is perhaps hard for Americans to understand the
U.S. occupation of Iraq in the context of globalization.
But Iraq today is clearly the epicenter of that
trend, and in this context, chaos is king. Here,
military force was used to seize control of the
world's most important commodity: oil. And that's
only the beginning.
prospectors allied with the United States search
the country like safari hunters on elephants for
any opportunity to profit from Iraq's misery--that's
how conspicuous they are. Meanwhile, inside Baghdad's
green zone, where the U.S. occupation headquarters
are located, their innocuous-looking counterparts
draft regulations for privatizing everything from
health care to prisons.
is chaos that makes this whole system possible.
Without the chaos, Iraqis would not allow the
country to be sold off wholesale, or allow the
U.S. troops to remain after the June 30th "transfer"
chaos, there is little reason to assume that the
imposition of neoliberal globalization, which
has wreaked such havoc in so many other countries
of the developing world, would be in the process
of entrenchment in Iraq. Without the chaos, there
would be more reporting on the appalling conditions
in the hospitals and schools, which are violations
of the United States' obligations as occupying
power under the Geneva and Hague Conventions.
the schools. Coalition Provisional Authority contractors
would have to budget more than $10,000 to "rehabilitate"
each school, and certainly couldn't get away with
a $1,000 paint job, pocketing the rest. Anesthesiologists
wouldn't be stuck with surplus needles that are
so long they can't be used on children and shorter
people, who have to get the more dangerous c-line
procedure for lack of the correct $1 instrument.
is also chaos that allows the mainstream press
to focus on the overt violence without addressing
what an unmitigated disaster the occupation is.
As I was writing this article, I received a call
from a major television news program to join a
panel on Fallujah. After a 40-minute pre-interview,
the producer decided that I "didn't fit into the
mix" of the guests he was putting together, which
wound up being three middle-aged men: a retired
general, colonel and a professor, none of whom
have driven on the road to Fallujah, and none
of whom dared discuss the roots of the deepening
quagmire in Iraq.
Going According To Plan?
prominent Iraqi psychiatrist who has worked with
the CPA and U.S. military explained to me that
"there is no way the United States can be this
incompetent. The chaos here has to be at least
partly deliberate." The main question on most
people's minds is not whether his assertion is
true, but why. In this context, sending foreign
contractors into Fallujah in late-model SUVs with
armed escorts--down a street clogged with traffic
where they would literally be sitting ducks--only
feeds suspicion that the United States is deliberately
instigating more violence as a pretext for "punishment"
and further chaos courtesy of the U.S. military.
surprisingly, the angry mob dragging the mutilated
American corpses down those streets carried posters
of Sheikh Yassin, assassinated by Irael the previous
week. In the minds of most Iraqis, America greenlighted
his extra-judicial assassination.
we consider that companies like Blackwater Security
services (whose personnel were killed in Falluja)
constitute a $100-billion-a-year business, and
then look at the Blackwater Web site, it's hard
to imagine how the people in charge--all well-trained
military personnel with lots of combat experience--couldn't
foresee they were sending their people into a
death trap. Or is it possible that they are that
arrogant and that ignorant? I'm not sure which
is worse. If Iraq is sliding toward chaos, this
is exactly where most Iraqis believe the U.S.
wants them to be.
University professor Nancy Ries describes the
chaos in Iraq as "sponsored chaos," which fits
into the broad definition of chaos theory as an
ordered system or purpose underlying seemingly
random events. That is, war and occupation are
wonderful opportunities for corporations to make
billions of dollars in profits, unchecked by the
laws and regulations that hamper their profitability
in peacetime. Because of this, in the postmodern
global era, global corporations and the government
elites with whom they work have great incentive
to sponsor global chaos and the violence it generates.
recent books, such as Joma Nazpary's Post-Soviet
Chaos or Vadim Volkov's Violent Entrepreneurs
explore how the chaos of the post-Soviet era enabled
a "counter-revolution" in Russia and countries
like Kazakhstan, where competing networks of groups,
from criminal gangs and political parties to families
and friends, all compete for resources in the
decidedly one-sided contest for power and wealth
that is the globalized market economy. Iraq is
sadly following this trend.
Steele argued in the British Guardian newspaper
that the United States is "creating its own Gaza"
through the chaos in Iraq. For me, the application
of chaos theory there has created a strange mix
of Gaza and Tel Aviv: on one hand there's the
violence of the resistance against the occupation,
which feels like Gaza or Nablus--at least you
know who your enemy is and who's shooting at whom.
But on the other hand, there's the violence of
Iraqis against Iraqis--the suicide bombings and
assassinations whose randomness gives one the
feeling of living in Tel Aviv. Put the two together
and the tension and violence of daily life in
Iraq's main cities is hard to bear, and it's only
going to get worse. Worst of all, the chaos and
insecurity make it impossible for civil society
to produce an alternative political discourse--either
collaboration with or violent religious opposition
day I returned home, I spoke to a leading scholar
of Iraqi Shiism who firmly argued against the
notion that the United States was deliberately
stoking the flames of chaos: "Believe me," he
said, "they are that incompetent." And perhaps
he's right--at least from 10,000 miles away, a
lot of the mess that is Iraq can be explained
by the combination of arrogance, ignorance and
ideological bolshevism of the political and military
leadership in the Bush administration, coupled
with the greed of its corporate sponsors.
when you're on the ground and you experience the
daily impact and scale of the chaos, it's much
harder not to understand the situation at least
as a combination of what one activist described
as "the chaos that is the occupation, plus the
chaos the U.S. is specifically creating to further
the occupation." Whatever the cause, a lot of
Iraqis and Americans are dying needlessly--unless
you consider the billions being made off the occupation
and the larger war on terror worth the price in
blood and hatred.
LeVine is assistant professor of history at the
University of California, Irvine. He is the co-editor,
with Pilar Perez and Viggo Mortensen, of Twilight
of Empire: Responses to Occupation (Perceval Press,
2003) and author of the forthcoming tentatively
titled Why They Don't Hate Us: Islam and the World
in the Age of Globalization (Oneworld Publications,
Posted: April 9, 2004