More Imperial Stumbles

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“There is hardly an error chronicled in any history of imperial wars that American forces have not committed in Iraq.”

~ Bill Bonner

“I am still Iraq’s president,” says Mr. Hussein. What he does not seem to realize is that the American conquistadors are running the show. They’ve accused the former president of various crimes. But even after years in jail, Saddam refuses to squirm. Instead, he threatens to the put the empire itself in the dock.

What gives this court the authority to try me, he asks? Good question, only the force of U.S. arms…that is to say, only the brute power of an invading army. I am the only lawful president of Iraq, he continues, not a puppet put in by the Americans. Again, he has a point. He stole the job fair and square. How dare you pass judgment on me, he goes on. And here we have an answer: it is merely the latest in a long chain of blunders.

One of the pleasures and benefits of being the world’s super-power is that you get to cut off the heads of your enemies, and you never have to say you’re sorry. Tamerlane was a master of it. He cut off so many heads, his men spent days piling them up into huge pyramids…thousands of them. Caesar, Ghenghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Stalin…all great conquerors make a point of punishing those who stood against them. But the trial of Saddam Hussein is a first. It is the first time the leader of a conquered nation has gone on television…so that he may rally his people against the invader!

Once again, history’s most incompetent empire is a victim of its own humbug.

We quote ourselves, above, not out of vanity, but only to make a correction. We would like to explain that U.S. actions in Iraq are not an “error” from an historical perspective. They are a necessity. Every great empire must extinguish itself somehow. Otherwise, we would be ruled by Assyrians or Mongols. What Anglo-American forces are doing is merely a form of “suicidal statecraft,” suggests Zbigniew Brzezinski; that it, it is a way of cutting our own heads off.

Readers have not asked for our opinion on the subject, but we give it anyway: like almost all great public spectacles, the war against Iraq was commenced on a fraud, played out as a farce, and now threatens to end in abject tragedy. Just as it should.

This is in no way a partisan remark; no, it is merely an observation.

Empires can rarely resist the temptation to fight a war…if they think they can get away with something. George W. Bush saw an increase in his poll ratings coming. People love a “war” president, at least until they’ve lived through a real war. He could hardly wait for an opportunity to put on a flight suit and land on a real U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, ostensibly to rally the troops, but more importantly to rally the lumpenpublic.

But once Saddam’s sorry troops were routed, neither the president nor his military men knew what to do next. They had guns and tanks and the most expensive weaponry money could buy. They had no clue what to do with them. When American forces took Naples in 1943, General Mark Clark appointed New York Mafioso Lucky Luciano as his senior civilian advisor. While Clark dined on fish looted from the city aquarium, Luciano knew what to do with anyone who got out of line. But Paul Bremer and the rest of the bumblers appointed by the Bush administration were only good at pleasing their masters in Washington, not ruling their subjects. They quickly made a mess of it. And now, by putting Saddam on the stand, they offer the old man a chance to make his case. Yes, the nation was a hellhole when he ran the place, but at least it was a hellhole for the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, and of the Iraqi people.

The noose is too good for Saddam. U.S. soldiers might have done better to treat him as Genghis treated one of his enemies: pouring molten silver in his ear. Then at least he would not be on television pointing out the obvious to his compatriots; he is only on trial because the country was over-run by foreign troops.

The best way to win a war, said Sun Tzu, is to let your enemy defeat himself. That is roughly what U.S. forces are doing in Iraq. They are helping to destroy the great Anglo-Saxon commercial empire. And they are doing it in the predictable way. U.S. military power is now stretched out all over the globe. The flower of America’s high-tech puissance — the finest attack machine ever created — is now put to work guarding gas stations and ballot boxes. Meanwhile, the expense of maintaining global hegemony has risen so high the only way America can afford it is by borrowing money from communist China. Eighty to ninety percent of the U.S. federal deficit is now financed from outside the country…notably the East.

Among the charges against Saddam is that he killed more than 140 men and teenaged boys in Dujail. His defense will be that the people of Dujail tried to kill him, which of course they did. He might mention that every brutish leader does the same. The Nazis razed whole downs in Poland when German soldiers were killed by partisans. Genghis put all the males of several towns to the sword, after they took his emissaries hostage and killed them. Stalin starved, murdered and deported whole nations of people whom he only suspected of disloyalty. And on the very day in which Saddam appeared in court, a news item in the International Herald Tribune reported that American planes had destroyed a village in Iraq, after two U.S. soldiers were killed in it. The village harbored insurgents, said the United States More than half the 70 people killed, said eyewitnesses, were innocent bystanders.

