Our Sacrifice for Iraq: The Memory Hole and Obama’s Iraq Address
PREDICTABLE MIND TORTURE
The rhetoric of the imperial governing class is so predictable once you know the doctrinal codes. Here’s my forecast – issued on Facebook at around 6:00 pm central time – on Obama’s “end of combat operations” speech from the oval office, delivered with folded presidential hands in a cardboard cutout delivery at 7 pm last night:
“Get ready for some serious imperial bullshit from the Oval Office on your Telescreen in one hour. Make your content predictions now. Here’s mine: there’ll be lots of rhetoric about how the U.S. 'sacrificed' out of good and noble intentions; reference to war perhaps as a mistake but of course no mention of it as a monumentally mass murderous petro-imperial CRIME. A main thing missing…will be the degree of Iraqi death and crippling; the remarkable extent to which the U.S. murdered Iraq, the scale of the U.S.-imposed devastation. The millions of Iraqis killed and maimed. It'll be all about ‘our sacrifice’ for them.”
“Obama’s address will be an exercise in Orwellian mind torture and reality-inversion. 2+2=5. This one-sided imperial ‘war’ was worse than the Mongols sacking Baghdad in the 13th century. It was sheer sociopathic butchery. Fallujah 2004, for example. Tommy Frank's computer program name for likely Iraqi civilian casualties on the eve of the invasion? It was called ‘BUGSPLAT.’ Yes, ‘bugsplat.’”
“These and other little inconvenient facts are of course doctrinally unmentionable. They didn't happen. All down the 1984 memory hole.”
OUR “SACRIFICE” FOR THEM
So how did I do? I get marked down for incomplete and being too kind but I did pretty good on the whole. I was completely correct on the “our sacrifice for them” theme and on the total, intimately related deletion of the devastation the U.S. imposed. Here are some telling and predictable/ predicted passages from Obama’s address last night (I am writing on the morning of Wednesday September 1, 2010):
“A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.”
“And like all Americans, I’m awed by [the troops’] sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.” “The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians -- and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people -- Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.”
“Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.”
“Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest -- it’s in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We’ve persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people -- a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility.”
“Most painfully, since the war began, 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice -- part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. …Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. “Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations -- war -- and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.”
How grotesque these words must sound to Iraqi survivors of the latest American imperial assault (following in the wake of a previous invasion and decade-plus U.S.-imposed “sanctions” regime that killed more than a million Iraqis.) on their country. There was nothing of course in Obama’s comments about: the 1.5 million or is it now 2 million or more Iraqis “we” (Washington) killed; the Iraqi technical and social infrastructure “we” leveled; the professional class exodus “we” caused, the water and air “we” poisoned, the cancer rates “we” pushed sky high (higher than what the Hiroshima bomb did) in Fallujah.
The Iraqi people – reduced to the moral status of insects by the Pentagon in the spring of 2003 – have experienced what has amounted to a U.S.-imposed Holocaust. As “Iraq” was increasingly pushed to the margins of the U.S. presidential campaign (and of mainstream news) in January of 2008, the intrepid antiwar writer Tom Engelhardt observed the following:
“Whether civilian dead between the invasion of 2003 and mid-2006 (before the worst year of civil-war level violence even hit) was in the range of 600,000 as a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet reported, or 150,000 as a recent World Health Organization study suggests, whether two million or 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, whether 1.1 million or more than two million have been displaced internally, whether electricity blackouts and water shortages have marginally increased or decreased, whether the country's health-care system is beyond resuscitation or could still be revived, whether Iraqi oil production has nearly crept back to the low point of the Saddam Hussein-era or not, whether fields of opium poppies are, for the first time, spreading across the country's agricultural lands or still relatively localized, Iraq is a continuing disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory.”
According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of the mainstream journal Current History, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century. Only fools talk of solutions now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”
The damage included untold thousands tortured in U.S. military prisons and thousands more butchered in Fallujah, site for colossal U.S. war atrocity (the crimes included the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city) by the ever- “sacrificing” U.S. military in April and November of 2004. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dared to resist U.S. power. Also part of the devastation was the sacking and devastation of much of Mesopotamia’s precious cultural history (the looting of many original artifacts from what Obama acknowledged was “the cradle of civilization”) – this permitted by Superpower’s unmatched military while Washington’s imperial gendarmes maintained full security and lockdown at Iraq’s critical Oil Ministry.
The monumental suffering imposed on the Iraqis by the warlords in Washington was of course unmentionable/invisible in Obama’s address – and in the obedient dominant war media coverage of his address, which focused on among other things his wooden “body language.” It was at best weakly half-suggested in Obama’s horrifying insinuation that the U.S. had granted Iraq “new [democratic] beginning” through “the ashes of war” (didn’t candidate/author Obama criticize [in his reactionary book The Audacity of Hope] what he claimed was Bush’s desire to export democracy through the barrel of a gun?) It does not square with the doctrinal, so-called American exceptionalist truism that We Are Good, with the deeply embedded idea that – as Obama has himself said on repeated occasions (explaining why Washington must never apologize for its actions) – the U.S. never really commits crimes because it is “overwhelmingly a force for good in the world.”
