“Good News,” Iraq and Beyond

By Noam Chomsky on Feb.16/2008

[…] That Iraq is “a land of ruin and wreck” is not in question.. There is no need to review the facts in any detail. The British polling agency Oxford Research Bureau recently updated its estimate of extra deaths resulting from the war to 1.3 million – that’s excluding Karbala and Anbar provinces, two of the worst regions. Whether that is correct, or the true numbers are much lower as some claim, there is no doubt that the toll is horrendous. There are several million internally deplaced. Thanks to the generosity of Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees fleeing the wreckage of Iraq, including most of the professional classes, have not been simply wiped out. But that welcome is fading, for one reason because Jordan and Syria receive no meaningful support from the perpetrators of the crimes in Washington and London; the idea that they might admit these victims, beyond a trickle, is too outlandish to consider. Sectarian warfare has devastated the country. Baghdad and other areas have been subjected to brutal ethnic cleansing and left in the hands of warlords and militias, the primary thrust of the current counterinsurgency strategy developed by General Petraeus, who won his fame by pacifying Mosul, now the scene of some of the most extreme violence.

One of the most dedicated and informed journalists who has been immersed in the shocking tragedy, Nir Rosen, recently published an epitaph entitled “The Death of Iraq,” in Current History. He writes that “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century” – a common perception of Iraqis as well. “Only fools talk of `solutions’ now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”

Though the wreckage of Iraq today is too visible to try to conceal, the assault of the new barbarians is carefully circumscribed in the doctrinal system so as to exclude the horrendous effects of the Clinton sanctions – including their crucial role in preventing the threat that Iraqis would send Saddam to the same fate as Ceasescu, Marcos, Suharto, Chun, and many other monsters supported by the US and UK until they could no longer be maintained. Information about the effect of the sanctions is hardly lacking, in particular about the humanitarian phase of the sanctions regime, the oil-for-peace program initiated when the early impact became so shocking that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had to mumble on TV that the price was right whatever the parents of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi children might think. The humanitarian program, which graciously permitted Iraq to use some of its oil revenues for the devastated population, was administered by highly respected and experienced UN diplomats, who had teams of investigators all over the country and surely knew more about the situation in Iraq than any other Westerners. The first, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest because the policies were “genocidal.” His successor, Hans von Sponeck, resigned two years later when he concluded that the sanctions violated the Genocide Convention. The Clinton administration barred him from providing information about the impact to the Security Council, which was technically responsible. As Albright’s spokesperson James Rubin explained, “this man in Baghdad is paid to work, not to speak.”

Von Sponeck does, however, speak; in extensive detail in his muted but horrifying book A Different Kind of War. But the State Department ruling prevails. One will have to search diligently to find even a mention of these revelations or what they imply. Knowing too much, Halliday and von Sponeck were also barred from the media during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.

It is true, however, that Iraq is now a marginal issue in the presidential campaign. That is natural, given the spectrum of hawk-dove elite opinion. The liberal doves adhere to their traditional reasoning and attitudes, praying that the hawks will be right and that the US will win a victory in the land of ruin and wreck, establishing “stability,” a code word for subordination to Washington’s will. By and large hawks are encouraged, and doves silenced, by the good news about Iraq.

And there is good news. The US occupying army in Iraq (euphemistically called the Multi-National Force-Iraq) carries out regular studies of popular attitudes, a crucial component of population control measures. In December 2007, it released a study of focus groups, which was uncharacteristically upbeat. The survey “provides very strong evidence” that national reconciliation is possible and anticipated, contrary to prevailing voices of hopelessness and despair. The survey found that a sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups . . . and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis.” This discovery of “shared beliefs” among Iraqis throughout the country is “good news, according to a military analysis of the results,” Karen de Young reported in the Washington Post (Dec. 19).

The “shared beliefs” were identified in the report. To quote de Young, “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of `occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.” So according to Iraqis, there is hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, who are responsible for the internal violence, withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis.

The conclusions are credible, consistent with earlier polls, and also with the apparent reduction in violence when the British finally withdrew from Basra a few months ago, having “decisively lost the south – which produces over 90 per cent of government revenues and 70 per cent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves” by 2005, according to Anthony Cordesman, the most prominent US specialist on military affairs in the Middle East.

The December 2007 report did not mention other good news: Iraqis appear to accept the highest values of Americans, which should be highly gratifying. Specifically, they accept the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal that sentenced Nazi war criminals to hanging for such crimes as supporting aggression and preemptive war – the main charge against Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, whose position in the Nazi regime corresponded to that of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. The Tribunal defined aggression clearly enough: “invasion of its armed forces” by one state “of the territory of another state.” The invasion of Iran and Afghanistan are textbook examples, if words have meaning. The Tribunal went on to define aggression as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”: in the case of Iraq, the murderous sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing, the destruction of the national culture and the irreplaceable treasures of the origins of Western civilization under the eyes of “stuff happens” Rumsfeld and his associates, and every other crime and atrocity as the inheritors of the Mongols have followed the path of imperial Japan.

