Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Unraveling of Another U.S. Race War: Iraq, Four Years Later
American Empire - The Imperial Psychosis
Wednesday, 21 March 2007

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

Despite poll numbers that show more Americans want out of Iraq, peace activists should not expect a sea change in basic public perceptions of the U.S. "role" in the world. The debacle in Iraq can only be understood through the logic of (white) American Manifest Destiny and Imperial Racism. The supposed "mistakes" and "flaws" of a "dumb" policy are in fact symptomatic of a deep cultural malady: an inability to perceive non-white "Others" as human beings. Americans make enemies because their entire history has been to see Others as either The Enemy, or as their fawning protégés - but never as equals.

The Unraveling of Another U.S. Race War: Iraq, 4 Years Later

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

"Americans simply want more efficient war - part of the compact they assume is embedded in national Manifest Destiny."

Malcolm X's days with the Nation of Islam (NOI) were numbered - and his time on Earth, as well - when in December, 1963, the then spokesman for Elijah Muhammad was asked his opinion of President Kennedy's assassination, the month before. Malcolm replied that Kennedy "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon."

Malcolm was referring, not to specific crimes by John F. Kennedy, but to the manifold oppressions "white America" had inflicted on Black people through the centuries. Although necessarily coached in theological terms of "divine retribution" (language he would largely abandon after leaving the NOI, three months later), a collective indictment of white America for the nation's current and historical crimes was a staple of Malcolm's speeches. "The followers of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad religiously believe that we are living at the end of this wicked world, the world of colonialism, the world of slavery, the end of the Western world, the white world or the Christian world, or the end of the wicked white man's Western world of Christianity," said Malcolm, in a June, 1963 speech.

Malcolm X remains an icon among African Americans because he spoke the language of all-Black conversations, in which one is more likely to hear the pronoun "they" rather than "we" in discussions of U.S. military adventures abroad. "They are bombing the hell out of those people. They are trying to steal the oil. You know how they do."

"Conceived as a white man's empire from the very beginning, the American juggernaut fears only one earthly thing: defeat."

The African American experience reveals an "America" that was founded as a criminal project, in which every victory in the long saga of theft, genocide and mass enslavement is celebrated as a kind of renewable divine mandate by the direct or cultural descendants of the original white settlers. Black folks know "how they do."

The deformed worldview that evolved over centuries of crimes against "The Other" shaped the national personality of white America. It is a crippling vision, distorted by notions of race so deeply embedded as to require no direct articulation. Conceived as a white man's empire from the very beginning, with a God-given mandate for constant expansion as essential to the spread of "civilization," and perceiving itself as the embodiment of all "values" worth preserving on the planet, the mass-internalized American juggernaut fears only one earthly thing: defeat.

The polls show that Americans want to get out of the war in Iraq. That's only because they are losing.

CNN surveys show only 19 percent of Americans were "strongly opposed" to the Iraq war at the start, four years ago. Today, 46 percent feel strongly that the U.S. should withdraw at some near point in time. It would be a fundamental error, however, to assume that a sea change has occurred in white America's essentially imperial-racist worldview. (Black America overwhelmingly opposed the war from the beginning, as it has nearly every U.S. imperial bloodbath.) Rather, the 19 percent initial strong opposition to the invasion of Iraq mostly represents the fraction of Americans that is very uncomfortable with violation of other people's territory and sovereignty, unilateral acts of war (war against peace, a capital crime under international law), and armed rule of other peoples. Half of that anti-imperialist one-fifth of America, is Black. Vast majorities of white Americans have no principled or strong opposition to current expressions of Manifest Destiny - that is, they do not object to the concept of American super-national rights. But they hate losing: a keenly-felt national humiliation that must be erased, if absolutely necessary, by reluctant and bitter withdrawal.Fighters-Indian

This is the softest kind of anti-war feeling - in fact, it is not "anti-war" at all, but anti-defeat, such as increasing numbers of Americans felt during the latter stages of the Vietnam War, and growing numbers of Germans experienced after the debacle at Stalingrad. (I know it is verboten to compare anything "American" to the racism-fueled Nazi assault on a previous world order, but history provides no better linkage.)

"It would be a fundamental error to assume that a sea change has occurred in white America's essentially imperial-racist worldview."

The terms of this last-stage public debate on when and how to withdraw from Iraq - not that the Bush Pirates have any intention of leaving - shows that the American conversation remains firmly rooted in imperial entitlement. Thus, the war should be discontinued because its execution was "flawed" - meaning, the project was well-meant, but badly planned. Or, the war was a "mistake" - similarly well-intentioned, but at the wrong time and place. Happy future imperialist hunting. Or, the war was "flawed" (Barack Obama's diagnosis) - something that ever-innovative Americans can presumably fix in time for future wars against peace and world order.

