November 15, 2011
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According to the most reliable counts, the United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq has killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians, 650,000 Iraqi civiliansor more than 1 million Iraqi civilians. In other words, we’ve vaporized the equivalent of Billings, Mont. (pop. 104,170), Memphis, Tenn. (pop. 646,889) or San Jose, Calif. (pop. 945,942).
Horrifying as these statistics are, imagine how much more disgusted you would be if a foreign power actually did vaporize those cities, and then followed up that annihilation by having its leading politicians and pundits demand that Americans pay reparations for the privilege of experiencing such devastation.
If this seems difficult to fathom, that’s only because we live in a culture defined by a particularly American lack of empathy — the fist-thrusting, crotch-grabbing, middle-finger-extending “USA!”-chanting kind that prevents many of us from seeing the world through any other nation’s eyes. Indeed, if we didn’t suffer from this blinding endemic, it would undoubtedly be considered bigger news — and a bigger outrage — that one of our major political parties is now regularly demanding Iraqis pay us remunerations for the expenses we incurred by invading and occupying their nation and then killing large numbers of their countrymen.
Though sporadically aired over the years, this caustic demand has now gained serious velocity with the kickoff of the 2012 presidential race. In May, it was the GOP’s chief political televangelist, Sean Hannity, telling the Fox News mob that Iraqis “need to pay us back for their liberation.” A month later, it was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., telling Iraqi leaders that he wants them “repaying the United States some of the megadollars we have spent here.” A month after that, Republican presidential front-runner Herman Cain complained that Iraq is “having their political internal squabbles, when we should be getting paid back some of that money.” Now presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is making even bigger claims on Iraqi resources, telling “Meet the Press” this past Sunday that Iraqis must not only “pay us back for the money that we spent” but also “pay the families [of U.S. soldiers] that lost a loved one several million dollars per life.”
What can we make of the leaders of the world’s richest nation pressing our impoverished victims to pay even more than they already have? Can we conclude that this is all just the ugly 21st century manifestation of the old piratic mentality that says we have an inherent right to rape and pillage those we didn’t already kill during our imperial exercise?
Sure there’s some of that going on. In a nation that coined the phrase “to the victors belong the spoils,” Marshall-Plan benevolence and beneficence seems like the rare historical exception to the typical bravado and ball-spiking.
That said, the kick-’em-while-they’re-down attitude embodied in this GOP rhetoric isn’t just run-of-the-mill jingoism and it’s not just limited to discussions of foreign policy. It’s part of a new and larger blame-the-victim project by Republicans — one designed to resurrect notions of American exceptionalism while simultaneously defending the wealthy, the powerful and the status quo.
The Iraq rhetoric is illustrative. Rather than permit America to consider any responsibility for the gross immoralities of our foreign aggression, the GOP’s demand for reparations plays to our exceptionalist conceit by implicitly suggesting that — facts be damned! — the war was Good and Just. And not just moderately good and just, but so Good and Just that we deserve to be paid for our trouble. Along the way, this self-righteous posture implies that we shouldn’t change anything about the (highly profitable) Military-Industrial Complex that led us into the war in the first place.