Monday, 19 December 2011

The US is blind to the price of war that is still being borne by the Iraqi people

The US is blind to the price of war that is still being borne by the Iraqi people...

Gary Younge                                    Guardian/UK                                         18 December 2011

In 19 November 2005 a US marine squad was struck by a roadside bomb in Haditha, killing one soldier and seriously injuring two others. According to civilians they then went on the rampage, slaughtering 24 people. They included a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair and a three-year-old child. It was a massacre. "I think they were just blinded by hate … and they just lost control," said James Crossan, one of the injured marines.

When he heard the news, Major General Steve Johnson, the American commander in Anbar province at the time, saw no cause for further examination. "It happened all the time … throughout the whole country… If I was sitting here [in Virginia] and heard that 15 civilians were killed I would have been shocked and done more to look into it. But at that point in time I felt that it was just a cost of doing business on that particular engagement." Eight soldiers were originally charged with the atrocity. Charges against six were dropped, one was acquitted and the other is awaiting trial. We know this because a New York Times reporter found documents from the US military's internal investigation in a rubbish dump near Baghdad.

The case against this war has been prosecuted extensively both in this column and elsewhere. This war started out with many parents but has ended its days an orphan, tarnishing the reputations of those who launched it and the useful idiots who gave them intellectual cover. Nobody has been held accountable. It was only possible thanks to the systemic collusion of a supine political class and a jingoistic political culture, not to mention a blank cheque from the British government. When the war started, almost three-quarters of Americans supported it. Only politicians of principle opposed it – and there were precious few of those.

Polls show more than 70% support withdrawal, roughly two-thirds oppose the war, and more than half believe it was a mistake. But there is a difference between regretting something and learning from it. And while there is ample evidence of the former, there is little to suggest the latter. According to Christopher Gelpi, a political science professor at Duke University who specialises in public attitudes to foreign policy, the most important single factor shaping Americans' opinions about any war is whether they think America will win. It's a mindset that understands the war in Vietnam as being wrong not because an independent country was invaded, flattened, millions murdered and thousands tortured. It was wrong because the US lost.

And it pervades the political spectrum. Even when the war's critics slam the blood and treasure squandered, they usually refer only to American lives and American money. The cost to Iraqis simply does not feature. . Rightly Americans fret about the fate of veterans returning to a depressed economy with a range of both physical and mental disabilities. But Iraqi civilians barely get a look-in.

According to the New York Times report, among the discarded testimony was an interview with Sergeant Major Edward Sax. "I had marines shoot children in cars, and dealt with the marines individually, one on one, about it because they have a hard time dealing with that." When they told him they didn't know there were children on board he told them they were not to blame, claiming killing would impose a lifelong burden on them.

The combined effect of all of this is like breaking someone's jaw with your fist only to bemoan the excruciating pain that has been visited on your hand. America is not alone in this. Amnesia and indifference are the privileges of the powerful. It is for the Kenyans and Algerians to recall the atrocities committed by the British and French under colonialism while the colonisers remain in flight from their history. "The essential characteristic of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common," wrote the 19th-century French philosopher Ernest Renan, "and must have forgotten many things as well."

No wonder then that a recent Pew poll found that despite all the evidence to the contrary 56% of Americans said they thought the invasion had succeeded in its goals while the number of those who think the invasion was the right decision stands at its highest in five years. The cost of doing business always seems more reasonable when someone else is paying the price. 


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