What Comes After Farce?

Marx explained that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. This just in from the New York Times:

United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in Iraq's general election despite a terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Baghdad, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the insurgents.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the insurgents to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

In fact, this report was published on September 4, 1967. I changed "Vietnam" to "Iraq", "Vietcong" to "Insurgents", and "Saigon" to "Baghdad". (Thanks to the Daily Kos for unearthing this report and recognizing its significance.)

It's tempting to call Afghanistan the tragedy and Iraq the farce, but to do so would ignore America's long and ignoble history of meddling - sorry, "nation building" - around the world.

Vietnam was only the most eggregious example of a foreign policy that has spanned the globe for more than a century.

When I hear the Iraqi insurgents warn that they will target voters, I'm reminded of the US telling Nicaragua, via its CIA-sponsored mouthpiece La Prensa, that the atrocities of the Contras would not stop until Nicaraguans voted the Sandinistas out of power.

When I hear the US brag about how it "spread freedom" in Iraq by overthrowing its dictator, I wonder at the dictators nestled comfortably in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, protected in large measure by the goodwill and material support of the US.

That is not to mention Caspian region states like Uzbekistan, whose leader, Islam Karimov, supports the use of torture and brutal suppression to keep the public in check. In 2002, Uzbekistan received $500 million from the US in aid and rent for an American military outpost.

This isn't the first time that the war supporters have claimed "I told you so" (recall the infamous toppling of the Saddam statue, the "Mission Accomplished" photo op, Saddam's capture, etc.), and it probably won't be the last. It's too early to say whether things will end up going well for Iraq, but if history - not only the recent history of Iraq but also the larger history of American foreign policy - is any indication, it would be unwise to hold your breath.

Ryan McGreal
January 31, 2005

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