Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

US Diary: oy, the humongous f-up of the Iraq War

1. Iraq Was Lost Before We Started -- by Mark LeVine

Casablanca, Morocco --The new allegations that US marines killed at least fifteen Iraqi civilians is increasing the fear among Americans that we have "lost" Iraq. If the video of blood soaked bedrooms and screaming children continue to headline al-Jazeera, it's hard to imagine how much longer the United States can "stay the course," as President bush continually urges his fellow Americans to do, whether in Iraq or the larger war on terror.

But as I sit in my hotel bar in Casablanca watching a melange of Arab vacationers fume at this latest, profoundly disturbing event, I can't help shaking my head at the debates about "whether" the killings will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. The Iraqi Prime Minister might have finally awakened to the fact that US soldiers "daily kill Iraqi civilians," but this is not news to his countrymen and women. In fact, it was clear to me during my visit to Iraq over two years ago, at the first anniversary of the invasion, that we had already lost Iraq--in fact, gave it away--almost as soon as we arrived, precisely because of the systematic and brutal violence we had unleashed in the country, and the utter lack of concern for the people of the country and their property it reflected.

This was not what I had hoped to see when I decided to visit the country. While I opposed the invasion, I went to Baghdad hoping to hear stories of rebirth mixed with anger at the atrocities committed by the former regime. But instead of hearing Iraqis recount Hussein's horrors, seemingly every Iraqi I met had a story to tell about a relative injured, jailed, or killed by US forces, almost all for no legitimate reason.

Some bordered on the comical, as when soldiers broke into several houses searching for a teenager whose cell phone conversations with a friend about taking a video game they were playing "to the next level" were intercepted and mistaken for insurgents planning a new offensive. Others were much more tragic, such as the elderly Iraqi lawyer whose son, an engineer fluent in English and several other languages, was shot dead by US Soldiers at a check point for supposedly not responding to an order to stop.

And Iraqis were already talking about Abu Ghraib; not because of Saddam's atrocities, but rather because of what everyone knew US personnel were routinely doing to Iraqis, there and in a dozen other detention facilities around the country. As for Falluja, as he cowered in the back of my friend's car during a trip through the city's infamous main street, he reminded me that the town was not always an insurgent strong-hold. In fact, it had resisted attempts by the insurgents to make it a base until US forces fired on unarmed protesters, killing over a dozen for no other reason than exercising the freedom of assembly that the US ostensibly invaded Iraq to bring them.

As for the economic and political "rebirth" President Bush promised Americans and Iraqis alike, the corruption at the core of the occupation administration made economic recovery, let alone political development, impossible to imagine by the invasion's first anniversary. As one senior Iraqi official confided to me, "this has become just like in Saddam's time, only with different faces."

If the situation I am describing was already clear to me in early 2004, it was surely clear to American officials. Perhaps if they'd paid closer attention--or more likely, if they actually thought they represented a problem (many Iraqis saw the chaos as at least partially sponsored by the US to ensure our continued presence in and power over the country), our involvement in Iraq could have been turned around. But they didn't, and the situation become worse by the day.

The disaster of Iraq can teach Americans, if not the Bush Administration, two things if we're willing to listen: First, with few historical exceptions (and Iraq isn't one of them), there is no such thing as a benign occupation. The violence, money and corruption that lurk behind every act of war and occupation make any such outcome impossible. Second, and perhaps more troubling, is that as long as American foreign policy is based upon strategic interests that are seen to conflict with the majority of the world's other inhabitants, more Iraqs and a long and bloody war on terror are inevitable.

Indeed, I write these lines in the safe house of a Moroccan acquaintance, a religious democracy activist currently under threat of arrest from the secret police, who've just begun another round of arrests of young people who criticize the government. This in a country that is continuously lauded by the US as a model of moderation and even movement towards democracy. As one of the country's foremost musicians explained to me, this is perhaps the greatest legacy of President Bush's push for a so-called New Middle East. "Bush stole the word democracy, and now the right wing and Islamists say to us, 'Look at what democracy means, is that what you want?' What can we say, especially when the monarchy is so close to your government?"

