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Iraq, The Forgotten War or “La Guerre N’Est Pas Finie”*

October 2, 2009


An Iraqi friend related how he went to an event at the Lutheran Evangelical Church here in Denver where a slide show was shown suggesting that the US Military in Iraq has morphed into something like the Peace Corps, giving out medical supplies and candy, helping to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. The `presenter’, himself a Lutheran minister, trying to put make up on this corpse, conveniently omitted the role of this same US military in utterly destroying the country and its infra-structure in the first place.

A few days later, over coffee, another friend, committed pacifist involved in refugee issues, told of the woes of Iraqi refugee families here in Denver permitted to enter the US. These Iraqis represent a minuscule percentage of the 2.5-3 million dislocated by the US invasion of Iraq since 2003. Their six month allowances running out, these families are in trouble, with employment on the horizon and nowhere to turn to. And yet, relatively speaking, they’re the lucky ones.

Most of the rest of the displaced Iraqis are rotting – physically and spiritually – in refugee camps in countries neighboring Iraq – Syria, Jordan and Iran. Much like the 750,000 Palestinians sixty years ago expelled from their homes at Israel’s creation, many of this new generation of Middle East refugees, fleeing, this time as a result of a US-made and manufactured war, will have no possibility to return to their homes and former world for decades if ever.

First the Bush Administration and now Obama have left these people out on a limb, with virtually no financial or political support, leaving their fate and the expenses it will entail to the peoples of the Middle East to tidy up. No, it’s not Auschwitz, but it is conscious neglect by the nation who created this refugee crisis in the first place. The human consequences, healthwise and socio-economically, are not difficult to predict. Is there a term `genocide through neglect’? I wonder. Regardless, the consequences will be damaging and far-reaching for the entire region long into the future.And one has to wonder if this was the plan in the first place – to so damage Iraq that it either splinters in little pieces or if not, remains so weak that it will be easy pickings for the US on other core countries to extract as much of their oil for as cheap a price possible.

From this huge, unsettled – and in the US media – largely forgotten population, will undoubtedly emerge another generation of dispossessed and radicalized Arabs seeking justice for historical grievances that much of the world would like to pretend, don’t exist. Whether they grab on to Marx or Osama Bin Laden’s ideology to guide their actions remains to be seen but current realities suggest the latter more than the former.

If, in 1948, the Zionist movement engaged in a ethnic cleansing, cheered on by much of the rest of the world at the time, in Iraq, the United States has perpetrated a more recent variation and on a far larger and crueler scale. Cynical excuses, more accurately referred to as lies, were given for the US invasion of Iraq. First it was argued that the US went to war to eliminate Bagdad’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The excuse shifted to a `crusade’ – the word the little idiot from Texas used – to ride the world of Saddam Hussein, who had been puffed up as the world’s modern-day Hitler. Smelling a rat (or rats), the emerging peace movement in the United States got the war’s rationale just right with their signs `No War For Oil’.

In the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, a million or more Iraqis have died – directly or indirectly – as a direct result of the US-led occupation. The country’s economy has collapsed, pulverized by the invasion and the wanton destruction of the first years of the Occupation itself, Iraq’s social and medical institutions imploded, its previous multi-ethnic character shattered into ethnic enclaves, its future as a nation in jeopardy. But then this makes it easier to control the nation’s extensive oil resources, a fact that drives some in Washington to call for the further dismantling of the Iraqi state itself.

There is more.

Torture – US directed torture sanctioned by the Bush Administration at its highest levels – was made common place in Iraq, mocking former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s claim `The United States doesn’t torture’. Not only does the United States torture, but for decades, at places like the School of the Americas and in CIA training sessions, the US military and its privatized goon squads have long been the experts in the field, not only in the Middle East but beyond. Truth be known, the US tortures to abandon. Everywhere. One might even say that it is an equal opportunity torturer, hardly discriminating by continent, race or ethnic background. Indeed, this country has since World War II trained and perfected torture techniques, some learned from the Nazis, to be used extensively in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Those responsible for torture – and the war itself – have yet to be brought to justice either here in the USA, or internationally. The only difference between how the US has tortured or taught torture elsewhere in the past and how it was done more recently in Iraq is the degree to which the process has been refined and given legal sanction

If the United States lost the war in Vietnam outright, appearances to the contrary, it has, to date, achieved its goals in Iraq: the establishment of permanent military bases in the country and the restructuring and penetration of Iraq’s oil industry as to assure foreign oil companies access for decades to come. The US invasion of Iraq also revealed the lengths to which the United States will go – with the complete contempt for that country’s human rights and social structure – to dominate the world’s oil and natural gas supplies. Remember that this war – and the torture that was such an integral part of it – has had, for the most part, bipartisan support from start to finish. It was, yet another `example war’, a part of a global policy, the beginning of a strategy – which the US military refers to as `full spectrum dominance’ to dominate global oil markets – in the Middle East or elsewhere – and by so doing to prevent the emergence of a new world power – be it China, Brazil, Russia, India or Grenada – from challenging US global hegemony.

