"A well-organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves."
Tony Judt (1948-2010)
(Swans - August 9, 2010) To the general indifference of the American public President Obama announced on August 2, 2010, that the war would come to a "responsible end" by August 31, thus honoring his predecessor's Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqi government in November 2008. While taking undeserving credit for the decision Mr. Obama was by and large being deceitful since some 50,000 combat troops will remain in Iraq for years to come, simply "re-missioned" as "trainers" for the Iraqi security forces and able to engage in "counterterrorism" operations. Counting, in addition, the thousands of security contractors (mercenaries) that will remain employed by the state department, one can easily predict that the occupation and disguised combat missions will continue unabated in the future. Predictably, Mr. Obama hailed the valorous troops of the US military who through their courage and sacrifice accomplished their mission (hello, Mr. Bush!) with panache, thus bringing "success" to the 7.5-year adventure. But his definition of success was rather spare, almost quaint. It reminded of another famous warrior who once said, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is." So what's the meaning of success? The answer, of course, depends upon the respondent's frame of reference. A general who won another star, like Gen. McChrystal did, and can retire at 55 with an annual income of $181,416 before getting into the juicy business of lobbying on behalf of a defense contractor and landing a job as an expert on whatever TV network, will have a different perspective than Joe Schmuck. So it will of Israelophiles, members of Think-Tank City, and anyone having a stake in our war economy -- the cui bono happy few. The vast majority, glad to be told to go to Disneyland and shop at the Mall, until 2008 when luck ran out, were gung-ho on the war since kicking ass is a favorite sport of the American experience, and sipping the Kool Aid elixir amply supplied by the duopoly of government and corporate interests keeps them in line with the official narrative. It leaves a tiny bunch to focus on reality-based facts in order to render a sane, or as sane as possible, opinion in an effort to measure "success" -- and that's before even posing the question to those who have been the most affected by the war, the Iraqis.
As is customary in the Western world's materialistic approach to measurements, epitomized by the US way of doing things through cost-benefit analyses and accounting ledgers, opinioned estimations have concentrated on blood and treasure -- how many lives and casualties have been taken (only counting the "good" ones) and how much it has cost. However, the highest toll of this war, which cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents, or human lives, has been not only obscured and ignored, but also obviated from social and cultural awareness. After all, in a country with no history -- or at best a mythologically-constructed short one -- and an uncertain, cloudy, and fearful future, filled with daily celebrity noises and neck-of-the-woods mayhem, unreal, violent video games, porn stunts, to-the-core corrupted intelligentsia, and amnesia due to ignorance, the past matters not.
The Cultural Destruction of the Cradle of Civilization
Upon invading Iraq, former president Bush vowed to preserve the patrimony of the Iraqi people for their future benefits -- and, indeed, he kept his word. Upon taking over Baghdad in early April 2003, the US military dispatched troops to protect oil fields around the country and the oil ministry. But there was another patrimony that, due to either cultural unawareness or lack of military personnel and other priorities, was entirely ignored: 6,000 years of history. In the fog of war and the state of anarchy that engulfed the country when the Iraqi government fell, that history was crushed and plundered. The National Museum in Baghdad was looted as well as all the other 12 museums in the country. In the ongoing weeks, months, and years, 10,000 archeological sites have been looted. Between 400 and 600,000 pieces have disappeared. In the ancient city of Babylon, home to Kings Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC), the US military set up a camp that destroyed or contaminated large swaths of the archeological site. A 2,600-year-old brick road was devastated by heavy equipment. Sandbags were filled with crushed ancient bricks. In the Sumerian city of Ur (just about 6,000 years old), next to its old ziggurat, a huge air base was built with two runways and 350,000 square feet of various facilities, including two junk-food restaurants, leveling the entire area with dirt and cement, thus obliterating thousands of years of human history. These destructions were repeated all over Mesopotamia (Greek for "land between the rivers"), and prompted the World Monuments Fund to place the entire country on its list of the most endangered sites in 2005.
Equally looted and heavily damaged, when not entirely destroyed, were hospitals, universities, schools, ministries, etc. Worse still, the national library system was overwhelmingly burned down. The National Library and Archive in Baghdad lost "an estimated 60 percent of its total archival materials, 25 percent of its books, newspapers, rare books, and most of its historical photographs and maps" (Wikipedia). In Basra, the second most populated city in Iraq, the National Library was burnt down to ashes in its entirety, simply incinerated to the ground. According to several estimates, over 10 million ancient and rare books, manuscripts, and periodicals have been lost to human history.
Imagine the entire Library of Congress, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, or the British Library, being incinerated for lack of interest, political indifference, and other priorities of a more materialistic order... How would people react? (Perhaps, sadly, they would not care as they are much too preoccupied with their iPods, iPads, iWhatevers, ever seeking their alter egos on Facebook, twittering nonsense about nonsensical people, themselves included, and watching YouTube videos of the latest nothingness hitting the TV screen.)
Resources on the cultural destruction of the cradle of civilization [the article continues below]:
The Smash of Civilizations, by Chalmers Johnson and Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch, July 8, 2005. (If you have little time this is the one piece to read.)
Babylonian treasures damaged by coalition troops, by Will Knight, New Scientist, January 17, 2005.
