The occupation of Iraq could be illustrated using the following example. Consider that a local mobster has a preoccupation with milk. The whole community in fact relies on milk, but he’s got an addiction to it. He calls up some of his men – thugs, really – to go down to the local corner store and do a hold up. His reasons – the ones he tells people when they dare ask – is that he has reason to suspect that the store owner is stockpiling bongs, spray cans, and bootleg liquor, as well as paying his employees under the counter.
Those of the thugs that are old enough are a bit confused about this, since it’s the mobster that initially put the brown-eyed store owner into business and supported him through some fairly unfair conflicts with the neighboring milk bar; that if the store owner did actually possess any such contraband after the last raid that the mobster ordered on the store, it would have been provided by the mobster himself; and that the reason he can’t afford to pay his staff reasonable rates is because the thugs trashed his store years back. Never the less, the thugs go in. The store owner puts up little resistance – after all, the mobster has pretty much placed the milk bar under siege for the last few years since their raid, preventing local residence from shopping there, and so the milk bar proprietor and his poorly paid staff have no fight left in them. The store owner tries hiding beneath the counter but he’s quickly dragged out from there, disheveled, unshaven, with one of his brown eyes now black. The hold up is a success – so far. The police can’t do shit, since the mobster has them in his pocket – he gives the town hall as much or as little leash as he wants. And the mobster has his steady stream of milk. And oh, by the way, none of the aforementioned contraband is found; anywhere.
Then things start to go a bit sour. Not all of the staff have gone quietly into the night, and accepted the new management. Some are taking pot shots of the thugs from the aisles, and the thugs have naturally shot back. A few strays have taken out a couple of customers, but this is a hold up after all – what can you expect? And the milk must flow, after all. But now things are getting weird – the staff members are fighting amongst themselves. The mobster, having given the counter over to one of the blue eyed workers, has now set off a bloody feud between the blue eyed majority and the brown eyed minority – its payback time. Retributions against the brown-eyed collaborators are harsh, some of the brown-eyes are even poking holes in the cartons of milk, and the mobster is starting to get a little worried about what he’s initiated. His advisory council, and in fact the hood that provides his power base, are getting a bit war-weary – thugs are coming back with splints and bandages. On top of that, the families of the staff are getting sick of their sons and daughters coming home every night with blood noses and broken legs. Not one to cry over spilt milk however, the mobster sends another couple of thugs over to sort things out. The whole community decries his decision – and yet they themselves still continue drinking milk that has been sold by the store, and bought through the mobster; in spite of the facts that the rates of lactose intolerance have been sky rocketing and there’s a health food shop down the road selling soy and rice milk.
This is where we’re at with the occupation of Iraq. At last count, the number of people who’d starved to death as a result of the U.S. enforced embargo, between the two gulf wars, was half a million to two million – mostly women and children. In this latest siege, some sixty thousand Iraqi civilians have perished. The idea that the U.S. is ‘helping’, or ‘liberating’ the Iraqi people by causing the deaths of so many of their fellow citizens doesn’t stand up against the most elementary logic.
What I find particularly troubling at this point however is the temptation to think that the U.S. voters 'saw the light’, and redeemed themselves by ousting the Republican Party. A couple of things that are unnerving about was how George W. Bush could remain in power even though his party was a minority – and secondly, that many of the American people might judge the wisdom of invading Iraq on the basis of its success.
Going back to the allegory of the milk bar, imagine that the thugs had succeeded in keeping the milk supplying flowing at a steady, even increasing rate to the general public (and of course the mobster and his posse); that, very few of the thugs were hurt (I mean, they’re just doing their job – they’re following orders, implementing a change of ownership in the milk bar, doing them all a favor – they don’t deserve to be shot at), and that the staff owners, rather than ganging up on the brown eyed, or setting booby-traps for the thugs, were actually forced to work on separate sides of the store and not interact with one another (perhaps even made to use separate toilets and change room facilities and kitchenettes). Would the mobster then have been justified, retroactively, in his violent take over of the milk bar? Could the continued occupation of a privately owned, mum-and-pop business by a pack of ruffians be rationalized even when the official reason – locating contraband – doesn’t pan out, and that not only are the staff’s wages not brought up to award rates, several of them are sacked. Was it a good idea when it was working? Can an immoral and illegal act – carried out neither by desperation, nor from the popular sentiment (not only the whole community, but neighboring communities) - be justified?
If criminals are not hurt, hostages die quietly, and masterminds are made wealthy – are these heists that we can bring ourselves to applaud?
Image by Muffet