Americans had better take control of our foreign policy soon, because if the situation across the Middle East continues to deteriorate, Osama bin Laden will be the least of our problems. And it won't just be President Bush's fault, it will be all of ours.

(Mark LeVine is a Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Irvine. He is the author of the forthcoming; Heavy Metal Islam; Verso/Random House. Email to: Visit:

2. Stop the Beast -- by Marjorie Cohn

“To date, the Iraq War represents the fullest and most relentless application of the Bush Agenda. The 'freer and safer world' envisioned by Bush and his administration is ultimately one of an ever-expanding American empire driven forward by the growing powers of the nation's largest multinational corporations and unrivaled military.” --Antonia Juhasz, The Bu$h Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time

In an annual security conference on Saturday, Donald Rumsfeld assured the audience, "We don't intend to occupy [Iraq] for any period of time. Our troops would like to go home and they will go home."

Why, then, would the United States be building an enormous embassy in Baghdad and a base so large it eclipses Kosovo's Camp Bondsteel, which had been the largest foreign US military base built since Vietnam?

The new embassy, which occupies a space two-thirds the area of the national mall in Washington DC, comprises 21 buildings that will house over 8,000 government officials. It has a huge pool, gym, theater, beauty salon, school, and six apartment buildings.

The gargantuan military base, Camp Anaconda, occupies 15 square miles of Iraqi soil near Balad. The base is home to 20,000 soldiers and thousands of "contractors," or mercenaries. The aircraft runway at Anaconda is the second busiest in the world, behind only Chicago's O'Hare airport. And, depending on which report you read, between six and fourteen more US military bases are under construction in Iraq. It doesn't appear we'll be leaving anytime soon - or anytime, really.

Bush's trumped-up war on Iraq has claimed nearly 2,500 US military lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Thousands of US soldiers suffer in military hospitals, most with head injuries, many missing limbs. Thousands more have PTSD. Our economy is in shambles from the war and Bush's tax-cuts-for-the-rich. And America's moral standing in the world continues to plummet.

So, with all the construction activity in Iraq, and with an overextended military and an under funded budget, how could the Bush administration possibly consider expanding the fight and attacking Iran? Logic and reason say it couldn't happen and shouldn't happen. But this administration has rarely paid much heed to logic and reason.

The plan to attack Iran has long been in the works. Bush gave us a preview in January 2002 when he inaugurated it into his "axis of evil." His 2006 National Military Strategy says, "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." On Saturday, Donald Rumsfeld called Iran the world's leading terrorist nation. Does any of this have a familiar ring to it?

To understand why the US may attack Iran, one must consider the underlying motive of US militarism. The recent US strategy is calculated to maintain economic, political and military hegemony over oil-rich areas of the world. A 1992 draft of the Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance on post Cold War Strategy that was leaked to the New York Times said, "Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in [the Middle East and Southwest Asia to] preserve US and Western access to the region's oil."

Truthout writer Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who spent eight months in occupied Iraq, told a gathering at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Friday that the US has been conducting ongoing special operations inside Iran. He cited unmanned surveillance drones flying over Iran. Jamail predicts Bush will invade Iran before the November election.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern agrees with Jamail's prediction, but thinks it will happen in June or July. "There is already one carrier task force there in the Gulf, two are steaming toward it at the last report I have at least - they will be there in another week or so," McGovern said on the Alex Jones Show.

Team Bush is following the same game plan used in the run-up to Iraq - hyping a threat that doesn't exist and going through the motions of diplomacy.

Bush & Co. are not motivated by rationality. They act in the interests of the huge corporations, at the expense of humanity. During the Bush years, oil companies have earned record profits. Dick Cheney's Halliburton has landed many of the juiciest contracts in Iraq. New Iraqi laws that US ambassador Paul Bremer put in place lock in significant advantages for US corporations in Iraq, including corporate control of Iraq's oil.

