Gong Show Imperialism




 

    “[L. Paul Bremer, America’s proconsul in Baghdad] implied those fighters [resisting the Americans] did not represent the larger Iraqi population.’I have not noticed any hatred among the Iraqi people for the American soldiers,’ Bremer said at a news conference. Yet in dozens of interviews conducted by The Associated Press, Iraqi citizens voiced growing bitterness and a desire for revenge against U.S. soldiers for the way they have allegedly treated the population while attempting to pacify the country.”

    The Associated Press

Of course, the view from Bremer’s heavily fortified office undoubtedly leaves something to be desired when it comes to assessing Iraqi public opinion. A better assessment might start with the blowing up of a key oil pipeline in Northern Iraq yesterday or the unexpected upsurge in attacks — at least 8 in less than 24 hours — in Western Iraq reported by The Washington Post‘s reliable Anthony Shadid:

    “‘That’s been the most in a 24-hour period that I’m aware of,’ said O’Donnell, a public affairs officer for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which patrols western Iraq. He said the Army was ‘trying to find out if there’s a link between all these attacks. They could have been random, but it’s suspicious, all of those happening at the same time.'”

Last night, I made it to the TV news for the first time in two weeks and there was Chairman Bremer swearing we were making “progress” in Iraq. I thought after two TV-less weeks that I had stumbled through a time warp or a worm hole directly into the late 1960s. Honestly, what this administration needs, minimally, is me. I could, at least, vet their spin dictionaries for them. Somebody certainly should. I could remind them that there’s nothing more dangerous than announcing “progress” when you face the unknown amid obvious catastrophe. That’s a Vietnam lesson simple enough even for these guys to grasp — or so you would think.

Robert Fisk of The Independent manages to dismantle several of the recent announcements of “progress”. He deals, for instance, with the claims of a revived oil industry this way:

    “…there’s a kind of looking-glass fantasy to all these announcements from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

    Take the oil production figures. Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, even chose to use these statistics in his ‘great day for Iraq’ press conference last week, the one in which he announced that 200 soldiers in Mosul had killed the sons of Saddam rather than take them prisoner. But Sanchez was talking rubbish. Although oil production was indeed standing at 900,000 barrels per day in June (albeit 100,000bpd fewer than the Sanchez version), it fell last month to 750,000.

    Why don’t the occupation authorities realise that Iraq cannot be ‘spun’? This country is living a tragedy of epic proportions, and now – after its descent into hell under Saddam – we are doomed to suffer its contagion. By our hubris and by our lies and our fantasies we are descending into the pit.”

By the way, should you be interested in what could be done for the Iraqi oil industry, you might consider a piece in the Guardian by Ghazi Sabir-Ali, former chairman and managing director of the North Oil Company under Saddam. He describes how the looted and destroyed northern fields were rebuilt in the wake of the first Gulf War — but of course by Iraqis. His piece begins and ends this way:

    “Iraq, which was, until the first Gulf war, the second-largest oil-exporting country, is now importing petrol for the first time in 60 years. Iraqis are now paying exorbitant prices for a commodity that only a few months ago was cheaper than bottled water.

    Many of those men [who rebuilt oil production in the north], and many others like them, are still in Iraq. They remain capable, as they were in 1991, of planning and executing the necessary repairs to our battered country, if they are given a free hand. There is no need for foreign companies to take control. Iraqi oil revenue should go to Iraqis, who should then be left in peace to set their country to rights.”

Here’s the problem: Once you start down the path of “progress,” when that progress is largely spin (even if in part you’re spinning yourself), every step is likely to involve unexpected and unintended complications and consequences. Let’s take, for instance, the “hunt” for Saddam Hussein. (“We’re on the hunt,” the president assured Americans at his press conference last week.) Just the other day American troops “bagged” his two sons thanks to enough fire power to wipe out a battalion. The death of the sons was supposed to lead to a triumphant lessening of attacks (though three Americans died in ambushes yesterday) and Saddam’s death would then more or less lead to their cessation — and, of course, the terrified people of Iraq would finally be free to praise us without fear.

Admittedly, Saddam is not yet in our hands, or perhaps in the far more capable “hands” of a TOW missile, but we are assured, and then reassured, and then assured yet again that the “noose is tightening.” The only thing is it’s not only around Saddam that it’s tightening. The tighter this administration tries to pull that noose the tighter it also seems to gather around the administration. (Note, by the way, that in imagistic terms you have two good old western images fighting for metaphorical daylight: the hunt for dangerous wild animals and vigilante justice by means of a rope.)

