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September 09, 2007


Sometimes I argue with friends who believe the people who run America are utterly indifferent to human life. I tell them: "You couldn't be more wrong. If you made up a list of the top 1000 priorities of the people who run America, human life might come in as high as 997th."

I was pleased to see my perspective validated in George Packer's recent New Yorker article about Iraq:

David Kilcullen, an Australian counter-insurgency adviser who served on Petraeus’s staff...drew up a list of core American interests in Iraq, which he later gave to senior officials at the White House and the State Department. In order of priority, the list contained the following items: maintain the flow of oil and gas in the region; prevent the establishment of an Al Qaeda safe haven in Iraq; contain Iranian influence; prevent a regional war; prevent a humanitarian catastrophe on the scale of Rwanda; and restore American credibility in the region and in the world (which Kilcullen called “the master interest,” and which doing all the others would go a long way toward achieving).

You see? They do care! Human life is on the list! Right there after their four higher priorities! Of which the top one is oil!

The best part is that mere paragraphs later, Packer expresses this concern:

Even in narrow strategic terms American interests would be harmed by large-scale slaughter in Iraq. The spectacle, televised around the world, would deepen the feeling that America is indifferent to human, especially Muslim, life.

Yes, it would be terrible if the world were to get such a distorted picture of America. We must make them understand how we really feel: that human life is wonderful, as long as it doesn't conflict with all our higher priorities.

Posted at September 9, 2007 08:03 PM | TrackBack

At long last, we now know what American interests are. I had come to the conclusion that words like “interests” were used to redefine words like “murder” so I am ever so thankful that Packer has now defined what American interests are. The funny thing is I never in a million years would have guessed that my interests were the flow of oil and gas in Iraq.

Posted by: rob payne at September 9, 2007 10:13 PM

The natural life of the surge will end in 2008, when the brigades sent earlier this year will finish their fifteen-month tours and return home. After that, it will become virtually impossible to maintain current troop levels—at least, for an Administration that has shown no willingness to disturb the lives of large numbers of Americans in order to wage the war. Young officers are leaving the Army at alarming rates, and, if the deployments of troops who have already served two or three tours are extended from fifteen to eighteen months, the Pentagon fears that the ensuing attrition might wreck the Army for a generation. Activating the National Guard or the reserves for longer periods could cause the bottom to fall out of public support for the war. Beyond these measures, there are simply no more troops available.

Ah, so that's how the war ends: troop shortages force some withdrawals, making things even more tenuous (and pointless) for those troops remaining, causing even greater declines in morale and re-enlistment rates, causing even more severe troop shortages, sending the occupation into a death spiral that ends with diplomats and collaborators plucked by helicopters from the roof of our embassy.

And, just as the last helicopter lifts off the roof, Congress finally votes, by a veto-proof bi-partisan majority, for a "phased withdrawal" plan that has us "redeploying" from Iraq over a six-year period.

And that's the problem with Packer's warnings about the disastrous consequences of us leaving. We've driven the car off the end of the cliff, and gravity isn't going to listen to your thoughful discussion about how very bad it would be to hit the ground.

Posted by: SteveB at September 9, 2007 10:32 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 10, 2007 12:47 AM
The inability of Iraq’s communities to reconcile doesn’t absolve the United States of responsibility.

anymore than the flammability of vietnamese trees did.

Posted by: hapa at September 10, 2007 01:18 AM

but this:

It isn’t clear that the tribal leaders behind the so-called “Sunni awakening” … see their present allegiances as anything other than tactical steps toward an eventual showdown with the ultimate enemy: the Shiite-led government, and its Iranian backers.

the sunni insurgency's most hated enemy is iran.

packer is stupid, packer is lying. packer is stupid, packer is lying. packer is stupid — wait, i lost my place.

Posted by: hapa at September 10, 2007 02:30 AM

To paraphrase ANIMAL FARM:

All human lives are equal, but some human lives are more equal than others.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at September 10, 2007 02:30 AM

'In order of priority..'

if they were serious about any of these apart from the oil, at the top of the 'to do' list would be to formally apologise to the people of Iraq. When I mentioned this to Michael Cohen during the recent pile-on we had here, he seemed to think it was an idea so out of left field it really deserved no serious response. He muttered something about empty gestures, but surely under the circumstances an empty gesture is better than no gesture at all.

