by Eddie Tews
With the United States having failed with its conquest of Iraq to discover
any WMD, be welcomed as liberators, or make this country safer; the pro-war
apologists have in retrospect latched onto another supposed justification
for the war. This new post-war pretext (hereinafter: "The Postulate") has
begun to pervade the public consciousness to the degree that it's leached
into letters to the editor of major metropolitan dailies and radio talk
shows. It goes like this: since the United States killed fewer people
during the conquest than Saddam would have killed over the long-term had he
remained in power, the war was justified. Let us count the ways in which
this newest (and admittedly specious) Postulate fails to cut the mustard.
First, supposing it were true. Does this then give the United States the
right to unilaterally mount an illegal invasion? Should it not have acted
through legal channels, or at the very least attempted to ascertain
whether Saddam's victims desired an American liberation?
Or if it does give us the right to act illegally and without
consulting those we intend to liberate, some more questions follow.
Since the United States is imbued with the authority (and, by implication,
is morally obligated to exercise this authority) to overturn murderous
dictatorial regimes, why did it wait until now before taking out Saddam?
Why doesn't it take out the Israeli regime, whose occupation of Palestine
has created a Hell on Earth the equal to or probably surpassing Saddam's
terrors? Why doesn't it take out the Chinese regime? Why doesn't it take
out the Colombian and Turkish regimes? Why doesn't it take out the Saudi
and Egyptian regimes? And if, being uniquely capable of processing these
matters, it either fails to do so or fails to do so in a timely manner,
then should it not be held culpable for its neglect?
On the other hand, if we are to apply the principle uniformly, should not
the United States be subject to a punitive bombing campaign to
discontinue the misery bought in its name? Approximately 30,000 children
per day are killed by starvation and preventable disease largely
wrought by IMF-mandated austerity programs. As the IMF and World Bank are
controlled by the United States (to such extent that their programs are
known as the "Washington Consensus"), and by the logic at hand, should not
the world undertake a campaign of bombing the United States, being careful
to kill only 29,999 children per day, until the US calls off the IMF dogs?
Moving along, we'll recognize that far from "taking out" the
above-mentioned regimes, the United States actively supports
them--as it does so many tyrannical regimes. Not only diplomatically and
economically, either (though this would be bad enough). The United States
is by a wide margin the leading arms dealer in the world--the vast majority
of these arms being shipped off to human rights violators--and the flow of
arms to rights violators has increased since September 11th. A
military bombardment and occupation of the United States, resulting in the
cessation of these arms flows, would surely greatly lower the level of
worldwide suffering--so would it be thereby justified?
But if The Postulate were true, would we not have expected it to be
the Bush Administration's first-rank argument, rather than the latest in a
long line of failed attempts to secure world acquiescence to its cause?
Would we not have expected 90% of the world's population--including most
vociferously the inhabitants of the region, those who had studied (and
would be tasked with picking up after) the likely consequences of war, and
those who had witnessed Saddam's depredations first-hand--to have been in
favor of the invasion? Would we not have expected the world's people to
have queued up to lend a hand, rather than washing their
hands of the United States' deeds?
That the opposite was (and remains) true in these cases should at least
give us pause. But let's take a cursory look at the numbers.
First, what should we have expected, should Saddam have remained in power?
Should we have expected the summary executions of thousands of people and
displacement of hundreds of thousands, as in 1989-90; or the summary
executions of scores of people, as in 2002? A grisly, barbarous, wholly
unacceptable record either way. But since we're dealing in comparison, the
difference should matter. And since we're dealing with the future,
the latest behavior should give us the most accurate expectation of future
behavior. (We might also want, for shits 'n' giggles, to consider the
implications of the difference in light of the attenuation of US support of
the regime--or the correlation of US military aid with human rights
Keeping this in mind as a baseline, what are the consequences of the United
States' war? While we'll never know the precise toll, we do know that a
website tracking the civilian death count figures somewhere in the
neighborhood of 2,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed directly--an
all-the-more shocking total given the Bush and Blair Administrations'
detestably languid reactions to them. Nobody seems to know how many Iraqi
soldiers have been killed, but it surely numbers well into the thousands
(the Pentagon has boasted of killing two-to-three thousand on a single day,
and apparently thousands are still "missing"), while the onslaught
succeeded in maiming and disfiguring thousands upon thousands more
civilians and soldiers.
