Quote of the day: As Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism “tsar,” tells it in his new book Against All Enemies, on September 12, 2001, he returned to the White House to find Iraq, not al-Qaeda, the subject of the day: “I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld and [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq
“It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting ‘invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’ ” (From Barton Gellman, the Washington Post)
Fathers and sons:
Millions of dollars have already fled the Bush campaign treasury chest (though perhaps some image like a horn of plenty might better capture its capacious nature) in a fierce attempt to “define” Senator Kerry as a flip-flopping, nogoodnik, no-defense wuss. And yet strangely, it seems the President’s the one in the process of being redefined, and it’s clearly driving the White House nuts. Only recently the presidential spokesman claimed George was such a desperately busy man that he had, at best, an hour — no more — to spare in which selected members of the 9/11 commission could privately ask him questions. Now, it turns out that this administration has so much time on its hands that it can be emptied out en masse onto the airwaves to try to slice-and-dice former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the insider’s insider, for his new kiss-and-tell book on the administration and 9/11.
From the vice-president on down, it seems that just about everyone in this administration took time off from their “war on terrorism” and its “central front” in Iraq (talk about making your own fantasies come true!) to launch something like a full-scale national anti-book tour. Can there be any greater evidence that Clark’s appearance on Sixty Minutes Sunday night staggered the “war president”? It was a dismantling the likes of which this White House had never experienced and they were on the attack so fast that they beat Clark to the airwaves, appearing on the Sunday night news shows before he could even make it on camera. You couldn’t be faster off the mark.
In rebuttal on Sixty Minutes, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (and longtime Dick Cheney associate) actually had the temerity to suggest that Clarke’s meeting with George at which he claimed the president tried to intimidate him into linking September 11 to Saddam Hussein never took place — only to be stunned when Leslie Stahl informed him that they had dug up another witness to the meeting.
“HADLEY: We can not find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the President ever occurred.
“STAHL: Now can I interrupt you for one second. We have done our own work on that ourselves and we have two sources who tell us independently of Dick Clarke that there was this encounter. One of them was an actual witness.
“STAHL: Now can I interrupt you for one second. We have done our own work on that ourselves and we have two sources who tell us independently of Dick Clarke that there was this encounter. One of them was an actual witness.
“HADLEY: Look, the — I — I stand on what I said. But the point I think we’re missing in this is of course the President wanted to know if there was any evidence linking Iraq to 9/11.”
And then, of course, he just chugged on. Like a hutch of Energizer Bunnies, nothing stops them for long.
As Bill Gallagher, former city councilman and now columnist for the Niagara Falls Reporter, commented before Clarke’s appearance (When Ignorance Becomes Mendacity):
“When they’re caught in their lies, they just keep on lying. George W. Bush and his gang find the truth about the war in Iraq so troubling they avoid it at whatever cost, knowing that making their lies live is the only possible way they can stay in power.”
Of course, there’s nothing new in this. It’s what we’ve been living with since AD 2000. Administration defenders even attacked Clark for injecting himself into the presidential race at an especially opportune moment for himself — he was supposedly “auditioning” for a role in a future Kerry administration. It hardly matters that he’s flatly denied he’ll accept a post from Kerry and, as on Charlie Rose last night, that he’s pointed out his book would have come out significantly earlier if it hadn’t been held up for months for “vetting” by this administration. It would be all-too-fitting if it turned out that the White House had vetted itself directly into the presidential bone yard.
This morning’s New York Times‘ op-ed page had yet another of Paul Krugman’s powerful columns (Lifting the Shroud) — on how this administration’s programmatic secrecy and lies are finally being shredded by insiders like Clarke, and on the administration’s attempt to strike back at their characters since they can’t actually challenge the facts. (“It’s important, when you read the inevitable attempts to impugn the character of the latest whistle-blower, to realize just how risky it is to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration.”) Krugman made only one small mistake. He spoke of the “few hours of shocked silence” from the administration after the 60 Minutes interview. He obviously wasn’t watching the prime-time news shows beforehand. Hadley, when challenged by Stahl, had a split-second of shocked silence on camera. Otherwise it’s been into the cacophony for all of us.