Since Iraqis attribute the accumulated evil of the whole primarily to the invasion, it follows that they accept the core principle of Nuremberg. Presumably, they were not asked whether their acceptance of American values extended to the conclusion of the chief prosecutor for the United States, US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who forcefully insisted that the Tribunal would be mere farce if we do not apply its principles to ourselves.

Needless to say, US elite opinion, shared with the West generally, flatly rejects the lofty American values professed at Nuremberg, indeed regards them as bordering on obscene. All of this provides an instructive illustration of some of the reality that lies behind the famous “clash of civilizations.”

A January poll by World Learning/Aspen Institute found that “75 percent of Americans believe U.S. foreign policy is driving dissatisfaction with America abroad and more than 60 percent believe that dislike of American values (39 percent) and of the American people (26 percent) is also to blame.” The perception is inaccurate, fed by propaganda. There is little dislike of Americans, and dissatisfaction abroad does not derive from “dislike of American values,” but rather from acceptance of these values, and recognition that they are rejected by the US government and elite opinion.

Other “good news” had been reported by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker during the extravaganza staged on 9/11. Perhaps we should call the commander “Lord Petraeus,” in the light of the reverence displayed by the media and commentators on this occasion. Parenthetically, only a cynic might imagine that the timing was intended to insinuate the Bush-Cheney claims of links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, so that by committing the “supreme international crime” they were defending the world against terror – which increased sevenfold as a result of the invasion, according to an analysis by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, using data of the government-linked Rand corporation.

Petraeus and Crocker provided figures to show that the Iraqi government had greatly accelerated spending on reconstruction, reaching a quarter of the funding set aside for that purpose. Good news indeed — until it was investigated by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the actual figure was one-sixth what Petraeus and Crocker reported, a 50 percent decline from the preceding year.

More good news is the decline in sectarian violence, attributable in part to the success of the ethnic cleansing that Iraqis blame on the invasion; there are simply fewer people to kill in the cleansed areas. But it is also attributable to Washington’s decision to support the tribal groups that had organized to drive out Iraqi al-Qaeda, to an increase in US troops, and to the decision of the Mahdi army to stand down and consolidate its gains – what the press calls “halting aggression.” By definition, only Iraqis can commit aggression in Iraq (or Iranians, of course).

It is not impossible that Petraeus’s strategy might approach the success of the Russians in Chechnya, where fighting is now “limited and sporadic, and Grozny is in the midst of a building boom” after having been reduced to rubble by the Russian attack, C.J. Chivers reports in the New York Times, also on September 11. Perhaps some day Baghdad and Falluja too will enjoy “electricity restored in many neighborhoods, new businesses opening and the city’s main streets repaved,” as in booming Grozny. Possible, but dubious, in the light of the likely consequence of creating warlord armies that may be the seeds of even greater sectarian violence, adding to the “accumulated evil” of the aggression.

If Russians rise to the moral level of liberal intellectuals in the West, they must be saluting Putin’s “wisdom and statesmanship” for his achievements in Chechnya.

A few weeks after the Pentagon’s “good news” from Iraq, New York Times military-Iraq expert Michael Gordon wrote a reasoned and comprehensive review of the options on Iraq policy facing the candidates for the presidential election. One voice is missing: Iraqis. Their preference is not rejected. Rather, it is not worthy of mention. And it seems that there was no notice of the fact. That makes sense on the usual tacit assumption of almost all discourse on international affairs: we own the world, so what does it matter what others think? They are “unpeople,” to borrow the term used by British diplomatic historian Mark Curtis in his work on Britain’s crimes of empire – very illuminating work, therefore deeply hidden. Routinely, Americans join Iraqis in un-peoplehood. Their preferences too provide no options. […..]     READ FULL ARTICLE


One response to ““Good News,” Iraq and Beyond

  1. Andrew Williams

    There is an error at the start of this article which has been corrected on the Znet website accessed by clicking on READ FULL ARTICLE.
    It is not Oxford Research Bureau, it is Opinion Research Business, whose website can be accessed and details of their survey method examined. The number they give (also corrected on the Znet site) is 1.03 million not 1.3 million. As the author states, some claim the true no. of casulaties is lower, however as he points out, some of the most dangerous areas are left out of the survey, as they were in a previous survey by Les Roberts et al. published in the Lancet. So it is quite feasible that the no. of casulaties is higher. The reason why the number of casualties listed on the Iraq Body Count website is much lower is because many dead are excluded from the count because the confirmation of death is not often possible. This is examined in the Lancet study.

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