But if the United States needs to forcibly put down the disquieted masses
daily telling it to get out of Iraq before "we force you out", we may need
to add yet hundreds or thousands more to the total. If a war against the US
occupation breaks out, the toll could be especially monstrous. (Five
million Indochinese and up to 1.5 million Algerians were killed in their
anti-colonial struggles, for example.)
While we don't yet know how many Iraqis will have been directly murdered by
the American adventure, so too do we not know how many will have been
indirectly murdered. But here again the toll will be sobering at best, but
more likely than not terribly nauseating. The country is on the verge of
humanitarian collapse, with "hindered" aid agencies begging for help in
averting a catastrophe. Supplies of food and clean water are desperately
low, and Baghdad's mightily struggling hospitals are "preparing for a
possible outbreak of cholera and typhoid". All while the US is blocking UN
aid workers from flying into the country, and following the United States'
having allowed hospitals to be burned and looted while the Marines were
busy protecting the oil ministry.
So by this reckoning, the at least thousands, but likely into the tens of
thousands and possibly even into the hundreds of thousands (mostly
children) killed in an initial "liberatory" orgy of violence and its
immediate aftermath are to be set off against scores killed per year had
Saddam remained in power and been left to his own devices. In order for The
Postulate to "work", in other words, we would need to assume a return to
something like Iraq's pre-Gulf War standard of living and an angelic
government in place in Iraq for the whole of the many decades of angelic
comportment it would take for the numbers of annual lives "saved" to
cumulatively "catch up" with the number of dead bodies created in the
initial "investment"--after which time, The Superbrain's war would begin
"paying off" for the brave people of Iraq.
But can we expect an angelic government in place in Iraq? Can we name any
other country in which a US or US-orchestrated change-of-government
resulted in an angelic (or even improved) polity, especially with
regards to human rights? Certainly not Iraq, where Western intervention
brought Saddam to power in the first place, nor Afghanistan, where the
overthrow of the Taliban brought the despicable "Northern Alliance" back
into power. What about Vietnam, or Chile, or Haiti, or Indonesia, or Iran,
or Nicaragua, or the Congo, or Brazil, or East Timor? Can we think of even
Are we surprised, then, that the United States is turning to former Ba'ath
party officials, "screened" members of Saddam's police force, and "dozens
of retired Iraqi military leaders" to help restore order in Iraq?
"Saddamismo without Saddam", we might call it. A path trod before in
Germany and Japan, among other places: if the consequences of "democracy"
aren't to our liking, put the fascists back into power. Are we surprised
that the United States has blocked (on the grounds that it would be
"illogical") a proposed UN investigation of human rights abuses in
At any rate, even if an angelic government were to emerge, and
remain in place in perpetuity, the war still wouldn't have saved
lives. For to the annual toll also must be added the health and
environmental effects of radiological munitions and cluster bombs, which
all by themselves will kill many more people per year than would have
Saddam's regime. For how long? Well, thirty years later Indochinese
peasants are still being blown up by unexploded ordnance (primarily cluster
bombs) to the tune of hundreds per year, and Depleted Uranium has a
radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years...
Clearly, then, this Postulate is as sopping wet as were its predecessors.
Back to the drawing board.
How to have dealt with Saddam, then? We can't undo having brought him into
power in the first place, having supported him through the period of his
worst crimes, having destroyed the regime's admirable social welfare gains
which had made Iraq's education and public health systems the finest in the
region prior to the first Gulf War, having aided Saddam in putting down the
popular uprising following the first war, or having strengthened
Saddam's grip over the populace with the unconscionable sanctions regime.
(We could consider reparations, though...) But UN Resolution 687 (which the
Bush Administration is so fond of referencing) gives a good guide-post:
region-wide disarmament. Stop flooding arms into the region, and let
the people of the region (even if their skin isn't the right color)
run their own affairs. If, as in South Africa (another of the United
States' close friends deplored by the rest of the world--"civilized" and
"not"), it were judged by the world community that sanctions not aimed at a
country's people but at its government would be an
appropriate response to internal repression, then, this too would be in
order. So far as banned weapons programs are concerned: let he without sin
lob the first missile. Is it really so difficult to practice what we
Alas, yes. Which is why, whatever the future does hold for Iraq, it's
unlikely to be anything resembling sweetness and light--unless American
citizens do something about it. Try as they might, that's one thing the
splenetic warmongers can't hide.
Citations for this article can be discovered at