Is there any particular reason why Americans should be surprised at the tales of torture coming out of the world’s youngest democracy in Iraq?
What else exactly did you expect? That we really went to Iraq for the purpose of creating a democracy?
My purpose is not to sound either blasé or cynical about the atrocities and abuses American soldiers have been perpetrating on Iraqi prisoners for the last several months or about what looks increasingly like an attempted but bungled cover-up of the details by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
What took place at the torture palace known as Abu Ghraib is brutal and disgusting and merits severe punishment for those involved in it—including the secretary and his advisers.
But I suspect the story is far from over.
It’s not over because what happened there in many respects is a logical development of the way this country went to war in the first place. Stoked to the eyeballs with perfectly justified anger over the September 11 attacks, Americans allowed themselves to be hornswoggled by the Bush crowd that virtually all Arabs or Moslems were in some vague way implicated in the attacks.
Neoconservative propagandists who beat the war drums loudest welcomed that linkage, if only to crank the country into the proper mood for going after Saddam Hussein.
Self-righteousness wedded to blanket generalizations about the Middle East does not encourage careful distinctions about justice and injustice. That neither Saddam nor any Iraqi had anything to do with 9/11 was lost as the administration slyly allowed that impression to sink in.
Probably far more than the myths of “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” the unstated implication of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks and support for anti-American terrorism in general helped drag the country toward war.
On top of that little bit of deceit, there is the larger neoconservative rationalization for the war (and all the future wars they expect us to fight), namely, imperialism. The Weekly Standard and other neo-con publications for the last several years have rehearsed the stale arguments for imperialism constantly, well before 9/11.
Interviewed in the Washington Post in August, 2001, Thomas Donnelly, deputy executive director of the neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century, called for nothing less. “In ways similar though not identical to the Roman and British empires, he argues, the United States is an empire of democracy or liberty—it is not conquering land or establishing colonies, but it has a dominating global presence militarily, economically, and culturally.” [Empire or Not? A Quiet Debate Over U.S. Role By Thomas E. Ricks August 21, 2001]
Mr. Donnelly’s neat little ideas merely reflected a global strategy plan crafted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz a decade ago in the first Bush administration. The war with Iraq is the logical outcome.
And so is torture.
Does anyone really think you can wage war against other countries, conquer them, depose their leaders and overthrow their ruling classes, and then get involved in a protracted guerrilla war without “violating human rights”?
The imperialism peddled by the neo-cons may not be “identical” to the imperialism of the past, but it’s close enough that the more imperial we become, the more identical will be the tactics we deploy.
In a recent essay, paleoconservative political thinker Claes Ryn argues that the “democratic imperialism” the United States has embraced descends ultimately from the crusading fanaticism of the Jacobins of the French Revolution—and with much the same consequences.
“The ideas of the French Jacobins provided a sweeping justification for exercising unlimited power. As followers of Rousseau, the Jacobins were not content with reforming historically evolved ways of life. ‘Freedom, equality and brotherhood’ required the radical remaking of society. Because of the scope and glory of the task, the Jacobins had to gather all power unto themselves and deal ruthlessly with opposition. Good stood against evil, all good on one side—their side. The Jacobins called themselves ‘the virtuous.’ In the twentieth century, their communist descendants offered an even more blanket justification for wielding unlimited power….
“Americans attracted to the Jacobin spirit have therefore sought … to redefine American principles so as to make them more serviceable to the will to power. They have propounded a new myth—the myth of America the Virtuous—according to which America is a unique and noble country called to remake the world in its own image. The myth provides another sweeping justification for dominating others.”[Which American? by Claes G. Ryn, LewRockwell.com, May 5, 2004]
Professor Ryn’s remarks were uttered well before the horror stories from Abu Ghraib started to emerge, but just as Edmund Burke foresaw the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror enforced with the guillotine, so paleoconservatives foresaw what would happen once the New Jacobins launched their own empire of virtue backed up by torture.
Americans can either pull back from those consequences now—or get used to more horror stories.