The January/February issue of the Humanist featured an article by Jende Huang titled, "Fighting for Iraq: a Case for Liberation" which elicited a high volume of reader response. Four such responses were featured in the letters section of the March/April issue. To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the U.S. military incursion into Iraq, here we offer an extended article addressing Huang's piece.
A Case of Invasion
by T. F. Kelley
In his article "Fighting for Iraq: a Case for Liberation" (the Humanist, January/February 2008) Jende Huang presents a questionable evaluation of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. His basic theme is that even though we went to Iraq for the "wrong" reasons (which aren't mentioned but include weapons of mass destruction, mobile poison factories, yellowcake uranium ore, aluminum tubes, and drones launched from ships to poison our East Coast) righteous reasons (the Enlightenment, "life of the mind," "international solidarity," and universal human rights) should compel us to stay.
Huang maintains throughout his piece that Iraq should be "liberated" and creates an entire rationale to justify that liberation. He absolves so-called liberal hawks for their initial support of the U.S. incursion and, even though they have since seen "the man hiding behind the curtain," feels they should renew their support. Huang then chastises what he calls the Left for their inability to "find anything righteous" about "trying to free twenty-five million.from.a tyrannical dictator."
The article begins with the admission that "it still appears too soon to tell if it's [the liberation] been a success or not." Sadly, Iraq has not been liberated; it has been conquered, occupied, and decimated by any definition. The only thing that may be liberated in Iraq is access to its petroleum reserves by foreign companies.
The author claims that problems so brutally evident in Iraq have been exacerbated by a "series of missteps taken in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad." What happened after Baghdad fell were not missteps, they were disastrous blunders with enormous consequences. The failure to secure the city and guard its infrastructure, material and human, resulted in damage far beyond what the oil revenues can ever repair as predicted by Paul Wolfowitz, considered a chief architect of this war. Also distressing is a report from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that the vandalism and looting were encouraged by some of the occupying forces.
I disagree most strongly with Huang's claim that liberal hawks made the decision to support military action by "a difficult moral calculus." That is, regardless of the administration's false claims and fear-mongering, "the opportunity to free the Iraqi people . . . was worth the risk." According to the administration of George W. Bush, the invasion of Iraq would be a quick, inexpensive and low-risk venture; a no-brainer. Too few voices opposed this line. There was a complete collapse of sentinel function of the national press; instead they became agents of the administration (one exception was Knight Ridder, now McClatchy newspapers). The situation was best described by John R. McArthur (publisher of Harper's) in February 2003: "We are living in the middle of an ad campaign for war and the press has bought it. In fact, it's helping write the script." It may be that politicians are more susceptible to being fearful. It is more likely that these "liberal hawks" were too lazy or too preoccupied to read the now-famous National Intelligence Estimate with its rich store of cautions and doubt.
I feel no obligation as a progressive to follow a fool's path to obvious disaster, nor would I expect any humanist or anyone else to do so. And I don't believe it's a "tragedy of the Left" to be unwilling to apply the idea of justice for all by supporting an illegal war, one not declared by Congress and in contradiction to will of the United Nations. According to the Huang, regardless of the fact that we saw the administration's reasons as totally fraudulent we had "no justification to refuse to support the action of liberation," aka the invasion. Sorry, but we cannot be shamed into being stupid.
Huang pictures Iraq in 2003 as a very large prison camp filled with mass graves. In the time between the occupation of Baghdad and the full-scale insurgency the matter of mass graves was examined. Extrapolation of that sampled data suggested the number of victims was in the thousands. Even Tony Blair had to retract his claim that 400,000 bodies had been found in mass graves in Iraq. Most of these so-called mass graves were related to the slaughter that occurred on the "Highway of Death" as Iraqis retreated from Kuwait. Another mass grave recently discovered north of Baghdad was created well after Saddam Hussein's capture. While there are clearly not a million bodies in mass graves there are one million dead Iraqis-men, women, and children-in new graves as a result of the "liberation." The British-Iraq survey (February, 2008) confirms that number. This new study validated the study published in the British medical journal the Lancet in October 2006 which put the Iraqi death toll then at 655,000.