Neoconservative Thomas Friedman, in a March 1999 New York Times article illustrated by an American flag on a fist, accurately summed up US foreign policy:

"For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is ... The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist - McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

As long as we allow our government to pursue this strategy, Abu Ghraibs and Hadithas will continue to emerge, our soldiers and thousands of people in other countries will continue to die, and our economy will continue toward bankruptcy. It is up to us to stop the beast - now!

(Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for truthout.)

3. Supporting Our Troops Over a Cliff -- by Frank Rich

The sunlight was brilliant in New York City on Memorial Day weekend, and the sailors deposited in town by Fleet Week looked brilliant in it. Nothing, including the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Haditha, has shaken American affection for the troops. Nothing should. These men and women go to war so we can party on. Since 9/11, our government has asked no sacrifice of civilians other than longer waits at airline security. We've even been rewarded with a prize that past generations would have found as jaw-dropping as space travel: a wartime dividend in the form of tax cuts.

"It shocked me that the country was not mobilized for war," said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who retired after his stint as a commander in Iraq and became an outspoken critic of Donald Rumsfeld. He told The Wall Street Journal that "it was almost surreal" that the only time some Americans "think about the war is when they decide what color magnet ribbon to put on the back of their car."

Should we feel guilty? Yes. The sunshine of last weekend, splendid as it was for a cookout, could not eradicate the dark reality that we keep sending our troops into a quagmire. At Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, the president read a poignant letter that First Lt. Mark Dooley, killed by a bomb last September in Ramadi, wrote to his parents. What Mr. Bush did not say was that now, nine months later, insurgents rule Ramadi. As he spoke at Arlington on Monday, the Pentagon was preparing to announce that 1,500 emergency reinforcements were being sent from Kuwait to Anbar province, home to Ramadi, Haditha and Falluja, to try to stanch the bleeding.

There is more than a little something wrong with this picture. The president reiterated his Plan for Victory in Iraq as recently as his appearance with Tony Blair on May 25: "As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down." He said then that the Iraqis were "taking more of the fight" and "more territory" and "more missions." The State Department concurred: Iraqi security forces are participating in "more than 80 percent of operations."

So let's do the math. According to our own government, more Iraqis are standing up - some 263,000 at latest count. But we are not standing down. We are, instead, sending in more American troops. Where have we seen this shell game before?

There was another plan for victory, too, you may recall. On the third anniversary of the invasion, in March, the president celebrated the new strategy of "clear, hold and build" by citing the example of Tal Afar, "today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq." Last month 17 people were killed by a suicide bomber in an outdoor market there. The Tal Afar mayor has told The Los Angeles Times it will be at least three years before Iraqi security forces can secure his city of 150,000 without American help. To clear, hold and build in, say, Baghdad, with its population of six million, we'd have to throw in countless more troops still.

"When you open up the strategy for victory, there's nothing inside," Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Marine veteran, argued in a speech last month. What the White House has always had instead of a strategy for victory is a strategy for public relations. That, too, fell under siege over Memorial Day weekend.

Call the P.R. strategy "attack, clear and hold": the administration attacks the credibility of reporters covering the war and tries to clear troubling Iraq images from American TV screens so that popular support might hold until a miracle happens on the ground. This plan first surfaced when the insurgency exploded in spring 2004: Ted Koppel was pilloried by White House surrogates for reading the names of the fallen on "Nightline" and Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that "a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors."

Upon being told that 34 journalists had been killed in the war up to that point, Mr. Wolfowitz apologized, but the strategy was never rescinded. Mr. Bush routinely chastises the press for reporting on bombings rather than "success" stories like Tal Afar. His new top domestic policy adviser, Karl Zinsmeister, has called American war correspondents "whiny and appallingly soft," and he declared last June that "our struggle in Iraq as warfare" was over except for "periodic flare-ups in isolated corners." That's the news the administration wants: the insurgency is always in its last throes. We'd realize that this prognosis was "basically accurate," Dick Cheney has explained, if only the non-Fox press didn't concentrate on car bombs in Baghdad.

