Why Isn’t Iraq in the 2008 Election?
By Noam Chomsky
The following speech, transcribed by Democracy Now!, was delivered by Chomsky in Massachusetts at an event sponsored by Bikes Not Bombs.
03/03/08 “Democracy Now!” — – -Not very long ago, as you all recall, it was taken for granted that the Iraq war would be the central issue in the 2008 election, as it was in the midterm election two years ago. However, it’s virtually disappeared off the radar screen, which has solicited some puzzlement among the punditry.
Actually, the reason is not very obscure. It was cogently explained forty years ago, when the US invasion of South Vietnam was in its fourth year and the surge of that day was about to add another 100,000 troops to the 175,000 already there, while South Vietnam was being bombed to shreds at triple the level of the bombing of the north and the war was expanding to the rest of Indochina. However, the war was not going very well, so the former hawks were shifting towards doubts, among them the distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger, maybe the most distinguished historian of his generation, a Kennedy adviser, who — when he and Kennedy, other Kennedy liberals were beginning to — reluctantly beginning to shift from a dedication to victory to a more dovish position.
And Schlesinger explained the reasons. He explained that — I’ll quote him now — “Of course, we all pray that the hawks are right in thinking that the surge of that day will work. And if it does, we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that we have turned,” he said, “to wreck and ruin. But the surge probably won’t work, at an acceptable cost to us, so perhaps strategy should be rethought.”
Well, the reasoning and the underlying attitudes carry over with almost no change to the critical commentary on the US invasion of Iraq today. And it is a land of wreck and ruin. You’ve already heard a few words; I don’t have to review the facts. The highly regarded British polling agency, Oxford Research Bureau, has just updated its estimate of deaths. Their new estimate a couple of days ago is 1.3 million. That’s excluding two of the most violent provinces, Karbala and Anbar. On the side, it’s kind of intriguing to observe the ferocity of the debate over the actual number of deaths. There’s an assumption on the part of the hawks that if we only killed a couple hundred thousand people, it would be OK, so we shouldn’t accept the higher estimates. You can go along with that if you like.
Uncontroversially, there are over two million displaced within Iraq. Thanks to the generosity of Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees who have fled the wreckage of Iraq aren’t totally wiped out. That includes most of the professional classes. But that welcome is fading, because Jordan and Syria receive no support from the perpetrators of the crimes in Washington and London, and therefore they cannot accept that huge burden for very long. It’s going to leave those two-and-a-half million refugees who fled in even more desperate straits.
The sectarian warfare that was created by the invasion never — nothing like that had ever existed before. That has devastated the country, as you know. Much of the country has been subjected to quite brutal ethnic cleansing and left in the hands of warlords and militias. That’s the primary thrust of the current counterinsurgency strategy that’s developed by the revered “Lord Petraeus,” I guess we should describe him, considering the way he’s treated. He won his fame by pacifying Mosul a couple of years ago. It’s now the scene of some of the most extreme violence in the country.
One of the most dedicated and informed journalists who has been immersed in the ongoing tragedy, Nir Rosen, has just written an epitaph entitled “The Death of Iraq” in the very mainstream and quite important journal Current History. He writes that “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,” which has been the perception of many Iraqis, as well. “Only fools talk of ‘solutions’ now,” he went on. “There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”
But Iraq is, in fact, the marginal issue, and the reasons are the traditional ones, the traditional reasoning and attitudes of the liberal doves who all pray now, as they did forty years ago, that the hawks will be right and that the US will win a victory in this land of wreck and ruin. And they’re either encouraged or silenced by the good news about Iraq.
And there is good news. The US occupying army in Iraq — euphemistically it’s called the Multi-National Force-Iraq, because they have, I think, three polls there somewhere — that the occupying army carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. It’s an important part of counterinsurgency or any form of domination. You want to know what your subjects are thinking. And it released a report last December. It was a study of focus groups, and it was uncharacteristically upbeat. The report concluded — I’ll quote it — that the survey of focus groups “provides very strong evidence” that national reconciliation is possible and anticipated, contrary to what’s being claimed. The survey found that a sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis” from all over the country and all walks of life. This discovery of “shared beliefs” among Iraqis throughout the country is “good news, according to a military analysis of the results,” Karen de Young reported in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago.
Well, the “shared beliefs” are identified in the report. I’ll quote de Young: “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of [what they call] ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.” So those are the “shared beliefs.” According to the Iraqis then, there’s hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, who are responsible for the internal violence and the other atrocities, if they withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis. That’s pretty much the same as what’s been found in earlier polls, so it’s not all that surprising. Well, that’s the good news: “shared beliefs.”
Read the rest here.