On this weeks “Real Time,” Bill Maher stated the following in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war:
“We have ten years now, a little perspective…. I gotta admit, it’s a country that’s standing. I thought it wouldn’t be; it’s actually doing better than I thought it would be. Is it a great country? No, a lot of problems, yes, but there is a country there, called Iraq. It’s never gonna be worth what the cost was, but is there some value in having created a country, Iraq….”
Rachel Maddow challenged the narrative, accurately, that the ‘state’ called Iraq left standing, strategically is an ally of Iran; thus the mission failed. True enough. But Maher needs to be challenged on more than just a functional/or tactical level. It needs a moral/ethical challenge. The problem is much deeper, more insidious than a debate over whether the constructed state is ‘effective’ or not in meeting our strategic ambitions. Perhaps Maddow would have gotten to this, but due to normalized patriarchy, she was cut short by the men who had to respond to her assertions.
Regardless, Maher’s statement is revealing of neo-liberal ideology; it’s capacity to create room for historical revision, as well as ensuring that the perpetrators of war crimes (as the Iraq war undoubtedly was/is) will never be held to account. It is also a demonstration of an utterly detached from people’s lived experiences, liberal-imperial hubris. Maher often talks of the ‘conservative bubble,’ but he himself seems to be embedded in one of his own, a bubble on high in which the voices of the people of Iraq (who should be passing judgement on the success of Iraq and the invasion) neither register with, nor influence Maher’s analysis/pronouncements.
On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Dahr Jamail, an investigative journalist who has covered Iraq from Iraq since the beginning of the war, and has just returned from the country. Here is his assessment of the state of the country that Maher thinks is ‘better than I thought it would be:’
“…the situation in Iraq today, 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation began, it’s just utter devastation. It’s a situation where, overall, we can say that Iraq is a failed state. The economy is in a state of crisis, perpetual crisis, that began far back with the … civil government set up to run Iraq during the first year of the occupation. And it’s been in crisis ever since.
The average Iraqi is just barely getting by. And how can they get by when there’s virtually no security across much large swaths of country to this day, where, you know, as we see in the headlines recently (65 dead day before 10 year anniversary), even when there’s not these dramatic, spectacular days of dozens of people being killed by bombs across Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, on any given day there’s assassinations, there’s detentions, there’s abductions and people being disappeared and kidnapped? One of the demands, for example, of the ongoing Sunni protests in Fallujah and across much of Al Anbar province is to ban silencer weapons, as they describe them, because there are so many hidden executions happening. Iraq has basically become a lawless state (my emphasis) where the government is laughingly referred to oftentimes as the “sidewalks government,” because one of the only things visible that they’ve actually accomplished is to install some new sidewalks across parts of Baghdad.
But it’s really hard to describe the amount of devastation. I mean, we’re having to talk about a country where, since 2003 began, we can cite the Lancet study that was published in the peer-reviewed Lancet medical journal in 2006, which way back in that time, seven years ago—excuse me, seven years ago now, found 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq. And that’s now a grossly outdated study, particularly given the level of violence we saw in 2006, 2007, and the low-level chronic violence that perpetuates to this day.”
We now know that the Iraq war has cost the lives of somewhere around a million people; 130,000 civilians in conservative estimates. The war created 4 million refugees, a million of which are internally displaced, still inside Iraq. “…from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II.” (Jamal) Depleted Uranium munitions being the suspected, though unconfirmed cause.
From what perspective, what ‘liberal bubble,’ can Maher pronounce ‘its doing better than I thought,’ unless he is either ignorant of the realities of the ground, or willfully deceptive? For who? Policy planners and pundits in Washington whose only standard of ‘success’ has collapsed into ‘at least there’s a country standing there?’ Bill Maher, basically arguing for the perhaps success of the Iraq mission because its not Somalia, un-governed, there is a puppet state in place financed by the U.S. tax payer?
Maher, through ignoring the realities on the ground in Iraq, constructs a ‘liberal’ narrative that says ‘maybe it wasn’t all that bad,’ ignoring the statistics, the personal experiences of Iraqi’s, and the overarching imperial framework and objectives of the war itself. Such an ideological retelling passes on a way for liberals to think about what the Iraq war means, one sanitized of blood and human misery, eviscerating the historical reality of brutal invasion and occupation. It also serves to cool hunger for revenge, for apology, for accountability. Raed Jarrar, Iraqi-American blogger and analyst can perhaps offer an alternative vision, one that those who are supposedly ‘left-liberal’ should become familiar with, especially those with the loudest megaphones like Maher, to influence and construct liberal opinion:
“I don’t think we should be asking President Bush if he should apologize or if what happened was criminal and immoral. I think there should be an independent investigation in the United States to hold those who took the U.S. to war accountable, including President Bush and other politicians in his administration. The crimes that were committed and the fraud and the money that was spent and the lives that were destroyed deserve an apology and a compensation, and they deserve everyone who was behind these attacks to be held accountable.
I think the vast majority of Iraqis expects to get an apology. They expect to get compensation for what happened to their country in the last two decades. The country has been destroyed (my emphasis). And the people who were killed in Iraq were compensated by $2,500, believe it or not. The U.S. government has a policy of compensating Iraqis by giving them $2,500 for any family member who was killed and $2,500, the same amount, for any property that is damaged. I mean, just see how humiliating it is to come to a family that lost their car and two of their kids, and give them $7,500 because this is our policy. We give them $2,500 apiece, whether that piece is a human being or a car. I mean, imagine the level of humiliation, the level of disregard to human life in Iraq. All of these things have to be—have to change. I mean, it’s true that the U.S. has ended its military occupation to Iraq, but the U.S. moral and legal obligations to the country are not over yet. Raed Jarrar, DemocracyNow!”
We didn’t ‘create’ a country, Bill Maher. It was there before we invaded it. We destroyed one. Utterly. There’s nothing standing there but a western fort, an imperial facade. And millions of people paid a price horrible for it, almost beyond comprehension. One ignored and dismissed by your assertion that it is better than you thought. Well, who are you? It is the citizens of Iraq, and those who were/are on the ground there, that should frame our understandings, who should discuss operation ‘iraq freedom’s’ ‘value.’