By MARC MCDONALD
Five years after the start of the disastrous Iraq War, there remains one fig leaf that the remaining war supporters and other hopeful Americans can still hide behind these days. After all, these fig-leaf wearers constantly remind us, we did get rid of Saddam Hussein, right?
So despite the fact that the war is a $3 trillion fiasco that has slaughtered a million people, the fig-leaf wearers think they can still find a silver lining in this disaster by reminding all of us that, after all, Saddam is gone.
I am not defending Saddam. But on the other hand, I think those who proclaimed Saddam to be a monstrous tyrant who was the "new Hitler" need to ask themselves a few questions:
1. First of all, I find it incredible that any Americans can still smugly proclaim that they know exactly what was going on in Iraq before the U.S. invaded. Saddam may well have been an evil tyrant---but the fact is, America was totally in the dark about Iraq. Everything we were told about Iraq turned out to be a crock of sh*t (from the non-existent WMDs to Saddam's non-existent ties to 9/11 to the "fact" that Iraqis would greet us as liberators).
All lies. All bullsh*t. And yet, incredibly, there are those fig-leaf wearers who still, to this day, arrogantly proclaim that they know exactly what Saddam was up to---and that it consisted of horrific crimes that murdered millions of people. Keep in mind that these are the same people who smugly proclaimed that Saddam had WMDs---and indeed, used that issue as a club to beat the heads of anyone who dared question George W. Bush's case for war in 2003.
I'm astonished at how smug and arrogant many of these people are. They've been proven wrong time and time again on everything to do with Iraq. And yet, when they make sweeping statements about Iraq and Saddam's crimes, you'll never find anyone who is more sure of themselves.
One wonders: where, exactly, are they getting this info about Saddam's murder of "millions"? The reality is, it's likely largely coming from the same disgruntled anti-Baathist Iraqi exiles who were peddling the same fairy tales about Saddam having WMDs. Between Bush's hysterical, over-the-top denunciations of Saddam, and these misinformed exiles (many of whom hadn't actually lived in Iraq for many years), it's no wonder that Americans came to believe that Saddam was the next Hitler.
2. Speaking of Saddam's murder of "millions": maybe it's true. I don't claim to know one way or another. But those who condemn Saddam weaken their credibility by constantly citing wildly different figures. I've seen some authors claim the death toll was in the hundreds of thousands. Other cite figures in excess of millions dead.
I find all this interesting. After all, the U.S. has little idea of the carnage that has taken place right under our noses during our occupation of Iraq. As the Pentagon has repeatedly put it, the U.S. military "doesn't do body counts." And yet, even though we have no idea of how many have died in our occupation of Iraq, there are fig-leaf wearers who make sweeping proclamations about the "millions" that Saddam murdered many years ago.
Actually, America could have bolstered its credibility and its case for invading Iraq if it had worked to ensure that Saddam got a fair trial. Such a trial could have presented to the world a detailed case for Saddam's crimes. It would have also given survivors of Saddam's regime their day in court.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Saddam's trial was a travesty. Basically, we handed him over to his political enemies for a kangaroo trial that mocked the very idea of justice. Saddam's lawyers couldn't even do their job without worrying about getting a bullet in the head (and indeed, several were gunned down during the trial).
There was no detailed examination of the "millions" that Saddam murdered during the trial. One wonders: why not? If we had solid evidence of Saddam murdering millions, then why not try him for that? In the end, Saddam was convicted for the killing of 148 people in 1982 who were reportedly connected to an assassination attempt.
Watching the trial proceedings, I couldn't help but think that the whole event was a mockery of justice. It seems to me that the U.S. just wanted to quickly get the trial over with and hang Saddam as soon as possible. Which begs the question: why? What was the rush? If Saddam was indeed the new Hitler, why didn't the trial take a deeper look at his past crimes?
Call me cynical, but I can't help but wonder if the U.S. just didn't want Saddam dead as quickly as possible before he started talking about his past lengthy, cozy ties to the U.S. Which brings me to another point:
3. Did the U.S. really ever have a leg to stand on in condemning Saddam? Of course, the vast majority of Americans will say yes. But I wonder. If Saddam did indeed murder millions, there is still the uncomfortable fact that the U.S. worked closely with Saddam for decades. If Saddam was indeed the New Hitler, what does that make America?
