Hearing voices, smiting enemies

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He hears a Voice and smites enemies: An eagle-eyed reader directed me to the last paragraph of a piece in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz (Arnon Regular, ‘Road map is a life saver for us,’ PM Abbas tells Hamas) based on “selected minutes acquired from one of last week’s cease-fire negotiations between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and faction leaders from the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts.” Here’s the relevant paragraph, admittedly second-hand, but no less tellingly Old Testament for that:

“Abbas said that at Aqaba, Bush promised to speak with Sharon about the siege on Arafat. He said nobody can speak to or pressure Sharon except the Americans. According to Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: ‘God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.‘”

Evidently, if I’m catching my own voices correctly, should the road map not sort itself out quickly, Bush is indicating that he’ll have to turn to the domestic situation and launch “preventive” raids on the last strips of Democrat-occupied America. There, according to the latest “solid intelligence” (like the kind that didn’t get Saddam and his sons at the Syrian border just days ago but did manage to kill some Iraqi villagers), he’s expecting his special forces teams to uncover both the missing Iraqi precursors for their weapons of mass destruction and definitive links between Governor Deane, Senator Kerry and a resident of Boston listed in the phone book as Albert Kaida.

She hears a voice and smites American generals: We’re talking about Judith Miller “reporter” for the New York Times, who turns out to have made more news than she bothered to misreport, and the voice she’s been hearing these many months has been Ahmed Chalabi’s. Howard Kurtz, media guy for the Washington Post, has been trying to “out” her for a while. His most recent piece on how Miller has over-performed her journalistic duties is a wowser. (Embedded Reporter’s Role In Army Unit’s Actions Questioned by Military) She seems to have taken on the roles of general, debriefer of enemy prisoners, and strategist — and the Special Forces team she was “embedded” in evidently came to be called the “Judith Miller team.” As I’ve long been saying, her reporting, not Jayson Blair’s, is the real scandal at the Times, because she, unlike him, made a difference in how Americans took in the war in Iraq. Kurtz’s piece begins:

“New York Times reporter Judith Miller played a highly unusual role in an Army unit assigned to search for dangerous Iraqi weapons, according to U.S. military officials, prompting criticism that the unit was turned into what one official called a ‘rogue operation.’

“More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi’s headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law

“In April, Miller wrote a letter objecting to an Army commander’s order to withdraw the unit, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, from the field. She suggested that she would write about it unfavorably in the Times. After Miller took up the matter with a two-star general, the pullback order was dropped.”

“More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi’s headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law

“In April, Miller wrote a letter objecting to an Army commander’s order to withdraw the unit, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, from the field. She suggested that she would write about it unfavorably in the Times. After Miller took up the matter with a two-star general, the pullback order was dropped.”

They hear acronyms (but not in Arabic): Here’s a complete ABC news piece (‘Colourful’ acronym forces Iraq army name change) as picked up off the always interesting website:

“US authorities in Iraq have been forced to change the name of the planned Iraqi armed forces, after learning that the original title they came up with created an unfortunate acronym in Arabic. The planned force was originally entitled the New Iraqi Corps, whose initials in Arabic produce a colourful synonym for fornication.

“‘I am told reliably but unanimously that that acronym is not a nice word in Arabic,’ a senior official from the Coalition Provisional Authority said. ‘Therefore we had to come up with another word.’

“The force is to be known as the New Iraqi Army.”

I did notice today that the new general who will succeed Tommy Franks at Centcom speaks fluent Arabic, but as in Vietnam, we Americans managed to arrive in the country not only without telephones and computer hook-ups, or any particular knowledge of Iraq, but without translators, without — Ahmed Chalabi and his few men aside — Iraqis as far as I can tell.