Only a fraction of Americans come even close to the broader indictment delivered by Cynthia McKinney at last weekend's anti-war rally in Washington. By refusing to defund the war, the Democratic Party, she said, is:

"Complicit in war crimes! Complicit in torture!
Complicit in crimes against humanity!
Complicit in crimes against peace!"

However, even former congresswoman McKinney would not be greeted with enthusiastic applause at a mostly white gathering of American leftists if she told the whole truth: the Iraq war, and the wars that were to follow had the Bush mens' bubble not been punctured by fierce resistance to occupation, would be inconceivable in the absence of mass white American belief in the premises of Manifest Destiny/Racist Imperialism. It is for this reason that "anti-war" movements must always be put together nearly from scratch in the United States at every super-belligerent juncture. The popular base for anti-imperialism is quite small, and at least half-comprised of racial "minorities" - the very same "Others" against whom the U.S. has waged perpetual war, globally and domestically.

Public opposition to an attack on neighboring Iran is even softer than get-out-of-Iraq opinion - largely because the discussion centers on possible air strikes by the U.S. and/or Israel, rather than non-available U.S. ground troops. Masses of Americans would like to punish and pummel Iran ("The Other") for whatever reasons the Bush men concoct - as long as few U.S. citizens get hurt. If the attack occurs, we should expect an initial majority of Americans to grudgingly support it, conditioned on nonsense such as assurances that the action will be of short duration and not lead to an even wider war - and that not too many Americans will die.

American unwillingness to sacrifice large numbers of their own troops is the bane of George Bush's and his military planners' existence - but makes perfect sense in the context of the peculiar aspects of American Manifest Destiny. In this regard, Americans are nothing like Hitler's Germans, who were expected to glory in giving their lives for the Reich. The logic of the American national narrative is that each (white) American is precious - a unique gift to "civilization." As a result, U.S. military planners have long understood that "force protection" - the imperative to keep the troops as safe as possible - must be a fundamental element of strategy, for public opinion's sake. (Remember also, that the troops are part of the public, and expect the same consideration.) Fear of casualties is also at the heart of the so-called Colin Powell Doctrine of using overwhelming force to destroy every vestige of resistance at the onset of any mission. "Shock and Awe" is a logical derivative.

"Masses of Americans would like to punish and pummel Iran."

A built-in contradiction, once Shock and Awe is over, is that Americans so conditioned by expectations of safety on other people's lands are prone to kill every perceived threat among the occupied population. Since Americans are also conditioned to perceive racial and cultural "Others" as inherent threats - even when the "natives" are simply going about their business in their own neighborhoods - atrocities based on the doctrine of "force protection" are bound to occur with regularity. Indeed, U.S. troops, from the commanders on down, have a license to kill whenever they feel threatened. It's not even manslaughter: it's Other-slaughter, which doesn't count - either to the troops or to the masses of American citizens.

Remember that the Battle of Fallujah actually began when paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division (my old unit) occupied a school in one of the then-peaceful Sunni town's middle class (for Iraqi) neighborhoods, in April of 2003, at the beginning of the occupation. Unarmed demonstrators marched on the school to protest the Americans' ogling of Iraqi women through binoculars and alleged lewd gestures. The 82nd opened fire, killing 13 that day, including mothers and grandmothers in nearby houses, and then killed at least two more in a second peaceful demonstration at the school, a few days later. From then on, it was all downhill for the Americans in Fallujah - and for the 250,000 people of the city.

"Americans make enemies because their entire history has been to see Others as either The Enemy, or their fawning proteges - but never as equals."

In November, 2007, the Americans launched Operation Phantom Fury on Fallujah. Every resident who did not, or could not, flee was fair game for summary execution. The city, about the size of Birmingham, Alabama, was flattened, and its surviving former population scattered - an atrocity on the scale of Hitler's rampage through the mostly Jewish city of Lodz, Poland, in 1941.

This is not the individual fault of "the troops." It is a response of the American nation, a logical result of Manifest Destiny. Americans make enemies because their entire history has been to see Others as either The Enemy, or their fawning proteges. Clearly, they are unfit occupiers of Others, in Black Harlem or Brooklyn or Queens - or Fallujah. It's all "Indian Country," to them.

Yet another irony: The Pentagon violated a basic precept of Manifest Destiny by denying troops sufficient body and vehicle armor in Iraq, and in recent revelations of poor medical treatment for the wounded. But don't call such negative public reaction "anti-war." In large part, Americans simply want more efficient war - part of the compact they assume is embedded in national Manifest Destiny. Politicians who violate the compact do so at their peril. But they may kill Others at will.

Defeat Is Inevitable

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, an essential tenet of American Manifest Destiny is that mere proximity to Americans cannot help but win the hearts of foreigners: "If you get to know us, you'll love us." When this assumption was shattered at Fallujah early in the occupation and in other Iraqi population centers thereafter, the U.S. pulled back to its quickly multiplying "temporary" bases - virtual GI cities - to keep a lower profile.

