A Lost War

| Wed Sep. 3, 2003 3:00 AM EDT


Nostalgia for neocons: In March, Meet the Press's Tim Russert posed the following question to Vice President Cheney: "If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?"

Cheney's answer: "Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq ... The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that." (Jay Bookman, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, So Far, U.S. Has Losing Hand in Iraq)

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And this from a most interesting piece by Jason Vest of the American Prospect magazine:

"As images of the bombed United Nations headquarters in Baghdad appeared on television last week, my thoughts turned to a conversation I had with a very senior national-security official (a political appointee with no military experience, not a career bureaucrat) prior to the invasion of Iraq. He earnestly told me that after Saddam Hussein's fall, Americans would be welcomed in Iraq, and not with a fleeting shower of goodwill but with a 'deluge' of 'rose water and flowers' that would last in perpetuity. Ahmad Chalabi and American advisers would set up shop to oversee a transition spearheaded by scores of returning Iraqi exiles, who would transform Iraq into a profitable, oil-pumping society. After all, the official said, this wasn't Afghanistan, where there were lots of religious and tribal differences among the local populations. We wouldn't need to stay long, and we certainly wouldn't need the United Nations - which, as far as this official and his compatriots were concerned, could go screw itselfÉ. Within a year, he said, Iraq would be a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East."

A developing catastrophe -- send more troops: Speaking of those "religious and tribal differences" that weren't, occupation administrators have evidently prided themselves that at least Iraq hasn't plunged into predicted internecine ethnic and religious battle -- at least they did until the Kurds and Turkomens began to go at it a week or so ago. And that, of course, was before Shiite cleric Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim was assassinated. In a strikingly entitled piece in the Guardian, The Ayatollah: Iraq's Archduke (a reference, of course, to Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 plunged Europe into World War I), Brian Whitaker writes in part:

"[A] few years from now we may look back on the bombing that killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, along with more than 90 other Shia Muslims, as a pivotal event that tipped the balance towards civil war and the disintegration of IraqÉ The underlying religious and ethnic tensions were kept at bay through decades of minority rule. Saddam Hussein suppressed them with utter ruthlessness but also, as the Americans are now learning, with considerable skill.

"Fear of opening up a can of worms in Iraq was one of the main reasons why George Bush Sr held back from invading in 1991 after the liberation of Kuwait. Now, though, his son has lifted the lid offÉ Once again the US, despite its self-appointed role as the world's policeman, is stuck. All it can do is pretend that everything will turn out fine in the end."

In a lead article in the English-language paper Iraq Today, staff writers suggested a similar scenario:

"More than anything the latest and deadliest terrorist attack in Iraq underscored a crisis of leadership in the country. Iraq's acting governor Paul Bremer took time out from his vacation to condemn the attack. But aides reported that Bremer is not likely to cut his vacation shortÉ

"If the bombers sought to shock Iraqis and the world they succeeded at that and more. More than anything, though, they have brought the country perilously close to sectarian conflict. In the ensuing chaos, many Iraqis have been left bracing for even worse to come."

And they pointed out the grim or perhaps prophetic nature of the Ayatollah's last sermon:

"In his final hour, Hakim had given a particularly heated sermon blaming the Coalition forces for losing control of the security situation and hinting at the dark winds blowing through the countryÉComing from a man like Hakim, whose stature and credentials as an opposition figure throughout the reign of Saddam Hussein, it was very serious talk indeed."

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul McGeough who has been doing a superb job of covering the developing resistance movement in Iraq comments:

"The plan is working. This dramatic escalation of the guerilla war in Iraq is about isolating the United StatesÉ. That is the resistance's message to the world - keep outÉ. Over Turkish coffeeÉ[Ali Shukri, former adviser to King Hussein of Jordan] issued a warning: 'Last week they blew up oil and water. They've attacked the Jordanian Embassy and now the UN, and this has been without the involvement of the ShiitesÉ'

"'So far this resistance is only Sunni. If the Shiites or even a part of them get involved, Iraq will go up in fire and there will be nothing the US, Britain or the UN can do about it. This disease started in the Sunni areas; it's contagious and it will spread to the Shiites.'

"É if the US persists in treating the Iraqi guerilla war only as a bin Laden problem, its rebuilding will fail. George Bush says the perpetrators of Tuesday's attack will be brought to justice. In the trenches, the resistance will be saying: 'Bring 'em on.'"

(By the way, Jason Vest in the article cited above notes that there has been much anger in our military and among military families over Bush's "bring 'em on" comment while American troops are in the line of fire.)

And then there's the Pentagon's top buddy in Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, who on the Washington Post op-ed page offered his own suggestions for how to deal with Iraqi resistance in the Sunni areas north of Baghdad:

"Conduct a security sweep through the towns where resistance is concentrated. Coalition forces should surround these towns and give residents a 48-hour deadline to hand in illegal weapons, after which house-to-house searches will be conducted. If a cache of weapons is found in the house, then all male residents between 15 and 50 will be arrested. These searches would also be useful in finding fugitives."

