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The US Obligation to Iraq

Here’s the situation. For whatever mixed motives, the US deposed one of the world’s outstanding dictators. That’s the good news.

There is no other good news. The US did not and does not fulfill its obligations as an occupier to keep order. The US never fulfilled its obligations as an occupier to count the dead among the occupied. And that’s just the beginning.

For a range of mixed motives, the US exacerbated ethnic and sectarian tensions. It turned reconstruction into a boondoggle for US corporations, increasing the delapidation that grew during Saddam’s last years, which was also partly caused by US actions. It installed a puppet government, and ghost wrote laws and a puppet constitution in Washington D.C. (Juan Cole, Informed Comment and links on that site covers all this in detail. E. g. summary of some issues here. Riverbend is an interesting source “on the ground.” An example of the curious way the US spent money, way back in August 2003.)

The biggest bone of contention is, of course, who gets the money from the oil. Much noise is made about the need to pass the new Oil Law that divides the revenues from oil fairly among all Iraqis. Less noise is made about the fact that the “fair” part applies to the 20% of known reserves which are currently in production. The other 80% would be “opened to foreign investment.” The Iraqis rightly read this as “handed to Anglo oil companies.” Even some in the puppet government have balked at enabling such an obvious rip-off.

As the country spirals into warring theocratic thuggeries, the US starts making noises about how the Iraqis really need to get their act together and start governing themselves properly. The US can’t keep helping them forever. (For example)

Does anybody here in the US have a clue how insulting that is? Does anybody have a clue that adding insult to injury makes the crime ten times worse?

(Yeah, I know. Dumb question.)

Okay, so the US does one good thing, and then plunges Iraq into a far worse state than it found the place, even including the dictator. Now they’re trying to put all the blame, instead of a smallish and deserved proportion, for this state of affairs on the Iraqis.

So far, it’s the usual pig’s breakfast that the US makes in world affairs. But the country’s claim to fame has always been that they meant well. The messes are just a mistake.

If that’s true, the messes have to be sorted back out.

In Colin Powell’s pithy words, we broke it, we fix it. We cannot do anything else without being guilty of another huge crime against a whole people.

But we can’t fix it.

Nobody in Iraq wants to see another American again, so Americans can’t help by sending people. Nor can they help in any aspect of planning or control, because the US seems unable to stop itself from trying to turn everything into a US corporate profit center.

That leaves money. The only way the US can help is by funding the effort, an effort that has to be run totally by others.

A grouping of nations acceptable to Iraqis would have to help keep order until things had calmed down enough to have a civil society. That would be very expensive. The UN or an equivalent organization would have to do what was necessary over a period of years to prevent corruption and to enable Iraqis to decide their affairs without the input of thugs, theocratic or otherwise, and with the real input of the majority, i.e. women and other disenfranchised groups. That would also be very expensive.

In justice, the US must pay. In reality … what are the chances of that?

Even progressives talk about American withdrawal in the context of cutting (American!) losses. (E.g. here discussing that withdrawal entails radically lower cost. To whom? It won’t make much difference to the price paid by Iraqis.) Not even progressives talk much about the staggering Iraqi losses that, proportionally, dwarf ours in terms of deaths, psychological damage, social damage, infrastructure damage, economic damage, and every single kind of damage I can think of.

However, that’s all supposed to be a regrettable error. It’s not really us. It’s just a few bad apples or presidents or whatever.

In that case, why does it keep happening? The US has been doing horrific things over and over again. Atomic bombs dropped on civilian populations. Installation of dictatorships, or enabling them, around the world. Military adventures in other countries. These things cause millions of people to die. At some point, saying “Oopsie” no longer makes it all better.

The fact that we’re killing people with our eyes closed also doesn’t make it better. The Germans, when they were working at exterminating Jews, are famous for having kept detailed records, proving that they knew exactly what they were doing. There aren’t any words adequate for that horrific crime. But killing people without records, without even really noticing that it’s being done, doesn’t make it any better. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. It’s only toddlers who can make things disappear by closing their eyes. In our world, the people are just as dead. Whole countries are just as destroyed.

If we want to go on believing that it was all just a terrible mistake, we have to put our actions where our mouth is. The US has no national identity, no single culture, no cohesion except for a shared belief that justice matters. If we lose that, we have nothing. That’s why it’s not just some impractical, starry-eyed ideal to start doing what’s right, as well as talking about it. That’s why we have to do everything to correct the mistake. Even if it’s something as crushingly awful as a fifty-cent per gallon fuel tax. That’s probably all it would take.

But what, as I say, are the chances of that?

Which means we’ve joined the ranks of all the other mass murdering empires of history. Although many Americans are convinced that refusing to see it is enough to disappear it.