The Daily Texan recently published a piece by fellow UT student Dolph Briscoe IV which argued that the U.S. must “avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East.” This mentality is pervasive in the liberal corporate media, with the New York Times editorial board praising Obama for his cautious “balancing act on Iraq.” There are three major problems with this conception.
The first is that the liberals completely misunderstand the roots of Iraq’s current crisis, which is the past 10 years of U.S. imperialism in Iraq (under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama). It is now widely acknowledged that every single argument the Bush administration made for invading Iraq was false: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq and Iraqis did not greet the U.S. military as a liberator but instead resisted it as an occupying force. However, Briscoe is wrong in stating that the Bush administration’s goal was “establishing a democracy in Iraq.” The leaked 2002 Downing Street Memo, a UK intelligence document, stated that “military action [in Iraq] was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." So the Bush administration intentionally lied to Americans and the world, an undemocratic action whose end goal certainly was not democracy. In fact, it was control over oil.
Following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. set up the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern the country, and within a few months privatized the Iraqi economy with Order 39. This allowed foreign investors and international financial institutions to buy out Iraqi enterprises, including its massive oil reserves and keep 100 percent of the profit. Strategic control over Iraqi oil had been a goal of the U.S. foreign policy establishment for over a decade even before Bush - the Clinton administration kept Hussein’s regime in check with deadly sanctions against Iraq. The neoconservatives had been pushing for regime change since the late ‘90s and got their chance during the Bush administration after 9/11. So U.S. imperialism in Iraq has been and continues to be a bipartisan project.
However, the neoconservatives underestimated the will of Iraqis to fight back against this wrecking of their economy and the U.S. military’s brutal violence during the occupation. The U.S. invasion precipitated a massive Iraqi resistance across Sunni and Shia lines. As Iraqi journalist Sami Ramadani explains, there is a “powerful secular tradition in Iraq that transcends all religions and sects,” and this led to “millions of Iraqis - of all sects and none - [marching] in the streets, denouncing the occupation.” In response to this, the U.S. (and its later client-state under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) implemented sectarian policies that led to today’s divided Iraq.
This leads to the second problem, which is that rather than acknowledge the sectarian legacy of imperialism, the liberals (and neoconservatives) instead substitute Islamophobic logic. According to Briscoe, yet another “crisis plagues the Middle East” with no offered cause or context – according to the New York Times, the crisis is due to “Islam’s ancient sectarian rift.” In reality, the sectarian rift’s origins can be concretely located in the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, in which occupation authorities forced provisions that split Iraq’s governing structure along ethnic and religious lines, as part of the U.S.’s divide-and-rule strategy to control the flow of oil. As journalist Phyllis Bennis explained at that time, the lack of oil in Sunni areas “[insured] a future of impoverishment for the Sunni, secular and inter-mixed populations of Baghdad and Iraq’s center, and [set] the stage for a future of ethnic and religious strife.”
Briscoe correctly notes that these sectarian policies continued under Maliki, but its crimes are far greater than simply “[refusing] to bring Sunni Muslims into [the] government.” Before the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there were mass Sunni petitions and protests against this sectarianism - Maliki’s response was to escalate to violence, ultimately attacking protest camps and killing protesters. More importantly, Briscoe fails to mention that Maliki was supported by the U.S. from the beginning as a client-state. Even with the supposedly liberal President Obama, this relationship continued for reasons that Maliki himself explained: Iraq has the “world’s fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves,” and in 2012, it “surpassed Iran to become OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil.” Thus, as with the “Arab Spring” in Bahrain and Egypt, the Obama administration was allied with the oppressive state and against the calls for democracy. To understand Iraq’s current crisis, this history must be acknowledged: ISIS and its violent methods only became relevant after the U.S. implemented sectarian policies and its client-state militarized the conflict.
Failure to acknowledge the backdrop of U.S. imperialism leads to the third problem, which is that the liberals’ misconceptions are deadly – this can be seen in the current Israeli siege of Gaza. First, the imperial context: In 1967, Israel proved its worth to U.S. geopolitical strategy by, in Noam Chomsky’s words, “[destroying] the source of secular Arab nationalism – Nasser’s Egypt,” considered a major threat because “it might seek to take control of the immense resources of the region and use them for regional interest, rather than allow them to be centrally controlled and exploited by the United States.” Since then, Israel has been a key stronghold for U.S. geopolitics.
So despite the lopsided destruction that Israel has unleashed on Palestinians, the Obama administration continues to support Israel’s military operations and falsely equates the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls. When the UN Human Rights Council voted on July 23 to open inquiry into war crimes in Gaza, the U.S. was the only country to vote “no.” In lockstep, the New York Times squarely blames Hamas’s comparatively minimal violence for Israel’s brutality and also falsely equates the violence against civilians “on both sides of the border.” Similarly, Briscoe states that Israel is simply responding “in kind” to Hamas rockets.
However, Israel’s relentless destruction of Gaza and the lopsided death toll are becoming increasingly hard for reporters to deny, even in the liberal corporate media. NBC News pulled veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza after he reported on the murder of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach by Israeli gunboats. Mohyeldin was returned to Gaza only after public uproar. MSNBC fired contributor Rula Jebreal after her on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage, such as having “90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians.” The facts in Gaza clearly support Mohyeldin’s and Jebreal’s outrage: Israel’s bombing and invasion have overwhelmingly killed children and other civilians, with likely war crimes including the bombing of hospitals, other medical facilities, mosques, schools, and Gaza’s sole power plant. Despite rhetorical flourishes by the New York Times about “bombardments … of Israeli population centers,” Hamas, a democratically elected governing organization of Gaza, has committed violence with comparatively minimal civilian casualties and damage. This says less about the atrocities that Hamas has committed and more about the scale of Israeli brutality. In either case, Obama’s defense of Israel is rhetorically on the grounds that “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders” – if the liberals actually agree with this on principle, they should fully support the Palestinians’ right to resistance.
Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.