Every male between 15 and 50, there's a fine-tuned policy for you from the main man who visited Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz before the war and assured them that all would be wine and roses after "liberation."

Meanwhile, even as its reporters do some superb reporting on its news pages, in the beating editorial heart of the Washington Post there's a storm (or is it a froth?) whipping up about getting more Americans into the line of fire. Sunday, Senator John McCain called for more American troops to be dispatched in a piece entitled Why We Must Win ("A visitor quickly learns in conversations with U.S. military personnel that we need to deploy at least another division."). And yesterday columnist Robert Kagan was back banging away in a piece with the blunt headline, Why Iraq Needs More American Troops:

"The little secretÉ is that neither France nor any other of our leading NATO allies has more than a handful of troops to spare for Iraq. France and Germany are tapped out in missions in Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The British and Spanish are tapped out in Iraq. Polish public opinion is already turning against the deployment in IraqÉ The administration's search for a U.N. resolution isn't even aimed at getting European forces but at bringing in the larger forces available from Turkey, India and Pakistan. Never mind whether Turkish and Indian troops in Iraq are really the answer to all our problems in Iraq -- or would instead become part of the problem themselves. The fact is, we may never get themÉ And the French have little interest in passing a U.N. resolution solely to help the Americans get Turkish and Indian troops to relieve the American burden in Iraq."

It sounds to me like an argument against sending anybody at all, but don't tell that to the Post's editorial page -- or Kagan.

By the way, on the disquiet in Poland over their troop commitment to Iraq, which polls indicate the public is firmly against, Daniel Howden of the British Independent has filed a piece indicating that significant Polish casualties could imperil the government. He writes in part:

"The US decision to remain in Najaf and the attack on the supposedly neutral UN headquarters in Baghdad has left many concerned that poorly equipped Polish troops have been put in the firing line by their political leaders. Morale was not helped when standard issue pistols were recalled at the last minute because of persistent jamming and troops were forced to travel to Iraq with older weapons...

After the difficulty it has encountered in finding allies prepared to commit troops to Iraq, the US is talking up Poland's international standingÉ But the flattering words followed intense political pressure that left many in Warsaw feeling there was little choice in following the White House to war. 'You simply don't say "No" to the Americans,' said Bronislaw Komorowski, defence minister in the previous centre-right cabinet that oversaw Poland's entry to Nato in 1999."

Votes of no-confidence: I've noted three recent "votes" no-confidence in American planning of any sort in Iraq -- all involving voting with one's feet, so to speak. Reality has now struck the UN hard, despite understandable brave talk right after the bombing of its mission, about hanging in there. The Associated Press reports:

"The United Nations intends to quickly and drastically reduce its remaining international staff in Iraq because of security concerns after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad and continuing violence, UN officials said. There are about 400 international staff members in the country, including about 110 in Baghdad. But UN officials want to cut the number by nearly 90 per cent to a maximum of 40 to 50 essential international staff, the UN officials said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Meanwhile, in Britain, a recent poll for the tabloid Daily Mirror and a TV station showed that "more than 60 percent of Britons believe their government should be withdrawing its troops from Iraq" (Britons want UK forces out of Iraq). Of course, it's worth remembering that if you lived anywhere in Britain you had access to newspapers (radio and television) that actually covered the events of the last couple of years. You could, if you cared to, make a reasonable assessment of your place in the world. In the British case, though their troops have returned to their former imperial colony, they've done so essentially as sepoys, not conquerors. Still, let's hope that what happening across the Atlantic will, sooner or later, seep through here as well.

Finally, while the Iraqi "governing" council appointed a cabinet yesterday (with L. Paul Bremer as de facto prime minister), the first member of the 25 person "governing" council bailed, according to Rory McCarthy of the Guardian:

"The US-led authority in Iraq suffered its first political fallout from the mounting security crisis yesterday when a senior Iraqi pulled out of the governing council. Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum said he was suspending his membership of the US-appointed council after the devastating car bomb in the holy city of Najaf É The departure of Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum from the governing council represents a setback for US and British diplomats and may yet trigger a wider unravelling of the fragile political process. The 25-member council is intended to be the forerunner of a new Iraqi government, although it has been deadlocked by rivalries and disagreements since it was set up in July."

You would think there might be a message here somewhere for Americans other than send more troops.

