A sad story of the biggest unilateral undertaking

But as we look half a world to the east, to where today’s Iraq is, who will face the music there for all the bad things it has known both from Americans and savage radicals? The only probable answer is Iraqis themselves. It is even more difficult to estimate how many civilian Iraqis have died in the conflict, than how much the US army has invested into their “protection”.

The Iraq Body Count project, a largely conservative enterprise, reports to date from 97,000 to 106,000 civilian deaths since 2003,[5] whereas the second Lancet survey published on October, 29 2006 estimates that the number of excess deaths caused by the Iraq war amounted to more than 650,000 cases in three and a half years’ span from 2003 to 2006[6]. One may even assume that this figure is higher, given the complexities of body count procedures in the place of ongoing hostilities. Despite all these uncertainties, the Lancet surveys and the Iraqi Family Health Survey are the only peer-reviewed publications out of all Iraqi casualty estimates so far, which gives them bigger credit for accuracy.

Millions in Iraq have become homeless, infrastructure has been and is now being crippled, and the central government headed by Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki looks feckless and incapable of ensuring minimal security and sufficient political control. Instead of bringing home to ordinary Iraqis and their rulers that to live in a democracy is better than to suffer under dictatorship, the United States has substituted sheer chaos for the heavy-handed oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, who, though he oppressed freedom and persecuted any heresy, had not possessed weapons of mass destruction and was not threatening anyone anymore, other than his own people.

One may long argue whether the city-on-the-hill concept of American exceptionalism permits to interfere with a sovereign state’s affairs to make its people happier and its statesmen comply with the universal law, but what is evident from the Vietnamese and Iraqi experiences is that to interfere without knowing local specifics or ever inquiring about local people’s wish to carry out a forcible change is a huge mistake.  As George Santayana once put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The US Government has staked the success of its “stabilization” of Iraq on the compromise figure of al-Maliki just as it did the same with respect to South Vietnam’s ruler Ngo Dinh Diem, who was finally overthrown and killed in a 1963 CIA-sponsored coup after he had evidently failed to implement democratic reform in a country which had not lived under democracy any time before. Similarities are legion, differences are as many. But the outcome may be the same.

If the United States finally withdraws — and it has no other option at hand, which means that withdrawal is inevitable — Iraq, or rather what is left of it, will have to cope by itself with its weakened security at borders and on its territory. Engulfed in an endless internal strife among various ethnic and religious groups, and confronted with the task of fighting renewed crime waves taking strength amid disorder and instability, the country whose utmost importance is its location in the Persian Gulf is likely to shift from one chaos to another. The United States’ capacity to control the chaos that its own military produced by its reckless and irresponsible interference in Iraq is limited if not fictitious. Chaos engenders even more chaos, which means that Iraq’s fate may become similar to that of South Vietnam which buckled under the weight of the North Vietnamese communist drive in 1975, two years after the Paris Peace Accords were signed and America disengaged.

This time, the overwhelming force may prove to be Iraqi insurgency, and behind its back, all those subterranean forces which benefit from regional instability and base their criminal ideologies on the weaknesses of traditional state structures. America has to some degree helped those forces reach their goals, as it eliminated Iraq’s only regime, however oppressive it may have been, from the face of earth, substituting chaos for dictatorship and complete disarray for the hard-faced rule. Far from defending Saddam Hussein, whose new lease on life could not have been justified on the basis of all his crimes, one might rhetorically ask whether Iraq would be suffering that much had the 2003 invasion not occurred. The answer is on the surface: the deadly total of more than half a million civilians is a hard price to pay for the empty promise of democracy in the land of eternal hardship.

[1] More information about Operation Iraqi Freedom may be retrieved from the iCasualties website at: http://icasualties.org/Iraq/index.aspx.

[2] The total expenditure count may be found at: http://www.costofwar.com/, whereas a detailed breakdown of military costs in Iraq and Afghanistan per fiscal year may be consulted at: http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home.

[3] The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, and Much More, by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, March 9, 2008, Washington Post, available at:


[4] The full text of the article may be found in PDF at: http://www.comunicazione.uniroma1.it/materiali/14.34.27_Charles%20Krauthammer%20The%20UnipolarMoment.pdf

[5] Please visit http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ to get familiarized with the project’s team, rationale and methods of analysis.

[6] The findings of the October 2006 Lancet survey are examined at: http://brusselstribunal.org/pdf/lancet111006.pdf