I have never been a pessimist. But despair is what I feel as I sit through the scenes of random killing, gratuitous bloodshed, piled-up bodies in street corners and comprehensive chaos through Iraq’s towns and villages.
Three years ago, the Americans blasted their way through Baghdad, smeared the stars and stripes across Saddam’s face in Firdus Square and announced the end of dictatorship and birth of the New Iraq. But what Iraq have they begotten?
Every day that goes past takes with it over 500 Iraqi lives. Last week, I met an Iraqi family friend who had returned from a visit to the homeland after years in exile. “How did you find Iraq?” I asked over coffee. “I did not find it,” he smiled bitterly. “I found no trace of the Iraq I know … What I saw over there made me regret the years I spent opposing Saddam, not for love of that dictator, but for grief over my country.”
A symbol of death, fear and devastation, Iraq today stands as a living testimony to the untold misery occupation visits on its victims and its dangerous consequences for its perpetrators. Both are trapped in occupation’s deadly grip. The United States after Iraq bears little resemblance to the one before. Iraq’s tragedy will be remembered as a lesson about superpowers and how they can be blinded by their might, a lesson on the ill use of power.
Today, as 2007 dawns, the “New American Century” is more illusion than reality. But more so is Condoleezza Rice’s promise of constructive chaos in the Middle East. From Baghdad to Gaza and Beirut, the region is sliding further towards chaos, and chaos of the deconstructive type. Iraq’s “democratic moment” gave birth to a government of thugs, thieves, militias and sectarians. While Iraq’s new rulers are trapped in the “liberated” green zone, their comrades who led the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon find themselves encircled in the Saraya palace by the counter-revolutionaries. With them, Bush’s entire project for the Middle East is besieged and dealt blow after blow, in Palestine as in Lebanon, in Syria as in Iran.
2007 will be a year of great upheaval, a year of unrest, uncertainty and tragedy, but also the year of the retreat of American power in the region. Such is the curse of the Middle East. Before Bush, it had struck Eden. After Suez, the sun finally set over the empire where the sun never sets. And with Iraq, the “American century” has been strangled in the cradle.
True, the US won’t turn into a banana republic. America was, and remains, a superpower. But After Iraq, America is a wounded, limping giant. It can destroy and crush. But it cannot rebuild and remake.
But to end on a positive note. As it’s new year and we must be merry, let’s celebrate the departure of Rumsfeld and Bolton. And while we’re at it, let’s make a wish: May we see more such neo-con departures in 2007.
Happy New Year everyone!
First Published in The Guardian, Monday 1 January 2007