He speaks in the voice of an Old Testament prophet but no one listens: Senator Robert Byrd rose on the Senate floor once again recently and made yet another prophetic speech about how the administration used fear and jiggered intelligence to get the war it always wanted. It’s entitled The Road to Coverup Is the Road to Ruin. I include some passages below, and in them is a question we haven’t yet heard officially anywhere, but I believe we soon will. Of our troops in Iraq he asks the President, “When are they coming home?” With another dead American, several more wounded, and two missing today, it’s none too soon to ask:

“Whether or not intelligence reports were bent, stretched, or massaged to make Iraq look like an imminent threat to the United States, it is clear that the Administration’s rhetoric played upon the well-founded fear of the American public about future acts of terrorism. But, upon close examination, many of these statements have nothing to do with intelligence, because they are at root just sound bites based on conjecture. They are designed to prey on public fear.

“The face of Osama bin Laden morphed into that of Saddam Hussein. President Bush carefully blurred these images in his State of the Union Address.

“Mr. President, our sons and daughters who serve in uniform answered a call to duty. They were sent to the hot sands of the Middle East to fight in a war that has already cost the lives of 194 Americans, thousands of innocent civilians, and unknown numbers of Iraqi soldiers. Our troops are still at risk. Hardly a day goes by that there is not another attack on the troops who are trying to restore order to a country teetering on the brink of anarchy. When are they coming home?

“Although some timorous steps have been taken in the past few days to begin a review of this intelligence – I must watch my terms carefully, for I may be tempted to use the words “investigation” or “inquiry” to describe this review, and those are terms which I am told are not supposed to be used – the proposed measures appear to fall short of what the situation requires. We are already shading our terms about how to describe the proposed review of intelligence: cherry-picking words to give the American people the impression that the government is fully in control of the situation, and that there is no reason to ask tough questions. This is the same problem that got us into this controversy about slanted intelligence reports. Word games. Lots and lots of word games.

“Well, Mr. President, this is no game. For the first time in our history, the United States has gone to war because of intelligence reports claiming that a country posed a threat to our nation. Congress should not be content to use standard operating procedures to look into this extraordinary matter. We should accept no substitute for a full, bipartisan investigation by Congress into the issue of our pre-war intelligence on the threat from Iraq and its use.”

Here, by the way is another vivid voice, that of Sami Ramadami, an Iraqi exile in London, calling for a withdrawal in the Guardian in a piece that appeared under the blunt headline, Bring the British Troops Home. It reads in part:

“The US administration is trying to convince us that it is the “remnants” of Saddam’s regime that are resisting the occupation. We are invited to believe that Saddam’s “fanatical” supporters, who were not prepared to die for him when he was in power, are engaged in astounding heroics after he has been deposed and the Iraqi state machine crushed. Much of the British media has been willing to go along with this deception, which helps to cover up the truth about the developing dirty war in Iraq.

“It doesn’t need much investigation to see that Saddam’s tyrannical regime is being rapidly replaced by a tyranny of the occupation forces, who are killing Iraqi civilians and unleashing Vietnam-style “search and destroy” raids on Iraqi people’s homes. Meanwhile, Iraqis are making it abundantly clear that what they want is freedom, independence and democracy: the same burning desires they had during Saddam’s dictatorship.”

Below I include three pieces which consider the occupation of Iraq (and in Pilger’s case Afghanistan) from the perspective of history. For British journalist John Pilger in the British New Statesman and the American historian Howard Zinn at the website, the context is Vietnam. Zinn asks whether, sooner or later, the American people will see through the lies and deceptions of this administration and join a great movement against the relentless drive toward war, more war, and empire. “On the answer to this question hangs the future of the nation.”

Much remains to be considered about this question. But where are the great reporters in “the heartland” figuring out why the American people opine in the polls as they do. What of the well over 50% in the Washington Post poll mentioned below who claim they would support a strike against Iran, if they seemed close to getting a bomb? What of the still soaring levels of support for Bush at a moment when, as the New York Times front-paged today, the countries top 400 wealthiest taxpayers accounted for more than 1% of the nation’s income in 2000, double their share in 1992? I haven’t seen a decent piece yet. Nonetheless, on casualties in Iraq, the administration is already growing nervous about future levels of support (and Karl Rove reputedly angry about the botched job there). The Christian Science Monitor reports (Linda Feldman, As fatalities rise, will support wane?):

“It is a subject that makes administration officials uneasy. They know that American military deaths in Iraq could sap public support for the US role there, and eventually precipitate an early withdrawal. The question, for a White House as sensitive as any to public opinion, is how long the drip, drip, drip of US casualties can continue without major erosion of support for US policy.

