We all want to get the hell out of Iraq, but pundits still have a lot to talk about
1. Does Anyone in Washington or at Downing Street Know What's Really Happening in Iraq?
Iraq Nears the "Saigon Moment"
By PATRICK COCKBURN/Counterpunch
Iraq is rending itself apart. The signs of collapse are everywhere. In Baghdad the police often pick up over 100 tortured and mutilated bodies in a single day. Government ministries make war on each other. A new and ominous stage in the disintegration of the Iraqi state came earlier this month when police commandos from the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry kidnapped 150 people from the Sunni-run Higher Education Ministry in the heart of Baghdad.
Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call 'the Saigon moment', the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried our by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," said the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari with a despairing laugh to me earlier this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen."
It is getting worse. The Iraqi army and police are not loyal to the state. If the US army decides to confront the Shia militias it could well find Shia military units from the Iraqi army cutting the main American supply route between Kuwait and Baghdad. One convoy was stopped at a supposedly fake police checkpoint near the Kuwait border earlier this month and four American security men and an Austrian taken away.
The US and British position in Iraq is far more of a house built on sand than is realized in Washington or London despite the disasters of the last three-and-a-half years. President Bush and Tony Blair show a unique inability to learn from their mistakes, largely because they do not want to admit having committed any errors in the first place.
Civil war is raging across central Iraq, home to a third of the country's 27 million people. As Shia and Sunni flee each other's neighbourhoods Iraq is turning into a country of refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees says that 1.6 million are displaced within the country and a further 1.8 million have fled abroad. In Baghdad neighbouring Sunni and Shia districts have started to fire mortars at each other. On the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death I phoned a friend in a Sunni area of the capital to ask what he thought of the verdict. He answered impatiently that "I was woken up this morning by the explosion of a mortar bomb on the roof of my next door neighbour's house. I am more worried about staying alive myself than what happens to Saddam."
Iraqi friends used to reassure me that there would be no civil war because so many Shia and Sunni were married to each other. These mixed couples are now being compelled to divorce by their families. "I love my husband, but my family has forced me to divorce him because we are Shi'ite and he is Sunni," said Hiba Sami, the mother of four, to a UN official. "My family say they [the husband's family] are insurgents and that living with him is an offence to God." Members of mixed marriages set up an association to protect each other called the Union for Peace in Iraq but they were soon compelled to dissolve it when several founding members were murdered.
Everything in Iraq is dominated by what in Belfast we used to call "the politics of the last atrocity". All three Iraqi communities--Shia, Sunni and Kurdish -- see themselves as victims and seldom sympathize with the tragedies of others. Every day brings its gruesome discoveries. Earlier this month I visited Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq that has a population of 1.7 million people of whom about two thirds are Sunni Arabs and one third Kurds. It is not the most dangerous city in Iraq but it is still a place drenched in violence. A local tribal leader called Sayid Tewfiq from the nearby city of Tal Afar told me of a man from there who went to recover the tortured body of his 16-year old son. The corpse was wired to explosives that blew up killing the father so their two bodies were buried together.
Khasro Goran, the efficient and highly effective deputy governor of Mosul, said there was no civil war yet in Mosul but it could easily happen. He added that 70,000 Kurds had already fled the city because of assassinations. It is extraordinary how in Iraq slaughter that would be front page news any where else in the world soon seems to be part of normal life. On the day I arrived in Mosul the police had found 11 bodies in the city which would have been on the low side in Baghdad.
I spoke to the Duraid Mohammed Kashmula, the governor of Mosul, whose office is decorated with pictures of smiling fresh faced young men who turned out to be his son and four nephews, all of them killed by insurgents. His own house together with his furniture was burned to the ground two years ago. He added in passing that Mr Goran and he himself were the prime targets for assassination in Mosul, a point that was dramatically proved true the day after we spoke when insurgents exploded a bomb beside beside his convoy--fortunately he was not in it at the time-- killing one and wounding several of his bodyguards.