Most Americans are completely in the dark when it comes to knowledge about how America worked closely with Saddam.
In fact, the U.S. had a cozy relationship with Saddam that lasted for decades. How many Americans are aware that, in 1959, the CIA hired the then-22-year-old Saddam to carry out a plot to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister, General Abd al-Karim Qasim? (Saddam's assassination attempt failed when he fired too soon and he only wound up killing Qasim's driver).
Bush has long condemned Saddam for crimes such as gassing the Kurds in the town of Halabjah in 1988. But how many Americans know that the U.S. in fact sold materials to Saddam for creating biological and chemical weapons in the 1980s?
As Craig Unger reported in his 2004 book, House of Bush, House of Saud:
"Beginning in 1984, the Centers for Disease Control began providing Saddam's Iraq with biological materials--including viruses, retroviruses, bacteria, fungi, and even tissue that was infected with bubonic plague."
Unger noted that the latter exchange may have been initiated in the spirit of an "innocent" transfer of scientific information. But as he points out: "It is not difficult to argue against giving bubonic-plague-infected tissues to Saddam Hussein."
Unger quotes former Senate investigator James Tuite: "We were freely exchanging pathogenic materials with a country that we knew had an active biological warfare program."
But don't try to tell any of this to the fig-leaf wearers. The fact is, America has become an infantile culture. We're deeply ignorant about the rest of the world. And we tend to see the world in simplistic black-and-white/good-versus-evil terms (with, of course, the U.S. always being the "good guys").
All the fig-leaf wearers will permit themselves to hear is that Saddam was the next Hitler. End of story. The vast majority of Americans don't want to hear that maybe, just maybe, the story is a little more complex than that. Which leads me to my final point:
4. It's clear that America never really understood Iraq. We never bothered to learn a thing about the Iraqi people, their language and their culture. We were completely clueless and in the dark. Hell, most Americans had no clue that our own government had been working, hand-in-glove, with Saddam for decades.
Instead, on the eve of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Americans were blissfully ignorant and eagerly lapping up the Fox News/corporate media line: "Saddam is the new Hitler and America needs to get rid of him. If we do this, Iraqis will greet us with flowers and everyone will live happily ever after."
Five years later, it's clear that everything we were told about Saddam (and Iraq in general) back in those heady days in 2003 was a f*cking lie. And by deluding ourselves by building up this cartoonish image of Saddam-as-the-new-Hitler, we were completely in the dark about the oncoming freight train of disaster we were about to encounter.
The fact is, Saddam was no Hitler. He was a dime-a-dozen petty tyrant of a poor, Third World nation. He posed absolutely no threat to the U.S. (Indeed, if he did somehow pose a threat to America, then the real question wasn't whether to invade Iraq---it should have been this: what, exactly, had U.S. taxpayers been getting in return for the trillions of dollars that we've pumped into the Pentagon over the years? We've lavished more on military spending than the rest of the world combined---and yet we were not safe from Iraq, a poor Third World nation with no industry that was crippled by crushing sanctions?)
One thing I'd like the fig-leaf wearers to explain to me is this: how, exactly, was Saddam any more evil than the dozens of other petty dictators around the world (many of whom America has also supported over the years).
For that matter, how was Saddam more evil than, say, the leaders of Saudi Arabia? The latter, after all, run one of the world's most repressive dictatorships. They routinely torture and murder their opponents. (Oh, and Saudi Arabia is also the beating heart of Islamic radicalism worldwide). And yet, instead of invading that nation, Bush happily hobnobs with their leaders and even invites them out to the ranch for barbecue.
One final thing I'd like the fig-leaf wearers to explain to me is this: if Saddam was so evil, then why is it that there was never a single recorded instance of a suicide bomber in Iraq before 2003? And why did Saddam's convoys never face roadside bombs?
For that matter, why, exactly has the U.S. faced a ferocious insurgency now for the past five years? If Saddam was the next Hitler and he was so evil, then why weren't we greeted as liberators in the first place?
Yes, these are troubling questions. And they are questions that the fig-leaf wearers (and most Americans) will never bother to answer. Probably because if we answer these questions, it'll lead us to even more troubling questions that we as a nation would simply rather not think about. So in the time-honored American tradition of sanitizing our own history, we'll simply sweep these troubling questions under the rug and not give them any further thought.