Iraq's libraries: what recovery from "a national disaster beyond imagination"? by Sandy English, WSWS.org, September 17, 2005.
Babylon wrecked by war, by Rory McCarthy in Baghdad, and Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, January 15, 2005.
The Destruction of an Entire People
The Iraqi population used to be largely integrated under the secular Ba'ath party with its 75 percent Arab majority and minorities like Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmens, Armenians, etc. The predominant religions were Islam (95%, of which about 65% was Shia and 35% Sunni) and Christianity (Assyrians and Armenians). The various communities intermingled in Baghdad and other large cities in which families mixed together and marriages between Shiites and Sunnis were not infrequent. The society had a large professional middle class and women's rights were known to be the most extensive in the Middle East (though far behind Israel). The country operated in relative freedom with a major exception: political dissent was not tolerated and opponents to the regime were either eliminated physically or forced to emigrate. The situation worsened in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the crippling sanctions regime.
But that situation was dramatically shattered in the wake of the 2003 invasion and occupation. In May 2003, the US presidential envoy and administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, issued the order to remove all members of the Ba'ath Party that were in the fallen government and in the Iraqi army (the "de-Ba'athification" of the society modeled on the de-Nazification of Germany after WWII, and also used in the Balkans). Bremer further ordered the disbandment of the entire Iraqi army, as he proceeded to privatize an economy that had been centralized for decades. Mayhem ensued. With no more central power and army, the minority Sunni that had been in power faced the majority Shia that organized itself among religious militias. The fractionalization of the country among its three main components (Shia, Sunni, Kurd) turned for the worse and led to the ethnic/religious cleansing of the entire population. The professional class was violently targeted, which led to a rapid emigration. It is estimated that at least 40 percent of the educated middle class fled the country. In addition, almost 1.9 million Iraqis were internally displaced and another 2 million fled, mostly to Syria and Jordan. The small Christian minority has practically disappeared and the mixed communities no longer exist -- a kind of Bosnia redux with the Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslim Bosnians, or for that matter, the repetition of what happened in Kosovo. (To this very day, sectarian killings continue in Iraq.)
This age-old strategy to divide and conquer has destroyed the fabric of Iraqi society and parceled the county into sectarian fiefs. What a success, indeed!
The Destruction of an Entire Infrastructure
After the 1991 Gulf War in which the US air force deliberately targeted water-treatment, sewer, and electrical plants, and in spite of a decade of crippling sanctions, the much-demonized regime managed to rebuild and provide potable water and electricity to its people (with recurring brief shortages). At the time of the invasion in 2003, the residents of Baghdad enjoyed between 16 and 24 hours of electric power a day. Seven years later, in July 2010, these residents -- or those who remain in their now-walled and sectarian enclaves -- had only five hours of electricity a day on average (according to a report from The New York Times).
Raw sewage litters the streets. Potable water is a luxury. Hospitals remain in worse condition than in the pre-invasion period. The children of Fallujah experience the highest rate of cancer and birth deformities in the world, courtesy of DU, white phosphorous, and other killing ingredients the U.S. brought to bear. Roads and bridges are in disrepair, except those used by the US military, to and from Kuwait, to resupply the troops. Schools, with the exception of a few Potemkin-like carton mâché constructions, built for Western journalists so that they can report on the idyllic conditions of the local children thanks to the generosity of their American benefactors, are so sparse that fewer pupils are enrolled than before the invasion -- and those schools too have become totally "sectarianized" along ethnic and religious lines. Housing is so sparse that entire tent cities have been mushrooming all over the country. Even gasoline, in a country that possesses some of the largest oil deposits in the world, is rationed so that the oil can find its way to Western ports. Current oil production is lower than in pre-invasion times.
Another great success of the adventure in Iraq based on a web of lies.
The Destruction in Blood and Treasure
On September 11, 2001, 2,976 people died in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. By the end of July 2010, 4,741 Americans and members of the coalition of the willing had died in Iraq and over 40,000 had become casualties, many maimed for life -- and this does not account for the death and casualties of "security contractors." Nor does it account for the almost 2,000 killed in Afghanistan. And, of course, it does not account for the other side, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc. In Iraq alone, depending on various estimates, from 100,000 to over 1 million were slaughtered for no reason but the decisions made in Washington.
One need not work the ratio. It's so overwhelming that it defies rationality. Choices were made in the highest echelons of governance that reminded of the annihilation of the Indian nations in times past. The superior tribe -- white, materialistic -- must prevail at all costs.
And this latest, but not last, subjugation of the natives has come at a cost in the trillions of dollars, which the American "superior civilization" will bear for years, or generations, to come while all social services are being slashed drastically in the jobless economy (but don't worry, the initiators of that mayhem are making a bundle through speeches, book contracts, lobbying, board memberships, etc.).
So here is a country -- whose regime had nothing to do with 9/11 and al Qaeda, a country that had no nuclear and chemical programs or Weapons of Mass Destruction -- that has literally been pulverized. If utter destruction was the goal of the entire enterprise, then one must conclude that indeed it has been an unmitigated success. Not surprisingly the Iraqis do not think that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein; they who have born the heaviest price for this criminal war.
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