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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame forum marks 20 years since US invasion of Iraq

Leading American and Iraqi intellectuals criticized the United States for its invasion of Iraq during two “Aftermath” panels held at the University marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

At the panel on Thursday evening, the guest scholars noted the damage done to the nation of Iraq, the entire Middle East and the United States as a result of the war.

“The devastation within Iraq to its civil society and social fabric, its ecology, its culture, its people’s hopes cannot be quantified,” English professor Roy Scranton said at the first panel.

American and Iraqi scholars criticized the United States for its invasion of Iraq during two Notre Dame Forum panels last week.
American and Iraqi scholars criticized the United States for its invasion of Iraq during two Notre Dame Forum panels last week.

Scranton pointed to “the rise of ISIS and subsequent civil war in Iraq from 2014 to 2017, which killed more than 67,000 civilians and displaced more than 5 million people, persistent chronic civil and regional instability, including the Syrian civil war, increased religious extremism and chronic economic and social chaos.”

Thursday panelists included Spencer Ackerman, a national security correspondent for the Guardian, Andrew Bacevich, an American historian from Boston University and Omar Dewachi, a professor of medical anthropology at Rutgers University.

The panelists discussed the root of causes of what they thought to be a senseless war.

Ultimately, Ackerman believed that the motivation for the war had been financial. He recounted a story about how when he had visited a U.S. military base in Iraq in 2007, he was struck by the “for-profit” nature of the war.

“To my amazement, topping buffets were crab legs, and for dessert, there were six flavors of ice cream,” Ackerman recounted. While to the troops, the food may have been a creature comfort that reminded them of home, “what we were actually experiencing was how profitable the Iraq War was,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman explained that the lavish and expensive dining options were only a microcosm of the larger financial forces at play.

“The Iraq war had real winners and among them were the oil companies and the military-industrial complex that benefited from the consistent increases in U.S. defense spending,” Ackerman stated.

Bacevich argued that the war had been an act by the U.S. to reaffirm its supremacy as a world hegemon after it had been shaken by the events of 9/11.

“The United States invaded Iraq in order to reaffirm American global primacy — political, economic and above all, ideological,” Bacevich said.

Ackerman also brought up the effect of 9/11, saying that “the deep fear” caused by 9/11 “made these sorts of paranoid enthusiasms” that the Bush administration propagated about Iraq much more appealing to Americans.

Ackerman argued that after the war deteriorated into chaos, Americans shifted the blame to Iraqis for their mistakes.

“You started seeing Americans blame the Iraqis for the failures of the Iraq war, not thinking back conceptually, and interpreting structurally what those reasons were, but instead of treating the Iraqis as ungrateful,” Ackerman said.

Bacevich made the case that the notion of America as a liberator that emerged after World War II and that motivated the war in Iraq is greatly flawed.

“[World War II] becomes this permanent reference point for America the liberator, America the source of freedom. So yeah, we screwed up in Vietnam. Yeah, we screwed up in Iraq. But don’t forget World War II,” Bacevich explained.

The panelists also noted the impact that the war had on the U.S. political environment.

“In comparison with prior American wars, such as the Civil War, World War II, even Vietnam, Iraq really doesn’t rank as all that big, but its impact on American democracy has been massive,” Bacevich stated.

Bacevich argued that the chaos caused by the Iraq war fostered a more polarized political environment that allowed Donald Trump to start his political movement and ultimately win the presidency.

“It was the Iraq war, in my judgment, that transformed Trumpism from a marginal phenomenon — so-called ‘deplorables’ griping about gun laws and the decline of traditional morality and the loss of decent blue collar jobs into something far more powerful,” Bacevich said.

Dewachi focused on the effects of the war on the Iraqi healthcare system.

“One of the central tragedies of the last history has been the collapse of Iraq’s healthcare,” Dewachi said, citing the “destruction of infrastructure, exodus of doctors, loss of sanitation systems and care projects.” 

However, the wounds left by the conflict have been both physical and social wounds, Dewachi explained.

“With no accountability or accounting for these injuries or deaths, we are left with invisible accounts of these wounds,” Dewachi lamented.

Ackerman argued that the U.S. needs “to pay Iraqis reparations for their suffering, and to relinquish its self-appointed claim to police the world under the rubric of a so-called rules-based international order meant to bind everyone but Washington.”

The reflection continued on Friday with another panel focusing on the impact of the war on present day Iraq. Salar Abdoh, an Iranian novelist and essayist, Amal Al-Jubouri, an Iraqi poet, translator, journalist and publisher, Mortada Gzar, an Iraqi filmmaker and novelist, and Dunya Mikhail, an Iraq-American writer and poet, all shared their personal experiences with the war.

“I’m afraid [the war] is too familiar to us,” Mikhail said.

The war, Gzar said, “destroyed the memory of a people.” 

Gzar recounted how his father made his family shelter underneath the stairs when bombing was taking place after seeing only the stairs remaining in houses that had been destroyed.

“You make your own beliefs based on your own experience,” Gzar said.

Mikhail reflected on similar measures that her family took to stay safe during the war. Her and her family had a “war room” where they would shelter during air raids with covered windows to shield themselves from shrapnel and to block light.

“I had to turn off the light when we heard a siren. My mom didn’t allow us to go to the bathroom or anything because she wanted us to live and die together,” Mikhail said.

Al-Jobourhi critiqued the American desire to establish a democratic regime in Iraq, echoing Ackerman’s arguments, saying that “liberation cannot come with invasion.”

“The priority for the people of the Arab world is good governance, not democracy,” Al-Jobourhi explained. “I want to ask the American audience why certain political governance has to be dictated by a superpower country like the United States to be universal.” 

Abdoh argued that a more complex and nuanced discussion is necessary in the U.S. in order to fully understand the war.

“The conversation is very reductive,” Abdoh said, “People don’t want to see the layers and layers of things that exist. It’s so complicated, you just need to put a whole lifetime into it.”