More curious yet, Krugman seems to be at war with his own newspaper which gave the Clark story — a front-pager if there ever was one — to the now infamous Judith Miller, their very own journalistic weapon of mass destruction. On Monday, she wrote a piece, Former Terrorism Official Faults White House on 9/11, that was but another embarrassment for the paper of record; and so the hottest tale in town was tucked away in the upper right corner of page 18. Miller, it seems, could hardly wait to get through Clark’s part of the story — so obviously boring — to make it to the fourth and fifth paragraphs (the third being but a one-liner), which read:
“In an interview Sunday evening, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, dismissed Mr. Clarke’s charges as ‘politically motivated,’ ‘reckless’ and ‘baseless.’
“‘If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns about the direction of the war on terror, why did he stay on the team as long as he did, and why did he wait till the beginning of a presidential campaign to speak out?’ Mr. Bartlett said. He said the book’s timing showed that it was ‘more about politics than policy.'”
This, mind you, before she quoted a line from the book itself — no less anything from the 60 Minutes appearance.
(As a sideline note, according to Editor & Publisher magazine on-line, Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, jr. responded to a question on Miller’s deplorable WMD-reporting record this way: “The publisher defended Miller, saying he had known her ‘for decades,’ adding that she ‘has fabulous sources.’ Then he added: ‘Were her sources wrong? Absolutely. Her sources were wrong. And you know something? The administration was wrong. And when you’re covering it from the inside like that you’re going to get things wrong sometimes. So I don’t blame Judy Miller for the lack of finding weapons of mass destruction.’ This produced a few laughs from audience members. ‘I blame the administration for believing its own story line,’ he continued, ‘to such a point that they weren’t prepared to question the authenticity of what they were told.'”
I guess we’re talking “fabulous sources” — as in “fabulously wrong.”)
The Clarke story only hit the Times‘ front page this morning and then, following the Miller lead of the previous day, as an administration-response piece (“Ex-Bush Aide, Finding Fault, Sets Off Debate”). For this one, Miller (who is seldom left to write on her own for long any more — as close as the paper of record comes to an apology) was teamed up with another White House embed, Elisabeth Bumiller, who has been throwing warm sponges at the White House for oh, let’s say, at least the last few minutes. The piece began: “As the White House opened an aggressive personal attack against its former counterterrorism chief, Richard A. Clarke, a furious debate broke out on Monday about the credibility of his assertion that President Bush pushed him the day after the Sept. 11 attacks to see if there was a link with Saddam Hussein.” A furious debate or a furious White House? FedEx to Judy and Elisabeth, there’s a difference.
And interestingly, just to complete this little account of Times reportage, though important “analysis” is often given a place of honor on the paper’s front page, Todd S. Purdum’s strong piece, labeled “assessment” (a curious and weak word for what he wrote, by the way — though it’s called “news analysis” in the on-line version), was tucked away below the carry-over of the Miller/Bumiller piece on p. 18. It began (An Accuser’s Insider Status Puts the White House on the Defensive):
“John Kerry himself has never dared to make such a bald charge: That President Bush failed to adequately grasp the threat of Al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, then followed up with ‘an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide.’
“But that is the stinging indictment of Mr. Bush’s own former top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, published this week in a memoir. At the worst possible moment, it undercuts Mr. Bush on the issue that he has made the unapologetic centerpiece of his administration and a linchpin of his re-election campaign: his handling of the global war on terror
“Just as Mr. Bush appeared to be gaining the upper hand over Mr. Kerry in the fledgling general election campaign after weeks on the defensive over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr. Clarke has put the White House squarely on the defensive again. He paints a scene that it is easy to imagine turning up with spooky music in a Kerry commercial as evidence of Mr. Bush’s determination to invade Iraq.”