The propaganda system has an interesting way of dealing with the U.S. infliction of mass agony in Iraq: deletion/erasure/airbrushing. The crime didn’t happen. It goes down Orwell’s “memory hole” even as it occurs/doesn’t occur.
Suffering and the sacrifice? As with the Vietnam “war” (really what Noam Chomsky in the late 1960s called “the [imperial U.S.] crucifixion of Southeast Asia”) it’s all about supposedly noble and benevolent Americans. So what if the U.S. killed 3 million Indochinese between 1962 and 1975 and millions of Iraqis between 1990 and the present? The real victims are the selfless American people, who died and suffered in much smaller numbers. They are supposedly part of a virtuous democratic “nation at war” even though the “wars” in question are bloody colonial operations fought in profoundly one-sided ways by the Empire in distant and impoverished nations and even as the military establishment has learned never to repeat the critical Vietnam mistake of trying to enlist the broad civilian populace in such ugly imperial operations. Where’s the war? Not over here.
Equally unmentionable by The Empire’s New Clothes (Barack Obama) last night or by the dominant media today was/is the reason for the epic destruction imposed by Superpower on a weak and defenseless population in Iraq. As most Iraqis and indeed most world citizens anyone with a few functioning gray cells and elementary information knew very well, the U.S. “war” (invasion and occupation) initiated in March of 2003 had nothing to do with the official and quickly adjusted pretexts. Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL – the original acronym was too darkly accurate and the invasion had to be re-christened with “Freedom”/F at the end) was about clamping the imperial boot down on the hyper-strategic Middle Eastern oil spigot, consistent with the State Department‘s 1945 reference to that region’s unmatched fossil fuel reserves as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in history.” (Control of the “prize,” leading Cold War planner George Kennan observed, granted the U.S. “veto power” over leading industrial rivals.) If Iraq were not oil-rich, it would not have been invaded under the false post-9/11 (or any other) pretexts, which moved quickly and transparently from taking down Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) to the even more laughable claim of a desire to promote democracy once it became overly obvious that the Iraqi dictator (sustained in power by the U.S. sanctions regime) had (as numerous informed observers and inspectors had been saying) no such munitions.
How sad and yet, yes predictable it was last night to hear Obama’s talking head regurgitate the imperial nonsense about pretexts. He said without irony or criticism that Bush launched “a war to disarm a state” and then moved effortlessly into the idea that America has been trying to help Iraq “build a democracy” – the essence of “the new beginning” we supposedly granted it through “the ashes of war” in “its own borders.” “We” are of course doing no such thing and never have been given the fundamental contradiction between the beliefs and aspirations of the Iraqi people and the reality of American occupation – an occupation that continues, by the way, with a continuing large scale U.S. military (including a large scale “private” military contractor presence) within Iraq and just “over the horizon” beneath all the blather about “the end of combat operations.”
TO MOVE BEYOND DIFFERENCE
How sad and predictable is was also to hear the Great Imperial Re-Brander (Obama) seek to silence domestic dissent and division – to quell democratic ferment in the imperial homeland – with nationalistic rhetoric confusing popular rule with patriotic unity and with post 9/11 fear-,mongering inherited from Cheney and Dubya:
“This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hopes for Iraqis’ future.”
“The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda.”
Beware of “charismatic” (that term seems less and less applicable to the current, ever-more cardboard like president) imperial officials who connect democracy to the suppression of difference and who cite “love of country” and enemies (real and/or concocted) abroad as justification for the suppression of difference. “The fetters imposed on liberty at home,” James Madison once noted. “have ever been forged out of the weapons for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers abroad.”
Postscript. It is perhaps worth recalling here that Obama’s habit of Orwellian whitewash when it comes to American imperial atrocity long predates his arrival to the White House. It was strongly evident in his speeches and writings from 2004 through his presidential campaign and inauguration. I gave very many examples of this in Chapter 4 (“How Antiwar? Barack Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) of my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (and Chapter 6 (“We Were Warned”) of my new book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=243410). See also Paul Street, “The Audacity of Imperial Airbrushing: Barack Obama’s Whitewashed History of U.S. Foreign Policy and Why it Matters,” ZNet (July 5, 2008) at http://www.zcommunications.org/the-audacity-of-imperial-airbrushing-barack-obama-s-whitewashed-history-of-u-s-foreign-policy-and-why-it-matters-by-paul-street and Paul Street, “Keynote Reflections,”’ ZNet (July 29, 2010) at http://www.zcommunications.org/keynote-reflections-by-paul-street.
Paul Street (www.paulstreet.org)is the author of many books, including (just out) The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=243410). Street will discuss his new book and the current political situation during a book salon at FiredogLake (FDL). Go to www.fdlbooksalon.com/ on Saturday September 4, 2010 5 to 7 pm eastern time (4 to 6 central); readers without an FDL log-in ID should go online at least 15 minutes before to obtain one. Paul can be reached at email@example.com and through his new Web site (above).