'Foreign' Logic

| Mon Aug. 25, 2003 2:00 AM EDT


Another brain-addling day of heat and humidity just passed - and it's New York in the 90s, not Baghdad at 123 degrees. Somehow it seems only appropriate to offer an end of August, slightly addled, weekend dispatch, scooping up some of the odds and ends drifting through my brain and around the internet in company with the Sobig.F Worm. Read this or, better yet, head for the nearest movie theater for a wormless, all air-conditioned environment.

Let me start with a string of quotes:

Our President calls on the Foreigners to respond:

    "'We do need, and welcome, more foreign troops into Iraq. And there will be more foreign troops into Iraq,' Bush told reporters at Seattle's King County Airport. 'And what that will do is, that will enable many of those troops to guard the infrastructure. What's happening, of course, is - as the life of the average Iraqi begins to improve - those who hate freedom destroy the infrastructures that we've been improving. It's part of their strategy. So we'll get more people guarding that and that will help free up our hunter teams' [searching for members of the Saddam Hussein government]."

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-- from the The Los Angeles Times

General John Abizaid, U.S. commander in charge of all forces in Iraq, declares that we're in-country until the end of time:

    "[The general] said on Thursday American troops might not be brought home once international peacekeepers are deployed to the war-torn country, a reversal that means 150,000 US soldiers may stay in Iraq indefinitely. General John Abizaid, the new head of US central command, said foreign troops and indigenous Iraqi forces would gradually take over internal security duties from American soldiers, but added US troops would then be redeployed for a 'more aggressive posture on external duties,' such as securing borders.

    'It depends on the security situation,' Gen Abizaid said of the role of foreign peacekeepers. 'It doesn't necessarily mean that additional foreign troops would cause a corresponding drawdown of American forces."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explains the purpose of "foreign" troops":

    "'I believe that that's exactly the purpose of getting foreign troops in,' said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, when asked at the same congressional hearing if American forces would be reduced when foreign troops arrived. 'We are trying to get other people to fill in for us. We're trying to get Iraqis to fill in for us.'"

    -- From Peter Spiegel's piece in the Financial Times

In the corridors of the UN, the foreign diplomats mutter this and that:

    "Pakistan's ambassador, Munir Akram, hinted diplomatically that the coalition should bolster its own force before asking other countries to make up the difference. Others were blunter. 'It sends us the message, 'We don't need to spill more American blood, we need foreign blood,'' one European diplomat said."

    -- From Maggie Farley and Robin Wright's piece in the Los Angeles Times

A "foreign" Foreign Minister discusses the state of the state in Iraq:

    "Iraq is currently in a state of 'decomposition' that will not be reversed until the Iraqi people recover their sovereignty, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a radio interview Friday. De Villepin also told the private RTL radio station that a new UN resolution in which Washington was asking for other countries to bolster its occupying forces would simply 'see the cycle of violence worsen...'

    'A logic of occupation must be rapidly replaced by a logic of sovereignty,' the minister said, and questioned whether the current approach of the US-led coalition, which he said was 'essentially security-oriented,' had not failed.

    The [new] US-sponsored [UN] resolution, he said, 'does not respond to the situation of the ground, which is both a situation of decomposition, of discouragement for the Iraqi people and at the same time a logic of confrontation.... Nothing would be worse than to come up with temporary fixes, to try to shore up shaky foundations,' he said."

    -- From Middle East Online

Here's one thing it's hard not to notice. When American officials speak of the crisis in Iraq, there seem to be three broad categories of people in that country: those "indigenous forces" (read: Iraqis), "Americans" (naturally), and "foreigners" (if, that is, they're our potential sidekicks, members or future members of the coalition of the willing or billing, however you care to think of it) and "foreign terrorists" (if they're not). It's amazing how verbally at home administration officials feel "in" Iraq. Were the Turks or Indians or Pakistanis or French, for that matter, to send troops, these would be added to the pool of good "foreigners," who would then do the unglamorous grunt work - you know, guarding the "infrastructure." But they would be no less foreigners for that, the sort of people who should, like ET, go home sooner or later. As for us, we're obviously not foreigners and, thank the lord, we're certainly not Iraqis. We're just Americans, at home anywhere on this globe that we plant a base or string some concertina wire around an office building.