In the meantime, away from the grey lady of the American press, over at a paper where someone thought a little actual reporting was in order, the Wall Street Journal front-paged a staggering piece of reportage yesterday by reporter Scot J. Paltrow on the questions that still surround the administration’s version of September 11, 2001. It’s long and detailed. Here’s just a small sample of one of the many administration tales that doesn’t stand up in the light of day, according to Paltrow. The President, as you may remember, was in a Florida classroom when he got news of the 9/11 attacks (Detailed Picture of U.S. Actions On Sept. 11 Remains Elusive):
“In a CNBC television interview almost a year later, [White House Chief of Staff Andrew] Card said that after he alerted Mr. Bush, ‘I pulled away from the president, and not that many seconds later, the president excused himself from the classroom, and we gathered in the holding room and talked about the situation.’
“But uncut videotape of the classroom visit obtained from the local cable-TV station director who shot it, and interviews with the teacher and principal, show that Mr. Bush remained in the classroom not for mere seconds, but for at least seven additional minutes. He followed along for five minutes as children read aloud a story about a pet goat. Then he stayed for at least another two minutes, asking the children questions and explaining to Ms. Rigell that he would have to leave more quickly than planned.
“[White House Communications Director Dan] Bartlett confirmed in an interview that the president stayed in the classroom for at least seven minutes.”
It’s a small but revealing moment in a piece not to be missed. The only question, of course, is why it took almost 2 1/2 years to reach the daylight in our mainstream media?
To offer just a small summary of what Paltrow manages to imply if not quite say: More or less nothing of the President’s account of the day, of the orders he supposedly gave or the actions he supposedly took, tallies with what other knowledgeable witnesses experienced. It seems that he largely did nothing, that he remained unbelievably passive, as in that classroom, and let himself be bundled around like a rag-doll version of a president. Far more interesting, though, is Paltrow’s account of the actions of Vice President Cheney that day. It seems that Cheney, among other things, may have lied to the President, possibly fabricating a threat to Air Force One out of whole cloth and so dispatching George for his own “safety” to air bases far from Washington, while he took control of matters in DC.
Paltrow’s piece ends by noting that the 9/11 commission is “examining whether the White House should have had its own internal plan in place” for the President and staff in the even of a major terrorist attack. However, in the March issue of the Atlantic magazine, James Mann, author of The Rise of the Vulcans, The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, suggests that, in fact, there was an Armageddon Day plan in place (for nuclear war against Russia), introduced in the Reagan years and practiced repeatedly by — guess whom? — Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, even in the years when they weren’t in government.
The magazine sums the piece up this way (The Armageddon Plan): “During the Reagan era Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were key players in a clandestine program designed to set aside the legal lines of succession and immediately install a new ‘President’ in the event that a nuclear attack killed the country’s leaders. The program helps explain the behavior of the Bush Administration on and after 9/11.”
Mann himself writes:
“Vice President Cheney urged President Bush to stay out of Washington for the rest of that day; Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered his deputy Paul Wolfowitz to get out of town; Cheney himself began to move from Washington to a series of ‘undisclosed locations’; and other federal officials were later sent to work outside the capital, to ensure the continuity of government in case of further attacks. All these actions had their roots in the Reagan Administration’s clandestine planning exercises
“[Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s] participation in the extra-constitutional continuity-of-government exercises, remarkable in its own right, also demonstrates a broad, underlying truth about these two men. For three decades, from the Ford Administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never far away. They stayed in touch with defense, military, and intelligence officials, who regularly called upon them. They were, in a sense, a part of the permanent hidden national-security apparatus of the United States–inhabitants of a world in which Presidents come and go, but America keeps on fighting.”
It’s also a reminder of how panicky the vice president may have been. In his mind, he evidently was truly at “ground zero.” Who knows? Perhaps it was at that moment when, as his training kicked in — he had been a team leader in the Armageddon drills — he first imagined himself as president.
At the moment, it’s possible that George, despite his best efforts, may find himself redefined not by the Kerry campaign but by ex-associates like former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former counterterrorism tsar Clarke, or by other Republicans notables, who feel themselves betrayed by the most radical and extreme administration in our history. Check out, for instance, the comments of former Secretary of the Navy and conservative Republican James Webb:
“Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace.
