Rationalizing Haditha

Desperate to retain whatever remaining support the occupation of Iraq still commands – now hovering at around 35 percent – the War Party is facing the problem of how to explain the Haditha massacre, and the results are the only aspect of this horrific episode that could possibly be described as comical.

You have to give them credit, though: the mental and linguistic gymnastics required are strenuous, to say the least – and they manage it by means of two methods: minimizing the massacre and outright denial that it even occurred. The former is the means by which the more "respectable" neoconservative media attempt to downplay the full meaning and horror of Haditha. This approach is exemplified by National Review weenie-in-chief Rich Lowry, who anticipates an orgy of "wallowing," declares that it’s all about an "agenda" being pushed by the evil media, and gets down to the nitty-gritty:

"No large organization can be utterly free of weak or evil men. In their rush to find a broader meaning in such horrible events, liberals weirdly attenuate their own ability to condemn the perpetrators."

In short: mistakes are made, sh*t happens, and so – as the Clintonites used to say – let’s move on. Let us not gaze too long at the sight of our own crimes, lest we draw some general lesson from them. There is no such lesson, according to Lowry. It was sheer chance that those Marines cut down children – a one-year-old! – and just a fluke that they tried to cover it up (perhaps in collusion with their commanders in the field): "If Marines in Haditha did what they are accused of," Lowry avers, "it’s a terrible crime unrepresentative of the American military. Period."

Not that anyone is saying American soldiers are all beasts bent on bloodlust – but it’s a convenient straw man that Lowry knocks down with aplomb. What he doesn’t address, however, is whether such murderous tactics are necessitated by the nature of the war itself. His argument essentially boils down to the old you-can’t-make-an-omelet-without-breaking-a-few-eggs ploy, which the defenders of Soviet brutality and mass murder during the Cold War years were wont to employ in defense of the gulag and other outrages against morality. Yet the widespread pattern of abuse raises a few questions Lowry fails to consider, such as whether this behavior was authorized by someone in Washington, in the Pentagon or the White House. Certainly the attempted cover-up reveals that someone – at some level – was trying to put the kibosh on an investigation.

War enthusiast Christopher Hitchens, whose inverted Trotskyism is the left-wing version of a Satanic Mass, is a bit more honest when it comes to acknowledging that, given the circumstances, it is "harder than one might like to argue that a Haditha-type incident would have been an ‘isolated’ one." The subsequent outpouring of similarly homicidal incidents, reliably reported not only by the media but by the military’s own investigators, would seem to confirm this. Having established his intellectual honesty to his own – if no one else’s – satisfaction, Hitchens then follows in Lowry’s footsteps (or is it the other way ’round?) by taking on a most formidable man of straw:

"All the glib talk about My Lai is so much propaganda and hot air. In Vietnam, the rules of engagement were such as to make an atrocity – the slaughter of the My Lai villagers took almost a day rather than a white-hot few minutes – overwhelmingly probable. The ghastliness was only stopped by a brave officer who prepared his chopper-gunner to fire. In those days there were no precision-guided missiles, but there were ‘free-fire zones,’ and ‘body counts,’ and other virtual incitements to psycho officers such as Capt. Medina and Lt. Calley. As a consequence, a training film about My Lai – ‘if anything like this happens, you have really, truly screwed up’ – has been in use for U.S. soldiers for some time."

Oh yes, that training film sure was effective, now wasn’t it? The mere act of watching this fine production no doubt erased in the viewer any murderous inclinations and tendencies to commit war crimes – except, as it happened, in the case of the dozen or so Marines liable to wind up in the dock. Hitchens must have had a good laugh as he wrote that swill – a training film, indeed!

No, this isn’t My Lai – it is, in an important sense, far worse. Medina and Calley commanded conscripts – hastily trained and generally reluctant soldiers, ill-schooled in the art of war and heedless of its rules. Haditha, on the other hand, was the handiwork of professionals: and not just any professionals, but the vaunted Marines, the elite corps of America’s Imperial Forces. Years of training and tens of thousands of dollars have been invested in each of these fine specimens, who stand at the end of a long and proud military tradition – and now we are asked to believe that they suddenly went bonkers at the sight of one of their dead comrades and launched an orgy of random killing and mindless destruction. That they became, in short, renegades, "rogue" Marines whose summary executions of unarmed civilians can be explained as crimes of passion.

