By John Stiller
“Every since he came around, people have died in his great name, long before that September, long before hijacking planes.”
–Lyrics from the song “Him” by Lily Allen
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.”
–Winston Churchill, on his decision to use poison gas to help put down rebellion against British rule in Iraq not long after the country was “created”
“You are flying in the face of four millennia of history.”
–An American missionary’s reaction to the British decision to cram Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra into newly formed country of Iraq
“The British civil commissioner in Baghdad, Captain Arnold Wilson, warned that it [decision to draw artificial borders to create new country of Iraq] was a recipe for disaster because the enduring Shia-Sunni conflict would result in ‘the antithesis of democratic government.”
— History’s Worst Decisions and the People Who Made Them, Stephen Weir
Meaning of the Word “Iraq” – “Well-rooted country.”
One the fundamental flaws of the American character is the belief that the United States is inherently good. Therefore, by that logic, all of the decisions it makes are done with the best of intentions.
For those that have read Lies My History Teacher Taught Me, by James W. Loewen, he shows how the teaching of history in the US is not to impart knowledge and facts. It’s to instill in the student a story. A story about a land that is inherently good. Yes, mistakes were made (moving (i.e. forcing at gun point) Native Americans on to reservations was not good, slavery was a tragic aberration, interning Japanese citizens during WW II was only a regrettable wartime excess, Vietnam was an idealistic error of judgment, etc.)
But the overriding motif of this story, is summed up in the following quote by historian Alan Bloom:
“This is the American moment in world history . . . America tells one story: the unbroken, ineluctable progress of freedom and equality. From its first settlers and its political foundings on, there has been no dispute that freedom and equality are the essence of justice for us . . .”
With this idea in mind, let us turn to Iraq . . . wait . . . no . . . let’s stop off in Southeast Asia first.
Vietnam, 1954 to 1975
“We’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.”
–Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay
In a recent article about Lyndon Johnson’s legacy, his daughters talked about how Vietnam “broke their father’s heart” and how he tried everything he could to “get us out of the war.”
This is a skewed vision of LBJ and his policies. President Johnson escalated a war that Truman started after the French were defeated and kicked out of Southeast Asia, a war that Kennedy continued by sending more and more advisors to prop up the ARVN (South Vietnamese military, a group that would have collapsed (and did) quickly without our support.)
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, which LBJ used to justify bringing our own military out of a supporting role to an offensive role is still under question: whether it happened, how it happened, etc.
It’s a pointless question really. If it wasn’t the Gulf of Tonkin, it would have been somewhere else for something else. Because the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which allowed LBJ to do whatever he wanted in Vietnam, was written BEFORE the incident ever happened. The US was just waiting for an excuse to escalate the conflict, and when the event happened that everyone was looking for “happened,” LBJ and the Pentagon had the scenario they wanted.
Most commentators still hold to the belief that we lost Vietnam because we fought a “limited” war. This is the conventional view that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you look at some basic numbers. Nearly 2.5 million US personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam between 1965—1973. South Korea sent over 300,000 troops to fight on our side during the same time period. This is in addition to the South Vietnamese forces (ARVN) which numbered between 400,000 and 700,000.
Amount of explosives used by US Air Force in Vietnam: roughly 7.8 million tons
Amount of explosives used by US Air Force in World War II: roughly 2.7 million tons
Someone might contrast the advancements in military technology after the end of World War II to explain this disparity. While this is true, one should also consider that the number (2.7 million) is for both the Pacific and European theaters of war. World War II was a global war fought in many different regions. The Vietnam War was confined to a much, much smaller area.
End of Digression
The history of the Vietnam fiasco (a more appropriate term would be a war of ideological-cleansing (if you didn’t agree with us and actively support us, you were a target) has been well-documented, though there is still much more to come out. But I use the Gulf of Tonkin incident to bring attention to a more recent conflict, one which is flaming up again, though it’s been smoldering for decades.
Iraq, 1991 until . . . ?
“There is no use mincing words . . . We exterminated the American Indians and I guess most of us are proud of it . . . and we must have no scruples about exterminating this other race standing in the face of progress and enlightenment.”