“There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment he deserves.
“At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country’s great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.”
A final note on events so far. Despite the dismal performance of the New York Times, this may be the first moment since September 11, 2001 when much of the mainstream media has taken hold of significant news about this administration and pursued it more or less fully wherever it led.
Iraq: One year later than what?
Quote of the week, Iraq branch: “In [an interview with an unidentified soldier just back from Iraq, he] was asked what Arabic he had been taught in order to do his job. He said, ‘They teach us a few words and phrases. “Stop. Get down. Kneel. Shut up.”” (Karen Kwiatkowski, Assessing the Bush Doctrine Experiment, One Year Later)
Now that we know what we already knew, but this time from Clark, the insider of all insiders — that the war against Iraq began at the very moment the war against “terrorism” began and that the one war quickly superseded the other, I think we have to re-evaluate all those “one year after” pieces that just flowed by us. Shouldn’t it have been “Iraq: two and a half years later”?
Anyway, last week, being “one year later,” was proclaimed “Iraq Week” by the White House, and a sunny picture of reconstructed Iraq was launched with all administration hands on deck (à la the USS Abraham Lincoln), saluting smartly, even as within days the good ship Iraq (as presented by the Busheviks) hit your basic iceberg and almost immediately began to sink. But it all started so strongly and upbeatly.
The President, who was instructed — after his one great slip way back when — never again to use the word “crusade” in a world with so many Muslims with TV sets, switched to “calling” and so he called upon all of us to take up not a crusade exactly but a war-like “calling.” As the editor of the the War in Context website wrote aptly:
“If the war on terrorism is not a crusade, why dub it a ‘calling’? The American Heritage Dictionary defines a calling as ‘an inner urge or a strong impulse, especially one believed to be divinely inspired to accept the Gospels as truth and Jesus as one’s personal savior.’ George Bush has refrained from describing this war as a crusade ever since it was pointed out to him that his cause would not be well served if it was perceived as a war on Islam. Yet his insistence on treating the issue as a matter of conviction betrays a stubborn unwillingness to exercise reason, to weigh up competing arguments, and to modify both tactics and goals in the light of new experience. The neutral ground that Bush refuses to acknowledge lies not between civilization and terror but between two conflicting convictions whose only method of argument is violence.”
Soon after the President spoke, our CEO at the Pentagon Don Rumsfeld chimed in sweetly indeed, using an image to describe post-Saddam Iraq that I’ve seen quoted only in a piece by Neil McKay and Trevor Royle of the Glasgow Sunday Herald (The War on Four Fronts):
“Getting Iraq straightened out, [Rumsfeld] said, was like teaching a kid to ride a bike: ‘They’re learning, and you’re running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it. You can’t know when you’re running down the street how many steps you’re going to have to take. We can’t know that, but we’re off to a good start.'”
I’ve been a dad myself. I’ve done this — not for all of Iraq, of course, but for my own children once upon a time, and that was plenty. I almost lost the use of my back in the process. So I was suitably charmed. There we were trying to launch young Iraq on its path to success. (“Peddle harder little Iraqi democracy! Peddle harder!. Arrgh”) Of course, Rumsfeld had also picked up something of a classic colonial image — not that we’re colonialists, I hasten to add! But it does sound just a tad familiar, us as the adults and our “wards” as the slightly thick but eager children. The idea is, of course, that sooner or later they’ll get the hang of it. In the meantime, being fatherly types, we’re not about to take our hands off that seat; in fact, we’re in the process of building a few extra seats just in case (and maybe flying the odd Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drone overhead just in case junior gets all tangled up — or the kid down the block tries to blow up his bike. Well, I guess it’s an image you just don’t want to push too far.
