Drifting Into Dystopia: An Interview with Dahr Jamail

Unembedded and better for it.
(Photo: DahrJamailIraq.com)

Dahr Jamail is that rarity in today’s journalism: An intrepid truth-teller who enters the line of fire unprotected by the planet’s greatest superpower. He may be unembedded, but his award-winning work, out now in the form of an amazing book called Beyond the Green Zone, is bulletproof with truth. And we need that more than ever nowadays, as the Iraqmire spirals into oblivion and the American empire falters. With an election on tap and no incentive for the Democrats to change course if they win in 2008, we could be looking at the last days of the United States as we know it. And we saw it coming the whole time.

Morphizm: Do you find it somewhat ironic that you are a journalist, wanting to get the truth out?

Dahr Jamail: I do, particularly because when I first traveled to Iraq, I had no intention of becoming a journalist. While I’ve always loved to write, the brunt of my published writing prior to my time in Iraq was writing about my mountaineering experiences, in Alaska and Pakistan. But the journalistic urge was borne of outrage at the establishment media’s production during the build-up for the invasion of Iraq, what veteran journalist John Pilger describes as “propaganda disguised as journalism.” I was offended by the bile produced by them, and the likes of Michael Gordon and Judith Miller of the Times.

Morphizm: You didn’t expect it?

DJ: I assumed, perhaps naively, that millions of other Americans were equally offended. So after the invasion was launched, I decided one thing I could do was go see the occupation for myself and write about it for a few folks back in Alaska, and that’s what I did. Once I started writing about what was happening during the occupation, how rapidly it was spiraling out of control — my first trip brought me to Baghdad in November 2003 — the obvious need for independent journalism from Iraq was glaring, so I opted to stay with it.

Morphizm: Did you have any idea is was going to be the clusterfuck it turned into?

DJ: I had low expectations. I’d been reading enough Arab, independent, and alternative news sources to know that things weren’t going swimmingly for the occupiers, even just seven months into it. I knew going in that there were going to be scant signs of the promised reconstruction, and that there was already a budding armed resistance, which was growing at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, when I arrived in Baghdad, the chaos, frustration and obvious disintegration of society amazed me. I was shocked that everything was coming apart at the seams as rapidly as it was. Nothing was working. Instead of things slowly improving, as one would have expected to see at least some evidence of something positive happening, there was nothing but strife. Of course, it hit overdrive in spring 2004 with the first Sadr intifada, which coincided with the first U.S.-led assault on Fallujah. By then, it was over. The occupation was lost. Throw in the Abu Ghraib photos, the total destruction of Fallujah in November 2004, and a few Hadithas for good measure later on, and we can safely say history will remember the beginning of the end of the U.S. empire project occurring in Iraq.

Morphizm: What do you think is the chief discrepancy between the armchair journalists who opine on the occupation, and those who have actually gone there?

DJ: I think it is more the difference between those of us who choose not to embed and those who agree to work as hacks for the Pentagon by embedding. Let us not forget, the embedded reporter program that we have today was constructed by the Pentagon to use as a means of information control, and information management. First implemented during the senior Bush’s attack on Iraq in 1991, it has been greatly augmented into what we see today. Journalists who choose not to work as hacks for the Pentagon get to see what the occupation is like from the other side of the gun. We go out and talk to Iraqis firsthand, and understand what it’s like to live with no potable water, no job, no government, no security, and the constant threat of death. Basically, we get to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what it’s like to live under a brutal, failed occupation that has no end in sight, and report on it, as opposed to going around with a military unit and reporting what it’s like to occupy someone else’s country.

Morphizm: You argue that this was obviously a war over oil, but do you think it was a war to commandeer it or to stifle its production to enrich connected business interests of Bush and Cheney?

DJ: It was a war about oil and the geostrategic positioning of the U.S. military. They go hand in hand. It wasn’t about going in and having Halliburton drop the pumps and start bringing all of Iraq’s oil into American’s SUVs right away. It was about getting to that oil first, before Russia or China could. Now, if or when the U.S. begins to bomb Iran and attempts to install another puppet regime there, the U.S. government will be in a position to determine, or at least heavily influence, the price of oil and natural gas, as well as rendering OPEC a sideshow. The other factor is the privatization contracts granted to western corporations, of which there are now over 680 operating inside Iraq. One of the more blatant examples, Halliburton, provides the most glaring case of a corporation driving U.S. Middle East policy. I outline clearly in my book how Cheney, from back in 1992 when he was Secretary of Defense, managed the privatization of much of the U.S. military. We are looking at the results of his diligent work, where Halliburton, which the Vice President still has financial ties to, has the contract to supply, service and maintain all of the U.S. military bases around the globe, of which the DOD admits to 725. That’s a lot of work, and a lot of money to made, particularly when they are the permanent type of bases which we have in Iraq today.

Morphizm: Are we ever going to leave? Has global warming and peak oil certified our permanence in the region?