–United States Army officer in Philippines during insurrection against American forces in early part of 20th Century
Policy makers in Washington had been wanting to get US troops into the Middle East after the Gas Crisis of the 1970s (which ended when Kissinger told Saudi Arabia that if they didn’t relent we would invade and take over their oil fields. Kissinger actually admitted this in a TV interview.) We never could get our troops into the Middle East mainly because we were afraid the Soviet Union would then get involved.
Reagan did try to get troops into the Middle East in 1983, when he sent Marines to Beirut to help supposedly stabilize and help contain the civil war that had started in 1975 and showed no signs of stopping. Reagan of course had to pull the troops out of Beirut when a suicide bomber drove a truck into a military barracks and killed nearly 300 Marines, most of whom were asleep at the time.
It’s never been proven who was behind bombing, but it’s believed this was one of the first militant actions by Hezbollah (most likely with Iranian support). Everyone forgets that in this instance, terrorism worked: the bombing was so shocking and so horrifying, that the US public wanted nothing to do with Beirut and Reagan had no choice to pull us out. Reagan, everyone’s hero, the man who defeated Communism, had to turn and run when this happened. He gave in to the will of terrorists, and they got what they wanted. Which was the US out of Beirut.
End of Digression
And the terrorist is . . . who?
1980: Iraq invades Iran. US removes Iraq from list of states that sponsor terror.
1988: Iraq-Iran war ends in stalemate. Iraq is immediately added back to the list of states that sponsor terror.
“Bush knows Saddam has Weapons of Mass Destruction. He has the receipt.”
–Comedian Paul Mooney
Towards the end of Iraq-Iran War, Saddam bombed the Kurds in Iraq with poison gas because he considered them a threat to the Sunni minority which controlled the country. It became a public relations problem for Iraq. What did we tell Saddam about how to deal with this public relations crisis?
“Make it look like Iran did it,” as in, make it look like Iran used poison gas to massacre thousands of civilians, since Iran is “bad’ and you are “good” (for now anyways.)
The enemy of my enemy is my friend . . .
Or my enemy is my friend or my friend is a . . .
Wait . . . uh, what?
The US and Kuwait goaded Saddam for several years leading up the first Gulf War, doing everything they could to provoke him. Kuwait disobeyed OPEC on nearly every occasion to help screw over Iraq, which was attempting to rebuild after the eight-year war with Iran.
During Iran-Iraq War, when no one was paying attention, Kuwait extended its border 900 miles into Iraq, and begin drilling for oil.
If you’re ever hear of “slant drilling,” during Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait was processing oil they pulled out of Iraq, and then selling it right back to the Iraqis, desperate for oil to maintain their pointless war with Iran.
Saddam saw what Kuwait was doing, and told them to stop repeatedly.
After Iraq-Iran War ended, Saddam went from being our best friend to being our worst enemy. US military began doing war games against Iraq years before the first Gulf War.
Right before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saddam sought guidance from the US (since were demonizing him in the public sphere but still being nice to him diplomatically behind the scenes.)
Saddam wanted to know how we would react towards inter-Arab conflicts, i.e. if I invade Kuwait will you do anything about it?
Our response was that we were neutral in this area.
Saddam, displaying no knowledge of American history, invaded Kuwait.
Bush Sr. and Pentagon have the scenario they want.
They began press campaign to justify using massive military force against Iraq to drive them out of Kuwait. Any attempts at finding a peaceful end to crisis were thwarted by U.S./Kuwait. Many Arab countries tried to step in to find peaceful end, and we ignored or put intense pressure on them to keep their mouth shut.
The US media played repeatedly the testimony of a Kuwaiti-teenage girl who was a volunteer at a hospital when the invasion happened; she tearfully told a Congressional inquest committee about witnessing Iraqi soldiers come to her hospital during invasion. She said they took incubators from the neo-natal unit and left newborn babies on the ground to die.