It is obviously very difficult for reporters to discover what is happening in Iraq's most violent provinces without being killed themselves. But at the end of September I travelled south along the Iraqi side of the border with Iran sticking to Kurdish villages to try to reach Diyala, a mixed Sunni-Shia province north-east of Baghdad where there had been savage fighting. It is a road on which a wrong turning could be fatal. We drove from Sulaimaniyah through the mountains, passed through the Derbandikhan tunnel and then took the road which runs beside the Diyala river, its valley a vivid streak of lush green in the dun-coloured semi desert. The area is a smuggler's paradise. At night trucks drive through the desert without lights, their drivers finding their way with night vision goggles. It is not clear what cargoes they are carrying -- presumably weapons or drugs -- and nobody has the temerity to ask.
Officials in Khanaqin had no doubt about what was happening in their province. Lt Col Ahmed Nuri Hassan, the exhausted looking commander of the federal police, said: "There is an sectarian civil war here and it is getting worse every day." The head of the local council estimated that 100 people were being killed every week. In Baquba, the provincial capital, Sunni Arabs were driving out Shia and Kurds. The army and police were divided along sectarian lines. The one Iraqi army division in Diyala was predominantly Shia and only arrested Sunni. On the day after I left Sunni and Kurdish police officers fought a gun battle in Jalula, the village I had been warned not to enter. The fighting started when Kurdish police refused to accept a new Sunni Arab police chief and his followers. Here in miniature in Diyala it was possible to see Iraq breaking up. The province is ruled by its death squads. The police say at least 9,000 people had been murdered and after such bloodshed, it is difficult to see how Sunni and Shia in the province can ever live together again.
In much of Iraq we long ago slipped down the rapids leading from crisis to catastrophe though it is only in the last six months that these dire facts have begun to be accepted abroad. For the first three years of the war Republicans in the US regularly claimed that the liberal media was ignoring signs of peace and progress in Iraq. Some right wingers even set up web sites devoted to spreading the news of American achievements in this ruined land. I remember a team from a US network news channel staying in my hotel in Baghdad complaining to me, as they buckled on their body armour and helmets, that they had been once again told by their bosses in New York, themselves under pressure from the White House, to "go and find some good news and report it."
Times have changed in Washington. The extent of the disaster in Iraq is admitted by almost all aside from President Bush. Even before the Democrats' victory in the Congressional elections on 7 November the magazine Vanity Fair commented acidly that 'the only group in the Bush camp at this point are the people who wait patiently for news of the W.M.D. and continue to believe that Saddam and Osama were once lovers.' Previous supporters of the war are showing embarrassing haste in recanting past convictions and becoming born-again critics of the White House.
These days it is in Britain alone, or more specifically in Downing Street, that policies bloodily discredited in Iraq in the years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein still get a hearing. I returned from Mosul to London earlier this month just in time to hear Tony Blair speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It was a far more extraordinary performance that his audience appreciated. As the prime minister spoke with his usual Hugh Grant charm it became clear that he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing in three-and-a-half years of war.
Misconception after misconception poured from his lips. Contrary to views of his own generals and every opinion poll assessing Iraqi opinion he discounted the idea that armed resistance in Iraq is fueled by hostility to foreign occupation. Instead he sees dark forces rising in the east, dedicated like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings to principles of pure evil. The enemy, in this case, is "based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam, which is fanatical and deadly." Even by the standard of Middle Eastern conspiracy theories it was puerile stuff. Everywhere Blair saw hidden hands -- "forces outside Iraq that are trying to create mayhem"--at work. An expert on the politics of Iraq and Lebanon recently said to me: "The most dangerous error in the Middle East today is to believe that the Shia communities in Iraq and Lebanon are pawns of Iran."
But this is exactly what the prime minister does believe. The fact that the largest Shia militia in Iraq--the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al- Sadr--is anti-Iranian and Iraqi nationalist is conveniently ignored. These misconceptions are important in terms of practical policy because they give support to the dangerous myth that if the US and Britain could only frighten or square the Iranians and Syrians then all would come right as their Shia cats-paws in Iraq and Lebanon would inevitably fall into line. In a very British way [and American too, of course -- editors] opponents of the war in Iraq have focused not on current events but on the past sins of the government in getting us into the war. No doubt it was all very wrong for Downing Street to pretend that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was a threat to the world when they knew he was not. But this emphasis on the origins of the war in Iraq has diverted attention from the fact that, going by official statements, the British government knows no more about what was going on in Iraq in 2006 than it did in 2003. The picture Blair paints of Iraq seldom touches reality at any point. For instance he says Iraqis 'voted for an explicitly non-sectarian government,' but every Iraqi knows that the vote in two parliamentary elections in 2005 went wholly along sectarian and ethnic lines. The polls were the starting pistol for the start of the civil war.
