I missed the anti-war rally last weekend. I’d call it a peace rally, but nobody’s really for ‘peace’ anymore; the majority of the country still thinks the war in Afghanistan was justified, and they’re even receptive to bombing Iran. Even the majority of the country who is now against the Iraq war isn’t really against it for the right reasons (as I see them), but because the terrorists are on track to kill up to 4,000 American soldiers by years’ end.
I used to be a big believer in rallies. I remember marching against Newt Gingrich and the “Contract on America” when I was 14. But as I got older and continued my study of politics, I realized that mass protests weren’t as effective as people used to think they were. Sure, if we had a responsive democratic government, there might be an impact, but unfortunately, we Americans live in the worst democracy money can buy.
If you believe in the war, and are able-bodied, the only moral course is to volunteer. At the same time, the only moral course of action for any soldier asked to kill or help kill is desertion. I know these sound like opposing concepts, but see if you can keep them both in your head at the same time while I explain.
Who is responsible for war? Everybody has their favorite culprit—Mel Gibson and his family blames me and mine, conservatives blame foreigners, liberals blame conservatives, charismatic Christians blame the Devil, and so forth.
The War in Iraq, which happened while the whole world was watching, gets pinned on all kinds of people. It’s a terrible chicken-and-egg problem—it’s deceptively easy to blame George W. Bush, because he was nominally in charge of the war. But those who live to delve a bit deeper have unearthed a treasure trove of culprits, from Dick Cheney to Curveball to the Project for a New American Century to Hillary Clinton to Bill Clinton.
There are all kinds of interesting philosophical questions about where the buck stops, because in this case, it isn’t necessarily what you did that caused (or helped cause) the war, but who you were and when you did it. When Hilary and Edwards falsely tied Saddam to Al-Qaeda, it was forgivable in the eyes of the protestors, but when Bush and Cheney did it, it’s totally unforgivable. When Bill Clinton bombed Iraq, it was prudent; when Bush bombs Iraq, it’s genocide, never mind that roughly equal numbers of Iraqi civilians were killed under both presidents. Conversely, when Barack Obama says he was against the war from the beginning, it gets discounted because he wasn’t really in a position to do anything about it as a state senator. And no one will ever really be taken to task for continuing to fund the war even though defunding it is the only way to stop the war legally.
Usually, when it comes to morality, the distinctions are a bit clearer; if you commit act X, you are responsible for its consequences. So, in the end, who is ultimately responsible for war?
The truth is so simple, it hurts. War is the fault of the soldiers. Soldiers on both sides. I figured this out using the “but-for” test, which I learned in a class on the Philosophy of Law; if it hadn’t been for a certain action, the result would never have happened. In the causal chain of events, the but-for test helps you figure out the last moment something (usually an injury of some kind) could have been averted.
As I’ve said before, war is a game cowards play with other people’s lives. Today wars are giant abstract board games, from the view of the commanders. The modern military keeps abstracting commanders further and further from he troops they command, reducing them to marks on a chalkboard or dots on a computer screen; and the politicians who engineer war are even more insulated from the reality of war.
But at the most basic level, war is impossible without soldiers. If there were no combatants, politicians would be revealed for what they are—loudmouthed invalids who would rather see you die in uniform than live up to the ideal of the public trust. Without soldiers, Bush can say anything he wants and have no less capacity to kill people with a word than the next citizen. Without soldiers, elites on both sides are can scream at each other all they want without piling up corpses.
It’s true that war didn’t always work this way; back when organized violence was more of a cottage industry, leaders used to actually lead their troops into battle. I’m reminded of the Genesis song “One for the Vine” which starts:
Fifty thousand men were sent to do the will of one.
His claim was phrased quite simply, though he never voiced it loud,
I am he, the chosen one.
In his name they could slaughter, for his name they could die.
Though many there were believed in him, still more were sure he lied,
But they’ll fight the battle on.
Often people will accuse one another of situational ethics, which means that they view the morality of an act based on its context rather than on principle. War is the ultimate case of situational ethics;murder is wrong unless someone in a uniform tells you to do it. And because the state is telling you to kill, it won’t hold you responsible for that killing—they’ll probably give you a medal for killing enough people. On the other hand, if you get captured by another state, all bets are off and you may be held accountable for the deaths you caused in any number of ways, from being held as a POW to being summarily executed.
As a pacifist and a conscientious objector, I refuse to make a distinction between the battlefield and civilian life, for the simple reason that there is no place on earth exclusively reserved for war. Even if you’re in uniform, you’re still waking through someone else’s town or field or community.
The crux of war is the act of killing. Anyone who demands death but doesn’t do the killing themselves is at best a pansy and at worst a deserter. Call me an AWOL wallflower, but that is the uncompromised truth. This is why, for example, the machismo surrounding 9/11 drives me crazy. Susan Faludi, whose recent book examined the impact of 9/11 on gender in America, The Terror Dream, notes how a search for father-figures and manly men like firefighters and soliders created a new wave of misogynistic backlash against the recent cultural gains of feminism. It always mystified me how an ineffectual preppy like GW Bush was suddenly revered as a strong, manly leader—Laura Bush has literally killed more people than her husband if you look at the world in terms of proximal causes. If the President doesn’t lead the charge up San Juan Hill anymore, what’s the difference if they’re macho or not?
As I’ve mentioned before, putting a woman in charge doesn’t cause peace—just ask Maggie Thatcher or Golda Meir. And neither do apparently limp-wristed men; I have it on good authority that Vladimir Putin, who is killing people left and right, was beaten up and teased by the people he was assigned to intimidate as a KGB agent. Napoleon was short and had gynecomastia. Richard the Lion-Hearted was rumored to be homosexual.
