Blaming the victims: those bad Iraqis

Iraq_violence_2By Robert Silvey

Everyone’s looking for someone to blame for Iraq. Republican warmakers are especially desperate: their latest scapegoat is those bad Iraqis and the incompetent government they foolishly chose after George Bush granted them the wonders of democracy. Ungrateful wretches! We may have to give up on them!

The odious Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, trotted out this new line yesterday on CNN:

The Iraqi government is a huge disappointment.…

So far, they’ve not been able to do anything they promised on the political side. The oil revenue bill, not passed. Local elections, not passed. The de-Baathification effort, not passed. It’s a growing frustration.

Republicans overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government.…

I don’t know what their problem is but this country has made an enormous investment in giving the Iraqis a chance to have a normal government after all of these years of Saddam Hussein and his atrocities.

McConnell certainly wouldn’t want to point a finger at anyone who started the war or failed to provide security or tortured innocent victims or killed noncombatants. American atrocities? Does not compute. Cognitive dissonance. Oxymoron. So McConnell is paving the way for guiltless departure: “I want to assure you, if they vote to ask us to leave, we’ll be glad to comply with their request.” Bad, bad Iraqis.

The people of Iraq did not choose to be ruled by Saddam Hussein, and most of them were certainly happy when he was defeated. After that, not so much. Those fingers of blame should be pointing directly at the American leaders who ignited civil war and created chaos:

  • 800,000 Iraqis killed. The Lancet cluster sample survey—published last year by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Baghdad’s Al Mustansiriya University—estimated that about 655,000 Iraqis died as a result of the war from March 2003 to July 2006, an average of 533 per day. At the same rate of excess mortality (an optimistic assumption), the toll is now probably over 800,000.
  • One in eight Iraqi children killed. The child mortality rate in Iraq has increased by 150 percent since 1990, as a result of two wars, intervening sanctions, and the occupation. Save the Children reports: “Some 122,000 Iraqi children died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of these deaths were among newborn babies in the first month of life.” Tony Blair actually justified the invasion on the basis of child deaths caused by sanctions. The statistics are now even worse.
  • Two million refugees and 1.7 million internally displaced persons. The total population of Iraq is about 27 million; 7.4 percent have fled the country, and 6.3 percent have had to move within Iraq. Equivalent disruption in the United States would affect 40 million Americans. The middle class is especially affected: about 40 percent have left Iraq. The US has admitted a grand total of 68 Iraqi refugees in the last seven months.

Republicans like McConnell are so averse to accepting responsibility for these atrocities that they have begun to blame the victims. Burn down someone’s house, take away his job, kill his first-born, and then accuse him of insufficient alacrity in creating a new life. That’s the Republican bootstrap way.

Unfortunately, I hear hints of such displaced guilt in the statements of some Democrats too. There is no need for such moral calisthenics. It’s time for all Americans to accept our share of the blame, pledge billions for real reconstruction, and leave Iraq. Now.

[Cross-posted at Rubicon]

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5 replies »

  1. Thank you, Robert.

    Of course, you’ll be labled anti-American for even daring to think that the United State’s actions could possibly ever be less than divinely ordained.

  2. I don’t disagree with this, but you are letting Democrats off a bit easy. Also, the sectarian political leadership in Iraq has failed the Iraqis; they don’t deserve to be let off the hook, either. Those who honestly care about the plight of the Iraqis should not fall into the trap of knee-jerk guilt-mongering. We have a duty to squarely confront the reality and not only oppose imperialism (and let’s be honest and call this by its true name — this is an imperialist war), but seek ways to constructively solidarize with those Iraqis struggling for a better future.

    In this regard, I think the US left has a duty to solidarize with their struggle, and it is not living up to that duty. The Iraq Freedom Congress is a coalition of trade unionists, secular leftists, and women’s rights activists that is trying to build a non-violent civil resistance against both the occupation and sectarian conflict. They deserve solidarity from activists in the US; they’ve gotten very little.

    Some activists have declared support. US labor activists are doing important solidarity work in support of Iraqi workers. Also, some labor activists in the US have established a US chapter of the Iraq Freedom Congress with the goal of bringing “the antiwar movement from a negative outlook (against the war) to that of a positive, productive one (for a democratic Iraq)”. This is the direction that all true opponents of the imperialist war should be moving.

    Calling for the US government to “pledge billions for real reconstruction” effectively amounts to a call for the imperialists to offer even more sweetheart deals for Haliburton and other corporate friends of the administration. I think it is far more constructive for civil society organizations and individuals to stop fixating purely on the US side of the equation and reach out in constructive ways to solidarize witht those Iraqis who are appealing for such solidarity.

    The US left is too myopically focused on what US political leaders do. Every great social movement in history that has succeeded did so by mobilizing and engaging the populace, building mass civil society organizations and movements that forced the leadership from below to act, and held them to account when they did not. We should not leave it to “our” imperialist government to be our representatives and agents on the world stage. We can and should bypass the government and solidarize with those in Iraq who are trying to build a healthy civil society to defend the interests of the Iraqi people.

    That’s my unqualified opinion on the matter.

  3. Jim, I share your hope. Sadly for our optimism, as you no doubt know, there are six million more poor people in America than there were six years ago. So they may have already started.

    Mike, you are certainly correct that this is an imperialist war. Have you read Chalmers Johnson’s latest, Nemesis? Excellent! I don’t mean to let off either the Democrats or the sectarian leadership of Iraq, and I certainly applaud the work of US labor activists who have found allies among Iraqis, as I applaud your desire to connect with individual Iraqis. In this post, however, I am focusing on the principal villains, the imperialist Bush administration, with its simplistic, Manichean policies and feckless, Machiavellian strategies. So I see no place for any beneficial American presences in Iraq for several decades, and when I call for billions for real reconstruction, I mean to say that the money must be funneled through international or local (for now, only nongovernmental) organizations.

    Brian, as we used to say in protesting the Vietnam War, if God is on their side, we just found a different religion.