DJ: It does not appear as though the U.S. has any intention of leaving until all of the oil in Iraq is gone. There are several documents that show us what the plan is. Rather than quoting them at length, I’ll list them so folks can read them for themselves: U.S. National Security Strategy, updated March 2006, the Quadrennial Defense Review Report, and the Project for the New American Century. On top of those, we have all the physical evidence we need on the ground in Iraq: An embassy the size of the Vatican City, some of the largest U.S. bases in the world, complete with first-run movie theaters, rental car agencies, Starbucks, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich shops, swimming pools, yoga studios, and shopping complexes. The U.S. is lengthening most of the existing runways at the air bases, fortifying the walls and blast barriers, and really digging in. There is not one single indicator to lead people to think the U.S. has any plans whatsoever of total withdrawal. Even the leading so-called Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards — have all taken the idea of total withdrawal from Iraq off the table until after their first term in office.

Morphizm: I read an article describing the building of a U.S. military base directly on top of a oil rig. Did you see such a blatant takeover during your stay?

DJ: Absolutely. From Camp Victory at the airport to the so-called Green Zone which takes up the middle of Baghdad to many of the bases — like Camp Anaconda at Balad — they are massive, being augmented as we speak. The trend of running fewer patrols and keeping more troops on the bases is ongoing. If you want an idea of what the occupation of Iraq might look like in a couple of years, look at the occupation of Afghanistan. It’s two years older, and that’s what we see there now — fewer patrols, turning the country over to various warlords, staying in the bases, and a more heavy use of air power.

Morphizm: How much of this is resource war, and how much of it is cultural imperialism?

DJ: This is not a clash of civilizations or a war of good vs. evil, or any of that mindless nonsense. This is about controlling dwindling resources. The world runs on oil, and whoever controls the price and access of that resource will largely dominate the world. That is the U.S. agenda. The three documents I mentioned above could not be any clearer about the U.S. agenda in the Middle East, let alone the world. The rhetoric about the clash between Christianity and Islam is just propaganda. A method of scaring people and playing to emotions. A smokescreen to hide the true agenda: Global domination by one country. It’s lunacy,

Morphizm: But the global domination of empires never survive. That’s the first thing you learn in History 101.

DJ: The U.S. has set itself up for quite a fall, which we’re already starting to see. The value of the dollar plummeting, total loss of respect around the globe, anti-American sentiment at historic levels. A military that has showed the world how inept and weak it really is on the battlefield. A completely immoral administration and Congress. I could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned debt, or the U.S. basically waging wars on credit cards, or who owns the brunt of our debt. This country is in it deep, and it’s about to get deeper.

Morphizm: How extensive was your exposure to Blackwater, and what are your thoughts on the privatization of war?

DJ: Early on, I saw the mercenary companies, not just Blackwater, racing around in armored white SUV’s, guns out the windows, often shooting at cars whilst trying to make their way through the horrible traffic of Baghdad. When I showed up in November 2003, Blackwater had already earned the hatred of Iraqis, because of so many random killings, and usually just because cars got to close to their convoys. They love their Kiowa helicopters; the two-seater types where a gunner hangs out the side door. They use them heavily, oftentimes as air cover for a convoy when they are transporting an ambassador, diplomat or one of the Iraqi puppets in the government. It was common to see them running around doing their own thing — whether it was running around the streets of Baghdad firing their weapons in the air, or at civilians, or going into neighborhoods to kidnap people, or doing their own home raids. They operated completely on their own much of the time, and of course, as we all see now, with complete immunity to any law.

Morphizm: Is it a future trend we can stop?

DJ: That depends on if we’re able to scrap this totally corrupted government and start over with something resembling democracy. Otherwise, all aspects of the government — whether we’re talking the military, the CIA, disaster response teams, public schools, go on down the line — are headed towards total privatization. Blackwater, horrible as it is, is but a symptom of a very deep cancer.

Morphizm: Do you feel a Democratic administration can handle the extrication of American influence from Iraq? Or do you feel they’re sold on staying there as well?

DJ: They are as much in bed with this plutocracy or corporatocracy as the Republicans. Some have called the Democrats
the B-Team of the corporate capitalists, and I think that is right on. Take Iraq as a shining example: This has been a bipartisan war that has spanned decades. We can go back to the 1950s and find the CIA giving the Baath Party the names of communists and dissidents. In the 60s, they helped Saddam Hussein into a position of power, supported him in the 70s, supported both Iraq and Iran during the brutal eight-year war in the ’80s, and in particular supported Hussein during some of his worst atrocities. Then of course we have Bush Sr.’s assault on Iraq in ’91, followed by the harshest eight years of the genocidal economic sanctions, which were overseen by Clinton while he conducted the longest sustained bombing campaign against any country since Vietnam. Then we have little Bush and the current situation, and people like Pelosi too fearful for her political life to file the articles of impeachment. Same with Conyers, same with most of them. They’re all in bed with the system, and have no motive to get out. All of them are feeding at the same trough. Any real change will only come from a popular uprising here. I just keep wondering what more it is going to take to mobilize people so that they begin to act as responsible citizens of a democracy, as we drift deeper into a fascist police state each day.

This interview originally appeared here on Morphizm