George W Bush has condemned Americans to death. I am not talking about the woman whose pleas for clemency produced his sociopathic laughter, I am talking of the thousands who have been and will be killed as a result of his lies.
He is not the only one. Just as culpable is Hillary Rodham Clinton and every Senator and Representative who voted for or supported the invasion of Iraq. Every voter who voted Republican in 2002. And yes, I am afraid that everyone who failed to oppose Bush’s adventure before the War, including those who have now “seen the error of their ways”. Every one of those or you is responsible.
Just like maxing out a credit card, responsiblity has its costs. Unlike financial responsibility, you cannot declare bankruptcy and avoid the responsibility for this war. You cannot run away from it. Your vote, your silence signed the death warrent of every American soldier, every Coalition soldier, every contractor and every Iraqi who has died and will die because you did not challenge Bush’s lies. “Bombing” did not kill them, nor soldier, nor “insurgents”. nor “terrorists”, not even the bacterium in the child’s tainted water that was not boiled away because there was no electricity. Every death, every wound is down to you. Accept your responsibility and accept the debt you owe to your victims.
The china shop principle is well known. You break it, you pay for it. In the case of Iraq the cost will not only have to be repaid in money but in blood and dishonor.
In order to assess what the cost is going to be, let’s first look at the china before it was broken. In the north there was a virtually autonomous state run by a coalition of politcal parties and their militias who were united in their opposition to Saddam. The rest of the country had a relative stability too. In the main cities, the basic infrastructure worked. Hospitals for the majority were chronically but at least there was a good cohort of skilled doctors and a vaccination program was about to start under the auspices of the WHO. Food rations were reasonably accessible. A fairly nasty military dictator (whose actions I will remind you were tolerated by successive US administrations before the invasion of Kuwait) was syphoning off money from the oil-for-food program by manipulating sales vouchers. On the other hand there was a functioning army and police which provided general stability for those who were not Saddam’s political opponents. For most there was a sort of perverse security in that provided you did not express political opposition to Saddam, you were fairly assured of your personal safety. Kurds and the Marsh Arabs did undergo collective punishment by gas bombing or the draining of the marshes but generally Sunni and Shia lived together peacefully.
Let’s be frank, the War did achieve one aim, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein Al-Tikriti. He is currently stroking his beard in court and is after all getting on a bit. We are not likely to again see him reviewing an army marching under that cermonial arch of raised swords. Bush did at least get his ambition of bettering his father. What should now be honestly considering is the very minimum that could be regarded as a successful outcome of the UN and “Iraqi elected government” sanctioned presence of American (and coalition) military personnel. If we accept the “china shop” principle, could we “fix it” after “breaking it”? To see if that is at least a possibility, we have to see where we are now.
The deficiencies in things like the electrity, sewerage and water systems are well known. Maybe instead of statistics we should be looking at the everyday experience of ordinary Iraqis. That’s something we rarely glimpse apart from through the few blogs still written and their authors. The BBC aired on Tuesday the story of a Baghdad emergency room, filmed by one of the doctors who has now fled the country. The hospitals are, you will remember, one sector on which hundreds of millions of US tax dollars have flowed. Mostly into the hands of contractors like Halliburton. The film is in their “This World” strand and if you can access it I urge you to watch it if you can. The viewer is accessed via the link near the top right. If you cannot, a fuller description is available. A lot focusses on the work of a “Doctor Ali” whose one relaxation is to be in the operating theatre of the hospital. At least there he is not afraid of militia, the official security forces or ordinary Iraqis marching into the ER demanding a relative be treated immediately. The doctor filming also went out with the ambulance crews on emergency calls to bombings. One salient point is that in the areas they control, Sadr’s militia is seen as protecting the population more than the police, indeed they are criticised for removing the militia’s checkpoints that stop bombs getting through. Particular harrowing was the mother being reassured that her children were probably OK as they were inside. Only those playing outside had been killed by the bomb. On the way to the hospital this Shia woman screams for her tears for the return of Saddam. At least then you were not constantly afraid of random attack. You may know Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”. This woman reminded me of the lines.
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
” Why brought ye us from bondage,
” Our loved Egyptian night! “
The best summation of the situation though are the words of the doctor/film maker himself.
Despite the daily dose of horror, the doctor says life is not worse at the ER than for anyone else in Baghdad.
“We become immune. Everyone is under threat in Baghdad.”
But despite the dangers, the doctor is not planning to join the exodus of middle-class professionals.
“People don’t know what is going on in Iraq, they can’t hear the Iraqi people screaming. Iraqis need a voice. Making films is a better way of serving my country, of trying to draw people’s attention.”
In formulating policies on further involvement in Iraq it is those screams we should try to hear. As demonstrated in the film through the words of ordinary Iraqis, the westernised politicians appointed by Bush’s much vaunted democratic process are seen increasingly as self-serving kleptocrats. Perhaps it is time to not regard Sadr and his fellow politician/clerics and their militias as the problem but a possible part of the solution.
The best that probably can be aimed for is to leave behind conditions that will allow a speedy return to the situation before the war. The only bright aspect you can console yourself with is that, for the moment, the dams have been breeched and the souther Marshes ae starting to recover.
This is going to be contraversial because it means a new mental approach. Instead of limiting the loss of American lives it becomes necessary to acknowledge that sacrifice and probably at a far, far higher rate than before will be necessary on the part of the Americans before withdrawal merely to reduce the daily death rate among Iraqis. Unless you opposed the war and, dear Democratic members of Congress, voted against it: you agreed to the deaths of Americans in 2006, 2007 and onwards when you failed to properly provide a balance to the Executive in 2003. If you counter argue “we were lied to” I say – you permitted yourself to be lied to. You did not examine the neocon’s case. If you had even bothered to get expert advice, you would not now have the lives of perhaps a million on your conscience – those who have died and those who will die before and after the War as a result of the mess you created. It was your craven populism then that led to the situation now.
A policy of leaving with the intention of saving US lives has inevitable consequences. You are acknowledging what was obvious to all of us who realised the impotence of a convential army, even the size of the US one, to control a hostile population. That surely is the lesson of Israel in Palestine, let alone Lebanon. You may have virtually unlimited nuclear overkill but as I wrote elsewhere before the war as an analogy “Humvees will not go down narrow Iraqi streets”.
If you are not prepared to make ten or a hundred times the sacrifice of US lives lost in Iraq, you cannot use armed force in hegenemistic exploits anywhere. You (I would strongly argue) would conceed that you are spending hundreds of billions each year on a white elephant. The agent of the “New American Century” became impotent in the first couple of years of the millenium. You will therefore have to face up going through the end of Empire before it was even widely acknowledged. Rather than arguing the Republican line that other country’s should “step up to the line” by spending far nearer the propotion of GDP expended by the USA, you should argue that the USA should acknowledge its place as, at most “prima inter pares” and spend nearer the average of, say Chine. Despite the problems of the structural changes involved, this would actually free up money for that great goal of many Democrats, universal health care for every America
(Also posted in Orange)