Adam Ash

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

Sunday, February 04, 2007

No matter what we do or don't do in Iraq, we're fucked, they're fucked, and the whole world thinks we're the biggest fuckup of a country ever

1. No Way Out -- by MAUREEN DOWD/NY Times

“Everything you’ve heard and read is true. And I am deeply sorry about that.” Who said it?

(a) George Bush, about the chilling new intelligence report on Iraq.

(b) Joe Biden, about his self-imploding prolixity.

(c) Condi Rice, on her ability to understand Peyton Manning’s vulnerabilities better than Nuri Kamal al-Malaki’s.

(d) Silvio Berlusconi, on his wife’s Junoesque lightning bolt after his public flirting.

(e) Jacques Chirac, after giving a Gallic shrug at the prospect of Iran getting un or deux nuclear weapons.

(f) Hillary Clinton, on enabling the president to invade Iraq.

(g) Barack Obama, for the ultimate sin of not being black enough or white enough.

(h) Mary Cheney, on her decision to work on her terrifying dad’s homophobic campaign because the thought of John Kerry was “terrifying.”

(i) Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, about his affair with his campaign manager’s wife.

The answer is Gavin Newsom.

It’s rare to get a simple apology when a complex obfuscation will do.

Even after releasing parts of an intelligence report so pessimistic that it may as well have been titled “Iraq: We’re Cooked,” Bush officials clung to their alternate reality, using nonsensical logic and cherry-picking whatever phrases they could find in the report that they could use to sell the Surge.

In the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, civil war was a worst-case scenario. In the 2007 one, Iraq has zoomed past civil war to hell: “The Intelligence Community judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence.”

As John McLaughlin, the former acting director of central intelligence, told The Times’s Mark Mazzetti: “Civil war is checkers. This is chess.”

Far from Dick Cheney’s claim of “enormous successes” and Gen. William Casey’s claim of “slow progress,” the report shows that any path the U.S. takes in Iraq could lead to a river of blood. It says that in the absence of any strong Sunni and Shiite leaders who can control their groups, prospects are dim for a cohesive government, much less a democracy.

If the violence gets worse, the report concludes, three sulfurous possibilities loom: chaos leading to partition, the emergence of a Shiite strongman or anarchy “mixing extreme ethnosectarian violence with debilitating intragroup clashes.”

So after four years of war, we get to choose between chaos, another Saddam or anarchy. Good work, W. And at such bargain prices; the administration is breaking the record for the military budget, asking for $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year and $145 billion more for 2008.

The White House thinks it can somehow spin the Iraq apocalypse so it sounds as if multiple wars are better than one civil war.

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Bob Gates rebuffed the idea of a civil war, saying: “I think that the words ‘civil war’ oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq. I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south. The second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad but not solely. Third is the insurgency, and fourth is Al Qaeda.”

That’s a relief, all right — we’re in four wars in Iraq and threatening another with Iran.

Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, agreed that the term civil war is unacceptable: “We need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq ... and simple labels don’t do that.”

When General Casey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, he sounded as if he was talking about a completely different Iraq than the one limned in the intelligence report. “Today,” he said, “Iraqis are poised to assume responsibility for their own security by the end of 2007, still with some level of support from us.”

Compare that with the bleak tone of the report, which states that “the Iraqi Security Forces — particularly the Iraqi police — will be hard-pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success.”

It’s official. We’re in a cycle of violence so complex and awful that withdrawing American troops will make it worse and keeping American troops there may also make it worse.

We can try or we can leave, but either way, it seems, we’re cooked.

2. War Criminals ‘R’ US -- by Richard Curtis

Many years ago during boot camp I learned a series of General Orders. And while these are difficult to recall (and oddly enough even to find) any longer, one of the things I recall learning was an obligation to follow all lawful orders. Part of what we learned had to do with the military having made changes in training following the War Crimes at My Lai. My clear impression was that the Navy intended us to know our obligations under the Hague Conventions of 1889 and 1907, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Nuremberg Conventions. These Conventions have legal standing as US law due to their having been ratified by our Senate.

These days the most one hears about such things tends to involve the case of Lt. Ehren Watada, and his refusal to follow orders to deploy to Iraq. Watada’s claim is that as the Iraq War was instigated on false pretexts it is clearly a violation of the above Conventions and in particular a Crime Against Peace. The Army’s position is that Watada refused orders and that this behavior is criminal under the Army’s legal system. The judge hearing the case refuses to allow the defense to even use Watada’s reasons for refusing these illegal orders to be considered.

Why would a military judge refuse to allow an officer to make the case that in refusing an order the officer was following a higher law, which is itself recognized by the military? This seems to be obviously irrational. A judge should be bound by the law, including important provisions of international law that have been incorporated into domestic law. For a judge to refuse to follow the law is beyond reason.