It is testimony to the bankruptcy of the last-stage "surge" that U.S. troops are again being garrisoned in neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities, where they may in fact be "welcomed" by some Sunnis, since the Americans are not hell-bent on ethnic cleansing (all the locals of whatever sect are "Hajis," anyway - what's the difference?), but will surely be hated in the longer term (except by Iraqi recipients of ever-escalating bribes).

"The Americans found themselves trapped in their own "democratic" propaganda, from which there is no escape."

The fact remains that the U.S. is now wedded to its "allies" among the Shia militia - an inevitable consequence of its own "rescue the poor Shi'ites from Saddam" public narrative as justification for the war. More importantly, at the beginning of the war the Americans had no available comprador class in Iraq willing to "front" for their interests in exchange for privileged position. In Vietnam, the French had a large Catholic minority that converted to the religion of Empire in the generations following the French incursion of the 1830s. The Americans in Iraq had only Ahmed Chalabi and other exile thieves and hustlers, but no social base. The Shia militias flexed their muscle, and the Americans found themselves trapped in their own "democratic" propaganda, from which there is no escape. That's the objective reality.

The American "reality" at the start of the war was quite different, the pure product of Manifest Destiny illusions. The "flaws," "mistakes" and dumbness that have made the American sojourn in Iraq a spectacle that is horrifying and at the same time (in a gallows humor way) hilarious to the world, are precisely what should be expected from the super-privileged ruling class of a people incapable of perceiving Others as fellow human beings. The "flaw" is fatal, and built into the culture.

Although appearing to be simple racist arrogance, the real contradiction in America's imperial ambitions lies in cognitive incapacity.

Before the Iraq invasion was even launched, the Americans snubbed their Turkish NATO allies by failing to ask permission to unload thousands of tons of equipment at a Turkish port, for transshipment to the border with Iraq, where a powerful wing of a U.S. pincer attack was to descend from the north, to ultimately meet up somewhere near Baghdad with U.S. Kuwait-based forces from the south. Apparently, to the Americans, Turks are just another brand of "hajis" who can be disrespected as non-persons with no claim to control over their national territory. The government in Ankara quickly halted the U.S. northern invasion of Iraq. The master plan was wrecked before it began. As a consequence, relatively small numbers of U.S. Special Forces and 173rd Airborne Brigade troopers had to be airlifted to assist Kurdish Pesh Merga militias to drive Saddam's troops out of the north of Iraq, ensuring that the Kurds would have mainly themselves to thank for the "liberation" of Kurdistan. Not part of the plan.

"The master plan was wrecked before it began."

As the Iraqi army in the north marched southward, defeated and compliant in their tens of thousands, it was announced that the national armed forces would be disbanded. What sane, lucid person would expect that these young men would bear their humiliation and marginalization passively, and not turn to resistance? The U.S. had used the defeated Japanese army to maintain security in Vietnam and Korea for a time after World War Two hostilities ended, rather than allow the "natives" to assert their own, sovereign authority. That's what practiced colonialists do, until they sort out who among the locals can be trusted. But the Americans don't think they are a colonial power - rather, they are benefactors, benign occupiers, bringers of civilization and "democracy." Such truths are self-evident. No need to consult the natives, or employ their defeated soldiers. Their worldview is inferior, not worth considering.

The apex (or nadir) of insanity occurred very early on, revealing the crazed nature of the American adventure in Iraq and the world at large. As newly occupied Baghdad burst into flames in the absence of security for the population or any ministry unconnected to oil or the Iraqi military, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld spoke for all his peers. As I reported at the time, Rumsfeld's crazed worldview informed him that the riotous Iraqis were actually celebrating the U.S. arrival.

"One can understand the pent-up feelings that can result from decades of repression," said Donald Rumsfeld, smiling like a serpent and still drunk from the previous day's toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. "They're free. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

Even a psychiatrist for the Sopranos would have great difficulty avoiding the conclusion that Rumsfeld was totally insane - as were the underlying premises of the U.S. aggression. However, all of the American "mistakes" that followed were of the same character, emanating from the same central source: a cultural flaw that prevents most white Americans from recognizing the humanity of non-European Others. The cognitively disabled can destroy the world, but they cannot rule it.

Can a people raised on the mother's milk of massacre, human slavery, and grand geo-resource theft break the habit? Yes, but only through the experience of Defeat: decisive and irrevocable. Nazi Germany, imperial Japan and colonial Europe were eclipsed and defeated, and became much better societies as a result.

As long as white Americans think of most of the planet as "Indian Country," they will continue to avoid their "Eureka Moment" - the point at which they accept the humanity of the rest of the species. Until then, the chickens - great flocks of them - will, as Malcolm said, come home to roost.

BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford (at)

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