The Iraq War

“We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East,'” said yesterday’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

“But as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos.”

Invading Iraq was a “bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept for International Law. An arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public. And act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading — as a last resort (all other justifications having failed to justify themselves) — as liberation.”

Harold Pinter is a playwright. That he should fail to see the geopolitical importance of the war is hardly surprising.

But Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security advisor, ought not to miss it. Quoting Arnold Toynbee, he accuses the Bush administration of “suicidal statecraft…the ultimate cause of imperial collapse.”

What neither man seems to realize is that "suicidal statecraft" is just what the situation calls for.

The great Anglo-Saxon empire has reached its "sell by" date. Its imperial advantage — its lead in the Industrial Revolution — has disappeared. It now counts on the savings of foreigners to keep going. But while its homeland bound citizens groan under the burden of debt, its military and political leaders still talk tough. "You got terrorists with a grudge against the United States?" asked the Commander-in-Chief. Well “bring ’em on.” He might as well have put a gun to his head. Now, with the curiosity of a reporter watching a hanging, we wait to see if he pulls the trigger.

Iraq is full of potential terrorists with grudges. Had the Anglo-Americans bothered to look before they leaped they would have seen a country that is a mix of tribes, clans, families, and religious groups — all of whom loathe each other and all of whom take it as an inherited obligation to avenge any wrong done to any of their own group by any member of any other group back to five generations.

But there is one thing these people despise more than each other — a foreign invader.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in the Independent, reminds us of the insights of a British civil servant, Arnold Wilson. Mr. Wilson wrote this in 1919, two years after the British took Baghdad from the Turks:

“Wilson…warned that the creation of a new state out of Iraq was a recipe for disaster. He said it was impossible to weld together Shia, Sunni and Kurd, three groups of people who detested each other. Wilson told the British government that the new state could only be ‘the antithesis of democratic government.’ This was because the Shia majority rejected domination by the Sunni minority, but ‘no form of government has yet been envisaged which does not involve Sunni domination.’ The Kurds in the north, whom it was intended to include in Iraq, ‘will never accept Arab rule.'”

All of this was correct. But what they would accept even less was rule by the British. The whole country soon rose up against British forces; there were more than more than 10,000 dead before it was over.

This was the world into which the Bush administration bumbled. Every great empire — from the Assyrians to the Mongols to the British had taken Baghdad. America had to do it too.

“Nobody likes armed missionaries,” said Robespierre when the French tried to export their democracy, at the point of a gun, throughout Europe. That too was an insight missed by the Bush team, but that is why the Bush bunch are so perfectly suited to the present circumstance. They seem to have no knowledge or apparent interest in history; they get to relive every bit of it as if for the very first time.

There is hardly an error chronicled in any history of imperial wars that American forces have not committed. They went into Iraq on bad information. Where were the WMD? Where were the rose petals upon which they expected to tread? Where were the happy new democrats, ready to shop at Wal-Mart for backyard barbecues and granite countertops?

Then, of course, they went in preaching democracy and freedom — about which the Iraqis were as indifferent as Americans themselves. What Iraqis really wanted at first was just a chance to steal something; later they would welcome a chance to kill someone. The desert tribes are looters. They climb gleefully through the ruins of a tank or a hotel, looking for something that might be useful.

But their new rulers are little better. Soldiers have a license to kill. A video aired on American TV showed a U.S. soldier gunning down a helpless prisoner. “This one is still alive.” Sounds of gunfire. “Now he’s dead.” A poll taken days later signaled just how far the public had gone in its descent into imperial madness — most people said they thought the killing was justified.

This attitude goes down badly in a place with 100,000 Iraqi casualties…and where revenge is such a serious matter. Pretty soon, talk of "insurgents" and "foreign fighters" was beside the point. The average Iraqi now jumped for joy when an American soldier went down…and rushed to give the man a kick before his compatriots came to his rescue.

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.