It's amazing that this administration got anybody to Iraq, no less a few Mongolians and Hondurans. After all, it's like being offered an all-expenses paid voyage to Club Hell. A reader recently wrote me,

    "What I am wondering about are the troops committed to Iraq by Poland, El Salvador, Mongolia, etc. What an odd experience it must be coming from say Poland, ordered by your government for the crassest of political reasons to fight Iraqis for the Americans. I honestly can't begin to imagine how a soldier in that circumstance would mentally process the experience. Likewise, what are the reactions of the friends and family of the killed Danish soldier? That he died in a noble cause? I would love to know what the Danish media and ordinary Danes are saying about this little military adventure of theirs, and how Polish soldiers and citizens view theirs."

We have no idea, of course. And though I've been looking fairly closely - and following the coverage of American troops in Iraq - I have yet to see an article where any American reporter asks such questions and then follows up with a piece. Who would ask such questions, actually? The reader who wrote me was a Canadian. Wouldn't you know it, a "foreigner." Who else would be interested? Was anyone in England interested in finding on what was on the minds of the Indian sepoys in Iraq in the 1920s?

The only thing I do know is that "foreign" leaders who supported us are starting to face some flack for that decision - Blair in England getting ready this week to testify in the suicide of Kelly; Howard in Australia finally facing parliamentary hearings over "twisted Iraq intelligence," Aznar in Spain facing calls by the opposition Socialists to bring the 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq home. And Japanese Prime Minister Kozumi, surveying the Iraqi wreckage, seems to be putting off the sending of his promised 1,000 troops into the misty future.

Conspiracy:

You can't exist on the Internet for long without running into conspiracy theories of various sorts, all backed by copious footnotes, deep research, scads of articles you may never have heard of and a logic fierce enough that, once you step inside, keeps you running down a path to some completely logical but thoroughly absurd conclusion. The American government bombed the UN Mission in Iraq - there's one I don't doubt I'll see something about soon enough. A classic, for instance, was the claim that the final kidnapped jet of 9/11, the one that went down in a field in Pennsylvania, was actually heading for the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. I saw some impressive presentations on that one. And it wasn't illogical really - a nearby nuclear power plant as a possible terrorist target - unless you considered the context. The attackers hit military power (the Pentagon), financial power (the World Trade Center) and ... nuclear power... ah, no, it has to be political power, doesn't it?

My general attitude - and I've written this before - is that when you see a black-and-white-striped four-legged animal standing on the Savannah, assume it's a zebra, barring spectacularly convincing proof to the contrary. I don't mean to say that I don't think there are conspiracies in the world. I just think that conspiracy theorists are generally the last people who would actually know about them. But excuse this ramble. It's my way of getting to a few stories that edge up to the strange and even conspiratorial, stories that have somehow stuck in my mind and that, if my full staff wasn't on vacation for the month in Club Baghdad, I would investigate. I'm generally careful about what I pass around, but today let me suggest a couple that I can't verify, but I'm still curious about.

Counting American casualties in Iraq: A good deal has now been written out of the mainstream, and some in the mainstream, about the uncounted Iraqi dead (and the lack of an American desire to count and so account for them in any way). There is a very good website, www.iraqbodycount.net, dedicated to this subject. Less has been written about how American casualties have been counted - or not. FAIR recently issued a report on how seldom "non-combat casualties" (some of which clearly result from combat situations and none of which would have happened without the decision to invade) are included when American deaths are announced on the news, leaving the figures lower than they actually are. I've also heard rumors that American wounded are being undercounted. But these have all been backed up by purely anecdotal accounts (of family members of the wounded, for instance, who visited military hospitals and found them packed). I would love to see some reporter look into this.

Dawn House, a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, did a piece on August 17 (headlined Troops Wounded in Action Not Listed Among Casualties) with a different slant, suggesting a subtler Pentagon manipulation of casualty figures that's made me all the more curious. Writing of a local Utah soldier who was quite seriously wounded in action, she adds:

    "They are called WIAs for wounded in action, but their numbers are not listed under casualty postings from the U.S. Central Command or the Pentagon. Reporters must specifically ask for those tallies.

    So far, 1,007 U.S. military personnel have been wounded since March 19 when U.S. troops crossed the border into Iraq, said Lt. Ryan Fitzgerald from Central Command. That number compares with 467 'nonmortal wounds' in the 1991 Gulf War, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    'I know of no other war in which WIAs have not been listed among the casualties,' said Robert Voyles, director of the Fort Douglas Museum. 'I have no idea why this conflict would be any different.'... Utah National Guard historian Richard Roberts, a retired colonel, said he fears that the number of WIAs isn't posted because of political efforts to downplay consequences of the war."

