Moral Victory, and Selective Body Counts
by RAMZY BAROUD
Someone ought to let mainstream news producers know that the nearly 4,500 US soldiers killed in the Iraq war were not the only victims. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have also been killed as a result of the unwarranted US invasion, and many more have been wounded and/or forever maimed.
Chances are, all of these Iraq war victims would still be alive today were it not for former President George W. Bush and his band of neoconservatives. Demonstrating a bizarre mix of evangelical ambition, cowboy bravado and the pathological desire to ‘keep Israel secure’, Iraq was destroyed over and over again.
A short report by WTKR, a CBS affiliate television station in Virginia, cited in an online report in the Los Angeles Times on December 16, broadcast images of a US flag being furled at a small US military base in Baghdad. At the ceremony, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta reiterated US sacrifices and rationalized one of the most destructive wars in recent memory. Numerous news reports also declared that the Iraq war was over, although some expressed doubts that the Iraqis – presented as historically, if not genetically fated to be violent – would be able to handle their own affairs now that the US has ended their ‘humanitarian’ intervention.
Just a quick recap: The Lancet survey determined that between March 2003 and June 2006, 601,027 Iraqis died violent deaths. The Opinion Research Business survey found that 1,033,000 died as a result of the conflict from March 2003 to August 2007. In one single revelation, WikiLeaks stated that “its release of nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilians died than previously thought.” This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the decade long Iraq siege, and the hundreds of thousands more who were killed during the first Iraq war between 1990-91.
Numbers aside, the media spin-mongers are busy redrawing the parameters of the discussion through omission, lies and outright racism. Take, for example, Loren Thomspon’s article in Forbes. Thompson thinks that the war was a mistake – not due to any illusions about immorality or illegality – but purely because of practical mistakes involving resources, lack of resolve, Iraq’s sectarianism and military inconsistency, and the like. Despite these mistakes, “our intentions were good,” Thompson stated. To ensure that no one would mistake him for an antiwar ‘leftist nut job’ – the rightwing media’s perception of anyone who opposes US war for any reason – he made an interesting assertion:
“What policymakers and a majority of the U.S. electorate now know is that Iraq never should have been a country in the first place, so trying to make democracy work there is likely to be a thankless task” (Forbes, December 15).
Such intransigence and lack of sensitivity (destroying a sovereign country, then denying its right to have ever existed in the first place – a logic reminiscent of Israeli behavior in Palestine) – are overriding characteristics of the American mainstream media’s representation of the Iraq war.
In their Los Angeles Times article on December 15, David S. Cloud and David Zucchino did acknowledge, albeit belatedly, that Iraqis were killed. However, they also cited the lowest figure they could find (from the Iraqi Body Count website), and resorted to sweeping generalizations that inadvertently laid the blame of the violence on Iraqis themselves. “With the Americans gone, it is up to (the Iraqis) to help control the country’s endemic violence,” they wrote.
Yes, “endemic”, meaning “natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place” (Dictionary.com). If Iraqis are prone to violence because of their cultural, religious or even genetic makeup, why did the daily body counts of Iraqis begin in March 2003, the date of the US invasion? Who made the decision to go to war, turning violence into an “endemic”? Certainly not the Iraqi people.
And it wasn’t the Iraqis who sowed the seeds of their own sectarian conflict either. This was also part of a strategy aimed at redefining the US military role from locating (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction to fighting terrorism, while concurrently putting out the fire of sectarian violence.
In crude military terms, the Iraq war might be over, but as far as the Iraqi people are concerned, it is not. The experiment, which began nearly nine years ago with a “shock and awe” bombing campaign, will manifest itself in future US policies. The entire region has grown to become the backbone of an American empire on the decline.
In her influential book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein described how the war on Iraq was meant to construct a model for the Middle East. It was an experiment, the success of which could influence the geopolitics of the whole region. In the chapter entitled, “Erasing Iraq: In Search for a ‘Model’ for the Middle East,” Klein describes the attempt at destroying and then resurrecting the country to fit the mould sought by those who administered its fall. She concluded Part 6 with the following statement: “So in the end, the war in Iraq did create a model economy…it was a model for privatized war and reconstruction — a model that quickly became export ready.”
Writing in the FoxNews website under the title, ‘Iraq: Victory or Defeat’, Oliver North, had little space for empathy, and certainly none for the Iraqis. “Who won?” he asked. “Short answer — America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines and the American people whose sons and daughters served in Iraq.”
It is this type of irrational patriotism, and intellectual hooliganism that made the war possible in the first place. And it will continue to facilitate future wars, followed by false victories.
As for the millions of Americans (and many more around the world), who fearlessly and courageously objected to the war, they will continue to do so. If the US is to redeem any iota of credibility in the world, it must cease perceiving war as a mere strategic opportunity. War is brutal and inhumane. It is costly on many levels, and its terrible consequences are likely to prevail through generations – as the future of Iraq will surely, and so sadly, reveal.