I don’t bring up these examples or characterizations to be sexist or homophobic—on the contrary, I mention these things because this ridiculous fiction that projecting strength will bring about peace (or war) is killing people. Elites play at war because they can, no matter what they look like.
You can’t be a puppet-master without puppets. I can rail about how person X should be killed, but unless I have influence over someone with the means to do so, it doesn’t matter. In the perverse logic of war, killing someone in cold blood based on what they’re wearing isn’t just acceptable, it’s demanded.
I’ve mentioned before that my cause is averting civilian deaths; people with guns can shoot each other in the head for all I care. I know that sounds flip—and most of the people serving in the world’s armed and irregular forces are my generation, in some cases even my former schoolmates. And while that makes it hard to blame the soldiers, it doesn’t lessen their fault. It’s the simplest categorical imperative—if everyone refused to kill, there’d be no way to force them, and no war.
The complement to the willingness to kill for your country is the willingness to die for it (if all you want to do is kill, you’re just a garden—variety sociopath). And so, there will never be peace until the last person willing to die for their country is killed.
We’re constantly admonished to “support the troops,” who in turn are in uniform because they’re “protecting our freedom.” Neither statement makes sense. If you were really supporting the troops, you’d be one; if getting into uniform had anything to do with protecting freedom, you wouldn’t be compelled to kill. Killing Iraqis only makes us less safe, and machismo is hardly a requirement for war-mongering.
To blame the war on the gum-flappers, the elites for whom war is a game, dishonors both the soldier who does the actual dirty work and the conscientious objector for whom killing is abhorrent. At the moment of death, all that truly matters is whose finger was literally on the trigger.
Politicians don’t kill people, guns don’t kill people. Killers kill people. Let the buck stop there and the chips fall where they may.
I know I’ve ragged on Pope Benedict before for being a Nazi, but I do feel compelled to quote his Easter speech yesterday morning:
How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking.
I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.
Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test?
With so much death and destruction going on in the world, you simply can’t get upset about every horrible thing that happens to innocent people—it’s too emotionally exhausting. So people pare down their concerns by giving a shit about a limited amount of people.
Ah, but how to choose? Should you restrict your sympathies to those of the same race, creed, religion? The nation of Quebec or Red Sox Nation? There’s so much to choose from!
Of course, you could privilege all human life equally, without regard to where they’re from or their personal beliefs. But that would make you some kind of monster, declaring that the lives of enemy civilians are worth no less than your country’s soldiers. You’d have to be a real commie pinko secular humanist baby-eating lesbian Wiccan or something! Who could say such things?
Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. —Eugene V. Debs
I know I have my biases; everybody chooses something. I picked armed vs. unarmed—people with guns can shoot each other to death for all I care.
OK, so why am I going on about this? Watch the following clip from the O’Reilly Factor (via Crooks and Liars):
O’Reilly was ready to punch Geraldo Rivera because of all the fatal drunk driving accidents in this country, one of them was committed by an illegal immigrant. I know how he feels—whenever I see people between 15 and 35 responsible for an automobile accident, I’m the first to demand the minimum age for drivers licenses be set at 55—stay alive!
Benedict Anderson, who I seem to write about a lot on this blog, explained how O’Reilly came to this in his 1983 book, Imagined Communities; the idea of ‘countries’—the whole national project that has been going on since 1648—is based on a fabricated concept of nationhood. The nation, said Anderson, is “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them,” Anderson goes on to say that what creates a nation is a national literature, which in this day and age can be said to include TV, films and radio.
So, O’Reilly, if we can tar all illegal immigrants with the actions of one drunken restaurant worker, why stop there? I’ve never seen a demographic profile more dangerous than straight white guys.
What About the Seven Cities of Gold? Phoenix, Tuscon, Las Vegas…
Since today seems to be logical consistency day, let me loosely relate a conversation I had with a conservative-minded family member last week:
Cuz: Possession is nine-tenths of the law!
D. J.: Exactly—that’s why I don’t understand why Americans are so upset about immigration.
Cuz: Because they’re trying to take over the country!
D. J.: Exactly my point. If we took the West from the Indians by force, what’s the problem with somebody else trying to take it from us? I think it’s a question of respect.
D. J.: Sure. They don’t respect the Mexicans because they’re trying to sneak across the border. If they’d come with guns and disease-bearing blankets—Americans would have to respect that.
Jesus Was A Black Man
I don’t really go for Jesus; I’m not really sure he even existed. But I will say that if he was real, Jesus was definitely black. Now, if you do a little research into this theory, you’ll likely end up at some site that will try to convince you that Africans are the real Jews and Jews are actually Europeans. It’s kind of the mirror-image of the theology of the Christian Identity religion. I don’t endorse any of these movements or their theories (I speak a little Aramaic and I know what the Cohen modal haplotype is, so I’m not the best audience).
Facts notwithstanding, I have decided to fully endorse the idea that Jesus was black. Why? I only need one reason:
Because it drives white people crazy.
I started this blog on May 6th, 2003. For the previous few months, basically since I left Montreal, I had been working on a book at a maddeningly slow pace. The title was to be, “The End of the American Century,” and the premise was that in a hundred years or so, history students would have to memorize September 11th, 2001 as the exact date when America’s remarkable period of world dominance ended.
