Quotes of the day:
From the pen of the prophet Schwartzkopf: “‘Had we taken all of Iraq,’ General H. Norman Schwarzkopf wrote after Gulf War I, ‘we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit-we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation. This is a burden I am sure the beleaguered American taxpayer would not have been happy to take on.‘” (Quoted by Jack Miles in a New York Observer review of Jonathan Schell’s book The Unconquerable World.)
“The doodles on the desk at the guardhouse tell it all. ‘Stuck here forever,’ an angry sergeant at the sand-blown US army base outside this desert town has scrawled with a felt-tip pen, alongside some scatological sketches. In the words of Sgt Joseph: ‘Our motto is “Send Me'” We are adding the word “Home'” Hinesville is the armpit of the world. Right now, I’ll take the armpit.” (From a Guardian piece by Jonathan Steele, visiting part of the 3rd Infantry Division at a base near Fallujah. Their home base is in Hinesville, Georgia.)
Actually, the quotes today have swept me away. I was planning to do a dispatch on North Korea (perhaps tomorrow I can take you to visit the “Dear Leader,” Jr.), but when you hit a riptide you better ride it where it’s going or you’ll find yourself in danger of drowning. So let me offer a day of quotes, but only after I launch a new Tomdispatch contest, modeled on that old children’s series Where’s Waldo. (You know, you had to find the goofy looking guy with the striped shirt and funny hat on a page teeming with hundreds of other tiny figures.)
The first two in my Where’s series will be: Where’s Vice President Dick Cheney and Where’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Cheney has admittedly proved notoriously reclusive, but has anyone noticed that in the past few weeks he’s simply disappeared, rather like Saddam H? And Wolfowitz, who talked his head off month after month into and out of the war, has also fallen surprisingly silent. Today when I went to Defense Link, the DOD’s official site, I found only this: “Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are in Washington. There are no public or media events on their schedules.” As the Audubon Society does for rare birds, I should have a phone number so that you can call in sightings. Feel free to nominate other missing officials. There’s no deadline for this contest, though if you are a relative, friend, or bureaucratic neighbor of the official you are nominating, you are ineligible for a prize.
Okay, here we go then — the day in quotes:
“‘We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.’
“George W. Bush uttered that amazing sentence yesterday to justify the war in Iraq What? Yes, I promise that’s what the man said. (And by “him,” the president clearly meant Saddam Hussein — not Kim Jong-Il, who actually has refused to let international inspectors into North Korea.)
“Now a presidential statement so frontally at variance with the universally acknowledged facts obviously presents a problem for the White House press corps. He wasn’t joking, and he didn’t sound disoriented or unwell. Although Dana Priest and Dana Milbank wrote the [Post] story as delicately as they possibly could, they couldn’t make it seem less weird What possessed the president to make an assertion that everyone on the planet knows to be untrue? And who is going to take the responsibility for this one? Did George Tenet vet Bush’s statement? As hard to explain as what Bush said is the press corps’ failure to report his stunning gaffe.”
Another explanation for the president’s general confusion about the “case” for going to war with Iraq before an Iraqi-produced “mushroom cloud” rose over some American city — “the first sign of a smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud,” as the neocons said at the time — was that there wasn’t one. Walter Pincus of the Post reports (Bush Faced Dwindling Data on Iraq Nuclear Bid):
“a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq.
“By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa — although now almost entirely disproved — was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration’s case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program. That may explain why the administration strived to keep the information in the speech and attribute it to the British, even though the CIA had challenged it earlier.”
After so many months of nothing doing, the Post has finally put Pincus on the investigative why-did-we-go-to-war beat and he’s doing a bang-up job.
In the meantime, speculation is growing about who put CIA director Tenet in the Niger- yellowcake hammerlock: Here’s Julian Borger of the Guardian on the subject (Beating around the Bush):
“Pressed about the White House’s conversations with the CIA aimed at massaging the language about uranium, Rice lost her customary poise.”I’m going to be very clear, all right?… if the agency had wanted that sentence out, it would have been gone.They cleared the speech.”
“So there. But it does not answer the real question, which was: who did all the heavy work leaning on the agency and poor George Tenet, who knew he was lucky to hold on to his job after the September 11 intelligence failures?
“Two names come up again and again in conversations with intelligence sources in Washington: Newt Gingrich, the former Republican congressional leader, who seems to have repeatedly visited as an informal ambassador for the Pentagon hardliners; and Dick Cheney, who seems to have spent more time down at Langley, egging on the analysts, than any other senior official. The trail leads back to the Pentagon and the White House itself.”
While back in jolly old England, Martin Kettle reports in the Guardian (America wanted war, Dossiers and proof of WMD are a sideshow – Blair backed Bush for one simple reason) that a book by a former editor of the British Times reveals a new “document,” an envelop on which, it seems, Tony Blair scribbled six points in September 2002 indicating that none of the arguments about WMD or anything else mattered one bit. The Americans had already made the decision for war and Blair had decided to follow. As Kettle puts it in part (but check the whole piece out for yourself):
“It has long been clear that September 2002 was pivotal. It was the month when American decision-making reached ramming speed. It was when the real decisions were taken – taken before Bush went to the UN, before the UN authorised fresh weapons inspections, and before the government’s first dossier on Iraq’s WMD. All of these were simply efforts to sell a fait accompli.
“The two most important of the points are the fourth and the sixth. They tell us, with great clarity, that in September 2002 Blair acknowledged that the US would go to war in Iraq ‘whatever anyone else said or did’. They tell us, too, that Blair believed that Britain should go to war alongside the US, whatever anyone else said or did either.”
