On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the global justice activist and author Arundhati Roy joins us to discuss the war’s legacy. Roy is the author of many books, including “The God of Small Things,” “Walking with the Comrades,” and “Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.” Roy argues the imperial mentality that enabled the United States to invade Iraq continues today unabated across the world. “We are being given lessons in morality [by world leaders] while tens of thousands are being killed, while whole countries are shattered, while whole civilizations are driven back decades, if not centuries,” Roy says. “And everything continues as normal.” [includes rush transcript]
Amy Goodman: March 19th marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to a new report by Brown University, a decade of war led to the deaths of roughly 134,000 Iraqi civilians and potentially contributed to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands more. According to the report, the Iraq War has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, including half-a-trillion dollars in benefits owed to veterans. The report says the war has devastated rather than helped Iraq, spurring militant violence, setting back women’s rights and hurting the healthcare system. Most of the more than $200 billion supposedly set aside for reconstruction in Iraq was actually used for security or lost amid rampant fraud and waste. Many in Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of the invasion. This is Basma Najem, whose husband was shot dead by U.S. forces in Basra in 2011.
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Basma Najem: [translated] We expected that we would live in a better situation when the occupation forces, the U.S. forces, came to Iraq. We expected that the situation would be improved. But contrary to our expectation, the situation deteriorated. And at the end, I lost my husband. I have no breadwinner in this world now, and I have six kids. I could not imagine my life would be changed like this. I do not know how it happened.
Amy Goodman: The consequences of the war are still visible here in the United States, as well. Military veterans continue to face extremely high levels of unemployment, traumatic brain injury, PTSDand homelessness. Almost a quarter of recent veterans come home injured either physically or emotionally, and an estimated 18 veterans commit suicide every day. This is Ed Colley, whose son, Army Private Stephen Colley, took his own life in 2007.
Edward Colley: We lost our son shortly after he returned from Iraq. He had asked for help, but he didn’t get the help that he needed. And clearly, he was trying to do what he could for himself and could think of no other cure, obviously, than to take his own life.
Amy Goodman: To talk more about this 10th anniversary, we’re joined by the award-winning writer and activist Arundhati Roy, one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq War. In a moment, she’ll join us from Chicago. But first let’s go back to 2003 to a speech she gave at Riverside Church here in New York.
Arundhati Roy: When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News survey estimated that 42 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported al-Qaeda. None of this opinion is based on evidence, because there isn’t any. All of it is based on insinuation or to suggestion and outright lies circulated by the U.S. corporate media, otherwise known as the “free press,” that hollow pillar on which contemporary American democracy rests. Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was founded on a multitiered edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by the corporate media.
Apart from the invented links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent—went to the extent of saying it would be suicidal for Iraq—for the U.S. not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty America. Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countries. Earlier, there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Granada, Panama. But this time it wasn’t just your ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was frenzy with a purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the doctrine of preemptive strike, also known as the United States can do whatever the hell it wants, and that’s official. The war against Iraq has been fought and won, and no weapons of mass destruction have been found, not even a little one.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati Roy, speaking in October of 2003 at Riverside Church here in New York, seven months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Arundhati has written many books, including The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize. Her other books include Walking with the Comrades and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, among others. She now joins us from Chicago.
Arundhati Roy, welcome to Democracy Now! As you watch yourself 10 years ago and reflect back 10 years ago to this week when the U.S. invaded Iraq, your thoughts today?
Arundhati Roy: Well, Amy, before that, we remember how—I think it was 50 million people across the world who marched against the war in Iraq. It was perhaps the biggest display of public morality in the world—you know, I mean, before the war happened. Before the war happened, everybody knew that they were being fed lies. I remember saying, you know, it’s just the quality of the lies that is so insulting, because we are being—used to being lied to.
But, unfortunately, now, all these years later, we have to ask ourselves two questions. One is: Who benefited from this war? You know, we know who paid the price. I heard—I heard you talking about that, so I won’t get into that again. But who benefited from this war? Did the U.S. government? Did the U.S. people benefit? Did they get the oil contracts that they wanted, in the way that they wanted? The answer is no. And yet, today you hear Dick Cheney saying he would do it all over again in a second.
So, unfortunately, we are dealing with psychosis. We are dealing with a psychopathic situation. And all of us, including myself, we can’t do anything but keep being reasonable, keep saying what needs to be said. But that doesn’t seem to help the situation, because, of course, as we know, after Iraq, there’s been Libya, there’s Syria, and the rhetoric of, you know, democracy versus radical Islam. When you look at the countries that were attacked, none of them were Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalist countries. Those ones are supported, financed by the U.S., so there is a real collusion between radical Islam and capitalism. What is going on is really a different kind of battle.
