Truth’s Wreckage

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

The interests of war, which siphon off 40 percent of every dollar we pay in taxes, have no choice but to declare peace — or at least truth — anti-American, because the blood myth of national exceptionalism, and the perpetual insecurity it creates, is all they’ve got.

It’s also all they need.

Did anyone, for instance, expect the Petraeus-Crocker testimony before Congress this week to affect or even address what we’re actually doing in Iraq? The best we get is some mild criticism from the opposition party, stern words about our “missteps” in the waltz to victory, ineffective calls for a timetable for troop withdrawal that, sincere or wholly insincere, will not in fact lead to a timetable for troop withdrawal because nothing is on the line in this testimony; and, in any case, no congressperson dares trample on “the seeds of nascent democracy” our boys and girls have been planting over there for the last five years. And lo, “There has been growth,” the general declared. And those baby democracies are so cute!

Gathering the best of the ideas and the most grimly truthful of the testimony not heard in Congress this week, I make a plea on behalf of suffering Iraq that we stop the pretense that “the surge is working” or has done anything at all to further our security or nurture our ideals.

Our best and only hope is to convene a national truth commission on the order of the Winter Soldier gathering in Silver Spring, Md., last month, at which returning U.S. troops reclaimed their humanity by talking about what they had seen and done in Iraq and the hell into which that sad country is descending because of our criminal occupation. Only if we are able to hear the truth can we reach beyond it for the ideals that can save us.

“We know that no political solution can work without a change of consciousness that minimally includes an open-heartedness and willingness to recognize the humanity of the Other,” reads the statement, drafted by the Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, that ran as a full-page ad in the New York Times this week, proposing a path to peace in the Middle East (with a focus on Israel and Palestine).

“The ‘cynical realists’ claim,” the statement reads, “that others are entrenched in their hatefulness, and that war and domination are the only way to battle them. This kind of thinking has led to five thousand years of people fighting wars in order to ‘end all wars’ — and it has not worked. It’s time now to try a new strategy of generosity, both economic generosity and generosity of spirit.”

This “anti-realist” and perhaps (some, I’m sure, would claim) “anti-American” statement courageously affirms “the sacredness of all human beings.” Is anything more easily mocked?

Here’s how we mock it in Iraq:

“At least since mid-2006, the US has been expanding its air capabilities in Iraq. Air bases have been enlarged and more planes and helicopters added to the arsenal. The build-up has led to a dramatic increase in air strikes within Iraq. . . . These missions have led to a five-fold increase in the amount of ordinance dropped in 2007. The tonnage of munitions dropped by aircraft increased to 222,000 pounds in the first half of 2007, compared to 61,500 during all of 2006.”

This passage is from a report called “U.S. War Crimes in the ‘Surge’ 2007: Petraeus Manual and Tactics Flout International Law,” written by Karen Parker, president of the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers, and policy analyst Bill Rau, for the organization

The authors maintain that, since the surge, Iraqi civilians have been dying at a faster rate, thanks to such tactics as the increased use of air power, a notoriously blunt and imprecise instrument for “promoting democracy” or anything else. For instance:

“In a raid in May 2007 on Sadr City, in eastern Baghdad,” the report notes, “American forces called in an air strike on nine cars that were seen positioning themselves to ambush the American and Iraqi troops on the raid . . . and five people suspected of being ‘terrorists’ . . . were killed in the attack. But an Interior Ministry official and residents of Sadr City said the cars were parked in a line of vehicles waiting at a gas station.”

The report also informs us: “Living conditions for most Iraqi citizens have worsened since the invasion and the cumulative impacts are widely evident and severe. While the absence of everyday security is often noted in the media, for millions of people the basic needs of life are not being met. Poverty rates are above 40 percent, childhood malnutrition exceeds 25 percent, and poor water supplies and sanitation have led to numerous outbreaks of diseases.”

What are we doing there? What have we become? As the Lerner-Tikkun statement declares: “Our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet.” We might as well be calling the air strikes on ourselves.