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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Sunday, June 02, 2002
12:47 PM

REVIEW OF A REVIEW... Author Paul William Roberts asks us to imagine a series of nonsensical historical fantasies on his way to panning much of The Reckoning--Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein by Sandra Mackey. Robert's main point seems to be something about the unreasonableness of U.S. policy toward Iraq, including the economic sanctions that Hussein has used as another excuse to abuse his own people and extend his power. We are to imagine that England goes to war with Russia (Iraq goes to war with Iran) "over a long list of grievances, including Russian military assistance to the Irish Republican Army" (Iran aiding rebels against Hussein).

Then imagine that England invaded Ireland, the United States went to bat for the Irish and, when British forces refused to withdraw, launched air attacks that reduced London to rubble and the rest of the country to the pre-industrial era

They say analogy is the weakest form of argument. For analogy to have a fighting chance, there must be at least some vague correspondence among the things you are trying to describe. There is none here.

Imagine next that, through the United Nations, Washington insisted that the British surrender all weapons of mass destruction and sent in teams of inspectors to every military base in the country. Unsurprisingly, these weapons inspectors would meet with little cooperation. So imagine finally that the Americans urged the UN to impose such severe trade sanctions on England that they effectively terminated the entire British economy for the next 10 years, causing widespread malnutrition, disease and the death of some 500,000 children under the age of 5. Oh, and while all of this is happening, the rest of the world, if it thought about England at all, did not seem to notice that any great injustice had occurred.

Roberts leaves out the part where the British are lobbing Scuds into, what, Morocco, or using nerve gas to annihilate the Scots. This is nonsense.

If you can imagine this far-fetched scenario, you may be able to grasp something of the tragedy that is modern Iraq. With a few notable exceptions, the media have acted for more than a decade, and continue to act, as little more than propagandists and apologists for the largely Western-held -- and U.S.-led -- position that Iraq merely got what was coming to it and that Saddam Hussein is really to blame.

So. What kind of nut would attach any blame to a man who seized Kuwait, pointed his turrets at Riyadh, agitated ceaselessly against the West and schemes against the mere existence of Israel to this very day--now really, Westerners can be so sensitive.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the big question has always been: Why did the U.S.-led alliance leave Saddam Hussein in power if he was really such a menace to world peace? The usual answer -- never given directly -- is fear that an Iraq without Saddam's iron fist would fragment into a Middle Eastern version of the Balkans. Fear on the part of whom? Presumably Washington, for a start, along with the House of Saud and the al-Sabahs of Kuwait. If we include the House of Bush among the oil royalty troubled by the prospect of uncertainty over the ownership of the planet's richest sources of fossil fuel, we at least have a rational economic reason for events of the past two decades. And if Mackey had pursued this route to its end -- she certainly strolls down it a mile -- she would not be open to the criticism that her book is mere propaganda for the White House.

That's what's driving this review--the insane notion that U.S. fears about Iraq actually make sense.

We probably should have seized the chance to kill Hussein and defeat his forces decisively and permanently. But the list of reasons for not marching to Baghdad are long and reasonable (and some are simultaneously recognized and dismissed by Roberts): Recreating a Balkan ethnic bloodbath; committing to an open-ended obligation to support an army of occupation; destroying the rare U.S.-Arab coalition and what then appeared to be great chances for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement; getting a helluva lot more Americans killed, even by chemical warfare by a potentially desperate, irrational Hussein.....yeah, judgment call.

Roberts credits the Mackey for summing up Iraqi history and calls it "indispensable reading" for unintentionally indicting the West's meddling.

If Mackey could bring to bear on the present the clarity she has about the past, she would surely see that, with regard to Iraq, we are continuing to act as imperialists or colonizers in a post-colonial age. The more we attempt to remake the world in our own image, the deeper the resentment against us will grow.

We're not doing this for fun, Roberts. We're doing it because Hussein's next stop is the incineration of Tel Aviv, and then us, that is if he already didn't leave a calling card at the World Trade Center.

Random Amazon reviews of Robert's Demonic Comedy:

A disturbing, vivid and often funny account of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The author labors a little too hard to imitate Hunter Thompson's Gonzo Journalism style. I simply don't believe some of his escapades. Most disturbing is the author's comparison of Israelis to Nazis while he discusses Iraq's raining of scud missiles on civilians in Tel Aviv.

And this:

If you ever wanted to feel some of the absurdity and fear of Iraq without actually having to break a UN sanction and go there yourself, grab this book. Roberts travelled to Iraq three times, and it would seem that the place has only become more irrational since the Gulf War. In addition to actually interviewing Hussein (Roberts describes him as having a soul not unlike a black hole) and witnessing some of the Gulf War carnage firsthand, the author seems to have found an abundance of entertaining, good-hearted, and deranged Iraqis in the process.

So far just two negative reader reviews of Mackey's book. Here's one:

I may have been slightly over-critical giving this book a 1 star when it is actually quite readable. However, I could never get past the haunting realization that this author could never have possibly been to Iraq, met Saddam Hussein or any other government functionary, nor did it seem that she had ever really spent any appreciable time in the Middle East over the last 20 years.

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