have also demolished homes in fits of rage over the killing of one of their buddies.
When US troops don’t find who they’re looking for, they take who’s there; wives have been held until the husband turns himself in, a practice which Hollywood films stamped in the American mind as being a particular evil of the Nazis; it’s also collective punishment of civilians and is forbidden under the Geneva Convention.
Continual bombing assaults on neighborhoods has left an uncountable number of destroyed homes, workplaces, mosques, bridges, roads, and everything else that goes into the making of modern civilized life.
Haditha, Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi … names that will live in infamy for the wanton destruction, murder, and assaults upon human beings and human rights carried out in those places by US forces.
The supply of safe drinking water, effective sewage disposal, and reliable electricity have all generally been below pre-invasion levels, producing constant hardship for the public, in temperatures reaching 115 degrees. To add to the misery, people wait all day in the heat to purchase gasoline, due in part to oil production, the country’s chief source of revenue, being less than half its previous level.
The water and sewage system and other elements of the infrastructure had been purposely (sic) destroyed by US bombing in the first Gulf War of 1991. By 2003, the Iraqis had made great strides in repairing the most essential parts of it. Then came Washington’s renewed bombing.
Civil war, death squads, kidnaping, car bombs, rape, each and every day … Iraq has become the most dangerous place on earth. American soldiers and private security companies regularly kill people and leave the bodies lying in the street; US-trained Iraqi military and police forces kill even more, as does the insurgency. An entire new generation is growing up on violence and sectarian ethics; this will poison the Iraqi psyche for many years to come.
US intelligence and military police officers often free dangerous criminals in return for a promise to spy on insurgents.
Protesters of various kinds have been shot by US forces on several occasions.
At various times, the US has killed, wounded and jailed reporters from Al Jazeera television, closed the station’s office, and banned it from certain areas because occupation officials didn’t like the news the station was reporting. Newspapers have been closed for what they have printed. The Pentagon has planted paid-for news articles in the Iraqi press to serve propaganda purposes.
But freedom has indeed reigned — for the great multinationals to extract everything they can from Iraq’s resources and labor without the hindrance of public interest laws, environmental regulations or worker protections. The orders of the day have been privatization, deregulation, and laissez faire for Halliburton and other Western corporations. Iraqi businesses have been almost entirely shut out though they are not without abilities, as reflected in the infrastructure rebuilding effort following the US bombing of 1991.
Yet, despite the fact that it would be difficult to name a single area of Iraqi life which has improved as a result of the American actions, when the subject is Iraq and the person I’m having a discussion with has no other argument left to defend US policy there, at least at the moment, I may be asked:
“Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is out of power?”
And I say: “No”.
And the person says: “No?”
And I say: “No. Tell me, if you went into surgery to correct a knee problem and the surgeon mistakenly amputated your entire leg, what would you think if someone then asked you: Are you glad that you no longer have a knee problem? The people of Iraq no longer have a Saddam problem.”
And many Iraqis actually supported him.
“Moderation in temper is always a virtue; moderation in principle is always a vice.” Thomas Paine
Recently, Al Gore appeared at a bookstore in downtown Washington signing copies of his new book on environmental concerns, when who should show up on the line of people looking for a signed copy but Ralph Nader. Gore stood up and said: “Nice to see you! How you doing? I’m really so grateful to you for coming by.” After more pleasantries, Gore inscribed the book: “For my friend, Ralph Nader. With respect, Al Gore.”
Two men in line could not resist remarking to Nader that if not for him Gore might have won the election in 2000. “Thanks to you, we had Bush all these years,” said one. “How many are dead in Iraq because of that?” What Nader replied has not been reported.
The idea that Ralph Nader cost the Democrats the 2000 election will likely persist forever, so let me state for all eternity, speaking for myself and for the millions like me: The choice facing us was not Ralph Nader or Albert Gore. The choice facing us was Ralph Nader or not voting at all. If Nader had not been on the ballot, we would have stayed home. The millions who voted for Nader and the millions more who stayed home demanded an inspiring alternative to the Republicans; even a halfway inspiring alternative would have sufficed for most of us. The Democrats did not, and still do not, offer any kind of alternative, particularly on foreign policy. On foreign policy the two major parties are completely indistinguishable. For all intents and purposes, the United States is a one-party state in all but name — the War Party. The occasional minor points of difference which arise are Democratic artificial constructs created for election purposes, and in these cases the Democrats often take a position to the right of their Republican “opponents”, like calling for tougher measures in the war on terrorism or against Iran. This is the case with the Democrats whether we’re speaking of the conservatives amongst them, or the moderates, or the liberals. And this has long been the case. Here is an excerpt from a talk delivered in 1965 by Carl Oglesby, President of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Washington:
The original commitment in Vietnam was made by President Truman, a mainstream liberal.
It was seconded by President Eisenhower, a moderate liberal. It was intensified by the late President Kennedy, a flaming liberal. Think of the men who now engineer that war — those who study the maps, give the commands, push the buttons, and tally the dead: Bundy, McNamara, Rusk, Lodge, Goldberg, the President [Johnson] himself. They are not moral monsters. They are all honorable men. They are all liberals.
Eat the Rich. Share your recipes.
With Bill Gates’s announcement that he’ll be phasing out his day-to-day participation in Microsoft, the media has carried a lot of adulatory stories about the Wunderkind, who became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire at age 31. I do not mean to detract from Gates’s accomplishments when I point out that for him to have become a billionaire just six years after introducing the MS-DOS 1.0 operating system, Microsoft had to be charging a lot more — an awful lot more — for its software than it had to based on the company’s costs.
There are those, enamored by the philosophy, practice, and folklore of free enterprise and rugged individualism, who will declare: “More power to the guy! He deserved every penny of it!”
There are others, enamored by the vision of a more equitable society, who question how the current distribution of property and wealth can reasonably be said to derive from any sort of democratic process. By the 21st century, American society should have evolved beyond two percent with breathtaking wealth and seventy-five percent with a daily struggle for a decent life, including the middle class. In fact, along such lines we’re regressing.
This is almost heresy to many Americans, who are unwilling to tamper with political and economic arrangements, though they have no qualms about meddling with people’s sex lives, women’s bodies, and other moral issues. Greed and selfishness are natural, they insist, and have to be catered to.
But if the system should cater to selfishness because it’s natural, why not cater to aggression which many of the same people claim is natural?
 NPR, “Day to Day”, June 6, 2006
 New York Times, May 19, 2006
 Washington Post, June 16, 2006, p.2
 November 27, 1965, copy of Oglesby’s speech in my possession
William Blum is the author of:
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.
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