The real problem for America is the problem of empire itself. It turns the imperial people into a race of “hollow dummies,” to use Orwell’s phrase. Soon, they come to believe what isn’t true and try to do what can’t be done. “Nation building” in Baghdad by an occupying army? You might as well try to get rich by borrowing money and increasing your spending.

The reason for these “errors” can be traced not to a lack of judgment, but to an excess of vanity. And here, we turn to one of the world’s hollowest dummies, Tom Friedman, for illustration. The New York Times columnist has been a big supporter of the imperial war. Unwittingly, for that is the only way possible with Friedman, he has taken the role of cheerleader for the “mission civilisatrice”…the white man’s burden of bringing the wonders of modern American civilization to the heathen tribes.

“We are doing nation-creating,” he says. “It is hugely important.” How do you create a nation in Iraq without a man like Saddam at its head? And why does the great Anglo-Saxon Empire have to get involved? The reason is simple; the wogs are incompetent.

“Let me explain,” Friedman begins. “While visiting the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr last week, I spent a morning watching the commanders of the Iraqi navy hold a staff meeting, while their British and U.S. advisors looked on. On the one hand, you felt as if they were doing a pretty good imitation of a British command briefing. On the other hand, the slightly ragged quality left you feeling that if you pulled the British and U.S. advisers out tomorrow, the whole Iraqi navy would collapse. The human capital and institutional foundation are simply not there…”

What is our real challenge in Iraq? Friedman asks. To “rebuild Iraq’s human capital?” That is, to help them do better imitations of their U.S. and British masters.

Friedman looks in the mirror and sees so many wonderful things: democracy! Freedom! Neg Am mortgages! Oh, why can’t the Iraqis be more like us?

Meanwhile, on the ground between the Tigris and the Euphrates, as the imperial dummies plant, so do they reap.

“Many Iraqis welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein because he ruined their lives,” writes Patrick Cockburn in the Independent. “He had started two disastrous wars, against Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Hundreds of thousand of Iraqis were killed and wounded. The country’s great oil wealth was spent on weapons. In the 1990s, U.N. sanctions wholly impoverished the country. Iraqis believed they should have been living like the Saudis and instead, they had the standard of living of Sudan. As U.S. tanks rolled in Baghdad, they hoped their lives would now get better. Instead they got worse.

“The billions supposedly spent by the U.S. — much of it Iraqi oil money — produced almost no benefits. The country became a feeding trough for politically well-connected U.S. companies and individuals…Even Iraqis were shocked to find that almost the entire $1.3 billion procurement budget of the defense ministry had disappeared…Much of the Iraqi government exists only on paper. It is more of a racket than an administration. Its officials turn up only on payday. Elaborate bureaucratic procedures exist simply so a bribe has be paid to avoid them.

“U.S. generals seemed to price themselves on their ignorance of local customs,” Cockburn, who has spent the last three years on location, continues. During that period, imperial overlords have nearly accomplished what seemed impossible when the war began; they have made Saddam’s rule seem to many Iraqis like the “good old days.” In some parts of Baghdad, property prices have fallen by 50% in the last six months, thanks to lawlessness and lack of services.

“Ordinary U.S. soldiers can shoot any Iraqi by whom they feel threatened without fear of the consequences. With suicide bombers on the loose the soldiers feel threatened all the time and most Iraqis feel threatened by them. The Iraqi police general in charge of the serious crimes squad was shot through the head by an American soldier who mistook him for a suicide bomber. Early one morning a surgeon called Basil Abbas Hassan decided to leave his house in al-Kudat for his hospital in the center of Baghdad at 7:15am in order to beat the morning rush hour. Because so many streets are blocked by concrete walls protecting military or police outposts Baghdad traffic is always on the verge of gridlock. Dr. Hassan, a specialist in heart surgery, was the kind of man who should have been one of the building blocks of the new Iraq.” Instead, he was shot dead by a U.S. soldier who thought he might be a suicide bomber.

The benefits the empire brought to Iraq were just too wonderful, we conclude. Things have gotten so bad in Baghdad that the prostitutes have left, says Cockburn. Soon it will be the rats.

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.

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