Just to take a break for a moment, let me summarize one day’s disaster in Central Iraq from the latest AP/CNN reports: An American soldier died and at least two were wounded in an RPG attack on a convoy west of Baghdad (“CNN showed footage of Iraqis cheering at the attack scene.”); the American-appointed mayor of the city of Hadithah, northwest of Baghdad, and one of his sons were assassinated in a car (AP reports that ” Al-Jazeera said residents of the city had accused the mayor of collaborating with coalition forces.”); and — here’s an escalation for you — a surface-to-air missile was fired at, and missed, a C-130 landing at Baghdad International today. (And this just as the New York Times reported that occupation officials were planning to reopen the airport in the next few days and “hoped to foster a sense of normalcy and encourage limited travel to Iraq, particularly by business people and aid workers.”)
Oh yes, here’s a new category to consider. We know all about rats leaving a sinking ship. Take the Poles, our new allies in the policing of Iraq, for instance. If they were to pull their forces out of Iraq now, that might be a reasonable description. But what do we call those who refuse to board a sinking ship? Something more generous I hope. Yesterday, the Indians refused to clamber aboard; today President Jacques Chirac made it clear in a meeting with the Czech president that French troops would not be sent to Iraq. The Germans have now indicated the same. (“”We are very consciously not with troops in Iraq,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Tuesday. “The German position about this did not change.”) So the thinning ranks in Iraq will have to be filled out by our newest “friends,” the Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians (do you see a trend here?) with the odd Honduran and El Salvadoran thrown in for good measure as well as the Poles, the Spanish, and perhaps (just a guess) the Micronesians.
Which reminds me, here’s my final quote of the day from quite an interesting piece in the New York Times (Ian Fisher, U.S. Eyes a Willing Romania as a New Comrade in Arms) on how poverty-stricken Romania, at the edge of the “arc of instability,” has become the latest comrade-in-arms and basing place for the US military:
“‘Iraq did provide an opportunity for Romania to demonstrate its capabilities, more so its willingness, to cooperate,’ said Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, deputy commander of the United States Marines in Europe. ‘And Romania stepped up to the plate.'”
The piece, which is well worth reading, is a classic example of imperial America and its military “footprint” in action today. This is how empires actually sound, especially when dealing with satraps. I particularly liked Maj. Gen. Fields baseball analogy, though I might offer a slight twist on it. In the American imperium, you step up to the plate, but instead of getting on base, you get a base planted on you.
Our imperium is focused on the Pentagon. “The next step [in relations] may be more permanent bases here plans envision smaller bases in eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Far East and Africa [rather than “Old Europe] all filled with rotating troops poised to strike quickly.” We have, of course, arrogated to ourselves that right to “strike quickly” from those bases more or less across the globe.
Even our sense of “aid” is now thoroughly militarized. Fisher comments:
“In the last few weeks, joint training exercises in Romania have brought together southeast European countries allied with the United States. Technically, it is an exercise in cooperation; practically, it mended Romania’s ailing infrastructureCombat engineers also practiced urban warfare by setting off explosions in abandoned buildings at a military base here – in Germany, American officials noted, many more permits would have been required. They also built a new school and refurbished an old one.”
That new school is a nice touch. Our military has now become our State Department and our Peace Corps. At the new school in the village of Corbu, Fisher adds, the mayor gave the Americans a “warm welcome,” while the schoolchildren sang, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and “swarmed” General Fields. If only it were Iraq.
Let me add two pieces below — the first from the Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele describes the difficult situation of those in the new Governing Council caught between Iraq and a hard place, and facing a familiar conundrum of the last century or two; in addition,, an interview/report from Newsday, the first I’ve seen with someone who claims to be and seems truly to be part of the otherwise shadowy Iraqi resistance, a member of Saddam Hussein’s former Fedayeen. As I wrote yesterday, it’s not always the nice guys who resist. This is grim and grisly stuff — and I obviously can’t vouch for its accuracy — but it gives a sense of exactly what the Bush administration has gotten our country into. Tom
The classic dilemma of collaboration
Iraqi leaders have to weigh up the risks of working with the occupiers
July 16, 2003
Some Iraqis see them as America’s puppets. But there was a telling moment at the first public appearance by the members of Iraq’s US-appointed “governing council” on Sunday. When Ahmed Chalabi, head of the CIA-funded Iraqi National Congress, took it on himself to “express the gratitude of the Iraqi people” to George Bush and Tony Blair for “liberating Iraq”, none of the other 24 members at their joint press conference clapped.
It was not that they were an unappreciative lot. They applauded a colleague who appealed to al-Jazeera and other Arab television stations not to be negative about events in Iraq. They had clapped when another said there was no chance of Saddam Hussein returning to power. But public thanks for Bush and Blair? No thanks.
A Promise To Fight On
A leader in Iraqi militia group tells of plans for extended guerrilla war
By Mohamad Bazzi
July 10, 2003
Fallujah, Iraq – He is a leader in Saddam’s Fedayeen, the militia group that put up some of the strongest resistance to U.S. forces as they swept through Iraq, and he says he has organized recent attacks on American troops occupying Iraq.
The militia fighter is now living on the run and working toward the day when an Iraqi insurgency would drive American soldiers out of his country and return Saddam Hussein to power.
“We have many more people and we’re a lot better organized than the Americans realize,” said Khaled, 29, who gave an hour-long interview yesterday on the condition that only his first name be published. “We have been preparing for this kind of guerrilla war for a long time, and we’re much more patient than the Americans. We have nowhere else to go.”