Running the Imperial Gauntlet.
The rapid territorial gains in Iraq of the Al Qaeda splinter group ISIS in recent days has seized the attention of American news followers, many of whom don’t realize that ISIS’s rise in Iraq started back in January, when it took over at least parts of the city of Fallujah.
It is no accident that this particular beleaguered city should become the cradle of the world’s first ever overt jihadist terror state. That nightmare development was the outcome and culmination of 11 years of Fallujah being subjected to full-spectrum statism of the purist form.
It all started quietly enough at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The Fallujahns put up virtually no resistance to the invading U.S. forces, perhaps thinking they would fare better under the Americans than under the tyrant the Americans overthrew.
But the Americans soon gave Fallujah a tyranny like they had never known. The blood started flowing a mere five days after the U.S. Army entered the city. Perhaps taking their liberators’ promises of democracy a bit too seriously, a crowd of demonstrators gathered outside a school that was occupied by the army, demanding that it be re-opened for the use of their children again. The democracy-bringers on the roof fired into the crowd of unarmed protesters, ending the lives of 17 and wounding 70. When citizens gathered to protest the shooting two days later, that crowd was fired on too, leaving two more dead.
Understandably, the populace had then had quite enough of that sort of “liberation” and “democracy,” and an armed insurgency began, which came to a head a year later in the graphic killing of four Blackwater military contractors. In response, U.S. forces twice laid siege to the city. Journalist Dahr Jamail outlined the brutality of the sieges:
Finding stiffer resistance than expected, the first siege ended after one month. Between May and November 2004, the US military bombed and shelled the city, often targeting wedding parties, funerals, civilian homes and mosques. During this time, collective punishment often was employed, cutting water, electricity and medical supplies to the city.
On November 8, 2004, the US military launched a massive siege of the city, again under the guise of “fighting terrorism,” claiming that Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in the city, despite there never having been proof he had stepped foot in the city.
According to CCERF, approximately 5,000 residents of Fallujah were killed during the second siege.
That second siege was the bloodiest battle in the entire Iraq War.
After retaking control of the city, the U.S. subjected the survivors to yet another kind of hell, by completely taking on the rebuilding of what they had destroyed as a government public works project.
In his new book Against the State, Lew Rockwell recounts how the US found it far more difficult to socialistically provide a population with goods and services than it was to murderously cut them off.
Water distribution relies on electricity, and the US has somehow not been able to get the generating plants working right to make the electricity available. People buy their own generators, but those require gasoline. There is a shortage of gasoline owing to several factors: the masters of the universe who overthrew Saddam have not been able to process the oil from the ground and get it to market, and the gas that is available can only be sold at an ultra-low and controlled price. The US enforces these controls by arresting black-market gas dealers.
And, though entirely inept at providing the most basic services, these same planners ludicrously promised Fallujah universal wireless internet.
Rockwell perceptively argued that the failure to centrally plan the rebuilding of Fallujah was explained in advance by Ludwig von Mises when the great economist, with his theory of economic calculation, explained the necessary failure of all socialistic central planning. Rockwell summed it up clearly as follows:
Why does socialist central planning not work? The means of production are not held privately, so there cannot be any exchange markets for them and therefore no exchange ratios established. That means there is no way to calculate profit and loss. Without profit and loss, there is no way to assess the tradeoffs associated with alternative uses of resources. That means there is no economy in the literal sense of that term.
Let’s say there is only a limited amount of gasoline. Should it be used to fuel trucks to haul debris away, run construction equipment to put in power plants, or used to move building materials in for new schools and roads? There is no way to assess the relative merit of these choices. The same is true for every resource. What is the priority? It ends up being an arbitrary decision by the central planners. In this case, that arbitrariness ends up with Fallujah residents who can view home videos on Youtube but can’t get a drink of water without acquiring a deadly infection.
Back in 2006, Rockwell made the following predictions about Fallujah and Iraq, based on the above Misesian insights:
There will be billions more spent, and hundreds of projects in operation. The majority will not amount to anything. In ceaseless toil and moil, the military will be without any means of testing its bearings. It won’t be able to determine whether or not anything it did or built was economically wise.
We can add to the tenor of Mises’s predictions. Bombs will still be killing people. The living will continue to suffer unbearable deprivations. There will not be a stable central government. The GDP will not reach prewar levels for many years, if then. The water will still be dirty in Fallujah, the electricity will not be reliable, and the residents won’t be surfing the internet.
Subsequent events have shown Rockwell to have been just as prescient about the Iraq war and occupation as Dick Cheney was, with the difference, of course, of having the courage and human decency to try to prevent the predicted outcomes by publicly opposing the war, instead of helping to bring them on by engineering it.
Billions have indeed been squandered on innumerable never-completed projects. For example, in 2012, six years after Rockwell’s predictions, Al Jazeera reported the following about Fallujah:
Fulfilment of promises to rebuild destroyed schools, homes, mosques, and government buildings often remain only promises. (…)
Two of the highlighted reconstruction projects were a water purification plant and a wastewater treatment project launched in 2004. Seven years later, the sewage system remains unfinished and the future of the project is uncertain.
Despite Baghdad allocating $100m for the city’s reconstruction and $180m for housing compensation, very little reconstruction can be seen on the streets of Fallujah.