A recent piece in the Boston Globe reveals that a “fierce debate” is taking place within the administration as the “noose” tightens. The piece reads in part:

    “Senior Bush administration officials are debating whether to order military commanders to kill rather than capture Saddam Hussein to avoid an unpredictable trial that could stir up nationalist Arab sentiments and embarrass Washington by publicizing past US support for the deposed Iraqi dictator, according to defense and intelligence officials… But as US troops step up the hunt for Hussein… the prospect of an open trial that puts him on a public stage has given pause to some in the administration, according to government officials with knowledge of the high-level meetings. Among those said to have taken part in the discussions are Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

    Washington supported Hussein’s regime during Iraq’s war against Iran between 1980 and 1988 — including providing satellite images of Iranian military formations — at a time when Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against troops and civilians.”

And the Teheran Times (has this to add:

    “A top U.S. official suggested late Monday that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should be killed without hesitation, if capturing him alive meant risking the lives of U.S. soldiers. The comments, by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, appeared to signal that only clean surrender could guarantee survival to the former Iraqi dictator, said AFP [Agence France Press].’If Saddam Hussein could be captured safely, without any harm to U.S. service persons, that would be great,’ Armitage told CNN television. ‘If there is a question of harm being done to U.S. servicemen, then he should be killed.'”

Call that a signal from the front lines in Washington, from those discussions that, not surprisingly, Dick and Don just happen to have taken part in. (“Look at Dick. Dick picks up a Tow missile. Look at Saddam. Look quickly. He may not be there long.”) Of course, if they don’t wipe the man off the face of the Earth, he could come back to haunt our leaders. Both the vice president and the secretary of defense were deeply involved in supporting the Great Satan back when he was the Great Bulwark against the Great Satan of Khomeini’s Iran, and that, of course, was after the Shah of Iran was the Great Bulwark against the Great Satan of… but never mind. Certainly, the great hypocrisy of this administration has not been the lies that got us into war, but the fact that everything that was meant to terrify us about Saddam’s regime, including the killing fields of ’91, could in some way be traceable back to the very men (or their mentors) who led us into this war, a point that until now has gained less than zero traction in our media (but that is not exactly unknown to “grateful” Iraqis).

If they do find him (after all, Iraq is not exactly China when it comes to size) and kill him to wipe out the living evidence, that will only create other problems — and other suspicions. In the meantime, we will undoubtedly continue to speak of Saddam as if he were “a prize elk,” in the words of Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun, whose Sunday column sums up what we might be found culpable for in any future trial of the Elk.

I have no idea whether our men in Baghdad will bag the former ruler, who should indeed stand trial before the world as a human monster who committed both war crimes and crimes against humanity. What I do know is that that noose is slowly, ever so quietly tightening here at home. Iraq, I believe, is the fulcrum on which this administration’s imperial global (and domestic) policies are likely to founder. The problem, already quite clear, is that our men in Washington, who never imagined an “exit strategy” from Iraq, can’t imagine leaving but can’t afford to stay either. The citing of “progress” might buy time, measured perhaps in months, but time is only valuable if you can do something with it.

We who oppose empire have to understand that, for reasons deeply entrenched in the situation in Iraq and in Washington, none of this is going away any time soon. We need to have patience. Who can really predict who will fall, or when, or how, but the pressure on this administration will surely become fiercer in time, and under inexorable pressure those easy lies that got us into war can only lead to further lies that pass briefly for explanations but in the end pull the noose tighter… and tighter… and so on until… well, just until…

Already we have hilarious photos of what Saddam might look like today. Saddam in burnoose etc. I wish they had set me on this one too. There are a number of other Saddams I might have liked to create. And, of course, if they do find him and exterminate their brute, they will have their brief “day” of glorious spin and then they’ll look around from the windows of Bremer’s office, and find themselves hardly less trapped than before. If they can’t find Saddam, then all this bluster and all those silly photos will become so much black comedy — I can already see the political cartoons — and no administration can live with that for too long. Watching these guys trying to put the brakes on, while skidding near the edge on the far side of the mountain is a bit like watching the Gong Show as imperial policy — but here’s the problem: right now, there’s no giant hook to pull these guys off stage.

And let’s face it, the assessments of this administration — and here I don’t mean the lies they put forward to scare the American people into war, but the ones they believed, that they convinced themselves of — have proved disastrously off the mark. They may in the end come a cropper for the lies they knowingly told, but at a deeper level what they will surely pay most for is the way they deluded themselves before even bothering with us. We now know, for instance, that this administration, which claimed it wasn’t willing to turn our best wmd intelligence over to the UN inspectors (for fear it would leak to the Iraqis), actually had none of any consequence to offer. They were simply betting on the assumption that Saddam must have WMD because he once did. As it turned out, he double-crossed them and so they’re already re-spinning this one — if he didn’t have the weapons, he at least must have had WMD “programs,” as a piece in The Independent indicates.

Just as disastrously, they believed the occupation of beaten Iraq would be a snap and that, with low levels of troops left in the country, they could float not just the occupation and reconstruction of the country, but possibly the rebuilding of the whole Middle East to their specifications, on Iraqi oil.