And now comes the biggest myth of all: that because the war in Iraq is off the front pages of US newspapers, that it is, in fact, somehow over. Far from it. True, the violence is not at earlier levels. But that could change quickly, and indeed has picked up some in the past month. But virtually nothing has been resolved and there are indications that the situation there could and probably will easily implode.. A shattered country, systematically destroyed, devastated by war and occupation, looted by its occupiers, is not `at peace’ lest it be the peace of the dead.

Although withdrawn to bases – some of which are virtual cities, islands of American weaponry and fast foods in the Middle East – the US Occupation forces remain. There is no indication of any willingness to close these bases down. To the contrary, they about as permanent as any institution in the Middle East. Using the troops and bases as levers, first the Bush and now the Obama Administration pressure the Bagdad government to virtually give away the country’s oil at bargain basement rates, the goal of the invasion and occupation in the first place. Yet, if anything unites this fractured country – it is precisely the desire to see all American forces out and the bases closed.

And yet here in the United States, the anti-war movement to end the US occupation and war against Iraq has shriveled. Iraq is a forgotten war.- as if the US military, that great social hermaphrodite had changed clothes to emerge as the Peace Corps from the War Corps, But it will take a bit more than smiling US Special Forces types giving candy to Iraqi kids to cover the obscenity, the war crimes that the United States has committed since March 2003 (and beforehand if one is to be objective) in Iraq.

If the suffering inflicted on Iraq is geniune, an appreciation of the impact of the US invasion appears to be evaporating. Memory in general and political memory in particular in this country, appears quite ephemeral.

“More than six years after the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq, debate over the conflict is growing ever more muted on American university campuses.” Thus began a piece on a website called `Niquash.Org’ or `Briefings From Inside and Across Iraq’. It goes on to claim, accurately that `today, Iraq no longer commands importance’ [in U.S. universities] and that the once vibrant peace movement is something approaching brain death, or at best in a state of cryonic suspension. Nor is this Iraq apathy limited to the campuses. The broader peace movement has lost much of its dynamism as well on the issue.

Many reasons are cited, some of them repeated almost as mantras. It is important, that those who continue to participate in this movement not overly blame themselves. Without the activism of this country’s peace movement starting well before the US invasion, in all its aspects, it would have been difficult to turn public opinion against the war where it is and has remained for the past three years.. And public opinion did turn decisively against the war, despite the limits of the peace movement here. In the same vein, already, public opinion has turned against the troop build up in Afghanistan. So while not overstating the role of this country’s peace movement, let’s under understate it either and understand that we – and the `we’ here gathers under a broad umbrella – have had an impact, more than we are given credit for. But then we’re never given credit for anything. Just the opposite. In so many ways we’re told our efforts are irrelevant, of no consequence whatsoever and that we might as well go back to smoking dope, having affairs or whatever. Nonsense.

Still, it remains to explain how it is that in a few short years, the Iraq anti-war movement has shrunk so quickly, and by this understanding think about what can be done to rebuild it, for it needs rebuilding. So let us explore some of the factors that have come to play.

– Stephen Walt, quoted in the above article, one of the deans of US foreign policy liberalism, cites `war fatigue’ and the bilateral agreement between Iraq and the US to withdraw US troops as two reasons. Juan Cole, also quoted, unconvincingly suggests that `the power of the U.S. military has been reduced by the protracted conflict in Iraq, limiting U.S. influence’.

– There is the oft – and probably accurately – cited contrast with the Vietnam War in which so many young Americans were drafted. Not true for the US military in Iraq. Not only are fewer Americans drafted these days but after six years of war in Iraq, the casualty figures for US military personnel are much lower than in Vietnam. Those figures were part and parcel for driving the intensity of the Vietnam era peace movement.