If 'restoring credibility in the region and the world' is indeed the 'master interest', then some sort of acknowledgement by the US (of error at the very least, let alone the greed, racism and arrogance involved) will be required.

Packer talks of how the 'spectacle' of 'large scale slaughter in Iraq' might not play so well around the globe. He's right, it doesn't, but the point really is that it wouldn't play very well in Main Street USA either if information-poor average Americans could actually SEE what's happening over there.

If al-Jazeera was available in every home, or if all those good churchgoing folk were exposed to the best of say Nowthat', or to the images adorning sites like, the war would be over in a week.

It would hit them that they CHOSE this carnage and that they, not Nouri alfucking Maliki, are responsible for it, and that sackcloth and ashes are the order of the day, not more bright ideas on how to save the unsaveable, and defend the indefensible.

Too many Americans wander around in the sort of fug that allows them to pontificate about their 'interests' before (indeed, instead of) considering the 'interests' of those millions of people killed or otherwise inconvenienced by their little experiments.

You'd like to think that a bit of that carnage coming home might do the trick and re-attach them to the rest of the humnan race, but look what happened last time.

Posted by: at September 10, 2007 03:11 AM

so I gather the present scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is a tidy and mangagable one.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at September 10, 2007 08:06 AM

excuse me; "a tidy and manageable one."

pith always fails when you mangagable your speling.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at September 10, 2007 08:11 AM

The report left out the number one priority in Iraq: distracting the American people while their economy is gutted and left as a stinking, third world gutter.

Posted by: elephantrider at September 10, 2007 12:06 PM

elephantrider: True, but NOW what are WE going to DO about it?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 10, 2007 12:35 PM

I'm curious about the rest of the priorities of those running this country if human life is as low as 997th on the list. (Although, I might add, that if the life of a human fetus is being considered, it would be near the top of that list.) And I wouldn't be surprised if the need to make New Orleans livable and rebuild her is not on their list at all.

Posted by: Louisiana 1976 at September 10, 2007 12:40 PM

It all depends on the definition of human. I am convinced that the majority of the richest and most powerful people think of us as live stock: here to generate revenue for them and to sacrificed for profit as needed. And they feel as little for us as does a hog farmer for his hogs when they are slaughtered. We are sold Pintos which are known to explode because the profit will be higher than fixing the problems; including estimates of the extra costs of law suits for injuries and deaths. Dollar figures were actually given for human life in the profit/loss analysis. We are sold drugs with known serious and deadly side effects. To quote someone far wittier than I, "Tobacco is the only product which, when used as recommended, will kill you." And they add chemicals know to increase the addictiveness of nicotine. No one (human) would do this to another human merely for profit. Look at the way they are sacrificing our soldiers for obscene profit. Or as a surrogate penis to prove their toughness. Or to make then feel safer because of their extreme cowardice. And then they treat them like animals when they come back... except for the few "prize hogs" that are useful for photo-ops and to maintain the lie that they support the troops.

For them, humans are profitable business partners and near kin (in that order). But if they get in the way of anything *seriously* profitable...

In all ways, they are worse than the Mafia or any other segment of organized crime. For they cause death on a global scale to maintain their power and wealth.

But, IMO, these are not the actions of human beings, but of subhuman beasts. And hopefully, the dysfunctional genes that lead to minds that can conceive of and execute these actions are on a dead-end evolutionary branch.

Some are probably OK, though. Although I imaging that they are mostly "Nouveau Riche."

E Pleb Neesta
Blessed are the cheese makers.
Bring back crucifixion: "Nail some sense into 'em."
"Let them eat twinkies!"
If HPV vaccination promotes promiscuity, then confession promotes sin.

Posted by: E Pleb Neesta at September 10, 2007 04:41 PM

When I was doing talks on Palestine/Israel I'd occasionally get someone asking if Israel really did want peace (or asserting that Israel didn't want peace). My response was always that yes, of course Israel really does want peace, but it wants land far more; if Israel could achieve all of its territorial goals it would be more than happy to make peace with the remaining Palestinians, who would probably all have been driven into Jordan by that point. It's just a matter of priorities.

Posted by: John Caruso at September 10, 2007 05:46 PM

Not to rain on anybody, but I got the impression that the list was in order of increasing priority--hence the "master interest" being at the end. Not that the list still wouldn't be reprehensible; what is America's reputation compared to fomenting something on the scale of genocide? But I have to call it like I see it.

Posted by: blahpers at September 11, 2007 07:56 PM