Monday, March 25, 2013


Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: Iraq: Ten Years of Stupidity

To assume only one scenario, war–maybe after sanctions–reveals intellectual poverty. Iraq had problems but not the casualties, exile and displacements of the war-which may last 10 more years having upset so many unstable equilibria.

Iraq: Ten Years of Stupidity

by Johan Galtung, 25 Mar 2013 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Nobody celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 19-20 March 2003 coalition invasion of Iraq (not only the USA was responsible, the stupidity coalesced).  Stephen Zunes summarizes the losses in one of his excellent articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel[i]: “the death of up to half a million Iraqis, the vast majority of whom are civilians, leaving over 600.000 orphans.  More than 1.3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced and nearly twice that many have fled into exile. Almost 4,500 Americans were killed and thousands more have received serious physical and emotional injuries that will plague them the rest of their lives. The war has cost US taxpayers close to $1.3 trillion”.

On top of killing 1.3 million in the UN-imposed sanctions.

To use expressions like “humanitarian intervention” or “human security” given such predictable insults to basic human needs and rights beats Orwell’s 1984 Newspeak.  With nothing to justify this, the coalition should bow in confession, contrition and compensation; 3C.

Iraq did not become a democracy as a result, some constitution and multiparty elections notwithstanding.  An artificial country put together by the UK out of the beaten Ottoman Empire, multi-national with shia Arabs in the south, sunni Arabs in the middle and sunni Kurds cannot be treated as a unitary state.  Nation is super-salient; to refer to the sacred as “sectarian” is a clear insult.  Democracy inside each nation makes good sense, and the Kurds are benefiting from that, having been set apart. (Con) federation first, then democracy.

The Iraqi majority is shia, meaning that the one person-one vote formula favors the shia for the whole country; thereby also favoring Iran and other shia parts of the Middle East.

But did they get rid of Saddam Hussein?  Yes; in a caricature of the rule of law, killing him before he could tell his side of the complex story.  He is already becoming a myth, close to a martyr.

In 1927 the prolific French philosopher and author Julien Benda (1867-1956) published a book that soon became very famous: La Trahison des Clercs.  The English title was doubly unfortunate: The Betrayal of the Intellectuals.  First, “by” would have been better than “of” even if “of” actually makes sense but in another way than Benda’s. Second, an intellectual is a person always questioning his own assumptions, and that is the key issue here.  A better term would have been “intelligentsia”, maybe trained as intellectuals but not to question anything, only to give answers, and more particularly answers in line with authority inclinations. Another word would have been “experts”; still another, more like Benda’s clercs: “bureaucrats”.  They have all traded in their autonomy for money, status, power; and may also be available for short time hire on a per diem basis

Benda takes to task French and German intelligentsia of the 19th century for their extreme nationalism, racism and belligerence, leading to the wars of 1870-71 and 1914-18, and to the first and second Versailles treaties. We could add, to the Second World War when they actually came together to some extent under the Vichy regime for a French-German cooperation still lasting, under EC-EU auspices.

Benda had two alternatives to a nationalism backed by state power. One was the classical culture of the Antiquity, border-transcending, unifying; and the other was the Christianity of the Middle Ages, also border-transcending. Benda’s world was Europe, what they both meant relative to “barbarians” and “pagans” was not his concern.

Betrayal, treason, are strong words, particularly when directed against those who see themselves as the truly loyal and faithful, and certain others pleading trans-national/state values and policies as the betrayers and traitors.  These “clercs” have one great advantage: they have the state they serve on their side, and more so the more loyal they are, and can mobilize state power against “cosmopolitans”.

The really responsible, the security, regional studies, etc. experts providing premises for this orgiastic violence, hide behind presidents and prime ministers. Bush-Blair depended on support from their advisors but what they got was not intelligent, but stupid.

To assume that one can invade a country without encountering hard resistance is stupid.  Even if polls showed more Iraqis favoring the USA than Saddam it is unforgivable to forget the third category: those who favored neither.  To refer to resistance as “insurgency” assumes that the invader has some kind of legitimacy, making any resistance illegitimate. But the second UN resolution glared by its absence.

To assume that a dictator can be deposed and democracy introduced is equally stupid. The dictator is there for some reason: the country is ungovernable. Being forged together by a colonial power–Libya- Palestine-Iraq-Lebanon-Syria–the faultlines survived decolonization. The colonial power ruled with a hard hand, and their thinking survived in the intelligentsia delivering the premises for war. One person-one vote democracy works in homogenous countries with I-culture, like in Nordic countries very different from Iraq–or in countries with so many faultlines that they somehow cancel each other (USA, Tanzania).

To assume only one scenario, war–maybe after sanctions–reveals intellectual poverty. Iraq had problems but not the casualties, exile and displacements of the war-which may last 10 more years having upset so many unstable equilibria. Nonviolence works against dictators. There are fora and conferences to discuss pros and cons of unitary state-devolution-federation-confederation-independence-regional communities. There are conflict resolution and trauma reconciliations.  And yet they cater to US-UK war addictions, sending others to hell.

Such people should be known for their tested inability to analyze and forecast and remedy. Academia should be for intellectuals, not for clercs, intelligentsia. And states should update their advisors.


[i]. See, posted march 2013.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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