I was writing this around the time of the long march to war in Iraq. It wasn’t apparent to me during the war with Afghanistan that the American century was ending, even though I thought the war was a mistake. But when we declared that we were going into Iraq, I knew it was all over. Bush’s invasion singlehandedly destroyed any chance of a continued Pax Americana. It might be argued that our decline on the world stage was inevitable, that once you’re on top, there’s nowhere to go but down. Unfortunately, this is all idle speculation; we pooched it. We let George W. run this country into the ground just like every business he ever owned.
Elephant recently wrote on his blog (very kindly):
DJ, for the record, you were exactly right about the Iraq war and everyone else was wrong. Now what?
I guess what now is that I have to try to recall exactly what it was I said was going to happen.
I think I said something like,
- Iraq would become a Third World country with little hope of aspiring to return to the Second
- Al-Qaeda would be strengthened and the Arab street would be radicalized
- Arab and world opinion would forever be lost to us and no one would ever accept our diplomatic efforts ever again
- We would be there for a long time
- We would lose our dominance of world affairs
- Our military would be stretched too thin to be wielded as an effective deterrent
- Iran would get nuclear weapons and be emboldened by our failure, as would the rest of our enemies
- If Iraq had retained WMDs, they would hand these off to terrorists.
The conservative critics of the ISG report claim that the group endorses a ‘cut and run’ or ‘chat and run’ defeatism. They claim that above all, withdrawing from Iraq would signal a defeat, a defeat on the magnitude (and perhaps even greater than) the withdrawal from and defeat in Vietnam.
They are correct. But so is the ISG–staying the course only postpones the day of reckoning at ever greater cost. And that’s what the mujahideen are trying to get us to do.
Many people in America don’t understand the mythology of worldwide jihad. Point in case: Afghanistan. Mujahideen believe that it was the ten-year fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (a war often described as the USSR’s Vietnam) that defeated the atheistic Communists and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. I don’t think this is true at all, but it is an important part of their mythology and why they fight. More importantly, it is the reason they wish to continue their fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They believe that they can sap the military and financial strength of the Great Shaitan by keeping US forces in Iraq in their pointless mission. If we stay, we may end up proving them right. If we realize that our war was doomed from the start to devolve into this mess, cut our losses and withdraw, we still have a chance at regaining something.
The war mongerers like to argue that withdrawal from Iraq is a “PR victory” for Al-Qaeda. In fact, the war in Iraq has been nothing but since Day 1; invading a country who had not attacked us proved our mendacity to the world, and things have been going downhill from there.
The US has gotten itself into a situation where it loses by winning; the brutality of our conquest of Falluja and the psy-ops at Abu Ghraib might have constituted some kind of tactical victory for the U.S. forces, but in reality, they were PR victories for jihadism.
Clausewitz said, “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fogginess of US strategy has placed us in an awful fix.
Consider: the cost of maintaining a single U. S. soldier in Iraq is about $13,333 per week ($2 billion / 150,000 troops). How much does an insurgent cost per week? It’s hard to figure, but the median household income in Iraq in 2004 was US$144 (down from US$255 in 2003). So if insurgents are funded by Iran, Saudi Arabia, or oil graft at a rate which provides a median income for their families, we would be spending roughly 1,111 times more per combatant than ‘they’ do.
Clausewitz also said, the best way to attack a powerful enemy is to attack the weakness in their greatest strength. The strength of the U. S. forces is that we have the best funded, best equipped, most advanced, deadliest military in the world. The inherent weakness in this strength is the extraordinary expense and hyper-efficiency of our forces is ill-suited to ‘peace-keeping’ or nation-building or whatever it is we claim to be doing there. On the other hand, the guerillas’ strength is that their costs are relatively low, and they are willing to die in order to cause chaos. Our killing power is worthless if the enemy is not only willing to die, but gains recruits when we kill people wholesale. It’s kind of like trying to peel an orange with a sledgehammer.
If our mission is to preserve order, then we must exert almost total control on the ground, an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, particularly when American troops don’t speak Arabic. What you need to maintain that kind of order is a police force that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the policed, which is the polar opposite of a foreign occupational force. This is the reason why the venture was doomed from the start; we’re using the wrong tools. On the other hand, all the insurgents have to do is cause chaos, which is extraordinarily simple, and cost-effective.
So the solution to all this, as everyone admits, is an Iraqi police force. Now, the Iraqi government’s sustaining military forces are death squads and private armies, who maintain a certain order by targeting violence along ethnic and religious lines. In Clausewitzian terms, their line of attack and goals are narrow enough to be more successful than any U.S. strategy. It’s the same principle that allowed the Taliban to take over from the Afghan bandit kings in the early 1990′s: sure, there’s horrible violence. But it’s discriminate violence, violence that is clearly defined and operates according to a certain logic.
Consider the experience of Rory Stewart, who holds the dubious distinction of being the last British colonial viceroy governor of Iraq. He admits that since he turned over the governance of the southern provinces, relative order has been restored. The highways are safer, corruption is less, and there is a modicum of political instability. The U. S. would literally kill to have Baghdad be this safe.
But these gains are fleeting upon closer examination:
The new order in southern Iraq is, in short, hard to define. It is an improvement on the political exclusion and sadistic inhumanity of Saddam and has a great deal to teach the Sunni areas about prosperity, security and politics. But it is also reactionary, violent, intolerant towards women and religious minorities and uncooperative with the coalition. The new leaders have dark histories and dubious allies; they enforce a narrow social code and ignore the rural areas. Southern Iraq is a democracy but we should not assume that this or any of the other terms which we deploy frequently about Iraq—insurgency, civil society, civil war, police force or even political party— mean what they do in Britain. There have been elections, but the government is not responsive to or respectful of human rights. In many ways it resembles Iran, but it is not governed by clerics. Its militias are not infiltrators, they are an integral element of the elected parties. The new government is oppressive, but has a popular mandate; it is supported by illegal militias, but it has improved security.