Now more than 70 journalists have died in Iraq, more than in any modern war, including two members of a CBS News crew killed in the bombing that injured the correspondent Kimberly Dozier. This tragedy also took place on Memorial Day, which Ms. Dozier was honoring by trying to do one of those Iraq "good news" stories that the administration faults the press for ignoring: the story of an American soldier who, despite having been injured, was "fighting on in memory of those who have fallen," as she had e-mailed colleagues. Once that good-news story died in the bombing, so, one imagines, did the administration strategy of pinning the bad news in Iraq on the reporters who risk their lives to hang in there. Or so, in the name of simple decency, we might hope.

Those reporters, at least, have the right to leave. Not so the troops. General Batiste's observation about the "almost surreal" disconnect between the home front and the war is damningly true, even in Washington. As the violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan spiraled before and after Memorial Day, Congress kept its eye on its own ball. In a bipartisan display of honor among thieves, Democrats and Republicans banded together to decry the F.B.I. for searching the office of a Democratic congressman, William Jefferson, who had been accused of hiding $90,000 in questionable cash in his freezer. Even more ludicrously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - a man who damaged our troops incalculably by countenancing an official policy of torture - finally threatened to resign on principle. The principle he was standing up for, however, was not the Geneva Conventions but the F.B.I.'s right to raid Mr. Jefferson's office.

Contrast these clowns with J. W. Fulbright, a senator who convened hearings to challenge presidents from both parties during Vietnam, changing the nation's course. The current Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has proudly put on this month's legislative agenda constitutional amendments to stop same-sex marriage and flag burning. "Right now people in this country are saying it's O.K. to desecrate that flag and to burn it," he said on Fox News last Sunday, though it's not clear exactly who these traitors are. A Nexis search turns up only one semi-recent American flag-burning incident - by a drunk and apparently apolitical teenager in Mr. Frist's home state, Tennessee, in 2005.

The marriage-amendment campaign will be kicked off tomorrow with a Rose Garden benediction by the president. Though the amendment has no chance of passing, Mr. Bush apparently still thinks, as he did in 2004, that gay-baiting remains just the diversion to distract from a war gone south.

So much for the troops. For all the politicians' talk about honoring those who serve, Washington's record is derelict: chronic shortages in body and Humvee armor; a back-door draft forcing troops with expired contracts into repeated deployments; inadequate postwar health care and veterans' benefits. And that's just the short list. Now a war without end is running off the rails and putting an undermanned army in still greater jeopardy. "Today, the Americans are just one more militia lost in the anarchy," Nir Rosen, who has covered Iraq since the invasion, wrote in The Washington Post last weekend.

We can't pretend we don't know this is happening. It's happening in broad daylight. We know that "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" is fiction, not reality. We know from the Pentagon's own report to Congress last week that attacks on Americans and Iraqis alike are at their highest since American commanders started keeping count in 2004. We know that even as coalition partners like Italy and South Korea bail out, we are planning an indefinite stay of undefined parameters: the 104-acre embassy complex rising in the Green Zone is the largest in the world, and the Decider himself has said that it's up to "future presidents and future governments of Iraq" to decide our exit strategy.

Actually, the current government of Iraq already is. On Thursday the latest American-backed Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whom Mr. Bush is "proud to call" his "ally and friend," invited open warfare on American forces by accusing them of conducting Haditha-like killing sprees against civilians as a "regular" phenomenon. If this is the ally and friend we are fighting for, a country that truly supports the troops has no choice but to start bringing them home.

4. America's Fading Glow -- by John Brown

"Power," Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, Jr. tells us "is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want. There are basically three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots), and attraction (soft power)." Today's American soft power--our ability to influence others overseas through who we are and what we do--is shrinking, as poll after poll shows. This loss of soft power reduces America's ability to shape global developments in ways favorable to the national interest. What can be done about this?

