There was a remarkable piece titled “What We Wrought” recently in America, a Jesuit publication, by a Catholic pacifist long active against the U.S. led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It is remarkable primarily because even as it bewails how the U.S. “destroyed” Iraq, it omits all mention of Saddam and his own central role in Iraq’s destruction.
The Catholic anti-war activist recalls her own travel 12 years ago to Iraq under the unnamed dictator in solidarity against international sanctions and against the impending U.S. led invasion. She was active with “Voices in the Wilderness,” a now disbanded group militantly against Iraq war and sanctions, as well as U.S. nuclear weapons and Israeli policies.
“You destroyed our country,” the Catholic activist quotes one Iraqi student recently telling her. Another tells her, “You destroyed our ancient civilization. You took our childhood. You took our dreams. What can you do? You drop bombs, commit war crimes and then send research teams to investigate what is in the bombs. What can you do? We will not forget. It is not written in our hearts, it is carved in our hearts.”
Iraq’s recent resurgence in sectarian violence is recounted in the America piece at length as evidence of America’s crimes against Iraq, even several years after U.S. military withdrawal. For many there will never be any statute of limitations on American culpability for Iraq’s travails.
But this anti-American narrative omits almost all history prior to the Persian Gulf War, which the America piece briefly cites without explaining what precipitated it, which of course would distract from the article’s polemical goal. What prompted such focused American attention on Iraq across two decades is never detailed.
The answer of course is that Iraq’s murderous Baathist regime, under Saddam Hussein for over 25 years, not only terrorized its own nation but made itself a regional and international menace. Besides hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqis, and countless more brutalized, raped, imprisoned and tortured, Saddam’s Iraq supported international terror and invaded two of its neighbors. Its invasion of Kuwait in 1991 precipitated an international coalition of several dozen nations, led by the U.S., to liberate Kuwait. For over a decade afterwards the U.S. and British air forces were compelled to maintain costly no-fly zones over Iraq to prevent Saddam’s liquidation of Kurdish and Shiite populations. There were occasional U.S. military strikes during that time in response to various Iraqi plots and infractions. The U.S. had to maintain an extensive military presence in Saudi Arabia to deter another Iraqi invasion. America’s 2003 overthrow of Saddam, joined by the British, Italians, Spaniard, Poles and others, was ignited by Saddam’s continued violation of UN sanctions and by a post 9-11 calculation that Saddam, as head of an outlaw regime that openly endorsed the 9-11 attacks, could no longer be tolerated.
Saddam’s regime across two decades cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars for two wars and the intervening no-fly zones. Most dear were the nearly 4,500 Americans killed after 2003 and the nearly 500 killed in 1991. Tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel will forever bear the wounds and disfigurements of their service in two Iraqi wars. There were additional tens of billions, still being disbursed from the U.S. treasury, to restore Iraqi infrastructure and security.
The angry Catholic activist writing for America faults American militarism and cupidity for Iraq’s sufferings without acknowledging America’s steep sacrifices and ultimate Iraqi responsibility. Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror, one of the 20th century’s worst, was not imposed externally. He was wholly homegrown, and like all dictators, his rule and crimes and international provocations were only possible due to millions of Iraqis who supported him, served him, obeyed him and who shared in his Baathist exploitations. Only a handful faced any justice after Saddam’s removal.
Iraq had nothing approximating lawful government since its monarchy was overthrown in 1958, followed by the Baathist takeover in 1963. Whatever America’s strategic miscalculations and misplaced idealism, Iraq was “destroyed” decades before a U.S. soldier ever stepped foot in that unfortunate land. And the semi-democratic regime now there, made possible only thanks to American force of arms, is the closest to lawful government Iraq has seen in half a century. As to what Iraq would have resembled, absent U.S. intervention, when Saddam eventually died or was internally challenged, today’s Syrian civil war likely provides the answer, though Iraq’s version would be exponentially larger in lethality and global impact.
Snide critics like the America columnist, or the Iraqis whom she purportedly quotes, imagine a world where original sin starts with U.S. policies, and other nations are blameless. It’s an ideological alternative to the Christian cosmology, which knows that tragedy and war are endemic to all humanity.
Bizarrely, the pacifist Catholic activist writing in America even cites Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis when she urges repentance for “horrific destruction,” and turning “aside from the preparation of war and the waging of wars.” But Lewis, as would classical Jesuits, unlike modern utopian ideologues, would instead remind her that conflict on some level will always persist this side of the eschaton. Praying and working for wise policies that mitigate the worst evils while seeking an approximate peace when possible are worthy goals. Demonizing America and portraying nearly everyone else as innocent victims is a spiritual and historical falsehood.