But there is a reason. Watada’s challenge is that the Iraq War is illegal. This fact seems beyond question. A legal war cannot logically be premised on lies, and we all know the Iraq War was premised on a series of well coordinated lies (the “Downing Street Memo” being the proof any rational person needs). The judge cannot allow Watada to argue the War is illegal because it is obviously illegal, and as such constitutes a War Crime, so the judge disregards the law – much to the shame of us all.

If the war is acknowledged as illegal that means admitting that everyone who participates in it, plans it, or orders it is a war criminal.

As a society, our morality is incredibly shallow, and we have a difficult time dealing with challenges such as these. Watada is obviously right and those who prosecute him can only succeed if they can put the law aside in making their charges stick.

We don’t like to think that a young Marine drafted into the military via the Poverty Draft and then sent off to war in Iraq is a War Criminal – but he is. They all are. This is the obvious moral truth that follows from Watada’s challenge.

This is what the Nuremburg Conventions demand. One cannot be excused from illegal acts simply because one was ordered to commit those acts. We are all moral beings, even in the military, and as such have a legal and moral obligation to refuse to participate in War Crimes. And yet tens of thousands of military personal, not to mention the entire military command up to the president, are by definition War Criminals.

This is why Watada is not allowed to make a reasonable defense. This is why our politicians and media refuse to discuss the details of his case. This is why most Americans know nothing of international law. The law is clear. The history and origins of the war are clear. It is a crime. And those who prosecute this war are criminals.

These are just the facts of the case. The real question is will the American people tolerate being lead by War Criminals? Will the American people decide that the law and morality matter? Or will we continue to pretend that if someone in a position of power says that it is so that it is so? Nuremburg demands of us that we think morally and think for ourselves. Nuremburg stands in the shadows condemning our leaders and our military.

Watada properly and legally refused an illegal order and we must now admit the truth of his position and recognize that we as a society stand condemned in the light of this truth. Morality is not easy, and thinking for oneself in a time of wars and lies is even harder. There are times when we are tested. This is one of those times.

Are we any better than those Germans who just followed orders?

(Richard Curtis, PhD is a recent graduate of the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University and presently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, WA.)

3. Upping the anti – by Edward Pearce/Guardian

The charge of anti-Americanism against critics of the Bush administration glosses over the real menace of US military power recklessly wielded.

The charge of anti-Americanism made by new right British journalists against critics of the Bush government is in itself a nonsense, not more grown-up than the charge of anti-semitism thrown at people opposed to the Israeli government bombing Lebanese hill villages and the people in them. But, indeed, people here, and in continental Europe, are coming to candidly dislike America.

That dislike co-exists with a wide affection, among those who have travelled in that country, for so many Americans. The ones we met were kind, friendly, civil, good to know, yet they are the subjects of so much power held in such dreadful hands and seem most of the time so submissive to it. They recall Orwell's definition of England in the thirties as " a family with the wrong members in control ". But his charge against the Baldwin people was weakness; anxiety at the American elite concerns an over-blown strength. Distaste for the United States is directed not only at what its politicians and military do, but, in part, at what the American state and society have become.

That nation is, for a start, absurdly militarised. It is a fearful thought that the US should hold nine times the total nuclear weapons reserve of all the other nuclear powers combined. Clearly, General Eisenhower's remarking, in his 1961 farewell address , of "a military-industrial complex" was the plain truth, and the truth has deepened across 46 years.

But symbols often speak darker things than statistics. John Kerry, candidate of the more liberal and humane party, wearing his military cap to the Democratic convention, saluting and proclaiming name and number and reporting for duty, was more American than can surely be good for America. There are too many ex-marines trying to become president. The early civilian republic, served by civilian militias to win independence, has taken on Prussian qualities - qualities reinforced by bullying and manipulative populism: Prussia served by Fox TV.

Denis Healey, friendly for all the good reasons, to the US, shrewdly withheld in his memoirs the warm feelings he had for the British command when he came to the US generals. Curtis Le May wanting "to bomb China into the Stone Age" is not an isolated figure. Soldiers in an aggressive state grow fascinated by the infinite possibilities of stark power. The Cold War became an alibi for talking dirty about morally deficient terms "throw-weight" and "kill-power". It produced a language rich in risible euphemisms: "take out", "terminate", "pacify". And the words took life and became death. If power corrupts, as, assuredly, it does, military power corrupts militarily.

Things military conflate with another American quality: patriotism. The United States is far too patriotic for the ultimate good of the rest of us. They salute a flag; they talk about themselves all the time. What the people of Europe have grown out of, they clutch at. Worse, they speak reverentially of "Our President", a leader and an embodiment of the people, something extremely harmful to a mere butter-and-egg politician and, in a fool, potentially calamitous. And on the committees of rich men who choose, at any rate, Republican candidates, fools have lately been very well-regarded. As such, a hybridisation of mystique and command bears its fruit; how very dear and consoling becomes the innocent and sensible figure of Her Majesty the Queen.