Iraq was a secular society with few of the negative consequences of a theocracy. A brief summary of Hussein's domestic achievements would include things like: a nationwide literacy project where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi adults and children learned to read (overall literacy: 70 percent in 1977; 87 percent for adult women by 1985); the building of schools, roads, public housing and hospitals; and the creation of one of the best public health systems in the Middle East which was given a UNESCO award. Schooling through high school and beyond was free for both boys and girls. While the status of women in Iraq now is beyond abysmal, under Hussein women could be educated for and were employed in all of the professions.
Even so, Saddam Hussein was rightly considered a tyrant and the Bush administration used this to promote the idea that, as Huang puts it, "had Iraq not been liberated, Hussein would have continued to kill and maim without reason or remorse." Before any conflict it seems there must be a certifiable horror story. Before the Kuwait invasion we were told about the neonates removed from their incubators and thrown on the floor by the cruel Iraqi invaders. It never happened; it was an administration-paid public relations stunt. Before the invasion of Iraq we were told of the industrial plastics grinding machine where victims were lowered into its maw feet first. It was reported to be at Abu Ghraib. There were a lot of things at that prison but no grinding machine. Then there was the claim that Hussein gassed his own people, created by an incident in a town called Halabja in the north of Iraq. Closer examination showed this town was occupied alternately by Iran and Iraq during their eight-year war, but that the casualties (a few hundred, not the 5,000 that continues to be cited) in this gas attack were killed by a gas only manufactured by Iran.
Now last year's troop surge is being widely propagandized as a success. From a wider perspective the surge hasn't merely been a failure, it has been a disaster in two regards. First, there are now over two million Iraqis that have fled their homeland; their numbers and locations have been tracked by the United Nations. Another two million are displaced internally. The reasons for the decrease in casualties is due to the enormous ethnic cleansing that occurred during the surge. Population distribution maps show that most neighborhoods have become more homogeneous. In the first six months of 2007 Baghdad went from 65 percent to 75 percent Shiite. Simply put, there are fewer targets for the neighbors to shoot at.
Of the almost one million refugees in Syria almost 80 percent are from Baghdad. More than 10 percent of the population of Baghdad became refugees. As is usual in situations like this the refugees come from the professional, administrative and managerial classes. Ten percent of the Iraqi refugees in Syria have advanced degrees, 4.5 percent with doctorates.
The second reason for the decrease in casualties occurred in an area where extra troops had not been stationed. There we have largely "outsourced" the war by paying about 80,000 former insurgents and terrorists $300 a month to refocus their efforts.
Finally, "Fighting for Iraq: a Case for Liberation" includes a charming undated picture of a handful of preteen boys flashing the international peace sign. The caption locates it outside the Amiriya bomb shelter memorial (not further described in the article). The Amiriya memorial marked the destruction in February 1991 of a neighborhood bomb shelter during the Gulf War by two U.S. laser-guided, 2000-pound smart bombs. The first bomb penetrated the reinforced concrete and then exploded, the second bomb followed. In an account published on the website ureknet ("Information from occupied Iraq"), freelance journalist Felicity Arbuthnot wrote: "People staying in the upper level were incinerated by heat, while boiling water from the shelter's water tank killed those below." The 408 victims were nearly all women and children. The docent at the memorial is a woman whose eight children were killed there.
The earliest citation for the photograph is February 2003. The reader might wonder, as I do, how many of the children in it are still alive, how many have remained physically and mentally intact, how many are now among the 5,000 orphans in Iraq, or how many of them are now part of the 2.5 million refugee families living outside their country.
T. F. Kelley is a former R & D manager and entrepreneur who now writes about the criminal justice system as well as editorial opinions on the Bush administration and its war.