We are now in the 10th year of the first decade of the ‘war on terror.’ So the inevitable anniversary assessments are beginning to make an appearance. Iraq reappraisals are back in vogue. They favor the drawing of balance sheets. They leave something missing – something of paramount importance. That is the effects on Iraqis themselves. Not Iraqis in the abstract, not as figures in a statistical category of sects. Rather, as flesh and blood and feeling persons. Frankly, most of the discourse about Iraq from day one has had a disengaged quality to it. That is the norm for dominant powers on the world stage; and for the seminar strategist. That was not always the norm by which Americans referenced war and violence
abroad in the 20th century when we truly believed in our proclaimed ideals.
To illuminate the point, here are some too readily slighted facts. 100,000 – 150,00 Iraqis are dead as the consequence of our invasion and occupation. That is the conservative estimate. Untold thousands are maimed and orphaned. 2 million are uprooted refugees in neighboring lands. Another 2 million are displaced persons internally. The availability of potable water and electricity is less than it was in February 2003. The comparable numbers for the United States would be 1.1 – 1.6 million dead; an equal number infirmed; 22 million refugees in Mexico and Canada; 22 million displaced persons within the country. We did not do all the killing and maiming; we did most of the destruction of infrastructure. To all these tragedies we are accessories before and during the fact.
Digits make less of an impact on us than observed reality. That is always the case. And very few have been in a position to see the human effects of our actions first hand. So let me suggest a couple of ways to approximate that experience. Go to your nearest cemetery; read and count the tombstones up to ten. Do that ten times, then multiply by a thousand. Try visualizing only half that number since it is in the nature of all of us to diminish drastically the affect and identity for those who are not part of our community. Step two: go to RFK stadium, imagine it full. Do that 3 times and then imagine them all – men, women and children - in their graves. Imagine. Imagine them hobbling on one leg, lying crippled or maimed on a cot in a cinderblock house. Imagine them as Americans – men, women and children – who placed USA stickers on their cars, hoisted the Stars & Stripes on holidays, lustily sang the national anthem. Imagine them all as the victims of an invasion and occupation by Iraqi Muslims who were deceived by their lying leaders who had their own dark purposes. An occupation that featured the likes of L. Mahmoud Chalebi IV and Bashi Bazouks of the Blackwater ilk. Imagine that these altruistic Iranians leave behind a Vice-Regal Embassy on the banks of the Potomac, giant airbases scattered around the country, and 550,000 troops (proportional) – all out of concern for our health and safety. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Imagine your counterparts in Baghdad now drawing up balance sheets.
Next Step: go back to the study and reconstruct your Iraq balance sheet.
Does this imply that pacifism is the only ethically acceptable conduct? No – but it does give us a better fix on the true meaning of our misadventure in Iraq. Moreover, keep in mind that the Iraqis never gave us permission to do those things to them. We willfully imposed our them based on the accusation of a pre-fabricated threat.
Who assigns value in the equation to the dead, the maimed, the orphaned, the distressed, the uprooted? Who assigns value to being free of Saddam's police? Who distributes the values among Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Christains and Turkomen? Who decides on the relevant time frame? Who determines what constitutes sufficient evidence to support any of these judgments?
Who has the right, the authority, the legitimacy to do this? To do so before the event? To do so after the event in a post hoc justification of the actions that produced these effects?
Who is prepared to reach a definitive judgment? Is it God? Or is it those who instigated and supported those actions in the righteous conceit that they were acting as His surrogate? I place myself in neither category. “Let humanity be the ultimate measure of all that you do” is a Confucian admonition meant to guide the behavior of officials. America today pays it scant regard.