American Occupation: Think rampaging elephants
Most reasonably informed people by now will concede that the US invasion of Iraq was something between a mistake and a crime, and that the case for war in Iraq was made based upon mis-information, if not outright lies. There were no WMDs or active WMD programs in Iraq. There were no Saddam-Al Queda terror links. The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and the recent reports of US soldiers executing unarmed Iraqis in Falluja cast doubt on whether American forces are (capable of) respecting Iraqis human rights. The war in Iraq has made the US more hated and less secure, and is sucking up US tax dollars that could be much better spent elsewhere. All, or most, of this, for most people in my neck of the woods (Tufts University), is more or less uncontroversial.
Thus the most common defense of the occupation I get today is a metaphorical one:-Iraq is a pot in a store, they say-"'We' broke it, so now we've bought it." "Iraq is now ours to fix." I hear it again and again. "We can't just leave it broken."
In this article, I would like to offer a radical revision of this ubiquitous cliché.
A more fitting metaphor, as I see it, would cast Iraq not as a single pot-but as a large pottery shop and open air market. Contrary to the dominant image, I would cast the American military presence not as an innocent (if clumsy and perhaps just plain dumb) shopper who (accidentally?) broke a pot while running Sunday errands (and now feels awful about it), but rather, as an elephant-a fitting image for an occupation by Abrams tanks-an elephant rampaging through the market.
Picture this elephant thrashing about the shops, stampeding through the aisles, smashing out windows, toppling carts and shelves, driving away customers, knocking out the entire street's electricity, interrupting traffic, forcing people back into their homes. As this chaos and violence drag on, some poor or trouble-making locals begin to loot the wrecked shops, while others organize to drive the elephant out, shouting, throwing rocks and marching on the animal, while still others decide that they will kill the beast using rifles and homemade bombs. Others nearby attempt to treat the wounded, to bury the dead, all the time with their ears fearfully tuned to the elephant's every move. To the elephant just about any movement appears hostile; he does not understand Arabic, he lashes back at any movement, any perceived threat to his dominance of what he now considers his turf. He flattens anyone who gets in his way. He blows his horn arrogantly into the open air.
It goes without saying, of course, that this American elephant entered the market without the community's consent, and under false pretenses, busting a huge hole through the back wall when he came, and has already demolished large parts, though not all, of the merchandise and the infrastructure, meanwhile decimating the human staff, crushing men, women, and children alike.
Say this is your tyrannical Uncle Sam's elephant. What is the proper response to this situation? Is it, let's give Uncle Sam a chance to manage his elephant and train him to use his trunk to repair what he has damaged? Should we wait until the people calm down before removing the beast? Do we blame the Iraqis for inciting the beast's wrath and then use the animal to teach them to behave? No, I would imagine, most sensible people would agree, the thing to be done is to get the elephant out of the goddamn market altogether, as soon as possible-sooner!-- before he wreaks more havoc, and causes more violence.
There are limitations to this metaphor too of course. But it seems to me a much more useful one than the broken-pot shopping cliché presently in use.
For the more literal among us: The US occupation has demonstrated beyond serious doubt that it is incapable and/or unconcerned with meeting the needs and respecting the rights of the Iraqi people. Its failures-perhaps it would be more correct to say crimes-have not been simply honest mistakes, or results of logistical mismanagement, but predictable results of established neocolonial policies, and the hubristic fallout from the American imperial dream that their tanks and bombers would be viewed as "liberators".
The vast majority of Iraqis today view the US soldiers in their country not as "liberators", but as occupiers. Most want US troops out. They have realized by now, if they weren't certain before that-despite Bush's Born-again rhetoric-it was not concern with human rights, or democracy that drove the US to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq. Rather, many now suspect that it was the US government's own geopolitical interests-with respect to Europe, to Middle Eastern oil, and to the state of Israel-that drove it to invade, in the hopes of establishing a US-puppet state in the region. Iraqis are now opposing and resisting this neocolonial plan in myriad ways.
The US response to this resistance has been predictably and overwhelmingly violent. Consider the recent Johns Hopkins Medical study, recently published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. This study estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have already been killed as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation, 84% by US and Coalition forces, most as a result of US bombing. Such a total indicates the potentially genocidal nature of the US military occupation. Recall: over 2 million Vietnamese were killed in Vietnam, along with 56,000 Americans. Already in Iraq 1,200 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis are dead. What will these numbers be a year from now? Two years? Four years?
In short, though the US invasion and occupation has indeed caused and exacerbated many of the problems in Iraq today, it does not follow (as the "clumsy/guilty shopper" metaphor implies) that the US military presence can "fix" them. How can the US military fix the problems in Iraq? It is the main problem in Iraq. The destabilization of the country, the resurgence of anti-American violence and religious extremism, the bombings of US-trained Iraqi police stations all follow from the continued daily humiliation and provocation of an unjustified and brutal American occupation, which itself is responsible for the vast majority of the violence.
The US military's armored elephants are not fit or able to secure or reconstruct, let alone democratize Iraq, even if the Elephants directing them were principally concerned with such liberal niceties-and they are not. That's why we should support an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Bring the troops home now! Then we can start talking about what to do with these mad, murdering elephants of ours, and how to prevent their next imperial rampage.
Joseph Ramsey is a PhD. candidate in the English Department at Tufts University. He is a member of Tufts Coalition to End the War in Iraq (TCOWI).