You need a song and a photograph to understand what the United States did to Iraq.
The song is by Bob Dylan. It’s called License to Kill. The photograph is of a 12-year-old Iraqi boy. He’s Ali Ismail Abbas.
Ali is “collateral damage” — his parents are dead, he has stumps for arms. He says things like, “If I had hands, I would shake your hand.”
Dylan’s anti-violence song about an uncontrollable killer says things like: “Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused. / And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill… / Who’s gonna take away his license to kill?”
Ali will be to the Iraqi war what a little girl running from napalm was to the Vietnam war: a photographic emblem. Millions of people throughout the world will look at his picture and remember his war.
These are still early days in the postwar period. But some things are clear:
Innocent civilians don’t matter much.
Their death or dismemberment is the price you pay for keeping the world safe from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
So far nobody has found any WMD.
It seems doubtful that a military without an air force, without any long-range missiles, broken and busted in 21 days, ever posed a serious threat to U.S. security, even with such weapons.
Secondly, the U.S. has the most WMD in the world and Israel has the most of any country in the region.
That’s OK, though.
They’re on our side.
Thirdly, if Saddam had WMD, guess who supplied them? He used to be one of ours.
Art doesn’t matter. You can loot it.
According to a published report, the National Museum of Iraq has lost between 50,000 and 170,000 artefacts to destruction or thievery: 8,000-year-old stone birds, cuneiform tablets from the royal tombs at Ur, the earliest known examples of writing, a 4,000-year-old silver harp, an image of a goat-shaped deity dating back to 2600 BC. American soldiers, who are as decent as you’ll find anywhere, didn’t protect museums because they weren’t instructed to.
Books don’t matter.
You can burn them.
“Looters and arsonists ransacked and gutted Iraq’s National Library, leaving a smouldering shell yesterday … a country’s intellectual legacy gone up in smoke,” said the Associated Press. “They also looted and burned Iraq’s principal Islamic library nearby, home to priceless old Qur’ans.”
American soldiers weren’t ordered to protect books.
Civilization doesn’t matter, or memory, or history. Iraq as “the cradle of civilization,” as the child of Uruk, Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and early Islamic civilizations, doesn’t matter. Let the old make way for the new.
As long as U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivers on Coke, Disney and Big Macs, Iraqis will have all the civilization they need.
Democracy doesn’t matter.
The U.S. gets on better with dictators. If the majority had a say in Iraq, within a year there would be no U.S. military bases, there would be no U.S. oil executives, there would be an anti-Israeli, pro-Islamic government.
Oil matters. U.S. soldiers weren’t ordered to protect museums or libraries, but they were instructed to protect the oil. Oil is Iraq’s “natural heritage.” It’s there “for the benefit of the Iraqi people.” If you believe that one, I’ve got a dog that talks.
The reconstruction of Iraq for the benefit of its citizens doesn’t matter. The reconstruction of Iraq for the benefit of U.S. corporations does.
If George W. Bush doesn’t put money into health and education for U.S. citizens, why would he waste his money on foreigners? His domestic priority is simple: tax cuts for the rich. His foreign policy is simple: contracts for corporations.
Already, according to the New York Times (April 18), the U.S. has awarded the Bechtel Group of San Francisco a reconstruction contract worth $34.6 million that “could go up to $680 million over 18 months.”
America Inc. The purpose of the U.S. government is not to promote the welfare of its citizens; its purpose is to promote corporate interests. Its purpose is to build a big military to protect corporate interests abroad, and build a big police force with lots of prisons to protect the interests of the rich at home.
America is currently run by an oligarchy. It’s not government of the people, by the people, for the people; it’s government of the millionaires by the executives for the corporation. Fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters voted in the last presidential election. Bush garnered about 24 percent of that vote. He’s in power with less than one-third of the American public voting for him.
Why doesn’t the “free press” say something? Because the guys asking the questions (the journalists) are on the same corporate payroll as the guys answering the questions (the politicians).
The free press is a corporate press.
Who or what American corporate interests cannot control by money, they will control by raw and brutal military power.
The battle of Baghdad was not fought for democracy. The U.S. in its last dozen or so invasions hasn’t imposed or tried to develop a single democracy anywhere. It’s not about freedom. You only have to look at Afghanistan two years after the war. Outside of a pro-American government in Kabul, it’s still run by warlords in fiefdoms. The warlords are easier to buy off and manipulate than a strong, united, independent, centrally-elected democratic government. The last thing the U.S. wants is a strong, united, independent Iraq.
The American-sponsored Ahmed Chalabi, or someone like him, will be king of Baghdad and a few key economic centres, and as long as the outlying parts of the country keep the flow of goods moving, it doesn’t matter who rules there. The U.S. wants a hammerlock on the Persian Gulf’s oil supplies and a cadre of military bases to ensure the supply isn’t interrupted.
According to the Times (April 20), the “Pentagon expects long-term access to four key bases in Iraq.” That way, the U.S. can control oil, water and the potential rise of democracy.
The lone cowboy in the world has a big gun. His friends — Tony Blair of Britain, Ariel Sharon in Israel — have little guns. Nobody else is allowed to have a weapon.
So who’s in the cross-hairs now? Syria? Cuba? North Korea? Iran?
If Iran and the other “evil” empires learned anything from the Iraq war, it’s to get nukes quick. Saddam was too slow to get them. He got bombed. Kim Jong-il in Korea has got them. He won’t get bombed.
Do you remember the last verse to Dylan’s song? “Now there’s a woman on my block. / She just sit there as the night grows still. / She say who gonna take away his license to kill?”
- Originally printed in The Hamilton Spectator under the title of Hail to the Chief — CEO of America Inc., May 27, 2003.