(Oh by the way, on the matter of children, let me return for a moment to that Niagara Falls Reporter column by Bill Gallagher mentioned above because he makes a point of how much our President loves to don military jackets at all those military bases to which he’s constantly shuttled for speeches greeted by all those enthusiastic “hoo-ahs.” Gallagher writes:
“Bush also slipped on a military jacket for his speech. This sends the wrong constitutional message When he had a chance to wear a uniform for real, the evidence shows he kept it off as much as possible I don’t see anything offensive with the president slipping on a military jacket or baseball cap when on a ship, plane or tank. But when giving a formal speech, it’s important that the commander in chief’s apparel affirms, especially for the troops, civilian leadership of the military.
“It’s interesting to note that the three post-World War II presidents who most experienced the horrors of war firsthand — Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy — never dressed up like soldiers to suck up to the military.”
But, as I’ve long argued, this administration is filled not with the young men of the Vietnam era — which most of them experienced largely in absentia — but of the glorious post-World War II war-film era that preceded it. It’s not, I suspect, the Iraqis who are the children, but our own leaders who seem not to have made it out of the flickering darkness of those movie theaters. War for them is fun. Good, solemn, thrilling fun. Dressing up for war: even more fun. Being resolute: best yet.
George, donning his military outfits, always looks to me strangely like one of those old G.I. Joe dolls. This time around, it’s just starting to look like dad wasn’t holding the bike seat for him at all. In fact, dad wasn’t anywhere in sight. After all, for him it seems, dad — his own dad — has been the Oedipal enemy in this drama that’s managed to convulse the world.)
Anyway, try this for translating Rumsfeld’s bike image into reality. It’s the start of a piece by Jim Krane of AP, a no-nonsense reporter who’s been following the money trail in Iraq (U.S. will retain power in Iraq after transfer of sovereignty):
“The United States says Iraq will be sovereign, no longer under military occupation, on June 30. But most power will reside within the world’s largest U.S. Embassy, backed by 110,000 U.S. troops. The fledgling Iraqi government will be capable of tackling little more than drawing up a budget and preparing for elections, top U.S. and Iraqi officials say [L. Paul] Bremer is also in the midst of appointing inspectors general for Iraq’s ministries that, under current rules, can’t be replaced by an incoming Iraqi government.”
Even Krane, though, can’t resist a version of Rumsfeld’s imagery, though here the Iraqis have been demoted to babyhood and the U.S. ambassador promoted to the role of nurturing Mom:
“The U.S. ambassador will hoard a large measure of influence on Iraq, and the fledgling government will wean itself only slowly from American money, troops and advisers, whom Pachachi said will be tutoring Iraq’s rulers on governance issues across the board.”
Paul McGeough of the Australian publication The Age puts the matter even more bluntly in a thoughtful piece, Can Iraq embrace democracy?:
“The US is sticking to its plan to return sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, but there is still no agreement on how the country will be governed for the following six months. Maybe it doesn’t matter; Washington intends to have long-term military bases in Iraq and a US civilian staff of thousands will still hunker in Saddam’s former presidential compound in the heart of Baghdad.”
No kids or babies in his piece, but then again he’s a foreigner. And, by the way, any version of the phrase “long-term military bases in Iraq” is evidently patented by foreigners and not available to American reporters. Search high and low, but you’re not likely to find it in the American mainstream press, though it couldn’t be more crucial to the discussion of Iraq “one year later.”
Oh, and even skipping the eleven dead Iraqi policemen today, the two Finnish businessmen who were shot in Baghdad yesterday, and the spiking U.S. casualty rate, let me just put fast-biking little Iraq in context by citing a couple of examples of the Iraqi “security situation” as Iraqis experience it. Here, for instance, is a passage from the same McGeough article:
“Some of the Sunni faithful at this mosque put down their weapons before washing and slipping out of their sandals for noon prayers but others remain alert, standing guard on the roof of the mosque. The blood on the floor is that of their imam, Ali Hussein Mizher.
“He died when a hand grenade was thrown into his office as a staged car accident on a busy intersection at the front of the mosque diverted the attention of those who usually hang around. The previous week, another al-Qubasi imam was assassinated in his home and a prayer leader was gunned down as he walked to the mosque.”