This is not the kind of state the coalition had hoped to create. During 14 months of direct rule, until the middle of last year, we tried to prevent it from emerging. We refused to allow Shari’a law to be “the source of legislation” in the constitution. We invested in religious minorities and women’s centres; supported rural areas and tribal groups; funded NGOs and created “representative bodies” that were intended to reflect a vision of Iraq as a tolerant, modern society. We hoped that we had created the opportunity for civil society to flourish. This was a dream we shared with many Iraqis. We refused to deal with the Sadr militia and fought a long counter- insurgency campaign against them. Then we left, an election was held and the dream collapsed—the Islamist parties took almost all the seats provincially and nationally. The rural sheikhs, the “liberal” middle classes and the religious minorities mostly vanished from the government.
In fighting the supposed aspirants to a global caliphate, we have engendered “democratic Islamofascism” in Iraq in the mold of the Iranian revolution. Not that is merely the consequence of the latest Iraq war, mind you. Our whole foreign policy has been defined by propping up corrupt secular dictators or absolutist monarchies in the name of strategic thinking. In arming and supporting Saddam, the house of Saud, and the Egyptian pseudo-presidency, we made secular government synonymous with corruption and repression.
In Iraq as in Afghanistan, the people look for moral authority where there is a moral vacuum at the top. The Afghan people, for example, were never terribly religious until the invasion of the atheist USSR. The rise of Islamism in the Persian Gulf was aided by our decision to put our thumb on the scales of justice in favor of despots like Saddam or the Shah of Iran. Now the secular Iraqi middle class is fleeing, and I can’t blame them.
We have tragically lowered the standard for governance in Iraq. What may appear to the Iraqis as somewhat better than Saddam is worse for both Iraqis and Americans. I am not arguing that we put Saddam back into power, or stage a coup, or further intervene in Iraqi politics. We have no credibility in this. We are going to have to let Iraqis sort this out for themselves, the way we should have done before we started arming Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. The folly of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “double standard” is manifest, but somehow I don’t think the neo-conservatives will be able to admit it.
To me, it was always clear that our mission would be a colossal disaster on the scale of Vietnam or Afghanistan. Not only is the presence of our troops causing unrest, but they are not ina position to make anythin better. All they can do is shoot people, threaten to shoot people, or build things the Iraqis should be building (if not for the sake of their economy, then for the sake of national pride and institution-building). We could be giving Iraq money, but instead we’d rather give them flaming death, which is pretty expensive anyway.
Now the war hawks have decided that the best way to acknowledge our failure is to send more American troops to kill or be killed. The only option is for the Democrats to have the guts to cut this war budget off at the knees. Iraq is as lost to us as it ever was.
Less than a week from the mid-term elections and I’m starting to get worried that either a) the Democrats will lose, and b) the Democrats will win.
Don’t Count Your Chicken-hawks Before They Hatch
Smart people have a problem. They’re outnumbered by idiots. This is not necessarily meant as a jibe against either party, you understand, but more of a general observation about elite bureaucrats in a representative democracy. Policy is complicated, and simple solutions are easily appealing to the unsophisticated. So the more constituents your average Congressperson meets, the more likely they are to try and dumb things down for their audience. Even worse, there’s no room for nuance when you’re voting for legislation–there’s no such thing as a “qualified yea” or “nay in principle.”
Now we come to the Democratic party, composed of people no more intelligent or uncorruptible than the Republicans, in theory. They’ve had a hell of a time trying to rhetorically outmaneuver the Republican party, beside whom they are terribly afraid of looking like pussies, for lack of a less direct term. The Republicans will say bomb this or that, and Democrats end up looking inert by comparison, if they protest at all. Republicans seem to want to confront problems with brute force, as if the strength of conviction in dealing with something is the same as showing insight or forethought in policy.
Now, I hate to (kind of) side with Ann Coulter against the American Prospect, but I recently found two columns which show why the Democratic party is a poor substitute for the war-mongering stooges who currently control our government. Quoth Robert Farley, on Tapped:
Does the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan hold up in retrospect, or have our difficulties there belied the wisdom of this war in the same way the disastrous occupation of Iraq has underscored the folly of that one? I think that, on balance, the United States was correct to invade Afghanistan, and that progressives were by and large correct to support the invasion.
Farley then goes on to quote all kinds of eminently reasonable justifications for destroying Afghanistan inthe name of democracy and human rights and, above all, the American people. As my boss Danny Schechter points out, the inhabitants of the brown-peopled invasion target du jour don’t really matter to Americans debating foreign policy.
Farley ends up arguing that even though we all knew it was Resident Bush who was going to lead the invasion of Afghanistan and not, as some seemed to want to believe, Captain America and the Justice League, it was still a noble mistake, to steal a phrase from reality’s newest resident, Jonah Goldberg.
Goldberg, by the way, has come up with a solution to the Gordian knot of the American occupation that isn’t half bad; he says there should be a simple plebiscite of Iraqis as to whether or not the U.S. should continue the occupation, and if, as the polls suggest, they want us to leave, we should. Of course, the Iraqi “government” would never hold such a plebiscite, because it retains a nominal hold on power supported only by foreign troops. As we used to say in my political science classes, the country belongs ot whomever holds the ground; the Iraqi government, and even the Iraqi police (death squads and all) can only continue to exist as a banana republic so long as the Coalition military forces protect Baghdad. Everywhere else is falling under the control of decentralized militias, the hallmark of a failed state.