And, you know, most people are led up a path which keeps them busy. And in a way, all of us are being kept busy, while the real business at the heart of it—I mean, apart from the people who suffered during the war. Let’s not forget the sanctions. Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright saying that a million children dying in Iraq because of the sanctions was a hard price but worth it. I mean, she was the victim, it seems, of the sanctions; you know, her softness was called upon, and she had to brazen herself to do it. And today, you have the Democrats bombing Pakistan, destroying that country, too. So, just in this last decade, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria—all these countries have been—have been shattered.
You know, we heard a lot about why—you know, the war in Afghanistan was fought for feminist reasons, and the Marines were really on this feminist mission. But today, all the women in all these countries have been driven back into medieval situations. Women who were liberated, women who were doctors and lawyers and poets and writers and—you know, pushed back into this Shia set against Sunnis. The U.S. is supporting al-Qaeda militias all over this region and pretending that it’s fighting Islam. So we are in a situation of—it is psychopathic.
And while anyone who resisted is being given moral lessons about armed struggle or violence or whatever it is, at the heart of this operation is an immorality and a violence and a—as I keep using this word—psychopathic violence, which even the people in the United States are now suffering for. You know, there is a connection, after all, between all these wars and people being thrown out of their homes in this country. And yet, of course we know who benefits from these wars. May not be the oil contracts, but certainly the weapons industry on which this economy depends for—you know, for a great part. So, all over, even between India and Pakistan now, people are advocating war. And the weapons industry is in with the corporations in India.
So, we are really being made fools of. You know, this is what is so insulting. We are being, you know, given lessons in morality while tens of thousands are being killed, while whole countries are shattered, while whole civilizations are driven back decades, if not centuries. And everything continues as normal. And you have—you have people, like criminals, really, like Cheney, saying, “I’ll do it again. I’ll do it again. I won’t think about it. I’ll do it again.” And so that’s the situation we are in now.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati, a decade after the invasion of Iraq, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood by his decision to go to war, saying it saved Iraq from a fate worse than Syria’s at the moment.
Tony Blair: I think if we’d—if we’d backed off and we’d left him in power, you just imagine, with what is happening in Syria now, if you’d left Saddam in charge of Iraq, you would have had carnage on an even worse scale in Syria and with no end in sight. So, you know, this was the most difficult decision I ever took and the most balanced decision. But I still—personally, I still believe we were better to remove him than leave him.
Amy Goodman: That was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former prime minister. Arundhati Roy, your response?
Arundhati Roy: Well, you know, I don’t know. Maybe they need to be put into a padded cell and given some real news to read, you know? I mean, how can you say this, after creating a situation in Iraq where no—I mean, every day people are being blown up? There are—you know, mosques are being attacked. Thousands are being killed. People have been made to hate each other. In Iraq, women were amongst the most liberated women in the world, and they have been driven back into having to wear burqas and be safe, because of the situation. And this man is saying, “Oh, we did such a wonderful thing. We saved these people.” Now, isn’t that like—isn’t it insane? I mean, I don’t know how to respond to something like that, because it’s like somebody looking at somebody being slaughtered and saying, “Oh, he must be enjoying it. We are really helping him,” you know? So, how do you argue rationally against these people?
Amy Goodman: Can you—
Arundhati Roy: We just have to think about what we need to do, you know? But we can’t have a conversation with them in this—at this point.
Amy Goodman: Do you see President Obama going in a different direction?
Arundhati Roy: Of course not. I don’t see him going in a different direction at all. I mean, the real question to ask is: When was the last time the United States won a war? You know, it lost in Vietnam. It’s lost in Afghanistan. It’s lost in Iraq. And it will not be able to contain the situation. It is hemorrhaging. It is now—you know, of course you can continue with drone attacks, and you can continue these targeted killings, but on the ground, a situation is being created which no army—not America, not anybody—can control. And it’s just, you know, a combination of such foolishness, such a lack of understanding of culture in the world.
And Obama just goes on, you know, coming out with these smooth, mercurial sentences that are completely meaningless. I was—I remember when he was sworn in for the second time, and he came on stage with his daughters and his wife, and it was all really nice, and he said, you know, “Should my daughters have another dog, or should they not?” And a man who had lost his entire family in the drone attacks just a couple of weeks ago said, “What am I supposed to think? What am I supposed to think of this exhibition of love and family values and good fatherhood and good husbandhood?” I mean, we’re not morons, you know? It’s about time that we stopped acting so reasonable. I just don’t feel reasonable about this anymore.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break and then come back and talk about what’s happening in Kashmir, a place you’ve been focusing on recently, Arundhati. Arundhati Roy is the award-winning writer, renowned global justice activist. Among her books, The God of Small Things, her most recent book, Walking with the Comrades, and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.