And this is from “Riverbend,” the “Baghdad Burning” blogger, who points to a distinctive local “brain drain” we’re not likely to have heard much about during “Iraq Week” in America. She writes:
“We also heard that one of the assistant deans of the college of engineering in Baghdad University was assassinated recently. It’s terrible news and the subject has been on my mind a lot lately. I don’t know why no one focuses on this topic in the news. It’s like Iraq is suffering from intellectual hemorrhaging. Professors and scientists are being assassinated right and left- decent intelligent people who are necessary for the future of Iraq. Other scientists are being detained by the Americans and questioned about- of all things- Al-Qaeda
“And it doesn’t stop with the scientists. Doctors are also being assassinated by some mysterious group. It started during the summer and has been continuing since then. Iraq has some of the finest doctors in the region. Since June, we’ve heard of at least 15 who were killed in cold blood. The stories are similar- a car pulls up to the clinic or office, a group of men in black step down and the doctor is gunned down- sometimes in front of the patients and sometimes all alone, after hours.”
Or, closer to home, how about journalist John Lee Anderson, who covered the war from Baghdad for the New Yorker magazine and recently returned to discover that “Baghdad is a much more dangerous place than it was a year ago Just being around foreigners has become hazardous. In most of the recent killings of Americans and Europeans, Iraqis died with them–their drivers, guards, and interpreters. A couple of weeks ago, assassins in Baghdad ambushed the car of an Iraqi translator who worked for the Voice of America, killing him, his mother, and his young daughter. Many foreigners are starting to move out of the little family hotels that seemed so charming, and others are giving up the comfortable and civilized neighborhood houses they were renting. The Palestine, with its reinforced-concrete perimeter walls, razor wire, armed guards, and bomb-sniffing dogs, is getting crowded.”
Of course, a flood of Iraq-one-year-later pieces just washed over us. Most of the American ones made an attempt to offer a “balanced report card” on reconstruction. Okay, democracy may be up for grabs and the insurgency is roiling along, yet as Dan Murphy wrote for the Christian Science Monitor from Baghdad (Better and Worse: A Progress Report on Iraq):
“[C]oalition officials continue to describe the attacks as strategically insignificant and insist they don’t overshadow progress towards returning Iraqi sovereignty, planned for June 30. A recent poll seems to back up that position. Conducted by Oxford Research International and commissioned by a group of broadcasters, the poll found that 56 percent of Iraqis said their lives were somewhat or much better since Saddam Hussein was ousted.
“In part this may reflect coalition successes. According to the CPA, oil production capacity is up to 2.5 million barrels a day from 2 million before the war.Electricity production is averaging about 4,200 megawatts a day, slightly lower than before the war. Fixed telephone lines are now at about 700,000 from 833,000 before the war, though lines are now supplemented by roughly 300,000 phones in Iraq’s new cellphone system. Cellphone possession was illegal under Hussein. But there remain large pockets of dissatisfaction and resentment, particularly among the estimated 25 to 45 percent of Iraqis who are unemployed.”
Forget that the opinion poll figures are questionable for a variety of reasons and the unemployment rate soars in foreign reports, it seems strange to me that our press regularly considers a return to close to, not quite, or just beyond the prewar economic levels of sanctions-devastated Iraq as any kind of “success.” After all, billions and billions of our dollars have been thrown at the country (or at least the massive corporations supposedly “reconstructing” it). Prewar levels after a year of American efforts? I would call that a dismal failure.
Personally, based on the record so far, based on what we know of this administration, I think just about all official assessments of Iraq should simply be chucked out the window. But you generally have to go abroad or to the fringes or onto the Web to get more realistic assessments of the Iraqi situation — “balance”-no-matter-what being the byword of our press when facing a powerful administration like this one. It would be rare, for instance, to read here the following assessment of the administration’s position vis-à-vis Iraq from Rupert Cornwall of the British Independent:
“A year to the day after going to war to topple Saddam Hussein, President George Bush is politically weaker at home, widely disliked abroad, and struggling to hold together the fraying ‘coalition of the willing’ which now occupies Iraq . To a large extent, Mr. Bush’s electoral prospects are now prisoner of what happens in Iraq.”
