Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Colonialism in Iraq?

An interview with Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, US commander in the north of Iraq, was broadcast today on NPR's Morning Edition, as part of NPR's coverage on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (Operation Desert Fox). Several of the things Hertling said struck me as reminiscent of classical colonialist discourse. Entirely unselfconscious, commonsensical, self-evident, and as as with all ruling ideology, it all just goes without saying. I consider Hertling's statements, the way he frames the discussion, symptomatic of what the Iraq adventure is all about.

You need to listen to the broadcast--note that NPR's written summary of the interview leaves these statements out. (Just click on "Listen Now" up at the top.)

Here's what struck me:

"We brought our seven governors together in the north...to Tikrit and we helped the ministers...come up here and we had an all day event with them where some key concerns were aired...we're beginning to see some results... [emphasis added]"

[Comment: Who's really in charge here? Whose governors are these, are they "our" governors or are they the northern Iraqis' governors? And of course, the ministers needed the US military to arrange for them to meet with the governors and get things going.]

"in the Arab mindset...it's a different culture of--you've got to change the way you think about things. Under Saddam, the central was government was viewed as successful if you saved their budget."

[Comment: The "Arab mindset"--another US military officer who's read Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind, the classic Orientalist anthropological text. And yet, by Hertling's own accounting, as he says in the next sentence, it's not really an "Arab" mindset but a mindset particular to the Saddam regime.]

"there are very few banks over here..."

[Comment: few banks in Iraq, it must be a primitive place!]

"We're really sort of the bridge between the central government and the provinces in trying to get the right things happening."

[That's us, just the facilitators, the guys trying to bring "good government" to Iraq.]

Let's stop this colonialist nonsense. The fifth anniversary of the war is tomorrow, and throughout the country there are demonstrations and vigils, coordinated by Moveon.org and a number of other organizations. (Find your local vigil here.)

In Fayetteville, the vigil will be held tomorrow (the 19th) at Federal Building on College Ave, corner of Mountain St. and College Ave from 4 to 6 PM.

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