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The US Defeat in Iraq and the Persistence of White Supremacy

Ajamu Baraka

As the final contingents of U.S. troops withdraw from the Iraqi state that the U.S. created and imposed on the Iraqi people, a familiar narrative is re-emerging in the mainstream corporate press – the 21st century version of the “white man’s burden.”

Used to complement the main propaganda theme that claimed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had imminent plans to turn those weapons over to “terrorists” who would unleash a volley of attacks on the U.S. “homeland,” the white man’s burden subtext asserted that the U.S. had a moral obligation to free the Iraqi people from their backward and brutal history. Couched in the language of neo-conservatism, the white man’s burden now included a more explicit commitment to the need to establish a liberal democratic state in Iraq that would allow the “natives” to experience all of the benefits of a Western-style “democratic” governmental process and, of course, the benefits of “free market capitalism.” That “moral” appeal helped to sell the war to the American people.

The idea of the West’s civilizing responsibilities was always a constant and predominant rationalization in the “new world” conquest and genocidal policies toward Indigenous peoples – in this case, they needed to be destroyed in order to save them from their heathen ways. The populating of the Americas with enslaved Africans was also framed as a “Christian civilizing mission” that gave these otherwise idle human beings something more productive to do. But the benevolence of the White West did not stop there; enriched with the spoils provided by the Atlantic slave trade that created an industrial economic base which in turn enhanced their war-making abilities, Western powers took their civilizing mission global, building vast colonial empires where they could demonstrate to the peoples of the world how to more effectively use their natural resources and labor – by taking those resources and exploiting their labor.

Clearly one could assume that this crude, racist framework would be discredited and have no place in the sophisticated, multi-cultural discourses of the 21st century. Yet the very fact that many millions of people in this country were swayed by the crude representations of Iraq as a backward, undeveloped nation in need of the modernizing influences of the civilized West demonstrated that in the culture and psychologies of most people in the U.S., despite their assigned or assumed racial identity, white supremacist assumptions and world views were deeply ingrained. And now that the U.S. has been defeated in Iraq (and one should not be confused by any other explanation as to why the U.S. is leaving despite stated plans to maintain a military presence there for the next fifty years), the narrative that is now being relied on to mask this defeat is that the civilizing mission has run its course, with the U.S. having done as much as it could to prepare the Iraqis for “independence” in the grown-up world. Employing classic revisionist history, the architects of the war are suggesting that this was the main reason why the U.S. went to Iraq in the first place. Like the first time parents hand their keys to their teenage children for their first solo drive, the U.S. must simply hope that the Iraqis have learned enough to avoid a major accident!

The successful use of this narrative demonstrates that ten years, 700,000 Iraqi and 4,500 American lives later, the one casualty that did not occur in Iraq was the death of white supremacist ideology. While the physical retreat of the U.S. from Iraq represents a significant defeat for U.S. imperialist aspirations and its geo-political goals in the region, the ideological obscurantism that masked the imperialist interests of the “1 percent,” who saw their opportunity to seize Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 war hysteria, was recently evoked again to provide a cover for the seizure of Libya. Few in the US seemed to notice the irony of calls being made by the Obama Administration and many Republicans, including New York Congressman Peter King, to support NATO’s no fly zone to protect Muslim lives – in the same week that hearings were called in Congress by the notoriously anti-Muslim Peter King, whose agenda is to racially profile all Muslims in the US.

Again, images of barbarism were conjured up as the corporate media saturated their reports with grainy cell phone photos of a dumpster on fire with a voice over from a “Libyan” woman with an American accent pleading for outside intervention to save the Libyan people. Once again, the American people were convinced with breathtaking ease that military intervention was morally justified – even if it meant, as Defense Secretary Gates warned, that enforcing a “no-fly zone” was essentially an act of war!

Some might argue that the response from at least some segments of the American public to military action in Libya represented an authentic desire to save lives and cannot be simply reduced to some nefarious desire to extend or impose so-called “white Western dominance.” Perhaps, but the authenticity of the concerns on the part of many Americans is not the issue. Rather, the real issue is that people in the U.S. and the West believe that they have the right to intervene anywhere on the planet to remake a society or the world to correspond to their ideas. That uncontested right based on the supposed superiority of liberal Western civilization that has been assimilated by the collective consciousness of the West is the central prerogative of white supremacist ideology.

The public slaughter of Kaddafi and the hanging of Saddam Hussein are two sides of the same arrogant, white supremacist coin. In both cases it is the imperialist West, using the power of the military and with the full support of a majority of the people, that bombed cities; murdered and imprisoned leaders and government officials; displaced populations, tortured prisoners to death; raped women; and deliberately destroyed the population’s electrical and water supplies in order to bring to those people the benefits of living in “free societies” like those of the West. And now, as the U.S. slinks out of Iraq, we are being told that all that was done in that country was for the good of the Iraqi people and that it is up to the Iraqis to protect the gift of freedom that the U.S. has bestowed upon them.

What is more sad than the fact that this line is being fed to the people in the U.S. to cover their defeat (and that it is being accepted), is the knowledge that until we undermine forever the false assumptions and prerogatives of white supremacist ideology, more blood will be shed, more victims tortured and imprisoned and more nations destroyed – all in the name of a monstrous lie.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ajamu Baraka

Ajamu Baraka

Ajamu Baraka was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine.  His latest publications include contributions to Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence (Counterpunch Books, 2014), Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (HarperCollins, 2014) and Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral ( CODESRIA, 2013). He can be reached at

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