Blair steadfastly refuses to accept the fact that opposition to the American and British occupation of Iraq has been the main cause of the insurgency. The commander of the British army General Sir Richard Dannatt was almost fired for his trouble when he made the obvious point that "we should get ourselves out some time soon because our presence exacerbates the security problem." Iraq is a notoriously complicated country but the swiftest way to grasp the most important features of its politics is to look at figures from the latest of a series of opinion polls carried out by the US-based group WorldPublicOpinion.org at the end of September. These explain why Dannatt is right and Blair is wrong. The poll shows that 92 per cent of the Sunni and 62 per cent of the Shia--up from 41 per cent at the start of the year -- approve of attacks on US led forces. Only the Kurds support the occupation. Some 78 per cent of all Iraqis think that the US military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents and 71 per cent want US-led forces out of Iraq within a year.
It used to be said that at least the foreign occupation prevented a civil war but with 1,000 Iraqis being killed every week, this it is now very clearly failing to do. On the contrary it was the occupation itself that helped provoke the present civil war. I do not mean that anybody conspired in Washington and London to set Iraqis at each other's throats. It was always true that in post-Saddam Iraq there was going to be friction-- probably involving violence--between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. But Iraqis were also forced to decide if they were for or against a foreign invader. The Sunni community was always going to fight the occupation, the Kurds to welcome it and the Shia to cooperate with the US and Britain for just so long as it served their interests. Patriotism and communal self-interest combined. Before 2003 a Sunni might see a Shia as the member of a different sect but once the war had started he started to see him as a traitor to his country.
Of course Bush and Blair argue that there is no occupation. In June 2004 sovereignty was supposedly handed back to Iraq. "Let Freedom Reign," wrote Mr Bush on the piece of paper informing him of the carefully choreographed return of power to an Iraqi government at a ceremony in the heart of the Green Zone. But the reality of power remained firmly with the US and Britain. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said this month that he could not move a company of soldiers without seeking permission of the Coalition (the US and Britain). Officials in Mosul confirmed to me that they could not carry out a military operation without the agreement of US forces.
There is a hidden history to the occupation of Iraq which helps explain why it has proved such a disaster. In 1991 after the first Gulf war, a crucial reason why President George Bush senior did not push on to Baghdad was that he feared that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be followed by elections that would be won in turn by Shia religious parties sympathetic to Iran. No worse outcome of the war could be imagined in Washington. After the capture of Baghdad in 2003 the US faced the same dilemma. Many of the contortions of US policy in Iraq since then have been a covert attempt to avoid or dilute the domination of Iraq's Shia majority.
For over a year the astute US envoy in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad tried to conciliate the Sunni: Bring their politicians into government, modify the federal constitution and open secret talks with the Sunni armed resistance. He failed. Attacks on US forces are on the increase. Dead and wounded US soldiers now total almost 1,000 a month. But the US is now gearing up for a fight with the Mehdi Army, the largest Shia militia. An Iraqi government will only have real legitimacy and freedom to operate when US and British troops have withdrawn.
Washington and London have to accept that if Iraq is to survive at all it will be as a loose federation run by a Shia-Kurdish alliance because together they are 80 per cent of the population. But, thanks to the miscalculations of Mr Bush and Mr Blair, the future of Iraq will be settled not by negotiations but on the battlefield.
(Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Occupation.)
2. While Iraq Burns -- by Bob Herbert/NY Times columnist
Americans are shopping while Iraq burns.
The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight.
A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. “All I can tell you,” said a Wal-Mart employee, “is that they were fired up and ready to spend money.”
There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.
Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.
With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that most people at school don’t even think about the war. They’re more concerned with what grade they got on yesterday’s test.”