As awful as the occupation is, it is clear that pullout of any kind would leave the country to Iraqis of various militia and death squad affiliations. It’s unclear whether or not a multicultural Iraq could be sustained. Equally uncertain, at least among the elites who pretend to debate this stuff, is whether our presence or withdrawal is capable of reducing the violence. No wonder Democrats are in a moral fog. Apparently, if you want moral clarity, you’d do better to go to “Ms.” Coulter:
If Bush had gone to war with Iraq immediately after 9/11 and waited to attack Afghanistan, Democrats would now be pretending to support the Iraq war while pointlessly carping about Afghanistan. Afghanistan didn’t attack us on 9/11! The Taliban didn’t attack us! What’s our exit strategy? How do you define “victory” in Afghanistan, anyway? It’s a quagmire — aahhhhh! …
The first time liberals had a kind word for the war in Afghanistan was when they needed to pretend to support some war in order to attack the war in Iraq with greater vigor. To get them to support the Iraq war, all we have to do is attack Iran.
Sometimes I envy people whose internal logic is so self-righting it doesn’t need to consider consequences of actions, just bloodlust. I figure Coulter would support bombing any non-Christian country no matter what. At any rate, she’s free to point out liberal hypocrisy when it rears its ugly head, even if she’s a fraudulent plagiarist.
For me, there is a true north, and his name is Immanuel Wallerstein. Well, he’s not fooled by all the horseshit flying around:
Worst of all, they seem to believe that, merely by purging the element of exaggerated unilateralism practiced by the current regime, they will be able to restore the United States to a position of centrality in the world-system, and regain the support of their erstwhile allies and supporters, first of all in western Europe and then everywhere else in the world. They seem really to believe that it’s a matter of form, not substance, and that the fault of the Bush regime is that it wasn’t good enough at diplomacy. It’s true that not all Democrats feel that way, and indeed for that matter not all Republicans and independents. But at this moment, those who are ready to take a real look at the fallacies of U.S. policies are a minority – furthermore, a minority without a clear agenda themselves and certainly without a major political leader to express an alternate view.
But because the war in Iraq is so vastly unpopular and the Democrats (the majority of whom voted for the war anyway) may well coast back into power despite not having a coherent plan to end it.
Last weekend, I watched an amazing spectacle: a debate on Meet The Press between Maryland’s senatorial candidates, Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Michael Steele. This debate was aparently broadcast live from Bizarristan, because Steele was trying to outflank Cardin on the left on Iraq. I suppose it’s the only thing to do when you’re running against one of the few Democrats who had the brains to vote against the war in the first place. Cardin wants to rotate all combat troops out of Iraq by 2008 in what he calls an “immediate drawdown” of forces. But wait! Steele claims he’s for immediate withdrawal, and he’s the only Republican to do so as far as I know. This is brilliant, because he knows he’s totally covered by his Republican colleagues, who would never agree to such a thing. Watching Steele try and squirm his way out of the Republican party platform was excruciatingly entertaining.
The political posturing will continue on both sides, but in the meantime there is no good way out of Iraq–and everybody knows it. Bush’s rhetorical strategy of defining victory as continued engagement smacks of desperation, as if he were bombing a sales presentation but begging for just a few more minutes to continue making his failed case for the client.
So, everyone will backpedal furiously to beat the devil, and deaths will continue unabated. C’est la guerre. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Follow The Money Down The Drain
One of the most brutal rhetorical debates about Iraq is whether or not the country is currently involved in a civil war or not. I say “brutal” because the country is in the middle of a civil war, and those who try to whitewash this reality seem do so only for their own political gain. Here we’re talking about the Iraqi and American governments and their apologists.
If you ask most political scientists what causes civil wars, you get two answers: ethnic or tribal fragmentation within a state, and poverty. A corrupt government and well-financed guerilla movements help things along. Stanford political scientists Fearon and Laitin put out a thesis recently that said poverty is really the best indicator, as richer multi-ethnic countries generaly avoid civil wars, while those scrambling for resources tend to cleave their societies along tribal lines.
Iraq clearly qualifies as ethnically fragmented (andis becoming more so by the day [along religious lines]), but what about the poverty?
Much has been said about Iraq’s slide into “anarchy.” A recently declassified CENTCOM briefing confirmed that within the military, they aren’t pussyfooting around the realization that Iraq is in “chaos” (whatever you do, don’t call it civil war–we prefer “spontaneous mass civil conflict”). From the New York Times expose:
In evaluating the prospects for all-out civil strife, the command concentrates on “key reads,” or several principal variables. According to the slide from the Oct. 18 briefing, the variables include “hostile rhetoric” by political and religious leaders, which can be measured by listening to sermons at mosques and to important Shiite and Sunni leaders, and the amount of influence that moderate political and religious figures have over the population. The other main variables are assassinations and other especially provocative sectarian attacks, as well as “spontaneous mass civil conflict.”
A number of secondary indicators are also taken into account, including activity by militias, problems with ineffective police, the ability of Iraqi officials to govern effectively, the number of civilians who have been forced to move by sectarian violence, the willingness of Iraqi security forces to follow orders, and the degree to which the Iraqi Kurds are pressing for independence from the central government.
