Robert Fisk: Here come the odious excuses

The philosophers behind the bloodbath in Iraq are now washing their hands

The Independent

Published: 11 November 2006

"Great news from America!" the cashier at my local Beirut bookshop shouted at me yesterday morning, raising her thumbs in the air. "Things will be better after these elections?" Alas, I said. Alas, no. Things are going to get worse in the Middle East even if, in two years' time, America is blessed with a Democrat (and democratic) president. For the disastrous philosophers behind the bloodbath in Iraq are now washing their hands of the whole mess and crying "Not Us!" with the same enthusiasm as the Lebanese lady in my book shop, while the "experts" on the mainstream US east coast press are preparing the ground for our Iraqi retreat - by blaming it all on those greedy, blood-lusting, anarchic, depraved, uncompromising Iraqis.

I must say that Richard Perle's version of a mea culpa did take my breath away. Here was the ex-chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board Advisory Committee - he who once told us that "Iraq is a very good candidate for democratic reform" - now admitting that he "underestimated the depravity" in Iraq. He holds the president responsible, of course, acknowledging only that - and here, dear reader, swallow hard - "I think if I had been Delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said: 'Should we go into Iraq?' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies...'"

Maybe I find this self-righteous, odious mea culpa all the more objectionable because the same miserable man was shouting abuse down a radio line to me in Baghdad a couple of years ago, condemning me for claiming that America was losing its war in Iraq and claiming that I was "a supporter of the maintenance of the Baathist regime". This lie, I might add, was particularly malicious since I was reporting Saddam's mass rapes and mass hangings at Abu Ghraib prison (and being refused Iraqi visas) when Perle and his cohorts were silent about Saddam's wickedness and when their chum Donald Rumsfeld was cheerfully shaking the monster's hand in Baghdad in an attempt to reopen the US embassy there.

Not that Perle isn't in good company. Kenneth Adelman, the Pentagon neocon who also beat the drums for war, has been telling Vanity Fair that "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world" is dead. As for Adelman's mate David Frumm, well he's decided that George Bush just "did not absorb the ideas" behind the speeches Frumm wrote for him. But this, I'm afraid, is not the worst to come from those who encouraged us to invade Iraq and start a war which has cost the lives of perhaps 600,000 civilians.

For a new phenomenon is creeping into the pages of The New York Times and those other great organs of state in America. For those journalists who supported the war, it's not enough to bash George. No, they've got a new flag to fly: the Iraqis don't deserve us. David Brooks - he who once told us that neocons such as Perle had nothing to do with the President's decision to invade Iraq - has been ransacking his way through Elie Kedourie's 1970 essay on the British occupation of Mesopotamia in the 1920s. And what has he discovered? That "the British tried to encourage responsible leadership to no avail", quoting a British officer at the time as concluding that Iraqi Shia "have no motive for refraining from sacrificing the interests of Iraq to those which they conceive to be their own".

But the Brooks article in The New York Times was also frightening. Iraq, he now informs us, is suffering "a complete social integration", and "American blunders" were exacerbated "by the same old Iraqi demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to compromise, even in the face of self-immolation". Iraq, Brooks has decided, is "teetering on the edge of futility" (whatever that means) and if American troops cannot restore order, "it will be time to effectively end Iraq", diffusing authority down to "the clan, the tribe or sect" which - wait for it - are "the only communities which are viable".

Nor should you believe that the Brooks article represents a lone voice. Here is Ralph Peters, a USA Today writer and retired US army officer. He had supported the invasion because, he says, he was "convinced that the Middle East was so politically, socially, morally and intellectually stagnant that we (sic) had to risk intervention - or face generations of terrorism and tumult". For all Washington's errors, Peters boasts, "we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy".

But those pesky Iraqis, it now seems, "preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption". Peters' conclusion? "Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it." As a result, "it's their tragedy, not ours. Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future...". Incredibly, Peters finishes by believing that "if the Arab world and Iran embark on an orgy of bloodshed, the harsh truth is that we may be the beneficiaries" because Iraq will have "consumed" "terrorists" and the United States will "still be the greatest power on earth".

It's not the shamefulness of all this - do none of these men have any shame? - but the racist assumption that the hecatomb in Iraq is all the fault of the Iraqis, that their intrinsic backwardness, their viciousness, their failure to appreciate the fruits of our civilisation make them unworthy of our further attention. At no point does anyone question whether the fact that America is "the greatest power on earth" might not be part of the problem. Nor that Iraqis who endured among their worst years of dictatorship when Saddam was supported by the United States, who were sanctioned by the UN at a cost of a half a million children's lives and who were then brutally invaded by our armies, might not actually be terribly keen on all the good things we wished to offer them. Many Arabs, as I've written before, would like some of our democracy, but they would also like another kind of freedom - freedom from us.

But you get the point. We are preparing our get-out excuses. The Iraqis don't deserve us. Screw them. That's the grit we're laying down on the desert floor to help our tanks out of Iraq.