I hope to say more about this, but I wanted to draw attention to this passage in Barack Obama’s remarks to troops regarding the end of the war in Iraq.
The war in Iraq will soon belong to history. Your service belongs to the ages. Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries –- from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you –- men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.
You’d never know that a signature of Obama’s 2008 campaign was his assertion that the invasion/occupation of Iraq was a bad mistake. (Actually, it was a crime, but let that go.) This was the main way he sought to distinguish himself as a candidate from Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize George W. Bush to use force against the Iraqi people. True enough, you didn’t have to scratch very deep before discovering a waffle. At one point he said he didn’t know how he would have voted on the authorization of force had he been in the Senate in 2002-03.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable to see Obama talking about the war this way. It is also remarkable that he can praise the troops without acknowledging the mind-numbing mess that Iraq has been left in. It is estimated that over 100,000 people died direct violent deaths from the war. A million excess deaths are also attributed to the invasion, war, and occupation. Over four million Iraqis are refugees, about half of whom left the country, and have yet to return to their homes. Obama noted the American casualties in his remarks, but of course omitted any mention of Iraqi casualties. They don’t matter. War crimes abounded, like the ones in Fallujah, Haditha, and Abu Ghraib – horrors that forever will be remembered – if not in the United States then certainly throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds -- as will the U.S-supported sectarian cleansing of Baghdad.
Obama concluded his remarks with the standard propaganda about sacrifice and American exceptionalism:
[L]et us never forget the source of American leadership: our commitment to the values that are written into our founding documents, and a unique willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity. This is who we are. That’s what we do as Americans, together….
All of you here today have lived through the fires of war. You will be remembered for it. You will be honored for it -- always. You have done something profound with your lives. When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve. When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness.
And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren. And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire. You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.
I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you.
This is pretty disgusting stuff. Their “country” didn’t call. That was just some hack politician on the line. There was no great cause – Empire is not a great cause. A lot of people died and otherwise had their lives ruined, and the country was left a shambles. Sectarian violence is already erupting in the wake of the U.S. departure. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a nasty dictator, but left in his place is a sectarian-cleansed state ruled by an authoritarian prime minister under a constitution that bears little resemblance to a protector of freedom.
I think of the line from Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily: “We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.” Make war look noble and many will be eager to be sent to war. And many “leaders” will be eager to send them.
Heck, even in the Empire’s own terms there’s nothing to brag about. The Iraqi government is allied to Iran. The U.S. military got none of the permanent bases it wanted, and even the American oil companies lost out.
Obama will campaign on how he ended the war, and the conservatives will attack him for it, but both sides will conveniently forget that 1) the U.S. government was obligated to leave under an agreement signed by Bush and 2) Obama tried his damnedest to get the Iraqi leaders to ask the U.S. military to stay. (See Gareth Porter’s “How Maliki and Iran Outsmarted the US on Troop Withdrawal.”)
It’s not even as though the exit from the Iraq constitutes an exit from the Middle East. Hardly. The troops moved down the road to Kuwait where they will be “repostured.”
And the sabers are being rattled in the direction of Iran and Syria, where covert warfare is already being waged.