Saturday, January 22, 2005

Views of the War

A couple of days ago, Bob posted a story on his blog titled "How the Left Betrayed My Country: Iraq", and suggested that it should be required reading for anyone who opposes our presence in Iraq. As one who opposes our presence in Iraq (and, indeed, the whole sorry mess that the invasion has created in the international community), I have it a read. The article states - basically - that the leftist media has it all wrong, and that Iraqis really are grateful that we Americans came and overthrew Saddam. The story opens:

    Before the last war, we Iraqis spent decades cut off from the outside world. Not only did the Baathist regime prevent us from traveling during the Iran-Iraq conflict and the period of the sanctions, but they punished anyone possessing satellite television. And of course, internet access was strictly limited. Because of our isolation, most of us had little idea or sense about life beyond our borders.
I pointed out in Bob's comments that I know for a fact access to the Internet was not as limited as this writer would have us believe, because I read - daily - Iraqi blogs leading up to and during the invasion of Baghdad. And those blogs were saying some pretty anti-Saddam things, but so too were they saying some pretty anti-American things.

Other parts of the article read like a right-wingers wet dream of how they think we lib'ruls are viewed by the Iraqis that greeted us with open arms:
    It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger. They were impossible to reason with. This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed. Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.
Generalizations and questionable sources aside, I don't doubt that there are some Iraqis that feel as this person does, just as there are some - very few, mind you, but some - black people who feel that Alan Keyes rather than Barak Obama represents the views of black Americans.

Through some sort of serendipity, someone at MeFi linked to Baghdad Burning, a blog maintained by a girl in Baghdad. I had read this blog a couple of times last year, but the recent post made after the Bush administration's declaration of "there never were any weapons of mass destruction, hehehe!" is pretty amazing. A few bits include:
    Why does this not surprise me? Does it surprise anyone? I always had the feeling that the only people who actually believed this war was about weapons of mass destruction were either paranoid Americans or deluded expatriate Iraqis- or a combination of both. I wonder now, after hundreds and hundreds of Americans actually died on Iraqi soil and over a hundred-thousand Iraqis are dead, how Americans view the current situation. I have another question- the article mentions a "Duelfer Report" stating the weapons never existed and all the intelligence was wrong. This report was supposedly published in October 2004. The question is this: was this report made public before the elections? Did Americans actually vote for Bush with this knowledge?

    Over here, it's not really "news" in the sense that it's not new. We've been expecting a statement like this for the last two years. While we were aware the whole WMD farce was just a badly produced black comedy, it's still upsetting to hear Bush's declaration that he was wrong. It's upsetting because it just confirms the worst: right-wing Americans don't care about justifying this war. They don't care about right or wrong or innocents dead and more to die. They were somewhat ahead of the game. When they saw their idiotic president wasn't going to find weapons anywhere in Iraq, they decided it would be about mass graves. It wasn't long before the very people who came to 'liberate' a sovereign country soon began burying more Iraqis in mass graves. The smart weapons began to stupidly kill 'possibly innocent' civilians (they are only 'definitely innocent' if they are working with the current Iraqi security forces or American troops). It went once more from protecting poor Iraqis from themselves to protecting Americans from 'terrorists'. Zarqawi very conveniently entered the picture.

    Zarqawi is so much better than WMD. He's small, compact and mobile. He can travel from Falloojeh to Baghdad to Najaf to Mosul… whichever province or city really needs to be oppressed. Also, conveniently, he looks like the typical Iraqi male- dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, medium build. I wonder how long it will take the average American to figure out that he's about as substantial as our previously alleged WMD.

    Now we're being 'officially' told that the weapons never existed. After Iraq has been devastated, we're told it's a mistake. You look around Baghdad and it is heart-breaking. The streets are ravaged, the sky is a bizarre grayish-bluish color- a combination of smoke from fires and weapons and smog from cars and generators. There is an endless wall that seems to suddenly emerge in certain areas to protect the Green Zoners... There is common look to the people on the streets- under the masks of fear, anger and suspicion, there's also a haunting look of uncertainty and indecision. Where is the country going? How long will it take for things to even have some vague semblance of normality? When will we ever feel safe?

    I hope Americans feel good about taking their war on terror to foreign soil. For bringing the terrorists to Iraq- Chalabi, Allawi, Zarqawi, the Hakeems… How is our current situation going to secure America? How is a complete generation that is growing up in fear and chaos going to view Americans ten years from now? Does anyone ask that? After September 11, because of what a few fanatics did, Americans decided to become infected with a collective case of xenophobia… Yet after all Iraqis have been through under the occupation, we're expected to be tolerant and grateful. Why? Because we get more wheat in our diets?