If you are looking for historical parallels for the contemporary United States, look at and think about Wilhelmine Germany. My grandfather, a Lancashire builder, came back from a holiday in Germany in 1910 and said: "There'll be war. The boys don't just play soldiers, they drill." The men around Wilhelm II, and the Kaiser himself, were not wilfully wicked. They had simply enjoyed too much success since 1860 and now enjoyed too much pure military power: divisions, artillery and, perhaps, unlike the United States, high skills at soldiering. To have a gun is to want to use it. To win in conflict is to expect always to win.

The United States, for all its vein of intense religion, attracts politicians fascinated by immoral acts justifiable only by two other Wilhelmine expressions, Realpolitik and Machtpolitik . Two examples say it all: the silly-clever scoundrelism of Henry Kissinger seeing himself as Metternich and wishing, in an ill-favoured jest, that Iranians and Iraqis at war with one another could mutually kill everyone; Alexander Haig , an overbearing soldier improperly conducting foreign affairs, giving a wink of approval to Ariel Sharon's invasion of the Lebanon with what consequences the Lebanese best know.

So, fools have been on a great spree, but American society, so patriotic, so fundamentally deferential to money and power talking patriotism, is not shaped to stop them. For American life contains another poison - nicely cultivated fear: "the Russians are coming", "the Present Danger". There are reactions and pendulum swings, of course. Remember how anarchic and disrespectful the US seemed at the time of Vietnam and we will shortly enjoy another interlude of sense. But drum and trumpet and "Present Danger", which gave Vietnam its successor, will be at hand.

The real world out there is, in fact, dangerous, but a country so self-preoccupied that, on the last figure I heard, only about 12% of citizens held passports, is ill-equipped to understand the complexity of those dangers or to be tolerant of the dull incremental process of diminishing them. "Anti-American" we are not; but darkly worried about America we certainly should be.

4. “One of the World's Great Man-Made Disasters is Taking Place"
Iraqis on the Run

Iraq is experiencing the biggest exodus in the Middle East
since Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948 upon the creation of Israel. "We were forced to leave our house six months ago and since then we have moved more than eight times," said Abu Mustafa, a 56-year-old man from Baghdad. "Sectarian violence has now even reached the displacement camps but we are tired of running away. Sometimes I have asked myself if it is not better to die than to live like a Bedouin all my life."

Iraqis are on the run inside and outside the country. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said 50,000 Iraqis a month are abandoning their homes. Stephanie Jaquemet, regional representative of the UNHCR, said that two million Iraqis have fled abroad and another 1.5-2 million are displaced within the country - many of them from before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

They flee because they fear for their lives. Some 3,000 Iraqis are being killed every month according to the UN. Most come from Baghdad and the centre of the country, but all of Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north is extremely violent. A detailed survey by the International Organisation for Migration on displacement within Iraq said that most people move after direct threats to their lives: "These threats take the form of abductions; assassinations of individuals or their families."

There are fewer mixed areas left in Iraq. In Baghdad, militias now feel free to use mortars to bombard each other knowing that they will not hit members of their own community. Shia and Sunni both regard themselves as victims responding to provocation. The most common destinations are Jordan and Syria which have taken 1.6 million people. At first it was the better-off who fled, including half of Iraq's 34,000 doctors. Now it is the poor who are arriving in Amman and Damascus with little means of surviving.

Only Syria has formally recognised a need for temporary protection for Iraqis. Others, including the US and UK, are loath to admit that one of the world's great man-made disasters is taking place. The UNHCR thinks every Iraqi should qualify as a refugee because of the extraordinary level of violence in the country. "This is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world," Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International told the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some do not run fast enough. Ali, a Shia businessman who also had a job with the government, was slow to abandon his fine house in a Sunni part of west Baghdad. One day he was picked up by a gang, whipped and only released when he had handed over all his money. "The kidnappers told me to leave the country," he said."

But not all succeed in getting out of the country. The land routes to Jordan and Syria run through Sunni territory. Shia trying to reach safety have been taken from their vehicles to be shot by the side of the road. But Shia can move to safety in south Iraq and therefore make up the bulk of the internally displaced.

For Sunni there is no real place of safety in Iraq. In Baghdad they are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. Cities like Ramadi and Fallujah are partly ruined and very dangerous. Mohammed Sahib Ali, 48, a government employee, was forced out of the al-Hurriyah area by Shia militiamen. A Sunni, he took refuge in a school in Salah ad-Din province. "We are dying here," said Ali. "Not enough food, not enough medicines. I can't go to work and my three sons can't attend their classes. We don't know what to do."

(Patrick Cockburn is the author of ' The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq ', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.)


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