Pat Longman reviews “The freedom” by Christian Parenti, The New Press
This book makes real for the reader the total chaos, brutality, madness, violence and corruption that is US-occupied Iraq.
Parenti observes how the young US soldiers, “the grunts”, are completely bewildered by their role, and ignorant of Iraqi culture, language and politics. They have a seething hostility to their superiors. There are tensions between the multi-ethnic working-class ranks and the army of “freshly minted MBAs” and “self deluding zealots” holed up in the safer “Green Zone”.
Parenti spent time with members of the 124th Infantry, a National Guard unit made up mostly of college students from north Florida. These soldiers were trading six years with the Guard for free college tuition. But instead of directing traffic during hurricanes at the weekends they have found themselves in Iraq.
Parenti shows us young men who are hardly trained and have been sent to a strange country for reasons they do not comprehend. In the process they have become increasingly disillusioned and de-sensitised to the suffering around them.
The “bold young ideologues” working in splendid isolation on “governance issues” and “privatisation’’ live “in total fear of the very cities and people they are charged with governing”.
Parenti reports on the mismanagement of reconstruction contracts brought about by the mad rush for profit by Halliburton and Bechtel. He argues that the “resistance” could have been avoided if the US administration had been less concerned with ensuring their corporate friends could feed at the trough of contracts, and more concerned with providing electricity, hospitals, jobs and roads for the Iraqi people.
The use by the US of mass incarceration, as at Abu Ghraib, and punishing civilians as counter insurgency is “a set of tactics born of political failure and desperation”.
Parenti’s reports on the US side of affairs are vivid, but not unique. What is special about Parenti’s is that — at great personal risk — he went to talk with the “resistance” too. He finds a movement that is ideologically and organisationally fragmented, with no clear strategy and no clear political vision.
He is clear, though, that this is not the “liberation” movement some leftists claim it to be. Its key leaders, on Parenti’s account, are viciously reactionary.
Parenti also met the other Iraqi opposition — the working class movement. His prognosis for that movement is bleak. He says the fact that Saddam co-opted so many of the symbols of workers’ resistance, distorted them and used them to repress any working class opposition, is a powerful obstacle to the growth of workers’ organisation.
The book’s title comes from a quote from Akeel, an Iraqi who accompanied Parenti. “Ah, the freedom. Look, we have the gas-line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom, the hash-smoking freedom. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom.”
Well worth reading.