His thoughts were echoed by other students, including John Cafarelli, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, who was asked if he had any friends who would be willing to join the Army. “No, definitely not,” he said. “None of my friends even really care about what’s going on in Iraq.”
This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.
According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in September and October. Nearly 5,000 of those killings occurred in Baghdad, a staggering figure.
In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”
Journalists in Iraq are being “assassinated with utmost impunity,” the U.N. report said, with 18 murdered in the last two months.
Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference — no longer than a few seconds — in a television news account of the latest political ditherings.
Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed.
The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.
They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.
3. 'Neocons' Abandon Iraq War at White House Front Door – USA Today Editorial
President John F. Kennedy's famous remark that victory has a thousand fathers and that defeat is an orphan couldn't be more apt these days. The intellectual godfathers of the ruinous Iraq war - "neoconservatives" who insisted it would be a breeze to invade Iraq and transform it into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East - are jumping ship and pointing fingers.
Their scurrying defection is a telling measure of how poorly the war is going and how bleak the outlook is. As of today, U.S. involvement in Iraq will have lasted longer than American participation in World War II. The price in American lives is approaching 3,000; the cost in dollars exceeds $300 billion. The Thanksgiving Day massacre in Baghdad, in which bombings killed and wounded hundreds in a Shiite neighborhood, only underscored Iraq's descent into chaos.
The neoconservative version of history is that the Iraq war was good idea undone by Bush administration incompetence after Saddam Hussein fell. Influential adviser Kenneth Adelman, who famously predicted Iraq would be a "cakewalk," now says, "This didn't have to be managed this bad; it's just awful." Another prime mover behind the war, former assistantDefense secretary Richard Perle, told Vanity Fair: "The decisions did not get made that should have been. ... At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."
To blame administration bungling exclusively for the Iraq debacle, however, is to learn the wrong lesson. It's true that the occupation of Iraq was mismanaged from the outset. By failing to guard massive munitions stockpiles, the administration helped arm the insurgency. And by disbanding the Iraqi army, it gave the insurgency men to use those arms. But the mistakes began with the decision to go war itself, a naive and arrogant exercise in wishful thinking that the nation can't afford to repeat.
The pretext, of course, was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that represented an imminent threat to U.S. security. In large part, however, the motivation was the neocons' belief - adopted by the administration - that ousting Saddam would create a beachhead for democracy in the Middle East. The effects, the neocons argued, would ripple through the region. The Arab public, inspired by U.S. ideals, would marginalize extremists and dictators alike, bringing peace.
U.S. policymakers would have benefited from more time reading history and less concocting rosy scenarios. In the 1920s, the British similarly believed that democracy could be imposed on a tribal culture accustomed to rule by strongmen. After a few massacres, the British learned their lesson, installed a king and retreated.
Now a bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the Bush administration and Congress are all scrambling to find a way out of the Iraq quagmire. None of the options is appealing or offers the sort of outcome the war's architects envisioned.
It's important not to buy the new self-serving line from the neoconservatives, some of whom are already beating the drums for a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear program. Recovering the international goodwill squandered in Iraq, and dealing wisely with the threats from Iran and North Korea, requires facing the mistakes squarely.
Although, on Sunday, the 1,347-day-old Iraq war was being compared in duration to WWII, the lessons are better drawn from Vietnam. Gen. Colin Powell, secretary of State in President Bush's first term, said his Vietnam generation learned from that experience to go into conflicts only with a defined mission, an overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy - and to reassess quickly if the mission changes. Unfortunately, in Iraq, the Powell Doctrine took a back seat to neoconservative fantasies.
4. They Lied Their Way into Iraq. Now They Are Trying to Lie Their Way out.
Bush and Blair will blame anyone but themselves for the consequences of their disastrous war - even its victims
By Gary Younge/Guardian
'In the endgame," said one of the world's best-ever chess players, José Raúl Capablanca, "don't think in terms of moves but in terms of plans." The situation in Iraq is now unravelling into the bloodiest endgame imaginable. Both popular and official support for the war in those countries that ordered the invasion is already at a low and will only get lower. Whatever mandate the occupiers may have once had from their own electorates - in Britain it was none, in the US it was precarious - has now eroded. They can no longer conduct this war as they have been doing.
