Everyone stops killing each other at some point, right? This must be what the Iraq hawks are telling each other after the failure of their latest turning point and the explosion of violence over the past month. Not that anyone seems to care anymore, but killings are up in Iraq for the third straight month.
Americans have been curiously lulled into believing that the Iraq war is over, that General Petreaus’s strategy of buying off Sunni tribes and consolidating the ethnic cleansing we unleashed is some sort of long-term solution to the chaos. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that the country’s various forces were merely biding their time and shifting strategies in a war that will remain without end until America departs.
Meanwhile the Democratic nomination race winding down in Pennsylvania over the last month has descended into the mindless tradeoff of trivial barbs and absurd Gotcha! moments, as if the stakes were no higher than the number of pounds dropped by the latest Biggest Loser. Of what significance are the stale, years-old rantings of Barack Obama’s pastor, or the puffed-up memories of Hillary’s 12-year-old Bosnian adventures compared to the trillions wasted funding the deaths of Iraqis and Americans in a needless war?
Of course they all have a race to win and politics to play but they are squandering a rare opportunity to jointly shine a spotlight on the bonfire of riches and innocent bodies still taking place under a veil of media ignorance half a world away. Instead of focusing their enormous power and prestige on the deaths of innocents and the sordid lies of an entire political class, they have turned to their own ambitions and dreams of glory.
Barack Obama was recently shellacked in the press for referring to the bitterness of economically-destitute, rural primary voters. But you know what would really make small-town Americans bitter? It’s if the generations-long accumulation of wealth and global prestige were frittered away in the sands of Mesopotamia for some Beltway ideologue’s ill-conceived fantasies of regional domination and transformation, if the historians assessed America as just another great power that refused to see the limits of its own power and threw away an opportunity to build a better world.
The truth is that democracy was never going to burst forth out of Baghdad like some geyser from a Chevron oil well. Democracy is built on the ground, in the struggles of ordinary people like the brave, unknown workers of Mahalla El-Kobra in the Egyptian delta, who planned a peaceful work stoppage on April 6 only to be brutally crushed by our friends in democratic partnership in Cairo – who also viciously arrested and detained the young organizers of a simultaneous general strike.
The oligarchs and fantasists in charge of Washington, drunk on their own power and gripped with fears about what might happen if the people of the Middle East were to actually run their own affairs, never wanted democracy for Iraq. They wanted the assurance and stability of the same corrupt men who care more about meaningless World Bank growth indicators than they do about the ability of their own people to eat the bread they can no longer afford to buy.
They don’t want democracy in Egypt or Syria or Lebanon either, at least on the terms of the impoverished and neglected masses. They don’t want you to read about it or hear about it because their struggles are seen as unconnected to the massive energy, food, and economic crises facing us all, and because their dreams weren’t manufactured in the groupthink sleep laboratories of the international foreign policy elite.
But they are connected. And even though American political discourse takes no note of events like the dawn round-up of peaceful Egyptian activists in front of their horrified families, of ordinary men and women struggling to have their voices heard above the crushing din of figureheads and tyrants acquiescing to the dictates of a fading US hegemony, there will be a reckoning for this too.
The colossal and blood-soaked failure of American Middle East policy culminating in Iraq is the residue of decades of short-sighted thinking and misplaced selfishness, of believing that dictators always know better than their subjects, and of believing that unlike everywhere else in the world, Arabs and Muslims should never be granted the opportunity to decide their own destinies, of believing that the enrichment of a few people in the centers of power should make everyone happy.
Unfortunately that delusion belongs not just to the discredited Fox News talking heads and the unapologetic promoters of war as a substitute for diplomacy, but to us all, to Iraqis and Egyptians and the American and Chinese Great Game players who want to carve up the world into new pockets of influence. Their failure will fall on everyone, and so will the check. If only anyone in power wanted to close out the tab.
David M. Farisis an American political commentator and Ph.D candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently doing research in Cairo.