A serious investigation of American casualty counting by some publication with the necessary resources is in order.

Warheads for Sale:

From Dan Shingler of the Albuquerque Tribune comes a bizarre, convoluted tale of intrigue and incarceration that fascinated me and that a look at www.news.google.com indicates is being played as a local story in the Southwest and in Western Canada. It concerns one David Hudak, a Canadian demolition expert from Vancouver whose company offers "explosives and counterterrorism training to police and military personnel." Shingler's piece begins:

    "Canadian David Hudak sits in a New Mexico jail cell, accused of stockpiling U.S.-made missile warheads. Federal prosecutors moved in on Hudak quickly after an informant alerted them to his activities last summer. But his defense attorney wonders why the U.S. company that sold Hudak the devices has not been pursued with the same zeal, especially since prosecutors contend that the sale was illegal.

    Hudak's attorney, Bob Gorence, said Hudak was induced to purchase the items by Halliburton Corp. - the major U.S. conglomerate once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney....

    At a Nov. 14, 2002, hearing in federal court in Albuquerque, U.S. Customs agent Tony Singleton said Jet Research [a former Halliburton subsidiary] actually transferred 6,000 of the warheads to Accurate Arms [a Tennessee company that purchased the assets of Jet Research from Halliburton]. Aside from the approximately 2,500 that were sold to Hudak, Accurate Arms can not account for the warheads, Singleton said.

    The warheads were meant to be part of a weapons system known as a shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon, or SMAW, according to court documents."

The warheads, Shingler tells us, are rejects deemed "unsuitable for use in actual weapons." But, just out of curiosity, where's the Department of Homeland Security now that we need it? Jailing American Muslims no doubt.

Fake WMD:

Here's my August dive off the deep end. This little story managed to make the out-of-bounds rounds. It seems to have started at what looks like a conspiracy website, almartinraw.com. The url I have for this one is a Pakistani paper, but it also appeared via Yahoo and elsewhere. It begins:

    "According to a stunning report posted by a retired Navy Lt Commander and 28-year veteran of the Defense Department (DoD), the Bush administration's assurance about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was based on a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plan to 'plant' WMDs inside the country. Nelda Rogers, the Pentagon whistleblower, claims the plan failed when the secret mission was mistakenly taken out by 'friendly fire,' the Environmentalists Against War report.

    Nelda Rogers is a 28-year veteran debriefer for the DoD. She has become so concerned for her safety that she decided to tell the story about this latest CIA-military fiasco in Iraq. According to Al Martin Raw.com, 'Ms Rogers is number two in the chain of command within this DoD special intelligence office. This is a ten-person debriefing unit within the central debriefing office for the Department of Defense.'"

I was unable to google up anything else at all about Nelda Rogers, so the odds are this is the worst sort of balderdash, but we all have our weaknesses - and the CIA track record for weird plots is such (remember those poisoned cigars that were supposed to take down Castro?) and the need to find wmd in Iraq is such that I couldn't help but wonder. In any case, it seems to me I should be allowed one freebie from Mars this overheated summer.

Reading at Summer's End:

This month The Progressive magazine published one of my favorite authors, Barbara Ehrenreich, writing on how she became the Antichrist of North Carolina. I've been holding it for what seems like forever and a day, waiting for just the right dispatch to come along. Well, since one didn't, I simply declare this dispatch to be the right one and include it. But I thought I might give you double your money's worth (nothing, of course, since it costs nothing to subscribe to Tomdispatch) by turning this into a mother/son combo deal. Ben Ehrenreich, who writes regularly for the LA Weekly, is now in Afghanistan and has just written a piece on America's forgotten war there. Mother and son evidently are ready to cover jihadists wherever they might be.

Finally, two pieces from Eduardo Galeano in two weeks. Who could ask for more? His most recent piece is from the September issue of Progressive. Still, I'm greedy. I do want more. Now I've started to miss Arundhati Roy, who - to my mind -- from the time we launched our war on Afghanistan to the end of the war in Iraq, was the freshest voice on earth. Perhaps she's off writing her next novel and who would blame her. But the world's a poorer place when she's silent.