Shock and Awe or Humiliation and Shame?

Posted March 22, 2007 on 5:49 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Until recently, there has been little focus on the costs to the citizens of Iraq of Bush’s War. The American mainstream press has largely chosen to look at the Iraq war through the prism of U.S. politics – that is, who voted for it and who did not; who will vote for withdrawal of U.S. troops and who will not; how can funding be stopped without those who vote for it being accused of “not supporting the troops”; what percent of the American people support the war; when will the Iraqis clean up the mess we produced? Etc. ad nauseum. It is, for them, mostly all about America.

What are the trade-offs for the Iraqis? The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from a low of 60,000 to as high as ten times that number. Estimates of Iraqi refugees are in the 2-3 million range – most internal as the various religious sects band together in limited geographic areas, but over a million in Jordan, Syria and Iran. The Kurdish region of Iraq – the most developed, stable and modern – now has some 100,000 refugees from the rest of Iraq with nowhere to put them and minimal humanitarian aid from the U.S. The fact that the U.S. has accepted only a few hundred Iraqi refugees is a disgraceful indictment of the American government that created this horror show. A previously secular society with the highest literacy rate in the region, and equal rights for women is becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state with all that that will mean for whoever is left living there.

In return for this “investment” the Iraqi people are rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the nastiest dictators of the past thirty years. But now having determined that getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, the Iraqi people are asking themselves whether it has been worth the costs. Their answer is “no”. The euphoria of U.S. troops marching into Baghdad has been replaced with the reality of the mind-numbing incompetence of the U.S. in creating chaos with no way out – for the U.S. or for the Iraqi people.

A powerful description of what we have done to those Iraqi people who have been our allies, appears in this week’s New Yorker, in George Packer’s article, Betrayed, in which he comments that:

“The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis [i.e. Iraqis who worked for the U.S. forces as interpreters, etc.]. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.”

It is tempting to quote Packer’s piece extensively, but it needs to be read in its entirety to capture the full dimension of our shame and guilt in this political and human disaster. One small part of the article discusses the likelihood or possibilities of large numbers of the millions of Iraqi refugees being welcomed into the U.S. – that is, the country that turned them into refugees. We are reminded of what President Gerald Ford once said about his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.” The United States has welcomed between 200 and 300 Iraqis to date.

According to Packer, Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, and a longtime State Department professional, when asked about the likelihood of the U.S. doing much more, commented that:

“I guarantee you no one’s thinking about it now, because it’s so fatalistic and you’d be considered sort of a traitor to the President’s policy,” he said. “I don’t see us taking them in this time, because, notwithstanding what we may owe people, you’re not going to bring in large numbers of Arabs to the United States, given the fact that for the last six years the President has scared the pants off the American public with fears of Islamic terrorism.”

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