Indeed, twist and turn as he might, the President does seem a “prisoner” of Iraq, at least until November. He is, for instance, embarrassingly at the mercy of Shiite Ayatollah al-Sistani (who has just “intensified his opposition to the country’s interim constitution, threatening to withhold cooperation with the United Nations during the transition to Iraqi sovereignty if the document is endorsed by the Security Council”). This is a scenario that once would have inhabited only the worst night sweats of this administration.
Or you need to go to the British Guardian to hear what a former UN official thinks of the situation in Iraq one year later. Begins Salim Lone, former director of communications for the UN Mission in Iraq (Anniversary of disaster):
“The anniversary week of the Iraq war had been carefully choreographed by the Bush administration to highlight its successes. Instead, it highlighted the inherent weaknesses of an occupation that is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. The devastating blow dealt by Spain has undercut the US line that there is a core commitment to the occupation by its allies. The subsequent reservations by the Netherlands, Poland and South Korea demonstrated that the coalition is not so willing. The visit by the secretary of state, Colin Powell, to Baghdad was designed to be a triumphal affirmation of US control, but it unravelled in negative coverage when Arab and some international correspondents walked out of his press conference over the killings by US troops of two al-Arabiya TV journalists. And while there were millions around the world again marching against US occupation, no crowds in Iraq took to the streets to show support for the US.”
Or you need to slip onto the Web where, at Salon.com, historian Juan Cole tells us bluntly that Iraq is truly becoming this administration’s quagmire” (Welcome to the Quagmire):
“Imposing solutions by force of will has proven impossible. Bremer struck temporary compromises with the Shiites, who make up a majority of Iraq’s population, and with the Kurds, who have been longtime allies, but all the difficult decisions have been put off because of weakness or fear. And now, as the administration looks for a way to resolve the quagmire before it turns into an election-year debacle, it must seem to Bremer that even with superlative diplomacy, the U.S. risks extraordinary turmoil no matter whether it pulls out or stays…
“If acceptable compromises cannot be reached among the major players, the country could easily fall into chaos. All the leading factions, including the Kurds and the more militant Shiites, have large, well-armed militias at their beck and call. The low-grade guerrilla insurgency of the Sunni Arabs also is likely to continue for some time. It may not, however, be the most challenging issue Iraqis face as they attempt to hammer out a new destiny — a destiny not imposed on them by the will of the Bush administration.”
For an even grimmer summary of Iraq “one year later,” check out the American Conservative magazine, where Eric Margolis, who regularly writes for the Toronto Sun — and so over the last two years has been able to offer his thoughts with a bluntness largely unfamiliar here — suggests that the Bush administration “is faced with a basic contradiction between its claims of forging a truly democratic Iraq and U.S. strategic ambitions in the region The Pentagon plans three major military bases in Iraq from which to control the oil-producing Mideast and to protect the new ‘Imperial Lifeline,’ the pipelines bringing crude westward from the Caspian Basin. Britain used Iraq for the same purpose. In all but name, the U.S. has become heir of the old British Empire.” On our imperial burden, more to come in my next dispatch. Tom
Sistani’s Shia refuse to play their assigned role
By Eric S. Margolis
The American Conservative
March 29, 2004
In a remarkable example of historical irony, a scowling, black-turbaned Shia ayatollah has emerged from obscurity for the second time in a quarter century to vex and confound America’s plans for the Mideast.
Twenty-four years ago, the U.S. encouraged Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein, to invade Iran and overthrow the new revolutionary Islamic government of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The U.S. and Britain secretly aided Iraq with arms, finance, chemical and biological weapons, intelligence, military advisors, and diplomatic support in its bloody war against Iran that lasted eight years and caused one million casualties. But when Saddam Hussein grew too big for his boots, his former U.S. and British patrons brought him down. Now, over two decades later, another powerful Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali el-Sistani, is challenging America’s Mideast Raj, and Washington has reacted to this perfectly predictable event with deep consternation and confusion.
Eric S. Margolis is the author of War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia and a columnist, commentator, and war correspondent.