It’s just a coincidence that their brutal and widely publicized actions have struck terror in the hearts of Haditha’s surviving civilians, who share the unfortunate fate of living in an area deemed sympathetic to the insurgency. Who, Iraqis wonder, is next to die at the hands of the American "liberators"? The message sent by recent American actions, whether intended or not, is clear enough: be afraid. Be very afraid…

Whether such tactics induce servility in our Iraqi subjects or renew their determination to resist is unknown – but consider the remarks of newly elevated Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said that killings and other abuse by the American occupiers have become a "daily phenomenon," and averred:

"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion. This is completely unacceptable."

Or, as news reports cited in Wikipedia translate the prime minister’s remarks:

"This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces. No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars, and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It’s unacceptable."

The White House claimed that al-Maliki had been misquoted, but even Tony Snow, with his fox-like agility, strained to put a favorable gloss on the plain meaning of the prime minister’s words, as AP reported:

"White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had told U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that he had been misquoted. But Snow was unable to explain what al-Maliki told Khalilzad or how he had been misquoted. ‘That is a little too complicated for me to try to read out,’ Snow said at a briefing where he was pressed to explain how al-Maliki’s remarks were supposed to have been distorted. ‘It becomes a little convoluted and so I don’t want to make a real clear characterization because it’s a little hazy to me,’ Snow said."

When your vision starts going hazy, it’s time to stop chugging that Neocon Kool-Aid. In which case, Snow and his fellow war supporters will be forced to join what one particularly feverish administration official disdainfully referred to as "the reality-based community." A more painful "cold turkey" would be hard to imagine, and the War Party is not about to give up its drug of choice: the only problem is that they need increasing dosages to get high on dreams of military glory and "global hegemony." What is it about madmen that so many imagine themselves to be Napoleon?

If the elected Iraqi government conducts its own investigation into Haditha, and demands that the suspects be turned over to local authorities, it could mark the beginning of a rupture between the Shi’ite majority and the occupation forces. This will shift the strategic balance of power in Iraq and show that the real tug-of-war is not between the U.S. and the Sunni insurgency, but rather one that pits the occupiers against important elements of the ruling Shi’ite coalition, including SCIRI as well as al-Maliki‘s Da’wa Party and attendant militias. Iran succored both SCIRI and Da’wa during the years of Saddam’s rule, while the U.S., for a good part of that time, supported the Iraqi Ba’athists as a counterweight to the mullahs.

The inability of the Iraqis to form a government and the widening split between Washington and the victors in the vaunted Iraqi elections will likely be exacerbated by the Haditha horror. The War Party is whining that the antiwar movement in this country is "exploiting" Haditha as an excuse to "cut and run" – but, as usual, they miss the point. The real impact of this is going to be felt in Iraq, among precisely those whose hearts and minds we are trying (and miserably failing) to win. Before we lose the "will to win" in the face of American war crimes, Iraqis will regain the will to fight back against a military occupation that has become intolerable. The great irony is that Iraq’s much sought-after "unity" may be achieved by a common hatred for the occupiers, which is beginning to transcend the deep divide separating the country’s ethnic and religious cantons.

I have saved the most extreme – and the most hilarious – case for last, and this is naturally a piece that appeared on Frontpagemag.com, the daily Internet journal of leftist-turned-neocon David Horowitz: "Haditha: Reason for Doubt," by Andrew Walden. Living up to Frontpage’s reputation as the highest-decibel party-lining neocon mouthpiece of them all, Walden goes all out in rejecting even the slightest suspicion that anything untoward occurred in Haditha – on the grounds that most of the witnesses are, after all, Iraqis. Aside from being inherently untrustworthy, the testimony garnered from these people is unreliable because they "are under constant threat from terrorists" and their "motivations may be suspect." Walden’s evidence for this is accounts of Iraqis who made false accusations against occupation forces in order to get compensation – and were paid for their testimony. The Iraqis could care less about the slaughter of their family members and neighbors, according to Walden’s view – they just want to cash in.