A few months later, it’s revealed that the teenager is the Kuwaiti-ambassador’s daughter. Upon further questioning, she then says she only saw one baby outside of an incubator for a moment. She then states that she wasn’t even a volunteer at the hospital and only stopped by for a “minute.” No real evidence is ever found indicating this actually happened.
The “liberal media,” which gave wide spread attention to her story of Iraqi atrocities, barely paid attention to the story when it’s revealed who she is and that it’s almost certain it was invented.
To get our troops into Saudi Arabia, we showed them satellite photos that indicated a massive buildup of Iraqi troops near Saudi border, as if they’re getting ready to invade. Saudis got scared and let us in (Photos turn out to be bogus later).
Bin Laden and Saddam in Bed Together?
Osama Bin Laden tried to talk the Saudis out of letting the US into the Middle East. Bin Laden passionately hated Saddam, since Saddam was a secular dictator who only paid lip service to Islam when it was to his benefit. Bin Laden told them that if you let the Americans into the Middle East, they will never leave. He argued that he would raise 100,000 battled-hardened Afghan fighters (who had just defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan) to liberate Kuwait (how he would accomplish this from a military standpoint seems pretty insane, but whatever.)
The Saudis rebuffed him and he was furious.
The War Begins
“Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease.
Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks, particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing.”
–Lines from U.S. Air Force report before the war describing rationale for destroying Iraqi infrastructure
If we wanted to merely liberate Kuwait, why is that after the deadline for the Iraqi pull out of Kuwait passed, we don’t attack Iraqi forces in Kuwait, but Iraq itself?
And attack we do. Within three days of the US bombing of Iraq starts, we have destroyed nearly all of their power plants and water processing facilities. This leads to the deaths of thousands of Iraqis because disease begins spreading among the population.
As the above Air Force report indicates, this was done on purpose. This means that the US military, with approval by the White House, deliberately created conditions for epidemics to emerge in Iraq. So, to achieve our political objectives in the Middle East, Bush Sr. sentenced Iraqi civilians, mainly women and children, to suffer and die from horrible diseases that are easily preventable. This is not warfare. This is biological terrorism.
“Over 100,000 Iraqis were killed in 42 days of bombing . . . 88,500 tons of explosives were dropped on a country that had no air defenses by the third day of the war.”
“. . . electric power stations (92 percent of installed capacity destroyed), refineries (80 percent of production capacity), petrochemical complexes, telecommunications centers (including 135 telephone networks), bridges (more than 100), roads, highways, railroads, hundreds of locomotives and boxcars full of goods, radio and television broadcasting stations, cement plants, and factories producing aluminum, textiles, electric cables, and medical supplies.”
“Precision-guided munitions amounted to approximately 7.4% of all bombs dropped by the Coalition.”
–The Fire Next Time, Ramsey Clark
After Iraq was almost completely destroyed, we finally “liberate” Kuwait, a battle that ends almost immediately, since there is no way Iraq can compete against us.
(It should be noted that the majority of Iraqi soldiers were poorly-trained conscripts. The Iraqi army was created using a draft to fill its ranks, putting many young Iraqi males in the horrible position of fighting a war that many of them didn’t want to fight in the first place, against a foe with a massive technological advantage.)
When Iraqi forces began the mass exodus of Kuwait, the U.S. violated Geneva Convention/accepted rules of war about not attacking soldiers who have given up and are retreating. The phrase “highway of death” enters the political discourse. As does the phrase “turkey shoot.”
American planes flew over retreating Iraqi forces (who for the most part were not even bothering to fight back, and typically scrambled into the desert to escape certain death) and destroy anything and anyone they come across. We finally stopped when Colin Powell talks to Bush Sr., and tells him that if we keep doing this we’re going to look bad.
So it finally stops.
But that’s before the sanctions kick in after war, where even more Iraqi civilians die because the country is devastated by us.
Later, the sanctions/no-fly zone is a complete ruse, since the vast majority of Iraq’s WMDs (the majority of which he bought from us when he was our friend) are destroyed in massive bombing campaign of Iraq.
