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When It Became Their Fault

By Joseph Grosso

26 December, 2006

One of the more vulgar turns discourse over Iraq has taken over the past year is the bi-partisan, self-righteous way the bloody debacle is blamed almost entirely on the Iraqi people. The near universal sentiment, from California democrat Barbara Boxer to neocon Charles Krauthammer, is one of ungrateful, incapable Iraqis spurning generous American assistance.

As usual at the forefront of reactionary enthusiasm is Bill O’Reilly, surely as big a legend in his own mind as can be, on his radio show on June 17th responding to an AP poll that found only 2 percent of Iraqis view American troops as liberators. O’Reilly stated:

When 2 percent of the population feels that you’re doing them a favor, just forget it; you’re not going to win… And I don’t have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think they’re a prehistoric group that is…And this teaches us a big lesson, that we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them….

While one would expect a nativist, conservative loudmouth like O’Reilly to express such banter, some may be slightly surprised to read a more eloquent version by Thomas Friedman in the NY Times on November 8th. Surveying what he feels are the remaining options for the U.S. in Iraq, “tolerable” stability over democracy or “awful” ciaos after a U.S. withdrawal, Friedman writes:

A U.S. withdrawal under such conditions would be messy and shameful. But when people are that intent on killing each other, there’s not much we can do. As badly as we’ve performed in Iraq, what Iraqis have done to each other, and the little that other Muslims have done to stop them, is an even bigger travesty.

Friedman does try to see some specks of light in the darkness by speculating that Syria and Iran would be on different sides of a Sunni-Shiite civil war and envisioning $80 a barrel oil “That would mean more people buying hybrid cars and investing in alternative energy, so that we end our dependence on this region sooner.”

Friedman’s disgust with “this region”, and his expressed concern for its lack of democracy, is odd considering his lack of emphasis on undemocratic nature of American statecraft. The still barely spoken secret in the mainstream media is that from the CIA backed coup that destroyed Iranian democracy and brought the Shah to power, to decades long support for dictatorship in Egypt, to its Faustian bargain with the House of Saud, to the annual billions of dollars given to Israel, American policy towards the Middle East remains consistently undemocratic.

The American record in Iraq wouldn’t read a whole lot better- Iraq itself being, along with Central Africa, one of the more toxic products of European imperialism. The dirty list of American policies would include support for the coup that brought the Sunni dominated Baath Party to power, support for Saddam’s war against Iran, numerous sell-outs of the Shiites and Kurds, a war that confirmed the Baath Party in power followed by a decade long sanctions regime that killed countless thousands while strengthening a ruthless dictator, and an arrogant, sloppy invasion and occupation.

The spectacularly banal Maureen Dowd, in her New York Times November 15th column, criticizes the neocons for selling their war on two big lies: “that Saddam had W.M.D. and that the Iraqis were yearning for democracy.” The first of these is now long exposed; however what are we to make of the second? Does Dowd mean to imply that Iraqis are culturally undemocratic, part of a larger region too inherently retarded for genuine democracy- or perhaps too masochistically accustomed to being oppressed, as if more than a half-century totalitarian rule and Western policy of the most heinous kind isn’t a recipe for chaotic explosions. Should such logic be that far removed from a Times columnist?

With the long overdue sacking of Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary coupled with the dreadful return of the realpolitiks, including the news from Bob Woodward that Kissinger himself is frequently advising the White House, one shudders to think of the sort atrocities and sell-outs that may unfold in Iraq by way of Kissinger, Gates, and company. Even with the Iraq Study Group somewhat discredited, one still fears the recent media attention surrounding Pinochet’s death will only serve as a further reminder to the glorious potential of a cooperative, economically obedient strong-man.

It’s at least a very decent bet that as the Bush Administration winds down into the night all the talk of spreading democracy will be trumped by the age old obsessive need for “stability”, that our government will continue to play the patron to dictatorships from Egypt to Pakistan, and while some of the democracy rhetoric will be heard, American policy will continue to make sure that all possible obstructions will be placed in the way of democracy’s advancement justified with the supposedly now tested, whispered regret that “they” are not ready. If that’s the case citizens of countries throughout the region will have to continue to fester under an unjust status quo confirmed by American power.

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