I was a little reluctant to go see the new movie “300.” This film about a heroic Spartan king whose defeat by invading Persians united Greece and preserved the ideals of freedom and democracy seemed like propaganda for Bush’s war against terrorism. After all, Persia is the old name for Bush’s next target, Iran, and treacherous Democrats – oops, I mean Spartan politicians – oppose the heroic Spartan king’s troop surge.
It turns out I didn’t need to worry. There’s no mistaking this pubescent power fantasy for political allegory. A kind of war pornography full of blood and guts, the film does manage to drum up sympathy for the freedom-loving, borderline-psychotic Spartan kamikazes and their cause. But the analogy to current events doesn’t fit. No American war since the Second World War could be considered a fight for freedom.
Bush has tried to put this war on the same footing as the fights against communism or fascism. Over the past several years, even liberals like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D, then I-Conn.) and a couple of recent Daily editorial page editors have supported the war on similarly simplistic terms. But from the perspective of the Middle East, America is not the noble freedom fighters. It’s the invading empire.
The history of the American empire in the Middle East is an open secret. In the early 1950s, a leader named Mosaddeq in Iran tried to found a genuine Middle Eastern democracy. Since Mosaddeq wanted to take back control of Iran’s oil industry, the British asked America to intervene to protect their oil fields.
The CIA instigated a coup that put a dictator called the Shah in charge of Iran. The Shah kept the oil flowing westward, all the while suppressing dissent, imprisoning opponents, spending huge sums of state money on lavish parties and monopolizing power for nearly 20 years.
The Islamic revolution broke out in Iran not because its people hated our freedom but simply because they hated our foreign policy. America became their “Great Satan” partly because we had placed a brutal dictator in charge of their country.
To push back against Iran, America allowed the sale of weapons of mass destruction to an anti-Iranian dictator in Iraq. His name was Saddam Hussein.
President George W. Bush claimed that Hussein possessed facilities to manufacture chemical weapons in Fallujah. He had good reason to believe it: President Reagan had allowed the British firm Uhde ltd. to build a chemical weapons facility there.
When “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began, you could forgive the Iraqis for being skeptical. They suspected that their would-be liberators were playing a cynical geopolitical chess game, because that’s what America has done in the region for 50 years.
Is this a Chomskyite radical-leftist conspiracy theory? Not really. My main source is the Encyclopedia Britannica. The facts aren’t hidden, they’re ignored, and they’re ignored because Americans would rather believe that they’re heroes.
The slogan everyone will remember is “they hate our freedoms” – as if the terrorists were simply so jealous of America’s overwhelming awesomeness that they attacked out of sheer envy.
The real solution for Iraq is as simple as it is humbling. Admit the war was a mistake. Formally apologize to both Iraq and the world for going to war without international sanction against a non-threatening country and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Stop demanding that Iraqis “step up and take responsibility”; that’s like telling a woman you’ve just raped to stop whining and get over it.
Investigate war profiteering, contractor fraud and detainee torture. If the chain of responsibility goes all the way to the top, impeach Bush, Cheney, Rice and company en masse and deport them to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes. Then ask for international aid to help Iraq – only when the world knows that America has given up its imperial ambitions will it offer help. And only an international force will give the reconstruction effort the legitimacy it needs.
This is the real way forward in Iraq. Anything less is a palliative designed to soothe the egos and cover the asses of the fools who led this nation into war to serve their narcisstic wish-fulfillment flight-suit fantasies.
In their defense they’ll claim as Vice President Cheney has that such a plan means that “our troops will have died in vain.” To this administration, our soldiers are props to stand next to Republican officials. The amputees, the brain-damaged, all the unglamorous used-up detritus of real flesh-and-blood war are shoved into dilapidated hospitals and forgotten before they can smudge our image of the conquering hero.
The real question is not whether our troops have died in vain, but whether they will continue to die for vanity.
Toby Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.