The reason we didn’t just invade Iraq in 1991 and take Saddam out then was because the America public (at the time) would never have accepted a drawn out, bloody war with Iraq, which would have taken much longer than the few days it took to liberate Kuwait. And, if we invaded Iraq, other Arab countries would not be pleased, even if they hated Saddam as well.
So we get what we want in the end.
Bush Sr. told the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, and many of them took him seriously, since he implied that the US would help. When they did rise up against Saddam, we did not help, and Saddam slaughtered thousands of them to stay in power. This was just another attempt to further destabilize Iraq.
Much was made later of the plot to assassinate Bush Sr. by Saddam/Iraq. Kuwait made a huge deal about it. However, much of the supposed plot is strange. Some men tried for the assassination attempt (which was so laughably planned and executed it seems highly questionable that it was state-sponsored) tried to recant their initial confessions, claiming they were beaten.
American officials have been poring through Iraqi intelligence documents recovered after Gulf War II. The Iraqis were practically obsessive-compulsive when it came to keeping track of their activities. Yet within the entire 600,000 documents US intelligence has gone through, they haven’t found one word regarding a potential assassination of Bush Sr. Did the Iraqis destroy these before the 2003 invasion? That seems plausible.
Here, though, are the results of the plot.
Clinton was convinced that the plot was real and sent cruise missiles to bomb Baghdad. An Iraqi intelligence center was the primary target.
However, some missiles hit the home of Layla Al-Attar, a noted Iraqi artist. She was killed. Her husband was killed. Her housekeeper was killed. Her daughter was blinded in the attack.
Is this an acceptable act of war? Or is it terrorism, just as cold-blooded as a suicide bomber who blows himself up on an Israeli bus and kills average citizens probably on their way to work? What is the difference between individual terrorism and state terrorism? Both use violence to attain political goals, or to make a statement.
When individuals do this, it’s terrorism and everyone condemns it.
When a government does this, it’s an act of war and acceptable.
Michael Burleigh’s book Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, ends with what he calls a good definition of terrorism. He then describes the story of a man who has barely survived the suicide bombings of the London subway in 2005. He is dying and trying to make sense of what has happened to him.
It’s a very accurate and evocative description.
I’d like to end with my own definition of terrorism. But mine is different than Mr. Burleigh’s. My definition is for state terrorism. Here it is:
“When we got up to her she was asking for water. And the lieutenant said to kill her, so he ripped off her clothes, they stabbed both breasts, they spread her eagle and shoved an E tool up her vagina, an entrenching tool, and she was still asking for water. And then they took that out they used a tree limb and she was shot . . .
“It wasn’t like they were humans . . . They were a gook or a commie and it was okay.”
How about this one?
“These people are aware of what American soldiers do to them, so naturally they tried to hide the young girls. We found one hiding in a bomb shelter in sort of the basement of her house. She was taken out, raped by six or seven people in front of her family, in front of us and the villagers. This wasn’t just one incident; this was just one of the first ones I can remember. I know of 10 or 15 of such incidents at least.”
These quotes are from the testimony of US soldiers who served in Vietnam. They were made when the Winter Soldier Investigation were held in Detroit in 1971.
Since Obama is now sending advisors back there, here’s a definition of state terrorism that is the most relevant.
“I didn’t think of Iraqis as human.”
–Steven Dale, former U.S. soldier in Iraq, part of a group of soldiers who raped and killed a 14 year Iraqi girl. (see Mahmudiyah killings) They killed most of her family as well. Dale was sentenced to life in prison, and died in 2014 after a suicide attempt. The Iraqi girl’s name was Abeer Qaussim Hamza.
But these are only the symptoms of state terrorism.
Here’s the cause:
“ . . . we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of the population . . . In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment . . . We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world benefaction . . . We should cease to talk about vague and – for the Far East – unreal objectives [such] as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
–Part of an internal document, written in 1948 by George Kennan, head of the State Department planning staff in the early post-war period.
“This time the bullet cold rocked ya . . .
Yellow ribbon instead of a swastika . . .
Nothin’ proper about ya propaganda . . .”
–from the song “Bullet in Your Head,” by Rage Against the Machine