Many hundreds of Iraqis, including many noncombatants, have been killed during recent United States efforts to “pacify” the Iraqi rebellion against U.S. occupation. There is popular revulsion at home and abroad over the horrendous lies with which the George W. Bush White House sold the bloody, immoral and illegal invasion of Iraq. That invasion, it is widely understood, was driven by the White House’s desire to deepen U.S. control of strategic Arab oil resources and to display America’s ability to rule the world unilaterally, on the basis of sheer preponderance of military force.
There is outrage at the pathetic incompetence with which the U.S. occupation has been conducted, an ineptitude that has bred a violent insurgency that American military forces are now repressing in classic imperial fashion. There are calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and for internationalization of the occupation, reflecting concern that the invasion has upped the ante of Middle Eastern violence, global conflict and the terrorist threat.
Writing in last Sunday’s New York Times, Ferguson suggested that the terrible recent Iraqi body count is too low. He has nothing but disdain for all this “squeamish” talk of withdrawal, internationalization, and handing back Iraq its sovereignty. “Putting this rebellion down,” he intones, “will require severity” (Ferguson, “The Last Iraqi Insurgency,” New York Times, Opinion-Editorial, April 18, 2004).
His main concern is that the U.S. is not “willing to strike back with” the required “ruthlessness.” “If last week’s gambit of unconditional cease-fires is any indication,” he moans, “Washington seems intent on reining in the Marines and pinning all hope on the handover of power scheduled for June 30.”
A 40-year old "business historian" with a doctorate from Oxford, Ferguson takes his cue from the glorious (for him) example of Britain’s invasion and occupation of Iraq after World War One. That occupation also sparked rebellion. The great British accomplishment in that action was to recognize and act upon the need to repress resistance to colonial rule with a properly savage degree of imperial force. “In 1920,” Ferguson gushes, “the British ended the rebellion through a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions. It was not pretty. Even Winston Churchill, then the minister responsible for the air force, was shocked by the actions of some trigger-happy pilots and vengeful ground troops.”
Without any sense of shock or disapproval, Ferguson notes that the British general in charge of Iraq “appealed to London not only for reinforcement but also for chemical weapons (mustard gas bombs or shells).” Ferguson deletes Churchill’s response, which expressed confidence that gas could be used profitably against what he called “recalcitrant Arabs” and included the following lovely statement: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” Consistent with that fine sentiment, Churchill gassed the Kurds as “an experiment,” applauding the “lively terror” that mustard gas shells caused among them. There followed 35 years of British occupation, “an outcome” that is “precisely what Washington should be aiming at today,” Ferguson thinks, since “American troops will have to keep order well after the nominal turnover of power.”
Ferguson reasons that the current bloody cycle of rebellion and repression in Iraq “was almost inevitable.” His evidence for this curious judgment is the earlier anti-British revolt that began in May, 1920, “six months after a referendum…on the country’s future and just after the announcement that Iraq would become a League of Nations ‘mandate’ under British trusteeship rather than continue under colonial rule. In other words, neither consultation with Iraqis nor the promise of internationalization sufficed to avert an uprising…” Those damn Arabs just don’t want to submit to their Caucasian superiors, even when there’s a promise of multiple Western occupiers!
Ferguson does not explain how events in 1920 (let’s assume for now that the actual history was anything like his version) made developments in 2003-04 “almost inevitable.”
He takes the basic justice of racist global empire and imperial occupation as self-evident backdrop for intelligent discussion…the only issue is how to best repress the natural Arab resistance.
He thinks the United States needs to get over its pansy-assed “inhibition” about butchering Arabs and that America should embrace the basic goodness of the fact that it “is in the empire business.” The U.S. needs to stop focusing on the negative lessons of Vietnam and embrace the positive lesson of England’s past imperial ruthlessness.
Ferguson has a penchant for writing about war and a background in journalism. Let him fly to the Middle East, where he can show us how the rugged lessons of the old British Empire are best carried out. Let him leave the ivory tower and his recently attained fellowship at the reactionary Hoover Institution behind. Let him dodge the deadly crossfire and the corpses of innocent Iraqi children, sacrificed to his racist and imperial cause.
Paul Street is an urban social policy researcher and activist in Chicago, Illinois. See his ever-cheerful reflections on imperialism and thought-control at his new ZNet blog "Empire and Inequality," available online at http://blog.zmag/empire/
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