These factors are evaluated to create the index of civil strife, which has registered a steady worsening for months. “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side,” said a Central Command official who asked not to be identified because he was talking about classified information.
Ever since the White House started denying Iraq was in the midst of civil war, I’ve been wantig to ask them what their metrics were–that is, if they were in a civil war, how would we know? It’s nice that at least someone in the military is keeping an eye on things with actual measurements, because science says if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist.
So we have symptoms of civil war, but a complete avoidance of diagnosing the actual disease itself. Conservatives seem to think the underlying cause is either Al-Qaeda (if they’re still committed to the mission) or that Arabs are intrinsically anti-democratic (if they’ve given up in despair).
But nobody wants to admit that what is fueling civil war is the impoverishment of Iraq. Let me be clear about this, becuase the reduction of Iraq to pauperism is a project that the United States has been working on for quite some time.
First there was the embargo following what we called “Operation Desert Storm.” It is generally acknowledged that the embargo killed over one and a hlf million Iraqis, one million of them born after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. When Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked about the horrific casualties, she said, “it’s worth it”–ostensibly because starving the country was supposed to foment a civil war against Saddam.
After several years of scattered bombings and no-fly zones, an Oil-for-Food program was devised by the United Nations as a way of alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people, but of course it ended up enriching the coffers of Saddam and once again subsidizing his reign of terror over the populace who could now afford to eat, at least.
But when Bush invaded in 2003, we totally wiped out the Ba’ath state and the Iraqi economy. We destroyed infrastructure, schools, hospitals, aid offices, homes, businesses and the like. We irradiated every city with radioactive depleted uranium munitions. We seized the oil fields and shipping lanes.
The Oil-for-Food program had nothing on the Coalition Provisional Authority when it came to corruption. Not only did the CPA seize Iraq’s oil wealth (Iraq, which sits on the world’s second largest oil reserves, was actually importing oil from Kuwait during the CPA’s reign), but it carried out a massive kleptocratic campaign to the tune of $8.8 billion dollars which has never and will never be accounted for. Even now, The Big Four — Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell are poised to take control of Iraq’s oil fields, spiriting away the money that might be used for reconstruction if the America wasn’t so hell-bent on making Iraq a third-world country with first-world resources. It makes a certain kind of sense–we trust Western oil companies a hell of a lot more than we trust any Muslim, and that’s what Bush keeps hinting at when he warns of a terrorist state with unlimited access to oil money.
But the CPA is hardly the only war profiteer exporting Iraq’s natural resourses. Recently it was discovered that the Iraqi military seems to be running an arms trade on the side, stealing $8 million in U.S.-supplied weapons intended for the security of the country. And then there’s the military contractors.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Iraq project entails the world’s largest corporate fraud operation. Scottish criminologist Dave Whyte says the “scale and intensity of the corruption and fraud perpetrated by the occupation is unprecedented in modern history.
The occupation and its business partners in crime aren’t just stealing money from the Iraqis; they’re stealing money from the occupying countries’ taxpayers. The occupation is basically a huge financial sinkhole for Iraq and everyone else. The Iraqi government is both racketeering victim and embezzler; on the one hand they’re being charged what amounts to protection money from oil revenues by occupying forces, while at the same time they’re skimming off the top to fund death squads among other sordid ventures.
When people are impoverished, when they are fighting each other over scraps, civil wars break out. The destruction of Iraq, which everyone saw coming, had one natural consequence, only we can’t bring ourselves to admit it. Congress recently decided, by the way, to close down the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, as a reward to the auditor who is constantly uncovering contractor fraud and corruption in our “reconstruction effort.” This craven act shows above all why the United States is incapable of helping Iraq out of the chaos we have caused there.
Bush’s October 6th speech at the National Endowment for Democracy was so close to self-parody that for once, Bush’s smirks were actually humorous. It was like a Friar’s Club Speech, if the friars were experts on Middle East affairs.
The theme of this speech is the comparison (more precisely, the equation) of Islamist terrorism to Communism. Way to set up your upcoming ‘we will stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan’ speech where you ask for more money for the war effort. Hey, if you think about it, every billion in mysteriously ‘lost’ funds to contractors like Halliburton is a billion the taxpayers don’t have to spend on education! Everybody wins!
A small aside to those intrepid “Porkbusters” who want to cut various services in lieu of reversing tax cuts for the wealthy to pay for Katrina aid: How about the 9 billion Bremer lost in Iraq’s oil funds which could have helped the reconstruction effort in a time of dire need? Or at least helped to foot the burgeoning war bill? Can we go after government contractors who are constatly misapproriating funds, like Halliburton? I mean, it’s only a billion dollars here and there, but maybe that could pay some of the reconstruction costs. Just a shot in the dark there, especially considering how KBR just got a bunch of contracts to protect New Orlans militia-style. The future of warfare is truly the mercenary army; if they weren’t so damn expensive everyone would have them. Sometimes I wonder; if every GI were being paid as much as the government-contractor private security armies in Iraq, would we have been so quick to rush to war? Could the market pressure of occupation be a force for peace? Not likely, as we keep paying assloads of money to be in Iraq all the time, but it does kind of make you wonder about ‘business conservatives’ who might apply a cost/benefit analysis to the Iraq war.
Anyway, here’s the first half of the speech–I’ve been really busy lately and working on this piece since the 7th. The rest will have to come later, sorry. I swear I’m not consciously invoking Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance. However, while we’re at it, I would like people to think that when, say, I don’t post for a week, that in the words of Kibo’s brilliant FAQ:
KIBO HASN’T POSTED ANYTHING FOR TWO DAYS. IS HE DEAD? No, he’s just busy writing a carefully-crafted one-line posting which says “DOIDY. DOIDY. DOIDY. DOIDY.” only a million times better ’cause it’s taking him days to write it.
