John Ashcroft, our former attorney general, not to mention accomplished operatic baritone appeared at the University of North Carolina the other day. He received, needless to say, a
mixed reception on this campus, including protesters who shouted "how many innocent Iraqi civilians have died?" I thought his response was instructive, and reveals everything we really need to know about this administration's attitude towards the people we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars "liberating:" civilian deaths in Iraq, Ashcroft is reported as saying, are the result of "Muslim-on-Muslim violence."
Two things jump out from this astonishing assertion: first is its patent falsity. As documented, among other places, in the landmark study published in the highly accredited scientific journal, The Lancet in 2004, civilian casualties in Iraq are overwhelmingly attributable to the actions of "coalition forces," including air and artillery strikes. The same results were reported by the Christian Science Monitor in the first year of the war. And the web site Iraq Body Count has continually, and credibly (based on published media sources), reported massive numbers of civilian deaths (over 40,000) attributable to the military intervention in Iraq.
But even more astonishingly, with regard to Ashcroft's dismissive explanation, we now have proof that reports of civilian deaths in Iraq have been, at best, manipulated, and at worst, falsified. What better way could there be to deflect responsibility for the killing of innocent civilians than lying about both the cause of that killing, and its effect?
But even if the former AG's offhanded comment about "Muslim on Muslim" violence being the cause of Iraqi casualties were accurate, it would show a remarkable insensitivity to the situation in Iraq, and the U.S.'s responsibility for that situation. Even if the recent sectarian violence is partially to blame for deaths in Iraq, isn't that part of the reason we invaded Iraq, namely to prevent that kind of violence? Isn't that what our President told us Saddam was was doing, or at least facilitating, before we toppled him? The question is, if our invasion was part of the solution, why has the problem not only continued, but gotten arguably worse.
The "Moslem-on-Moslem" explanation should be a familiar refrain to Americans. It's what apologists for crime in this country intone to absolve the criminal justice system. Crime isn't so bad (and certainly isn't an endemic threat to most Americans) if you reduce it to a "black on black" phenomenon. The explanation goes something like this: white folks needn't fear (at least not statistically) that they will be the victims of crime; the institutions of our society aren't to blame for black crime, since none of them has contributed to the conditions that cause black crime, and, finally, we're doing everything we can to deal with black crime by incarcerating a disproportionate number of blacks.
Of course, none of that is any more comfort in the African American community than is Ashcroft's dismissive analysis of deaths in Iraq a comfort to the average Sunni, Shiite or Kurd. But at least it explains why our country's former chief law enforcement officer would use the explanation for American criminal violence to deflect blame for military violence in Iraq.