Noam Chomsky: Where's The Iraqi Voice?
- Where's The Iraqi Voice?
By Noam Chomsky
THE US occupying army in Iraq (euphemistically called the
Multi-National Force-Iraq) carries out extensive studies of popular
attitudes. Its December 2007 report of a study of focus groups was
The report concluded that the survey "provides very strong evidence"
to refute the common view that "national reconciliation is neither
anticipated nor possible". On the contrary, the survey found that a
sense of "optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups ... and
far more commonalities than differences are found among these
seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis."
This discovery of "shared beliefs" among Iraqis throughout the country
is "good news, according to a military analysis of the results", Karen
deYoung reports in The Washington Post.
The "shared beliefs" were identified in the report. To quote deYoung,
"Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S.
military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among
them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to
So, according to Iraqis, there is hope of national reconciliation if
the invaders, responsible for the internal violence, withdraw and
leave Iraq to Iraqis.
The report did not mention other good news: Iraqis appear to accept
the highest values of Americans, as established at the Nuremberg
Tribunal -- specifically, that aggression -- "invasion by its armed
forces" by one state "of the territory of another state" -- is "the
supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in
that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". The
chief US prosecutor at Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice Robert
Jackson, forcefully insisted that the Tribunal would be mere farce if
we do not apply its principles to ourselves.
Unlike Iraqis, the United States, indeed the West generally, rejects
the lofty values professed at Nuremberg, an interesting indication of
the substance of the famous "clash of civilisations".
More good news was reported by Gen David Petraeus and Ambassador to
Iraq Ryan Crocker during the extravaganza staged on September 11,
2007. Only a cynic might imagine that the timing was intended to
insinuate the Bush-Cheney claims of links between Saddam Hussein and
Osama bin Laden, so that by committing the "supreme international
crime" they were defending the world against terror -- which increased
sevenfold as a result of the invasion, according to an analysis last
year by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank.
Petraeus and Crocker provided figures to show that the Iraqi
government was greatly accelerating spending on reconstruction,
reaching a quarter of the funding set aside for that purpose. Good
news indeed, until it was investigated by the Government
Accountability Office, which found that the actual figure was
one-sixth of what Petraeus and Crocker reported, a 50 per cent decline
from the preceding year.
More good news is the decline in sectarian violence, attributable in
part to the success of the murderous ethnic cleansing that Iraqis
blame on the invasion; there are fewer targets for sectarian killing.
But it is also attributable to Washington's decision to support the
tribal groups that had organised to drive out Iraqi Al Qaeda, and to
an increase in US troops.
It is possible that Petraeus's strategy may approach the success of
the Russians in Chechnya, where fighting is now "limited and sporadic,
and Grozny is in the midst of a building boom" after having been
reduced to rubble by the Russian attack, CJ Chivers reports in the New
York Times last September.
Perhaps some day Baghdad and Fallujah too will enjoy "electricity
restored in many neighbourhoods, new businesses opening and the city's
main streets repaved", as in booming Grozny. Possible, but dubious,
considering the likely consequence of creating warlord armies that may
be the seeds of even greater sectarian violence, adding to the
"accumulated evil" of the aggression. Iraqis are not alone in
believing that national reconciliation is possible. A Canadian-run
poll found that Afghans are hopeful about the future and favour the
presence of Canadian and other foreign troops -- the "good news" that
made the headlines.
The small print suggests some qualifications. Only 20 per cent "think
the Taleban will prevail once foreign troops leave". Three-quarters
support negotiations between the US-backed Karzai government and the
Taleban, and over half favour a coalition government. The great
majority therefore strongly disagree with the US-Canadian stance, and
believe that peace is possible with a turn towards peaceful means.
Though the question was not asked in the poll, it seems a reasonable
surmise that the foreign presence is favoured for aid and reconstruction.
There are, of course, numerous questions about polls in countries
under foreign military occupation, particularly in places like
southern Afghanistan. But the results of the Iraq and Afghan studies
conform to earlier ones, and should not be dismissed.
Recent polls in Pakistan also provide "good news" for Washington.
Fully 5 per cent favour allowing US or other foreign troops to enter
Pakistan "to pursue or capture Al Qaeda fighters". Nine per cent
favour allowing US forces "to pursue and capture Taleban insurgents
who have crossed over from Afghanistan".
Almost half favour allowing Pakistani troops to do so. And only a
little more than 80 per cent regard the US military presence in Asia
and Afghanistan as a threat to Pakistan, while an overwhelming
majority believe that the United States is trying to harm the Islamic
world. The good news is that these results are a considerable
improvement over October 2001, when a Newsweek poll found that
"eighty-three per cent of Pakistanis surveyed say they side with the
Taleban, with a mere three per cent expressing support for the United
States," and over 80 per cent described Osama bin Laden as a guerrilla
and six per cent a terrorist.
Amid the outpouring of good news from across the region, there is now
much earnest debate among political candidates, government officials
and commentators concerning the options available to the US in Iraq.
One voice is consistently missing: that of Iraqis. Their "shared
beliefs" are well known, as in the past. But they cannot be permitted
to choose their own path any more than young children can. Only the
conquerors have that right.
Perhaps here too there are some lessons about the "clash of
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of Hegemony or
Survival Americas Quest for Global Dominance.
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