With that in mind, when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki said before the war that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for an occupation, the Pentagon neocons practically drummed him out of the service amid derisive hoots. Now… well, need I say more?

No less strikingly, as Peter Spiegel of the British Financial Times wrote recently the war’s price tag keeps climbing.

    “When Lawrence Lindsey, then the White House’s chief economic adviser, said in a published interview almost a year ago that he believed that the war in Iraq could cost anywhere from $100bn to $200bn, he was quickly admonished by his colleagues in the Bush administration… Just two months after Mr Lindsey made his remarks he was out of a job, with White House officials speculating that his war estimate was a big reason why he had been replaced.

    But people who have been briefed on the Pentagon’s budgeting process said that the Defense Department is burning through its funds so quickly — $3.9bn per month — that it will need a new supplemental appropriation as early as January. Indeed, in an interview with the Financial Times this week, Dov Zackheim, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said the US military was expected to have spent $58bn of the $62bn it received in the April spending bill by the end of the year.”

Just the other day, Reuters reports, Bremer announced, that “rebuilding the country could require anywhere from $50 billion to $100 billion of outside money over the next couple of years. Paul Bremer, in an interview with CNBC’s Capital Report, said that for at least the next few years ‘we’re going to have to spend a lot more money than we’re going to get revenues even once we get oil production back to pre-war levels.'”

Those figures will undoubtedly prove low, but even they far exceed anything this administration is likely to get its hands on. What I wonder is this: Other than the relative speed of the war itself, what have they been right about? Think about that the next time you listen to some White House or Pentagon correspondent taking their words so desperately seriously and acting as if they knew what they were talking about.

Perhaps no piece I’ve seen in recent weeks has skewered this administration’s dreamy imperial optimism more effectively than one by UPI‘s Martin Sieff which simply dismembers neocon dreams about the financing of our future in Iraq.

    “… the Iraq war and its consequences alone will comprise 15.5 percent of the annual federal deficit at a time when it is larger, and rising faster, than ever before. Far from being a windfall to the U.S. economy, the Iraq war has already proven itself to be a ball and chain around the economy’s neck.”

Don’t miss it.

On ABC TV news Saturday night, one of those stand-up correspondents reporting on the president’s staged withdrawal to Crawford quoted an unnamed official as saying something like — until things in Iraq stabilize in the fall the administration will have to “take its lumps.” As Sieff points out, among those lumps — the unintended consequences of gong-show policies — “the continuing effect of the war has been to strengthen the market position of the three leading global producers, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran, while keeping global energy prices relatively high and thereby adding a further burden to the U.S. annual balance of trade deficit, already by far the largest of any country in world history.”

So our boys need money and have no obvious way to get it in the quantities necessary. They need troops to relieve those now manning our overstretched imperium and even the ones that are coming will arrive, if they do, on terms that may prove complex indeed. The present Japanese administration, for instance, has been using a promise of 1,000 troops for Iraq to break their own “peace constitution” (though I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for those troops to arrive in the fall to patrol only carefully assessed safe and peaceable areas of the country).

Like the Poles, the Dutch, who have just sent 1,100 troops to another of those barely peaceable provinces of Iraq, evidently have oil deals on the brain. According to Gregory Crouch of The New York Times, theirs may be “a disguised bid for business contracts in Iraq’s reconstruction… Royal Dutch/Shell Group, a leading oil company, is a Dutch-British consortium that could benefit from access to Iraq’s vast oil resources.” The troops themselves, in another testimonial to our popularity in Iraq, are, according to Crouch, doing their best not to be mistaken for Americans.

    “For extra safety, the Dutch troops are distinguishing themselves from the Americans. They have scrawled ‘the Netherlands’ in Arabic on their vehicles, and distributed posters making sure the local people know they are Dutch.”

And as for the Turks, a fierce debate is going on now in Turkey over whether its troops should be sent to “help” the desperate Americans. But sending thousands of Turkish troops into the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq is likely to create a true tangle of bloody interests there. (If you want to get a sense what this may mean check out Robert Cutler’s piece in the Asia Times.

And yet, as Vernon Loeb and Colum Lynch of The Washington Post tell us, the Busheviks can’t yet bear to give up their Iraqi dreams.

    “Condoleezza Rice has informed council diplomats that it is too early to consider a new U.N. mandate for Iraq, according to a senior Security Council diplomat.

    Despite increasing pressure to “internationalize” the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, the Bush administration is not actively pursuing a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing broader international participation out of concern that greater U.N. involvement could reduce U.S. control.”

To which Senator Joseph Biden replied: “What are we giving up? Are we giving up the right to get shot alone?”

How wrong can they be? Just you wait. While Donald Rumsfeld continues to fetishize our high-tech war machine, a recent lead editorial by the editors of the Nation magazine comments, “You can knock down government ministries with precision-guided munitions; you can’t pick up garbage with them.”

Tom Engelhardt

Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.

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