No evidence proffered by an Iraqi is admissible in any court where David Horowitz and his compadres hold sway. This means the Iraqi child who described the murder of her own family at the hands of rampaging American soldiers is to be disbelieved – because, after all, she no doubt lives in fear, not of the Americans, but of the insurgents and their supporters. (Not to mention all the plans she has for that compensation money…)

So what about all those bodies – women and children, as well as an old blind man – shot execution-style, and not blown up by an insurgent bomb, as claimed in the official report? There is a videotape, you’ll recall, of the scene shot just after the Marines swept through the town, but Walden never addresses this. Instead, he tries to throw doubt on the testimony of Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, who held the broken body of a dead child in his arms and says he was traumatized by the memory of that terrible day. Walden informs us that Briones was involved, upon his release from the military, in some sort of minor run-in with the law, clearly implying that the man’s mental condition is questionable at best. The swift-boating of a U.S. Marine in "pro-military," ostensibly "conservative" Frontpage: who woulda thought? And these people accuse the Leftand the paleoconservative Right – of disrespecting the troops!

Walden notes that Briones destroyed his digital photos of the gruesome aftermath, but neglects to tell his readers that other photos exist. The Times of London reports:

"Although Briones claims to have erased his photographs, the inquiry has had access to pictures shot by other members of his squad. One heart-breaking picture is said to show a mother bending over her young child, as if in prayer. If it is released, it could become one of the defining images of the Iraq war."

If and when that photo is released, none will howl louder than Horowitz and his creepy crew. They represent the extreme wing of the Haditha revisionists – the denialists. By challenging even the obvious physical evidence, as depicted in videotape and, we learn, still photographs, as well as discounting all testimony from witnesses they deem too "biased" and fearful to make an objective judgment, they replicate the willful blindness and stubborn crankery of the Holocaust revisionists, who deny that Hitler and his minions ever engaged in a program of mass murder directed at Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, etc.

Horowitz is a clown and Walden is just a sideshow, but there is, in their surrealist approach to the problem of how to justify an increasingly indefensible war, a vivid illustration of the ideological mindset at its worst. As an extreme example of tunnel vision induced by viewing the world through a distorting ideological lens, the denialism of the Horowitzians shows us that people will believe anything – just as long as it confirms their favorite prejudices and gives the believer a sense of mission.

Sure, it’s hard to be a Haditha denialist, or a Holocaust revisionist, and the believer often pays a high price (public ridicule, for one): the payoff (aside from, in Horowitz’s case, bags of cash from big neocon foundations and other major donors) is the delusion of having access to a special insight unavailable to the ordinary person. While those of us in the reality-based community back away in horror at the gruesome portrait of murder and mayhem unleashed by our army of "liberators," the Horowitzian true believer knows it never happened! It’s all "enemy propaganda"! And the MSM is in on the Vast Left-Wing Pro-Terrorist Conspiracy! Now if you’ll just examine this diagram showing the connections between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Susan Sarandon, Osama bin Laden, and Pat Buchanan, I’m sure you’ll want to make a substantial contribution to The Cause…

If the rationalizations for a failed policy get more threadbare, they’ll expose more than they cover. Like a light turned on to reveal a room swarming with unpleasant six-legged pests, Haditha shows up the War Party in all its creepy-crawly ugliness, a godawful assembly of cretins, kooks, professional liars, and shameless shills who will say anything rather than admit the truth about this ill-advised and increasingly disastrous war. Surely, for these types, a special rung of Hell has been reserved.

Haditha happened because our soldiers are being asked to do the impossible: that is, to implant "democracy" in soil that has never supported such a rare and delicate blossom, and defend it – amid a raging civil war – against the onslaught of a growing insurgency. Why is anyone surprised that they have resorted to terrorizing the Iraqi people, with the seeming complicity of at least some of their commanders? Backed up against a wall and facing the looming prospect of defeat, U.S. troops are bringing the war home – so to speak – to the Iraqi people, who increasingly oppose the U.S. presence.

The Haditha massacre is not the result of individual failings, or of a "renegade" squadron that somehow shucked its training and went berserk. It is the inevitable consequence of a policy that cannot be implemented without inflicting massive casualties on the enemy – and that includes civilians, none of whom are presumed to be "innocent" in a country where the overwhelming majority want the occupation to end.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].