Monday, October 30, 2006

I Found the Enemy

Somewhere in a rough Baghdad neighborhood today, as every day, a small group of American troops are patrolling the streets in a lightly-armored vehicle--like thousands of other troops patrolling throughout the city and in different places throughout Iraq. They keep an aware, slightly nervous eye on their surroundings, not letting too many moments pass without scanning everything in their field of vision. They’ve been in Iraq long enough to know that they have to: on an apparently quiet street, things can get ugly quick, and almost from out of nowhere. They keep an eye on the ground, looking for spots that may look dug-up, potentially planted with an improvised explosive device. They keep an eye upward, to the roofs of buildings and in windows, apprehensive of deadly sniper attacks that seem to come and go before their sources are spotted. They keep their eyes on cars, buses, houses, and around corners--for an attack can come from any one of these places. Most importantly, they are wary because, as long as they have been there, they are still not entirely certain how to determine just who the enemy is. Is it Shiite? Is it Sunni? American troops are attacked from both groups of people--100 killed this month--and members of the sects attack each other.

If one thing is certain about Iraq, it’s that it’s confusing in Iraq. It’s confusing to a person of Iraq who is uncertain about the Americans are doing, what the Iraqi government is doing, or whom, even if it is a militant group, it is really the best to side with for his or her well-being. It’s confusing for an American soldier, who may wonder what his or her objective is and how to carry it out. A teenager might just be a teenager, or he may be carrying a weapon and intending to use it--or worse, strapped with explosives. A family may be helping people who are in need and to whom they have family ties, or they may be harboring militants. Or both. It’s hard to find the enemy in Iraq. It’s hard to define the enemy in Iraq.

Back home, we’re not quite sure about who the enemy is either. I’ve tried to find out, over the course of a few years. I thought I knew, of course, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, and I, like many Americans, thought it was clear who the enemy was. It was Saddam Hussein and his regime; they were a danger, they needed to be removed and replaced with a U.S.-friendly democracy, one which the people of the United States and the people of Iraq would all welcome. But, bewildered as I and many other war-supporting Americans were, that’s not what happened. I thought at first, maybe, that the enemy had just been a little stronger than had been anticipated. And I thought that for a while. It’s what I thought, in fact, even up to and past the 2004 elections. These were insurgents--Saddam loyalists, militant Islamists, and terrorists who wanted a safe haven from which to plot more attacks on America--whom we had to fight long enough to fully liberate the people of Iraq and ensure American security. Even after it was realized that there had been none of the alleged WMD’s or ties to Al Qaeda, I felt that, since there was now an enemy in Iraq, that enemy needed to be overcome.

But I began to be less and less certain about who that enemy is, and since that time, I have taken a much closer look into the war in Iraq, to understand it--to understand who the enemy is and why it is, to get an idea of the role American involvement plays in the situation--from the accounts and videos of soldiers and journalists, from scholars on the region, from expert analysts, from any possible source of information. Not only that, but I began to understand more of the larger issue of conflict in the Middle East and the United States’ role in that conflict, and the United States’ role in any conflict, for such, I have discovered, is essential to understanding the situation in Iraq and U.S. involvement in it. To put it plainly: as I’ve learned, my views have changed considerably--extremely even, for that is what truth tends to do for one who has been previously unaware of it.

Now, while American troops are struggling to define, detect, and root out the enemy, I have finally been able to figure out what they are so often unable.

I have found the enemy.

It may be startling; how is it possible that I have found the enemy when U.S. troops, whose daily job it is to do so, have not? Because, it turns out, they are looking in the wrong place. The enemy is not in Iraq, but here, in the United States. It was as shocking to me as I’m sure it is, properly realized, to anyone. The enemy is here, disguised as the “interests of the American people,” but the truth is that, like most foreign policies of the leaders of the United States, and most of its domestic policies, having a “stable, U.S.-friendly democracy in the Middle East” has little to do with the interests of most Americans, but much to do with capitalist imperialism. The interests of the Iraq War are those of American oil companies, defense contractors and other war profiteers, and potential benefactors in other industries that could profit from U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern markets--while the burden of the war has been on U.S. troops and the American people.

There are profound historical precedents for the exercise of back-door imperialism that is U.S. involvement in the Middle East. We are trying to “liberate” Iraq under the Bush administration in much the way that, say, Cuba and the Philippines were “liberated” by the U.S. from Spain a century ago--for, after the smoke cleared and the dust settled and the thousands of American soldiers buried, and, importantly, the native freedom movements quelled, it became apparent that the entire conflict had more to do with American sugar interests and expanded markets for American capitalists than freeing the Cuban or Filipino people--at the tremendous cost of the blood and money American soldiers and working people.

The plain fact is that the intervention of Western powers in the Middle East is the underlying cause of most Middle Eastern “extremism.” The United States became particularly involved in Middle Eastern affairs after the Second World War, and, with Britain, had a primary hand in drawing the boundaries and supporting the often-oppressive rulers of several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf Emirates, Iraq, Iran, and Jordan--most importantly for the interests of key players in oil and related industries. In fact, it was the revolt of Iran against one such U.S.-supported dictator, the Shah of Iran, that was an important backdrop for the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s--now often cited for war atrocities as a legitimization for the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime--in which Iraq under Saddam Hussein was supplied by the United States with the weaponry that made it a military power (which empowered it to later invade Kuwait).

