Taking the blame 77

We are not adverse critics of President Bush’s decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But we think the intervention should have ended when the tyrant was gone. We don’t believe that Iraq (any more than Afghanistan) can be transformed into a liberal democracy.

Americans will not change Iraqis, will never break their habits and reform their customs. In Arab and Islamic countries, torture of captives is routine. It’s a normalcy of the culture, and the US showed recognition of this by not even trying to interfere with the practice in Iraq.

When First World nations fought wars of conquest in the Third World to subdue native populations and establish rule over them, they hoped to civilize them – or at least the British did. It would take time and colonization, they thought. And here and there they succeeded to some extent. The United States never wanted even to try such empire-building. Americans want to go in, force a regime change, get the natives voting, and get out.

If they don’t get out in good time, they themselves will be damaged and vitiated.

Here’s part of the Telegraph’s take on the Iraq war documents released last week by Wikileaks:

The 391,831 reports, drawn up in many cases by US soldiers of relatively junior rank … provide a terrifying insight into the anarchy which enveloped Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed.

The reports reveal in terrifying detail how any hope of replacing the former dictatorship with a functioning democracy quickly became a faded dream as Iraq descended into an orgy of killing which reached every corner of the country.

In often nauseating detail, the files disclose the coalition commanders turned a blind eye to acts of torture and murder conducted on an industrial scale.

In one log it is reported that an Iraqi man was arrested by the police and shot in the leg by an officer. The report continues: “this detainee suffered abuse which amounted to cracked ribs, multiple lacerations and welts and bruises from being whipped with a large rod and hose across his back”. The report, with stunning understatement, adds that these acts amount to “reasonable suspicion of abuse” but the outcome was: “No further Investigation Required”.

The decision not to investigate was a direct order from the Pentagon as US officials sought to pass the management of security from the coalition to the Iraqis.

It was a cataclysmic error which probably lengthened the insurgency as the victims of abuse sought vengeance and directed their anger at US and British troops. How many dead coalition troops would be alive today had the Iraqi death squads been stopped?

Stopped how, when the tactic was to make friends with as many Iraqis as possible with a view to “winning hearts and minds”? Even if it were possible to stop the death squads and torture, would interfering with their traditional pleasures do anything but annoy them?

And now Americans, who – like the great British imperialists in the past – see it as their moral duty to improve the lives of backward peoples, are finding themselves blamed, and not unjustly, for the anguish and calamity that has attended their intervention.

Rudyard Kipling gave warning of the hazards of such foreign adventures. He wrote what is now an extremely politically incorrect poem about them. The first line alone would earn it a fatwa and a banning by National Public Radio.

Here are some lines from it:

Take up the White Man’s burden–

Send forth the best ye breed–

Go, bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need…

Take up the White Man’s burden–

In patience to abide,

To veil the threat of terror

And check the show of pride…

Take up the White Man’s burden–

The savage wars of peace–

Fill full the mouth of Famine,

And bid the sickness cease;

And when your goal is nearest

(The end for others sought)

Watch sloth and heathen folly

Bring all your hope to nought…

The ports ye shall not enter,

The roads ye shall not tread,

Go, make them with your living

And mark them with your dead…

Take up the White Man’s burden,

And reap his old reward–

The blame of those ye better

The hate of those ye guard…

Take up the White Man’s burden–

Ye dare not stoop to less–

Nor call too loud on Freedom

To cloak your weariness…