Simultaneously, the Iraqis are no longer able to live under occupation as they have been doing. According to a UN report released last week, 3,709 Iraqi civilians died in October - the highest number since the invasion began. And the cycle of religious and ethnic violence has escalated over the past week.
The living flee. Every day up to 2,000 Iraqis go to Syria and another 1,000 to Jordan, according to the UN's high commissioner for refugees. Since the bombing of Samarra's Shia shrine in February more than 1,000 Iraqis a day have been internally displaced, a recent report by the UN-affiliated International Organisation for Migration found last month.
Those in the west who fear that withdrawal will lead to civil war are too late - it is already here. Those who fear that pulling out will make matters worse have to ask themselves: how much worse can it get? Since yesterday American troops have been in Iraq longer than they were in the second world war. When the people you have "liberated" by force are no longer keen on the "freedom" you have in store for them, it is time to go.
Any individual moves announced from now on - summits, reports, benchmarks, speeches - will be ignored unless they help to provide the basis for the plan towards withdrawal. Occupation got us here; it cannot get us out. Neither Tony Blair nor George Bush is in control of events any longer. Both domestically and internationally, events are controlling them. So long as they remain in office they can determine the moves; but they have neither the power nor the credibility to shape what happens next.
So the crucial issue is no longer whether the troops leave in defeat and leave the country in disarray - they will - but the timing of their departure and the political rationale that underpins it.
For those who lied their way into this war are now trying to lie their way out of it. Franco-German diplomatic obstruction, Arab indifference, media bias, UN weakness, Syrian and Iranian meddling, women in niqabs and old men with placards - all have been or surely will be blamed for the coalition's defeat. As one American columnist pointed out last week, we wait for Bush and Blair to conduct an interview with Fox News entitled If We Did It, in which they spell out how they would have bungled this war if, indeed, they had done so.
So, just as Britain allegedly invaded for the good of the Iraqis, the timing of their departure will be conducted with them in mind. The fact that - according to the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett - it will coincide with Blair leaving office in spring is entirely fortuitous.
More insidious is the manner in which the Democrats, who are about to take over the US Congress, have framed their arguments for withdrawal. Last Saturday the newly elected House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, suggested that the Americans would pull out because the Iraqis were too disorganised and self-obsessed. "In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future," he said. "And the Iraqis must know: our commitment, while great, is not unending."
It is absurd to suggest that the Iraqis - who have been invaded, whose country is currently occupied, who have had their police and army disbanded and their entire civil service fired - could possibly be in a position to take responsibility for their future and are simply not doing so.
For a start, it implies that the occupation is a potential solution when it is in fact the problem. This seems to be one of the few things on which Sunni and Shia leaders agree. "The roots of our problems lie in the mistakes the Americans committed right from the beginning of their occupation," Sheik Ali Merza, a Shia cleric in Najaf and a leader of the Islamic Dawa party, told the Los Angeles Times last week.
"Since the beginning, the US occupation drove Iraq from bad to worse," said Harith al-Dhari, the nation's most prominent Sunni cleric, after he fled to Egypt this month facing charges of supporting terrorism.
Also, it leaves intact the bogus premise that the invasion was an attempt at liberation that has failed because some squabbling ingrates, incapable of working in their own interests, could not grasp the basic tenets of western democracy. In short, it makes the victims responsible for the crime.
Withdrawal, when it happens, will be welcome. But its nature and the rationale given for it are not simply issues of political point-scoring. They will lay the groundwork for what comes next for two main reasons.
First, because, while withdrawal is a prerequisite for any lasting improvement in Iraq, it will not by itself solve the nation's considerable problems.
Iraq has suffered decades of colonial rule, 30 years of dictatorship and three years of military occupation. Most recently, it has been trashed by a foreign invader. The troops must go. But the west has to leave enough resources behind to pay for what it broke. For that to happen, the anti-war movement in the west must shift the focus of our arguments to the terms of withdrawal while explaining why this invasion failed and our responsibilities to the Iraqi people that arise as a result of that failure.
