Pardons and Iraq: A familiar story

Blaming the pardons of the Blackwater mercenaries on Trumpism is an appalling act of revisionism.

An Iraqi traffic policeman inspects a car destroyed four days ago when American Blackwater contractors opened fire on civilians, killing 17, in Nisour Square in Baghdad on September 20, 2007 [File: AP/Khalid Mohammed]
An Iraqi traffic policeman inspects a car destroyed four days ago when American Blackwater contractors opened fire on civilians, killing 17, in Nisour Square in Baghdad on September 20, 2007 [File: AP/Khalid Mohammed]

The posh enablers of America’s empire have always required that the grunts do the maiming and murdering in pursuit of their disastrous geopolitical adventures.

The corollary to this, of course, is the same posh enablers rush for the exits when, occasionally, the grunts end up in the dock for all the maiming and murdering done to enforce America’s dominion over nations the posh enablers have insisted – with obdurate certainty – require emancipation.

For more prima facie evidence of this axiom, you need only digest the reaction among the posh enablers of the US destruction (sorry, emancipation) of Iraq to news of Donald Trump’s pardon of four mercenaries (aka grunts) convicted in connection with the murder of 17 Iraqis, including two children, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007.

One mortified New York Times columnist wrote that the pardons, while predictable, were conspicuous not only because of their “depravity” and “grotesqueness”, but are also proof that “the last days of Trump’s reign have been an orgy of impunity”.

That a Times scribe invoked the notion of “impunity” in a lengthy column denouncing the pardons of four killers liable for the massacre, while failing to acknowledge the newspaper’s irrefutable role in championing a “pre-emptive war” that ultimately facilitated the “orgy of violence” in Nisour Square and beyond is as predictable as it is a grotesque example of moral expediency and amnesia.

But the appalling revisionism did not end there. The pardons, the outraged Times columnist added: “exemplify a core tenet of Trumpism: absolute license for some and absolute submission for others”.

This is exculpatory nonsense. What the writer describes is not Trumpism, but US exceptionalism – the defining and abiding doctrine of American foreign policy established long before Trump occupied the Oval Office.

Indeed, on the eve of the invasion in March 2003, William Safire, another Times columnist, declared the US had a “duty” to wage war unapologetically in Iraq.

“But we should by no means feel guilty about doing our duty. War cannot be waged apologetically. Rather than wring our hands, Americans and our allies are required to gird our loins – that is, to fight to win with the conviction that our cause is just. We have ample reason to believe that Saddam’s gangster government is an evil to be destroyed before it gains the power to destroy us,” Safire, who died in 2009, wrote.

Safire averred that the US has the licence to impose its “convictions” on other peoples at will and maim and kill them without “guilt”.

This is the mirror reasoning that the Times is now excoriating Trump for employing as the rationale to pardon four killers. The hypocrisy is near nauseating.

Beyond Safire and the Times, the list of the Iraq war’s keyboard cavalry is deep and notorious. The marquee names include the late Christopher Hitchens, David Frum, Max Boot, Thomas Friedman, Bill Kristol and New Yorker editor, David Remnick.

For his part, Remnick offered up the, by then, standard jingoistic gruel in a February 2003 column, arguing that “a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all”.

Still, at the time, Remnick shared the following admonition that resonates today. “History,” he wrote, “will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them.”

So, how has history judged Remnick and his posh company who got the “reckoning” in Iraq they yearned for?

First, they were wrong on every score. There were no weapons of mass destruction – nuclear or otherwise. Despite cocky assurances that the invasion would be quick and tractable, the war, murders and mayhem continue, as does the incessant suffering of Iraqis.

And while a few of the Iraq war’s keyboard cavalry have issued belated and qualified mea culpas, they have also been largely pardoned for promoting a disastrous invasion that led, in part, to the dispatch of four guns-for-hire who slaughtered innocents in Nisour Square.

The lucrative careers of Frum, Boot, Kristol and Friedman have, if anything, flourished despite their complicity in providing – again and again – the imprimatur of authority to lies that helped launch a war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians to date.

Their ubiquitous presence on Western cable news networks as members of the Trump “resistance” is grating testimony to the fact their giddy war-mongering days quickly and comfortably receded in the rear-view mirror.

My goodness, even the queen of WMD disinformation, former Times’ reporter, Judith Miller, now appears on Fox News as a commentator on “national security issues and American foreign policy” after a brief stint in the sin bin.

The rogue’s line-up of rich politicians and bureaucrats – Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz – who conspired to destroy Iraq to liberate it have, in effect, been pardoned too.

So has George W Bush – who has been rehabilitated beyond recognition. The image of Bush, the dauphin warrior, standing on an aircraft carrier declaring “mission accomplished” has faded, replaced by the more agreeable picture of a happy, doddering recluse who prefers these days to tend to brush on his Texas ranch.

Justice demanded that the four grunts responsible for the murder of 17 Iraqis be held to account.

Justice demands that the powerful men and women responsible for the premeditated horror Iraqis have endured for more than 17 years be held to account as well.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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