eyes on the U.S.

All Wrong: A Final French Takedown On The Iraq War

Op-Ed: This week marked a bad end to a bad war, which European critics of US policy had long predicted. The 2003 invasion left vast destruction, undermined America’s standing and deprived Iraqis of a role in their own history. Reverberations are still aro

Protests accompanied the nine-year war, like this one in 2007 (Andrew Ciscel)
Protests accompanied the nine-year war, like this one in 2007 (Andrew Ciscel)

PARIS – Nearly nine years after it began, the American intervention in Iraq ended this week. This war was a disaster.

The last soldiers have left, 500 men from the 1st Cavalry Division of the 3rd Brigade. They leave Iraq in poor condition, with many years still needed before the country gets back on the path to stability. And it will likely be even more years than that before the image of the United States can be restored in the region.

Nobody regrets the end of Saddam Hussein, one of the Middle East's bloodiest tyrants. The man who was chased from power by the American intervention in 2003 was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who -- thanks to him -- had been plunged into years of wars both at home and abroad. Scattered across Iraq are common graves containing tens of thousands of bodies -- mass graves left over from the dark days of the Saddam era.

But the Iraqis didn't free themselves from Saddam's tyranny. The United States did not involve them in their intervention. There were no brigades of free Iraqis accompanying American troops when they entered Baghdad in April 2003. It was a foreign force invading the country that bunkered the American proconsuls who would go on to govern.

Iraq was deprived of part of its history.

From the very beginning of the tragedy, it was all wrong – not least the reasons given by George W. Bush for embarking on the adventure. Iraq had nothing to do either with al-Qaeda nor the September 11, 2001 attacks. The regime, drained after years of embargo, did not have arsenals containing weapons of mass destruction. Crazy too was the Promethean pretention that America could somehow Humvee its Jeffersonian democracy to the shores of the Tigris.

Connection to 2008 crash

Bush's war caused the death of some 100,000 Iraqis and 4,500 U.S. soldiers. Iraq has become a bit more democratic; it is freer. The country is governed by a pro-Iranian party constituted of majority Arab Shiites that marginalizes the Sunnite minority while the Kurds live in quasi-independence. Violence is endemic. One Iraqi in four lives in misery. The middle class has fled abroad. The status of women has regressed. And oil production has not yet reached pre-war levels.

The war cost the United States $750 billion. Mr. Bush didn't want to finance it by imposing a special tax, so he increased the nation's debt instead. The resulting destabilization of American public finances was part of what sparked the 2008 crisis.

Finally: the Iraq war used up resources necessary for the engagement in Afghanistan. So it is largely responsible for the deadlock of that other conflict.

What a huge waste.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Andrew Ciscel

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!