If we don't, we risk seeing Bono striding across airport tarmac 10 years hence with political leaders who demand good governance and democratic norms in the Gulf, as though Iraq got here by its own reckless psychosis. Eviscerated of history, context and responsibility, it will stand somewhere between basket case and charity case: like Africa, it will be misunderstood as a sign not of our culpability but of our superiority.
Second, because unless we understand what happened in Iraq we are doomed to continue repeating these mistakes elsewhere. Ten days ago, during a visit to Hanoi, Bush was asked whether Vietnam offered any lessons. He said: "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while ... We'll succeed unless we quit."
In other words, the problem with Vietnam was not that the US invaded a sovereign country, bombed it to shreds, committed innumerable atrocities, murdered more than 500,000 Vietnamese - more than half of whom were civilians - and lost about 58,000 American servicemen. The problem with Vietnam was that they lost. And the reason they lost was not because they could neither sustain domestic support nor muster sufficient local support for their invasion, nor that their military was ill equipped for guerrilla warfare. They lost because it takes a while to complete such a tricky job, and the American public got bored.
"You learn more from a game you lose than a game you win," argued the chess great Capablanca. True, but only if you heed the lessons and then act on them.
5. From Desert Fatigues to Prada
By LUCINDA MARSHALL/Counterpunch
The November issue of the magazine Marie Clare did an outstanding job of in remedying the media's woeful lack of coverage of the impact of war on fashion. With several hard-hitting articles and a photo spread, MC gives this aspect of war reporting it's proper due.
The magazine scored a real coup by getting the first print interview ever with Lynndie England since her incarceration for her role in Abu Ghraib. The first paragraph immediately gives us what we want to know,
“Lynndie England smells like soap. She rubs her hands constantly, and her cuticles are raw and nearly bleeding. Her hair is pulled back in four tortoiseshell clips, and it's streaked with premature gray. She is no longer the waiflike girl with a devilish grin who appeared in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. On this warm fall afternoon, England, 23, now 30 pounds heavier, wears short-sleeve Army fatigues and black, waffle-soled boots. Her name is stitched across her chest. Dangling from her waist is a yellow-and-white badge that reads, ‘Prisoner.’"
There you have it, what she smells like, the condition of her hair and nails, what she is wearing, her footgear and an allusion to Hester Prynne.
Fortunately, the author had the good sense to abandon the glam objectification genre after the first paragraph and the rest of the piece actually does a fine job of looking at who England is, not what she looks like.
But wait, there's more, much more. A back page piece about Army Major Tammy Duckworth addresses issues first. But then, suddenly remembering the publication for whom she is writing, the interviewer asks the inevitable, "What are the fashion challenges?" Duckworth answers with a joke about her missing legs being her excuse for wearing larger size pants and that yes of course she is sad that she can't wear the latest high-wedge heels, but that is nothing "compared to being alive."
The magazine also has an interesting article about women newscasters in the Middle East, talking about a Saudi woman who went public with pictures of herself after she was assaulted by her husband. But when they interview reporter May Chidiak, who lost a leg and an arm in a car bombing in Beirut, we learn that with a cane, she can wear high heels. She can already handle 2 inch heels, her goal is the 4-inchers.
Finally, there is the photo spread that perhaps should have been titled, "Runway: Iraq," in which Marie Claire features the wives of soldiers showing off the latest fashions. Kristi McCoy, wife of a soldier named James, is shown wearing a $2455 Prada dress along with a Catherine Angiel necklace prices at $1340. At least the sidebar says she is wearing this, it is apparently hidden by the baby she is holding who curiously is clad only in a diaper. As Anna Froula, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky who first noticed this curious edition of MC points out, it is truly peculiar to photograph these women in clothes they could not possibly afford on the pay their spouses make in the military.
This sorry objectification of the role of women in the context of militarism does however illustrate the expanding number of visual archetypes that we now have of women in war. Indeed, today's imagery goes far beyond Rosie the Riveter. The wives and sweethearts left behind, England, Duckworth, Jessica Lynch, as well as Iraqi and Afghani women have now become the feminine archetypes of militarism. As Froula makes clear in her research about England and Lynch , we need to do some serious deconstructing of the images of these women that have been presented to us by the media and the military in order to really see the truth of how women participate in militarism and how that impacts their lives.
(Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org)