But other factors are at work as well:

– The military opposition to the US occupation of Vietnam from the Vietnamese was far more organized and politically united than the Iraqi opposition, which has been divided against itself along ethnic lines. It is a division which the US has greatly encouraged in part to weaken Iraqi resistance and to make it easier for the US to manage and control a fractured country and its oil resources

– What might be referred to as the `Darfur Factor’ also comes into play. It has resulted in a divided peace movement, with significant forces `jumping ship’ from Iraq anti-war activities to concentrate on the civil war, unfolding in Darfur Province of Sudan. I will write about this in detail later; but for now let it suffice to note that where Iraq anti-war committees used to flourish, now `Save Darfur’ committees – well funded and highly organized – have sprouted on college campuses, in synagogues, and among many liberal elements of the Democratic Party, splitting off what might be called the more moderate wing of the peace movement from its more radical elements, leaving the latter somewhat isolated.

The then-growing flood of Iraq anti-war activities slowed to its current trickle.

– I would call the typical liberal Democratic Party opportunism also comes into play here and has been no small factor in the peace movement’s recent decline. Let me explain by way of example. Denver is a classic example of this phenomenon, which was almost universal. A careful look at the record would indicate that most Democratic Party elected politicians here in Colorado – both in the Congress and state legislature (and elsewhere) did not – repeat did not – oppose the war in Iraq during the build up period before the war, or for several years afterwards. They either supported it outright, claiming it was a necessary development in the war on terrorism, bought into the skewed logic that Saddam Hussein was a threat to all humanity or were silent in 2003. It was only when the anti-war forces gained momentum and national polls clearly indicated that public opinion was shifting against the war in 2006 that some of them came out of hiding and appeared, opportunistically at anti-war rallies as happened in Denver and Boulder.

They were – as usual – NOWHERE – when it came to the difficult task of turning the tide, of building a peace movement in a post 9-11 world. This these great liberals left to `their colleagues’ on their left – that often disorganized, bickering, narrowly based yet wonderful mix of anarchists, Marxists, Greens, pacifists and people of color, here and there even a trade unionist – who opposed the war from the outset, who marched and organized and stood on street corners for three years with anti-war signs.

Point: the anti-war movement, small as it was, was not as irrelevant as portrayed. It took three years, but finally the mainstream of this country, pickled in post 9-11 anti-Arab, anti Moslem hysteria, football, cocaine, their personal relationships or lack there of, or the many diversions that make the US the great nation that it is, finally awoke from their stupor – temporarily albeit – but still – to say `NO’ to this war.

It was only at that moment as the Nov. 2006 elections approached, when a movement had been built – and in the building of which these good liberals did not lift a finger – that the Ken Salazars, Mark Udalls, Ken Gordons, Joan Fitzgeralds and Jaris Polises jumped on board and then, for many, only briefly and because they had little choice. These good liberal types – with a nose for what it takes to get elected – understood that without connecting to this rising tide of anti-war public opinion, they could not possibly win elections to higher office. Some of them lost anyhow, a fact which I cannot very much regret. To the most prudent degree possible, our good liberal politicians rode the anti-war wave, sucking that lemon of all its juice for what it was worth, now that it was safe and in many places, almost non-controversial to oppose the war.

But even if some of them had joined the ranks of the marchers, their liberal criticisms were universally tepid. Very few Dennis Kuciniches or Ralph Naders in this country’s political class. To this day, many the same ones who supported going into Iraq in the first place, still deny as `simplistic’ the idea that what drove the US into Iraq is control of Middle East oil. These same folk, pickled in Democratic Leadership Council position papers – never – then or now – actually criticized the immorality of the war. Instead they focused how the war was being conducted as if, had the war been conducted `more professionally’ (a rather frightful prospect), it would have been just fine and dandy to invade Iraq.

How interesting it is that a fair number of those Democratic Party politicians, who, nervously, briefly associated with the Iraq anti-war movement, bolted to the `Save Darfur’ movement as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Much easier to deal with a conflict where the U.S. is not as directly involved in the fighting (as in Darfur) than to confront the stark reality of the crimes against humanity – perhaps genocide is an appropriate term – that the US has committed in Iraq. And now, in bipartisanship with their Republican colleagues, Dems avidly get on the anti-Iran bandwagon, organizing and voting to tighten sanctions against Iran, funding covert actions and supporting Israeli belligence towards that country.

The war in Iraq is far from over; la guerre n’est pas finie. Iraq remains a shattered socially pulverized nation, the responsibility for which lies at the doorstep of the Bush Administration. Let us get back to ending this national disgrace – that which the United States has done in Iraq – as a first step towards an even broader vision – a new Middle East policy.

* – La Guerre Est Finie – wonderful film with Yves Montand

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