    Terror isn't just worrying about a plane hitting a skyscraper…terrorism is being caught in traffic and hearing the crack of an AK-47 a few meters away because the National Guard want to let an American humvee or Iraqi official through. Terror is watching your house being raided and knowing that the silliest thing might get you dragged away to Abu Ghraib where soldiers can torture, beat and kill. Terror is that first moment after a series of machine-gun shots, when you lift your head frantically to make sure your loved ones are still in one piece. Terror is trying to pick the shards of glass resulting from a nearby explosion out of the living-room couch and trying not to imagine what would have happened if a person had been sitting there.

    The weapons never existed. It's like having a loved one sentenced to death for a crime they didn't commit- having your country burned and bombed beyond recognition, almost. Then, after two years of grieving for the lost people, and mourning the lost sovereignty, we're told we were innocent of harboring those weapons. We were never a threat to America...

    Congratulations Bush- we are a threat now.
Much of this sums up my thoughts on Iraq. Prior to, during, and immediately after the invasion, the invasion was sold as a hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Those who said those weapons didn't exist - like Hans Blix and the UN - were dismissed as being "against us" because they weren't "with us," just tools of a lib'rul machine and opponents of the war on terror. My thought at the time, as it is now, was that Saddam was not a threat to us. The invasion was made under the pretense that he not only possessed weapons of mass destruction, but that he wanted to use them - or at least supply his good buddies in Al-Qaeda with them.

The implied connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda was always fishy at best, because it seemed to be playing into the ignorance of the American public, and a belief that all Muslims (or, all people with Arab ancestry) are alike. I was reminded of this the other day when a friend of a friend joined us at work for some roleplaying. I was discussing the religious implications of my character's ethos, more for giggles than anything else, and I mentioned that all major religions frown upon killing. This guy (who is very nice, and pretty cool regardless of his beliefs) mentioned that Muslims believed that killing nonbelievers was OK. I asked for clarification, and he said that Muslims believe that a nonbeliever is only three-fifths of a person. I told him that I was a religion major in college and had never heard of that, but that I had studied primarily Eastern traditions and might have missed it. It smacked of something that someone might pick up from right-wing talk radio, but I didn't mention that. He repeated the fact, and I shot back that Protestant Christians agreed that non-Whites were three-fifths of a person as well. He didn't understand what I meant, even when I specifically mentioned the three-fifths compromise in American history, he didn't know what I was talking about - even though it was a seminal point of race relations in the United States for over eighty years.

After the war, the conservative rhetoric has shifted from weapons of mass destruction - now strangely absent from Fox News and CNN - to the joy of removing Saddam, a vicious dicator, from power. If you don't agree with the war, the implication goes these days, then you must have wanted Saddam in power and oppressing people! More of that same "if you're not with us, you're against us" that appeals to the lowest common denomenator, and what the original article Bob referenced is built upon.

But taking everything into account - not just how one Iraqi feels, but how many of them feel; the damage the invasion did not only to the war on terror (it has let Al-Qaeda into an area that was formerly off-limits to them); it has wasted US resources; it has distracted from Afghanistan, hunting the Taliban, and killing bin Laden; it turned the international goodwill that existed after 9-11 into almost universal international hatred; the divided nature of the United States right now; and the hundreds of thousands of dead, I have to ask - is it really, really, really worth it? Saddam killed a million people before the first Gulf War. Why didn't we remove him then, if we're so self-righteous? Was he operating death camps at the time of the invasion? What about Indonesia, which was actively oppressing its minorities in East Timor? What about the genocide in Rwanda, which killed as many people in Saddam in a twentieth of the time? What about Milosevich, whom US conservatives said we should not be wasting our time attacking not ten years ago?

The conservative message has been inconsistant and self-serving, when taken over the last fifteen years. It has been nothing but putting their interests over the interests of the United States and the rest of the world. Milosevich should be defended, but Saddam overthrown. Weapons not around? Shift the focus to Saddam.

I oppose the occupation of Iraq, I read the article, and I found it to be quite lacking both in perspective and verisimilitude. It's great that one guy in Iraq is glad we overthrew Saddam - that doesn't change the fact that we have completely destabilized an entire country, created a whole new generation of orphans that will grow up to fill Al Qaeda's ranks in ten years, allowed religious fundamentalism to gain a solid foothold in a formerly secular nation, and engineered a constant hell for the people we liberated.

Am I glad Saddam is gone? Sure, just like that guy. But for fuck's sake, there's so much more at stake here, one tinpot dictator - a relatively minor stain on history - has not been worth the damage we've done. Period.

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