The scene is Iraq, where the state promises to crush the political opposition, annihilate the insurgents, spy on the people, limit movement, slaughter the disobedient, all without the need for law or courts or elections or even the pretense of what are called political rights or liberties. This is the maximum state unleashed, ruling by force alone with the use of all available weaponry from the smallest arms to the largest weapons of mass destruction, and doing it all openly and in its own narrow interest.
Of course, people are desperate to leave. Those who want to do so licitly line up at the passport office, where they are kicked and beaten and abused by functionaries of the state. Others leave under cover and hope they don’t end up at Guantanamo. Others decide to stay and fight.
This is not Iraq under Saddam, except in the nutty war-myths woven by the Bush junta, but far from it: this is Iraq under the ostensible rule of a man named Iyad Allawi, handpicked by the occupying military power to be the front man for empire, a leader who dares not leave his bunker or drift even a few feet from his US-paid guards, a man who everyone knows would be shot dead in a matter of seconds should he dare to walk the streets, a man who would receive no votes in a real election.
What the US government has done to Iraq it can do to America as well.
What a remarkable contrast with the month before last year’s invasion, when Saddam walked the streets amidst bustling commerce in the formerly civilized city of Baghdad, where gun ownership was permitted and common. You can say that he ruled by fear — certainly he did — and that this is why no one dared put a bullet in his head, but this might also be said of any government in the world that does not face unrelenting revolutionary pressure. And one of the reasons he did not is that the US made it easy for him to blame outsiders for all domestic difficulties.
Today the US and its puppets can only dream of that level of legitimacy. The US and its collaborators can only crave the control Saddam once had. Saddam ruled through force like all governments, but he never attempted to do so through force alone, but rather through a complex web of payoffs, benefits, propaganda, protections for minorities, and every manner of carrot and stick. The US never seemed to understand this. The US model for Iraq was preposterously simple: the US will take the power that Saddam once had.
The death knell for US policy has sounded many times, but rarely as loudly and as clearly as when the passport office opened in Baghdad, and thousands risked all to get one. In the past, people from all over the region wanted to come to Iraq; today those who come are there for jihad, while the flow otherwise runs in the opposite direction.
Emigration/immigration is the ultimate lens through which we can measure the quality of life in a country. And today, under the guidance of the US, the government of Iraq faces more internal pressure than Ceausescu, Gorbachev, and Honecker did before they completely lost power. Its rationales for maintaining power are just as vacuous and transparently false as those given by the socialist dictators before they were swept away by history.
Of the daily and even hourly bombs that hit government checkpoints and guards, for example, this puppet in Iraq says: “This is a naked aggression against the Iraqi people,” but of course he means that these attacks are directed against the Iraqi government. That the favorite targets of the insurgents are government officials and police bunkers tells us something.
The state responds because the State, in Iraq and everywhere else, is primarily interested in its own protection and its own security. This tendency, or rather universal law, becomes the source of dreadful tyranny when the State is primarily disposed to protecting itself from the people it purports to rule. Then it no longer matters what the sign says outside the Gulag. It can even say “Democracy,” as when Allawi says: “We are determined to bring down all the hurdles that stand in the way of our democracy.”
“Our Democracy!” It’s quite a statement coming from a man who enjoys power only because a conquering army gave it to him, and who “rules” behind the most heavily armed and fortified bunker on the planet: Iraq’s Green Zone, which houses the US and British embassy plus the Iraq government. Meanwhile, Allawi is renowned today only for personally killing, with a bullet in head, six blindfolded prisoners (and for being on various foreign payrolls). Truly, any Iraqi who cheered the US invasion, or imagined that the US might actually rid the country of a government that ruled despotically, must rue the day. And any Iraqi who believed all the nonsense about “sovereignty” must feel himself a fool.
Incredibly, it still seems that the US is blind to why the Iraqis resist. All the guns in the world cannot keep a people from overthrowing a government if enough are willing to pay the price. The US has forced this choice upon the Iraqi people: obey or dare to destroy the machinery of the state.
US citizens are busy trying to convince themselves that the scenes from Iraq have nothing to do with them. Those crazy Arabs can’t govern themselves, people might think, so it’s a good thing that the US is there. As for torture, death, and suffering, well, perhaps it’s all worth it if it keeps the ragheads in their place. This is not an entirely unusual attitude in the US, I fear.
But Americans need to know: what the US government has done to Iraq it can do to America. Under the right conditions, nothing can prevent the militarized feds from behaving toward you and yours exactly as it has behaved toward them and theirs.