Back to our the terrorism speech. There’s a theme Bush develops in his speech, although he doesn’t do it consciously. What he’s really decrying are the beliefs, the ideology of radical Islamists. But as for their goals… well, you’ll see. At any rate, it shows you something about how the neocon moral system works: it’s wrong if they do it, but not if we do it. But more importantly, might makes right. We have the means to pursue global hegemony, and by God, we’re going to do it. Even if it means costly military engagements, or war crimes, or anything else we have to do
.Seriously, if you want to have a serious discussion about ideology with the Arab world, don’t send the great theologian George Bush. Send someone ‘sensitive,’ like a chick. Maybe send PR queen Karen Hughes, they love that shit over there. And the worst thing you can do is to quote the other guy’s brutality as evidence of their evil aims–you don’t even mention our brutalities. Didn’t you want to make the argument that their war crimes justifies ours, like you do in US courts? It just makes the choice for Iraqis and Arabs around the world more muddled; our hypocrisy doesn’t help us in the slightest. The news media around the world aren’t under Bush’s thumbs they way they are here.
So, the speech. Our illustrious presdient–who has previously said, mind you, that he gets his news from the most objective people he knows (his staff), said (emphases mine, of course):
All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness; innocent men and women and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.
When 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple — the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion.
Way to set ourselves on the moral high ground! I think he just called our troops murderers. Because I can think of a few examples (check this page for a complete accounting of internationally reported deaths).
Coalition forces have killed the following civilians (and these are only a few examples excluding those killed in crossfire with insurgents): a family in car driving too close to US convoy (Karbala, Sep 2005); 56 people in ‘suspected safe-houses’ (Husayba, Karbala, Qaim area, Aug 2005); 9-15 people, including 3 or 4 children outside a mosque (August 2005); 12 bricklayers from Abu Ghraib, who suffocated in a police van (July 2005); TV producer Ahmad Wail Bakri, Maha Ibrahim, a local television news editor, and an unnamed Iraqi news reporter (Baghdad, June 2005); a family of six, including 4 children (Hit, 6 May 2005), 14 people killed by laser-guided bomb targeting the wrong house (8 January 2005); A family of 4 in a taxi near Abu Ghraib (23 Dec 2004); 20 people–demolishing four houses by air raid, 1 child playing soccer–and eight of his friends (al-Fakhirya and Abu Ghraib, September 2004); countless civilians in the destruction of Fallujah: “Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English! They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and shot people because they didn’t obey their orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English. Ninety-five percent of the people killed in the houses that I saw were killed because they couldn’t speak English” (November, 2004); another family of 6 with four children in an air strike (Fallujah, October 2004); at least 30 people in air raids on (Fallujah September 2004); up to 84 people in air strikes (Al-Sharkia, Kut, August 2004); 15 people in an air strike on a suspected safe-house (Shuhada, Fallujah July 2004); 29 people during air-strikes of suspected Zarqawi hideouts (Fallujah, June 2004); 9 people in air strikes (Karbala, May 2004); 42 people at a wedding party by air strike (Makr-al-Deeb, May 2004); 9-15 people by gunfire, including ABC cameraman and 3 children (Fallujah, March 2004); 2 people in a station wagon including a 10-year old (Baghdad, January, 2004); 4 people in a taxi by heavy-calibre machine gun fire (near Tikrit, January 2004); 4 policemen, 5 demonstrators, 1 vegetable seller, and one “70-year-old man ‘died of fright, apparently a heart attack’ when U.S. troops put a bag over his head in preparation to detain him’” (Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, Sleiman Beg, December 2003); 3 people at a market by “gunfire from passing armoured vehicles,” possibly testing recently purchased guns (Sadr City, Nov 2003); 6 people by gunfire at an “unnanounced U.S. checkpoint” (north of Basra, August 2003); 7 people by gunfire during the hunt for Saddam Hussein and family, including 14-year old son of Qusay (Baghdad, July 2003); 1 child run over by U.S. convoy (Basra highway, June 2003); 1 child run over by U.S. convoy (Ramadi, May 2003); 85 people in air strikes (Rashidiya, April 2003); 78 people in coalition bombings (Hillah and surroundings, March 2003); 1,473-2,000 people who ended up in 19 Baghdad hospitals (20 March-09 April 2003); 2 people in aerial bombardment of a children’s hospital (Rutbah, March 2003); 201 people in the aerial bombing of Baghdad’s General Hospital “incl. consequent loss of electricity” (March 2003); 226 in air raids over Nassiriya (March 2003); 22 in air attacks and cluster bombs (Manaria, Talkana and Zambrania villages, Mohammedia district, March 2003); 2 people in the Palestine Hotel by tank fire (Baghdad, April 2003); 5 people in a Red Crescent Maternity Hospital (Baghdad, March 2003); 22 people in the vicintiy of Khurmal by air strikes and bombardment (March 2003); 5 people in a Syrian passenger bus by air-to-surface missile (Al-Rutbah, March 2003).
The list literally goes on and on, but you have to remember, these people are less dead than those killed by insurgents. Therefore they have less power to sway Iraqis to the Dark Side, q.e.d.
Many militants are part of global, borderless terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, which spreads propaganda, and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like September the 11th.
