The conquest of America by Iraq

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am

The debacle in Iraq is obvious to everyone but a diminishing band led by United States President George W. Bush. It's time for the US to leave. The human and financial costs of the war are high enough. But the Iraq war is having an even more insidious impact: it is transforming America.

The change mimics what William Graham Sumner warned against in his essay The Conquest of the United States by Spain. He believed that Spain's imperialist heritage conquered America's republican tradition as a result of the US wars against Spain and Filipino insurgents.

We see that process at work again. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a prolific killer and American forces are directly responsible for only a small portion of civilian Iraqi deaths. But the US invasion triggered the bloody process that has voraciously consumed many innocent lives.

Last year, the Iraqi government estimated 150,000 civilians had died since 2003. A study by Johns Hopkins University reckoned there had been 601,000 violent deaths.

Whatever the actual number, the suffering is staggering. All good people should weep at this loss. The failure of war advocates to reflect on, let alone care about, so many unnecessary deaths is shocking.

Barbarity and brutality are inevitable in any conflict, of course, but today a disturbing number of American troops appear to treat all Iraqis as the enemy.

Obviously, most American (and allied) soldiers do not abuse Iraqis, not all claims of atrocities are true and the US military attempts to hold its forces accountable for misbehaviour. Nevertheless, guerilla wars bring out the worst in people.

The Nation magazine recently interviewed 50 combat veterans about the conflict. They 'described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts', wrote Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian.

Hedges and al-Arian summarised these stories, which 'reveal disturbing patterns of behaviour by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower ... The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasised that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings.

'Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported - and almost always go unpunished.'

A Pentagon survey last year found that just 47 per cent of soldiers and 38 per cent of marines believed Iraqi civilians should be treated with respect and dignity.

The Nation found beatings, shootings, and killings to be common. Soldier Jeff Englehart said simply: 'I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi'.'

The US must leave Iraq. The reasons are many. But particularly urgent is the risk of what America might become as a result of this conflict.

Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defence Alliance