Bombs are indeed still killing people, including women and children, except now it the U.S.-backed Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that has been firing U.S.-supplied bombs into Fallujah since it was kicked out in January. Jamail reported in March of this year:
Dr. Ahmed Shami, the chief of resident doctors at Fallujah General Hospital, told Truthout that since Iraqi government forces began shelling Fallujah in early January 2014, at least 109 civilians have been killed and 632 wounded.
“Ten of those killed were children, and 40 of the wounded are children,” Shami said. He also said five of the dead are women, as are 35 of the wounded.
“Many children have been killed in cold blood as the result of the indiscriminate shelling of the city,” Shami said.
The living in Fallujah did indeed continue to suffer unbearable deprivations. The water did remain dirty. The electricity did remain unreliable. And of course the free wifi never happened. Rockwell reported in 2006 that Fallujah had no clean water and only had electricity four hours a day. Six years later, Al Jazeera quoted a Fallujah taxi driver who reported that the water was still contaminated and electricity was in even shorter supply.
“As a city, we only have two hours of electricity per day, three if we’re lucky,” he said as others nodded. “Our water is not clean.”
And a Fallujah bakery worker was quoted as follows:
“Everything here is bad,” Hadi told Al Jazeera. “No water, no electricity, no good health care. We have between 75 and 80 per cent unemployment. Widows have no rights, no compensation.”
Hadi described the mood in the city as “a general attitude of depression and hopelessness.
And, finally, there is indeed no stable central government, just as Rockwell predicted. In 2006, the U.S. occupation sparked a bloody Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. The U.S. took the side of the majority Shi’ites, and eventually installed a fully sectarian Shi’ite-dominated regime in Baghdad, which, in combatting the Sunni insurgency horribly oppressed the Sunni population in Fallujah and other Sunni centers with checkpoints, home raids, secret prisons, summary executions, and torture.
Beginning in late 2012, thousands of demonstrators gathered every Friday on the main highway linking Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, which runs by the outskirts of Fallujah.
Sunnis in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq’s vast Anbar Province were enraged at the Maliki government because his security forces, still heavily staffed by members of various Shia militias, were killing or detaining their compatriots from the region, as well as across much of Baghdad.
As mentioned, the Iraqi government has since been kicked out and relegated to murderously shelling the place. At least parts, if not all, of the city has been taken over by the international ISIS terrorists. And anything else in the city is being controlled by local anti-government Sunni tribal leaders.
How in the world could a city population allow themselves to be, even temporarily, dominated by ruthless, puritanical terrorists who suicide-bomb, mass-execute, crucify, and behead their victims? A development so extreme can only come to pass when a populace is driven to utmost desperation. And that is the point to which the U.S. government, and subsequently its client government in Baghdad, has driven Fallujah.
For 11 years, the people of Fallujah suffered through a perfect storm of statism. The police state, the warfare state and the “public works” welfare state, in their purest and most extreme forms, coalesced over Fallujah like a gathering hurricane, and laid waste to it. The U.S. Army’s brutal suppression of self-determination was followed up with total war, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of white phosphorous. The city’s wounds, thus inflicted, then festered under the “care” of U.S. socialist central planners. And finally, the people found themselves under the boot of a tyrannical police state, run entirely by their religious rivals, who were brought to power by empire and majoritarian “democracy.” Only after running a statist gauntlet like that, would a populace collapse into the arms of terrorists.
Predictably, with the rise of ISIS, the war party is now clamoring for ramping U.S. involvement back up. They think the current terrorist-nurturing chaos was caused by the “anarchy” unleashed when President Obama “prematurely” withdrew most of the American presence in Iraq. They want more “order” to be established by reimposing more U.S. power. But situations likes the ones in Fallujah and Somalia are not instances of “anarchy.” As Charles Johnson has said, such strife-stricken locales are not “power vacuums” but “power plenums;” they’re so stuffed with power, including struggles between rival powers, that there isn’t room for anything else: whether commerce, culture, or civil society. Indeed the proper response to statist critics of libertarian anarchists is, “If you love power so much, why don’t you move to Somalia, or, for that matter, Fallujah?”
The U.S. empire, by bringing the total state in all its varieties to Fallujah, has made life in the city all about power: struggling against military and police power, the scramble for survival under total economic power, and now a contest for dominance between two rival powers, the Maliki government and ISIS, neither of whom would even be on the scene in Fallujah if not for the continual intervention of U.S. power.
What Fallujah and Iraq in general need is less power: less of the U.S. empire trying to centralize and direct things through force and finance. Leaving cities like Fallujah to chart their own course will not make them more vulnerable to terrorist domination. To the contrary, it was brutally chaining the city’s people to the will of the U.S. government, and now to the Iraq government, that made the Fallujahns desperate enough to admit ISIS. Without U.S. support, the hated Maliki government wouldn’t any hope of ruling over Fallujah, where it has no public legitimacy. And without that threat, the Sunni resistance would have no need for the Salafist psychos now in their midst. A city that could hold out against the most powerful military force in the world as long as it did in 2004 could surely make short work out of a few hundred detestable madmen. So too could the other Sunni cities now under ISIS’s sway.
It would also help if the U.S. stopped actually boosting ISIS via military support for its fellow jihadist allies in the war to overthrow ISIS’s mortal enemy, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. As award winning journalist Patrick Cockburn informs us, the fortunes of ISIS, at a low point in 2010, were revived in 2011 by the revolt in Syria. Had it not been for U.S. support for that revolt, ISIS might still today be small and irrelevant.
In Iraq, greater power has created, and will only continue to create, greater chaos. Only greater anarchy would create greater order.