The Lost War: All this has not gone completely unnoticed on American op-ed pages. In fact, the single most striking piece written by anyone in the mainstream (or perhaps anywhere else) on the subject is today's column by James Carroll in the Boston Globe, "Facing the Truth About Iraq" in which he writes, in part, "The Bush administration's hubristic foreign policy has been efficiently exposed as based on nothing more than hallucinationÉ.Sooner or later, the United States must admit that it has made a terrible mistake in Iraq, and it must move quickly to undo it. That means the United States must yield not only command of the occupation force, but participation in it. The United States must renounce any claim to power or even influence over Iraq, including Iraqi oilÉ" More troops, he points out, will mean more resistance, not less. The question is: will Americans draw an actual lesson from Vietnam and skip the intervening period of "escalation"? I doubt it, but don't miss the piece included below. It should be read by every American

There have been a couple of other strong pieces on allied subjects recently, including one in the Chicago Sun-Times by columnist, priest and pop novelist Andrew Greeley who comments, "One recalls what Sen. George Aiken said of Vietnam: The best strategy would be to claim victory and go home. The present administration has proven itself very skilled at spinning reality so that truth becomes invisible. Does anyone remember 'compassionate' conservatism? Or ''no nation building'?... Having been clever enough to steal an election, the administration may well be able to pull off an imaginary victory in Iraq."

It's been ages since anyone recalled Senator Aiken's splendid Vietnam-era suggestion, never, of course, taken up by anyone. It's hard sometimes to look bluntly and honestly at a developing disaster. But it's not that hard. It's not exactly astrophysics to recognize that Iraq is acting like anything but a happy province of the New Rome.

The other day, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also shouldered the lost war theme (see below) and in the process suggested that "The agencies of the Bush administration are behaving like high school cliques," a theme taken up on the op-ed page of the same paper by columnist Bob Herbert who suggests in the aptly titled Home Alone that we're in the hands of malicious children and desperately in need of a little "adult supervision."

"We barreled into Iraq with no real thought given to the consequences, and now we've got a tragic mess on our hands. California looks like something out of 'Lord of the Flies,' and yet the person getting the most attention as a candidate to clean up that insane situation is an actor with a history of immature behavior whose cartoonish roles appeal most strongly to children. Maybe he'll shoot the budget deficit. Hasta la vista, baby.

Appalling behavior and appalling policies have become the norm among folks entrusted with the heaviest responsibilities in business and government... We are at a stage now where mature, responsible leadership is more essential than ever. All of the problems that we have ignored until now remain with us. But the money that might have started us on the road to solutions is goneÉ We could use some adult supervision."

I might just add that, having already handed our government over to the half-grown Frat Boys from Hell, maybe we should simply turn things over to real young people who, these days, may be more responsible and care a good deal more about the state of their world than their elders.

Global food crisis (or, let them drink wine): Remember when the Washington Post complained editorially about those whiners in Europe who couldn't take the summer heat? Well, a lot more people may be whining soon, despite the fact that the French wine harvest is said to be magnificent, thanks to the same heat. The British Independent reports:

"This summer's heatwave has drastically cut harvests across Europe, plunging the world into an unprecedented food crisis, startling new official figures show. Separate calculations by two leading institutions monitoring the global harvest show that the scorching weather has severely reduced European grain production, ensuring that the world will not produce enough to feed itself for the fourth year in succession, and plunging stocks to the lowest level on record. And experts predict that the damage to crops will be found to be even greater when the full cost of the heat is known.

They say that, as a result, food prices will rise worldwide, and hunger will increase in the world's poorest countries. And they warn that this is just a foretaste of what will happen as global warming takes holdÉ. The damage has been most severe in Eastern Europe, which is now bringing in its worst wheat crop in three decades."

I wonder, will the Washington Post even notice? Believe me, in the United States, not just the immature but the blind, deaf, and dumb seem to be in charge of the fate of the earth. Perhaps we should give our children one-way passes to another planet.

The general lack of reaction, lack of serious coverage, lack of thought by the media when it comes to the Bush assault on the environment -- we're talking about our only planet after all -- is nothing short of staggering. The Bush war on the earth has been covered largely without passion and one story at a time -- few series, just about no special investigations or significant linkages made.

A rare exception to this has been Bill Moyers, who has been heroic on the subject on his various TV shows in recent years. Now, in an interview with Grist magazine, he puts it all together. A few quotes here can hardly do justice to what he has to say. Do take the time to read it.

"Their god is the market -- every human problem, every human need, will be solved by the market. Their dogma is the literal reading of the creation story in Genesis where humans are to have 'dominionÉ over all the Earth ..." The administration has married that conservative dogma of the religious right to the corporate ethos of profits at any price. And the result is the politics of exploitation with a religious impulse.

Meanwhile... in the last hundred years alone we've lost over 2 billion hectares of forest, our fisheries are collapsing, our coral reefs are dying because of human activity. These are facts. So what are the administration and Congress doing? They're attacking the cornerstones of environmental law: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act]...

Every policy of government that is bad or goes wrong can ultimately be reversed. The environment is the one exception... By the time we all wake up, by the time the media starts doing their job and by the time the public sees what is happening, it may be too late to reverse it..."

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

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