Volatility in the Middle East escalated after the Persian Gulf War in response to continued U.S. military/political presence and intervention, as well as its one-sided and unconditional support for Israel despite numerous atrocities against Palestinians. These imperialistic practices have served as the primary motivators for the uprising of militant groups, who see themselves as freedom-fighters for the self-determination of their own countries and people. While they have been conveniently caricatured as merely violent theocracy-promoters by those who have a stake in controlling the Middle East and its vital resources, this is a serious misrepresentation of who these people are and why they are fighting. For many Muslim people, to be certain, Islam is considered the central unifying concept of life and pertinent and applicable to all areas of their lives--much as the worldviews of other religions and ideologies are to their subscribers. People who are disaffected by the imposition of Western powers on the governance and affairs of their own people in a patronizing relationship see this as an affront to Arab independence, and often turn to fundamentalist messages as a vehicle in which to channel their desires for resistance and retaliation. They don’t really care about the liberal social values and customs of other countries, they’re not blowing themselves up for Shari’a law in the U.S. or Europe--what they are motivated by is the oppressive way in which they have encountered Western powers. As Middle East scholar Tariq Ali wrote shortly after 9/11, "the reasons [for terrorism] are really political. They see the double standards applied by the West: a ten-year bombing campaign against Iraq, sanctions against Iraq which have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, while doing nothing to restrain Ariel Sharon and the war criminals running Israel from running riot against the Palestinians. Unless the questions of Iraq and Palestine are sorted out, these kids will be attracted to violence regardless of whether Osama bin Laden is gotten dead or alive."

Ali, knowing the U.S.’s foreign policy motivations, feared an invasion of Iraq would take place even before talk was certain of invading Afghanistan. As people in the region had become increasingly resistant in the 90’s to the effects of outside influences on Middle East nations, a top foreign policy objective became to set up a “stable, U.S.-friendly democracy” in the region to mitigate and counter-balance that opposition and promote U.S. and Western influence. Iraq, with it’s important location in the direct center of all the oil-rich countries of the Middle East and its unpopular, dictatorial leader, was by far the most strategic target, and 9/11 made fabrication of a case for war all the more plausible. Even the media joined in with the Administration in heralding “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

This measure was not a new idea. The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) had been calling for U.S. invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and set up a friendly government as early as 1998. What is truly revealing, however, is that several members of the group--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz--became important members of the Bush Administration. All had interests in the invasion of Iraq. The New Citizenship Project, in fact, from which PNAC is an outgrowth, is made up of many people who are key influences in policy.

An organization of people with a certain agenda might claim to have it for any number of reasons. They might say they are pro-freedom. They might say they are fighting for the interests of the American people. They might say anything that will sound virtuous and persuade others to put stock in their message, but if you really want to know what they’re about, you have to find out what brings them together and from where they draw their support. The New Citizenship Project is funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation, with ties to oil and global warming skepticism. It is funded by the John M. Olin Foundation, with chemical and munitions manufacturing ties. It is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which happens to be possibly the biggest funding source for the pure, unadulterated interests of the greatest holders of capital wealth in the United States--interests, in effect, to undo even the reforms of the Progressive Era and re-institute full-swing robber-baronism in the U.S. and imperialistic market expansion abroad. The truth, formerly obscured by the call to patriotism, by the often twin-failings of complacency and credulity, is now laid bare for all to see.

I hope that the U.S. troops who are now fighting, who are killing and dying without knowing why, in Iraq, know these things. I know that they are courageous, and having a love for true freedom, and for America, as I do, I hope they are coming to get a true sense of the injustice of this war. I hope they know that the enemy has been found, and it’s here, that they have been put in danger by dominioneers and warmongers. We need to let Iraqis determine the nature of their governance for themselves. We need to allow the sovereignty, not of a U.S.-imposed government that the people can’t agree on and accept together, but of the people of Iraq--whether they be one nation, or two nations or three. And let us decide, from this point forward, that economic interests for some are not worth the blood of Americans or people anywhere.

I hope that our troops soon come home and work with all Americans on addressing and getting rid of the real enemy. I hope they come home and stand up with us, and with the rest of their fellow soldiers who are now scarred, physically or mentally, and with the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, and friends of those of their fellow soldiers whom they’ve lost because of this war. I hope they stand with us in the town halls. I hope they stand with us in the streets. I hope they stand with us and speak; I hope they stand with us and sing. I hope they stand with us against capitalist imperialism in the world, and against corporate dominance over our own country; I hope they stand with us so we can all stand together and say that we won’t be part of it anymore, that we won’t be complicit, that we won’t be participants. Let us stand together and declare war on the real enemy of the profit machines that are operating at high human and societal cost. Let us take from it our communities, our cities, our streets, our schools and churches, our homes, and our lives. For that is the only way to win the War on Terror, and it is the only way to address many of the problems that we are all now facing together.


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