Friday, September 14, 2007

Sanitizing War

In a weird, frightening way, we believe in violent death. We regard it as a policy option, as much to do with self-preservation on a national scale as punishment for named and individual wrongdoers. We believe in war. For what is aggression – the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example – except capital punishment on a mass scale? We "civilised" nations – like the dark armies we believe we are fighting – are convinced that the infliction of death on an awesome scale can be morally justified.

And that's the problem, I'm afraid. When we go to war, we are all putting on hoods and pulling the hangman's lever. And as long as we send our armies on the rampage – whatever the justification – we will go on stringing up and shooting and chopping off the heads of our "criminals" and "murderers" with the same enthusiasm as the Romans cheered on the men of blood in the Colosseum 2,000 years ago.

- Robert Fisk, In the Colosseum, thoughts turn to death

It struck me this past week, listening to the testimony of General Petraeus and the speech given by George Bush, that they both seem endeared with using the term "cleared" when it comes to describing killing the so-called "enemy" (and who knows how many civilians at the same time?) - as if slaughter during war time amounts to no more than Bush's hobby at his ranch: "clearing brush". In Iraq and Afghanistan however, it's people who are being rooted out, gathered up - either in body bags or to be stashed away in detention somewhere until they're proven innocent - not just bothersome twigs or branches.

And then there are the "barbarians", as Petraeus and Bush like to refer to al Qaeda and the other insurgents. Are they "barbarians" because their methods of slaughter are more primitive? Because they don't possess the laser-guided missiles or bombs that can be dropped on an entire village in an area that must be "cleared" according to their war strategy? Does it make a difference if a child's head is blown away by an American gun or one of al Qaeda's? Aren't those both barbaric acts?

And what of the victims of US military barbarity? Major news networks and TV talk shows love featuring stories of select children who were horrendously disfigured by the "enemy's" actions - trotting them out to the American public while praising whichever hospital has agreed to do the reconstructive surgery for free - as if those doctors are doing penance on behalf of all citizens - most of whom couldn't be bothered to left a finger to try to do anything to end both wars and the rest of the violence the US inflicts upon the rest of the world year after year, decade after decade. Somehow, fixing one child's face is supposed to be enough. It's not.

If the public was able to view the total, cumulative effects of its military "campaigns" (another word that sanitizes mass killings), it might actually understand the true horror of the military-industrial complex that it's still so willing to support via the country's two major political parties - both of which are just as guilty of enabling war profiteers and the twisted ideal of "clearing" the world of its enemies. And there is a never-ending supply of enemies who must be "cleared".

When Bush spoke of "return on success" during Thursday nite's speech, he acted as nothing more than the CEO of a major corporation trying to guarantee investors a good ROI - Return On their Investment. That was exactly the same business-like stance that Ryan Crocker used during his testimony earlier this week - a dry, passionless, dehumanized summary of what the war profiteers can expect out of the White House until the end of Bush's term. The frustration with al Maliki's government not yet passing the oil law is ever present for those who are growing impatient with not being able to realize their dreams of cashing in on the riches underneath Iraq's desert sands.

Bush and Petraeus were selling a product this week: a future Iraq that will be secure enough for profiteers to operate without fear for their lives. Everything else - the "freedom", the "democracy", the "liberation" - is just a smokescreen. And if the Democrats decide to try to pull out troops before there is some sense of that security, they'll have big-moneyed corporate lobbyists to answer to. They won't defund the war. That's political suicide. And they are just as invested in the so-called "glory" of war that enables far too many Americans to not realistically look at the nightmarish damage their country's military might actually causes.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Friday at a Pentagon briefing that he couldn't predict how long U.S. forces would be in Iraq, how many, or even what their mission would be. ``We are in a very early stage in this,'' Gates said.

Meanwhile, Civilian toll in Iraq may top 1 Million

1 Million

And what of the displaced?

Refugees International has been sounding the alarm for almost a year that Iraqi refugee flows throughout the Middle East are overwhelming the region. More than 2.2 million persons are now displaced inside the country, and an additional 2.5 million have fled to neighboring countries. These numbers continue to grow with as many as 100,000 per month newly displaced within Iraq and 40,000 to 60,000 fleeing to Syria on a monthly basis. With Jordan and Syria now imposing entry requirements on Iraqis, it is becoming increasingly hard to leave the country. Many “safer” governorates inside Iraq have also closed their internal borders, unable to cope with the large influxes of displaced persons.

"Refugees International is extremely concerned by the growing numbers of displaced Iraqis, as well as by the few options that are available to them," continued Ms. Younes. "Whether or not U.S. troops stay or leave Iraq, it is clear that we must respond to the millions of people who cannot access housing, food, medical care and education for their children. Regardless of our future course in Iraq, these people are not going home soon."

Refugees International also addressed Ambassador Crocker's concern for Iraqis who have helped the U.S. and expressed disappointment that only 719 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. this year.

So who are the "barbarians"? Those who chose to invade a country that was not an imminent threat or those who choose to fight back/and or take advantage of the occupation? It was Bush, after all, who said, "Bring 'em on". He got exactly what he wanted, didn't he?

And, long after he finally retires to his ranch to once again clear his brush, US military troops and contractors (whose presence was mysteriously absent in the public testimony this past week) will be "clearing" Iraq - of insurgents and civilians. What kind of "return on success" is that for the Iraqi people? And why don't they get to decide what "success" means?

Related: America's Deadly Shock Doctrine in Iraq by Naomi Klein and Henry Holt

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