There are several reasons for the decline of America's soft power. The most immediate is President George W. Bush's aggressive foreign policy. Since our internationally condemned attack on Iraq, our country is seen as the illegitimate sheriff that shoots first and asks questions later. Contrast this to the worldwide sympathy for the U.S. immediately after 9/11, when we were considered the attacked, not the attacker. Due to our unilateralism, we have lost the respect--to be sure, never universal--that we earned as a world leader resisting the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century.

Second to the aggression is the hypocrisy of Bush's rhetoric. The president proclaims the pursuit of human freedom as his foremost goal while we are becoming a parody of the Statue of Liberty, covered in prison torture garb from Abu Ghraib, obsessed with our own security but with nothing liberating (or even stabilizing) to offer to the rest of the world. Forget the "democratization" programs (also called "transformational" ) hyped by Condoleezza Rice's State Department. For much of the world, the reality is that we prop up dictators in Libya and Kazakhstan so long as they give us what we want. And, while claiming that America cares about humanity, Bush disregards transnational issues such as the global environment and supports visa regulations that offend foreigners who wish to visit or study in the United States.

A third reason for our loss of soft power is that, with over six years of Bush's "we're just plain folks" rule, our cultural exports increasingly fail to seduce overseas. To be sure, the best purveyors of American consciousness abroad don't necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. Yet, judging by the barometer of pop culture, American style is no longer as "cool" as it was, despite the international success of some Hollywood blockbusters. Culturally, we are more and more perceived as the old New World. "[T]he American brand isn't at its shiniest," U-2's Bono recently stated. "The neon is crackling."

Meanwhile, other countries--notably China--are filling the vacuum created by America's disappearing soft power with information and exchange programs. And popular culture from other countries--films made in India's Bollywood, manga comics from Japan--is providing an alternative to America's pop dominance around the world.

Our loss of soft power is already having negative economic consequences, and our ability to influence events through our policies--now so discredited--is increasingly limited. As a former Reagan administration official mugged by Bush reality, Doug Bandow, puts it in his "A Foreign Policy of Fools," "Every day, America is more active in the world. At the same time, it is ever more alone."

In its second term, the Bush administration seems at last to realize America has an "image problem." Typically, last week the president "admitted" that asking insurgents in Iraq to "bring it on" had been "misunderstood." Not that any of his policies had been incorrect, or that it had been a stupid thing to say, but that it hadn't been understood correctly. (One wonders how he pictures it should have been understood--perhaps by them bringing it on slightly less?)

A Bush politico, Karen Hughes, was chosen last year by the White House as under secretary of state for public diplomacy. Her goal is to make the world view the United States positively. But all indications are that ex-TV reporter Hughes--who knows little about the Middle East--has been unable to craft a public diplomacy strategy that is any more successful than the ineffective "marketing" focus of her predecessor, Charlotte Beers.

More than 30 reports have been written in recent years about how to improve America's public diplomacy. Many of their recommendations are laundry lists of recycled Cold War programs and they fail to emphasize, with rare exceptions, three crucial ways to regain America's soft power.

First, the U.S. must drastically modify its foreign policy from top to bottom so that it is more in tune with the aspirations of the rest of the world. The underpinning of Bush's foreign policy--the so-called "war on terror"--must be abandoned, and its macabre manifestations, such as the Guantanamo detainee facility, should be terminated.

Second, given the difficulty of achieving the first goal under present leadership, Americans must show other nations that we no longer tolerate Bush's travesties, either at home or abroad. If we say "no" to Bush loud and clear through our votes and grass roots protests, it will be a significant step in hearing from abroad that "America, we are with you once again."

Finally--and this regrettably will also have to wait for a new administration with a vision of life that goes beyond the provincial and evangelical--our public diplomacy must be rejuvenated with ground-breaking cultural and educational programs that show the United States in all its infinite artistic and creative variety.

With these kinds of changes, the rest of the world will know that we intend to renew our membership in the family of humanity.

( John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who practiced public diplomacy for over twenty years, now compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press Review.")


Post a Comment

<< Home