If only they would incorporate in Delaware (or Bermuda), they’d be under the aegis of a multinational corporation–then they could act with impunity! Al-Qaeda’s real problem is they haven’t fully realized the benefits of Westernization–they get the Internet and cell phones but haven’t quite figured out corporate structuring. Wait until they discover outsourcing.
The militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments.
Why bother using a vacuum created by an American retreat when the one caused by the American presence is working so well for them? Iraqis are embracing radical Islam because the U.S. is fighting so hard against it–the enemy of my enemy is my friend-type thinking. It doesn’t help that our hypocrisy and deceit are so bold-faced. And the fact that the whole world is watching means that insurgents and Al-Qaedaists are coming from “bases” all around the world, including terrorist strongholds like Britain and Jamaica.
Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and Jordan for potential takeover. They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan. Now they’ve set their sights on Iraq. Bin Laden has stated: “The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries. It’s either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.” The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.
Does Bush even realize the bin Laden quote he uses disproves his (much earlier) point about Saddam being in league with the terrorists? It is precisely the chaos caused by America’s invasion which makes Iraq such a tempting target for Islamofascism. Having rebooted Afghanistan’s cycle of violence, we decided to bring a new terrorist training ground online in the most visible failure of our understanding of global political realities to date.
Third, the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region,
Cold war references complete with domino theory! Of course, the neoconservatives who launched this war have been advocating “democratic domino theory” so that presumably we can rally the Muslim masses to overthrow their ‘moderate’ governments…
and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.
Good thing we delivered all those weapons and fresh recruits to the terrorists, because otherwise they might actually have to shop around for a state to support them. You know, besides Iran.
As Zarqawi has vowed, “We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life.” And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history. Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously — and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.
You know, for a second there I thought he was quoting Zarqawi as an inspiration. Bush, are you burdened by conscience?
Defeating the militant network is difficult, because it thrives, like a parasite, on the suffering and frustration of others.
On the other hand, the job of America seems to be provide, or at least exacerbate, this nourishing suffering and frustration, so that we can continue to fight the terrorists abroad and not at home.
The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution. They exploit resentful and disillusioned young men and women, recruiting them through radical mosques as the pawns of terror. And they exploit modern technology to multiply their destructive power.
Except for the radical mosques, this is a farily accurate description of our military recruiters’ job. In fact, it’s a pretty accurate description of our military. I mean, I can’t even tell the difference between them any more…
Instead of attending faraway training camps, recruits can now access online training libraries to learn how to build a roadside bomb, or fire a rocket-propelled grenade — and this further spreads the threat of violence, even within peaceful democratic societies.
…oh, right, al-Qaeda has a more cost-effective basic training program.
Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals.
Some of these so called “experts” have even infiltrated the CIA.
I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 — and al Qaeda attacked us anyway.
The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse.
Master of logic! Behold, an excerpt from bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa establishing The Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders where he lists those unaddressable grievances:
First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless. Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million… despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.
Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.
So, not only are their grievances mostly about America’s foreign policy before the Iraqi war, it’s also about the embargo of Iraq which, all will agree, killed at least a million civilians. Call it a “conspicuous abscence” from Iraq, then.
The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan.
It’s called Chechnya, numbnuts. You have to be banking on a pretty ignorant public to hope this line resonates. Talk about bald-faced bullshit.
Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence — the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers — and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.
Good thing all we want to do is impoverish whole nations and intimidate the world (“you’re either with us or against us”). Also, we are totally blameless, because all this is is a bunch of wackos in some cave somewhere with weird stories about “the Muslim world’s unhappy collision with the modern West. Triumphant for a thousand years, Muslims have now witnessed three-hundred years of unrelenting defeat… the Arab Middle East easily takes solace in a ruthless despot who can intimidate America.
“Ooops, that wasn’t bin Laden, it was Reuel Marc Gerecht in The Weekly Standard (May 14, 2001). My mistake.
On the contrary: They target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence.
And that’s just wrong. Unless we do it, because we’re on a mission from God.
Our enemy is utterly committed.
Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)
He better hope there aren’t any impressionable young Muslims listening.
The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century. Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, quote, “what is good for them and what is not.” And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers. He assures them that his — that this is the road to paradise — though he never offers to go along for the ride.
The strain of comparisons to Communism aside, bin Laden has always vowed he will never be captured alive. But then again, even money says he’s already dead.
Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision. And this explains their cold-blooded contempt for human life.
Remember Secretary Albright’s response when she was asked about the million Iraqis killed by the embargo? She said, “It’s worth it.” And we’re not even talking about casualties from air strikes.
These militants are not just the enemies of America, or the enemies of Iraq, they are the enemies of Islam and the enemies of humanity. (Applause.)
I’m going to take a small break from humorously skewering our sneering dunce of a President to agree with the above statement. Anyone who kills civilians is the enemy of humanity, whether those civilians are American or Iraqi. The insurgents, terrified and frustrated with the U.S. occupation, have chosen the worst possible response to their predicament, to kill innocents and destabilize their country in the name of god-knows-what. But the alternative isn’t all that appetizing, either:
We have seen this kind of shameless cruelty before, in the heartless zealotry that led to the gulags,
Hey, look, he worked in a Guantanamo reference. Very classy.
I’m going to stop here and pick this up again, but I leave you with one more tibdit:
Its leaders pretend to be an aggrieved party, representing the powerless against imperial enemies. In truth they have endless ambitions of imperial domination, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, and to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul, itself. While promising a future of justice and holiness, the terrorists are preparing for a future of oppression and misery.