“Public concern is beginning to register. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday shows a decline in the percentage of Americans who believe the US casualty figures are ‘acceptable,’ from two-thirds in early April to about half now.”

The third piece below by the eloquent Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh in the Hindu suggests quite a different historical perspective — that of former colonials who once were made to police the old European empires as the Pentagon is now trying to gather its own “sepoys” to police occupied Iraq. Only yesterday, after Pakistani ruler General Pervez Musharraf’s meeting with our president — you know, the one who hears that Voice — he half-agreed to send Pakistani troops there (which, in turn, undoubtedly puts pressure on India to do the same). Peter Slevin in the Washington Post (More Foreign Troops Needed In Afghanistan, Musharraf Says) offers this pungent little paragraph on the subject. Note the key sentence, the call for payment:

“Pakistan has accepted ‘in principle’ a request by U.S. and British authorities to provide several thousand soldiers to strengthen the shaky security situation in Iraq, Musharraf said, but it remains wary about joining the U.S.-led occupation force without the participation of other Muslim countries or cover from the United Nations. Pakistan is also too poor to afford a deployment, he said.”

With that in mind consider what Ghosh has to say. Tom

Afghanistan and Iraq – Bush’s Vietnam
By John Pilger
The New Statesman
June 24, 2003

America’s two “great victories” since 11 September 2001 are unravelling. In Afghanistan, the regime of Hamid Karzai has virtually no authority and no money, and would collapse without American guns. Al Qaeda has not been defeated, and the Taliban are re-emerging. Regardless of showcase improvements, the situation of women and children remains desperate. The token woman in Karzai’s cabinet, the courageous physician Sima Samar, has been forced out of government and is now in constant fear of her life, with an armed guard outside her office door and another at her gate. Murder, rape and child abuse are committed with impunity by the private armies of America’s “friends”, the warlords whom Washington has bribed with millions of dollars, cash in hand, to give the pretence of stability.

To read more Pilger click here

Lessons of empire
By Amitav Ghosh
The Hindu
June 24, 2003

The recent war in Iraq has been replete with chilling reminders of the history of empire. Among the most dismaying of these is the proposal, now being considered by the Government of India, that Indian troops be used for the policing of Iraq.

Today, in the 56th year of independence, India is faced with the prospect of re-enacting one of the ugliest and most repugnant aspects of its colonial history. During the Raj, Indian soldiers were used both for the expansion of the empire and for the suppression of anti-colonial rebellions, at home and abroad. For more than a century, they battled insurgents in East Africa, Burma, China, Malaya and of course, Mesopotamia (the present-day Iraq). Independent India has yet to live down this shameful legacy: in many parts of the world Indians are still remembered as Imperial mercenaries, as slaves who allowed themselves to be used without reflection or self-awareness.

To read more Ghosh click here

The Specter Of Vietnam
By Howard Zinn
June 25, 2003

The war in Iraq is different in so many ways from the war waged by the United States in Vietnam that we wonder why, like the telltale heart beating behind the murderer’s wall in Edgar Allan Poe’s story, the drumbeat of Vietnam can still be heard.

The Vietnam war lasted eight years, the Iraq war three weeks. In Vietnam there were 58,000 U.S. combat casualties, in Iraq a few hundred. Our enemy in Vietnam was a popular national figure — Ho Chin Minh. Our enemy in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was hated by most of his people. One war was fought in jungles and mountains with a largely draftee army, the other in a sandy desert with volunteer soldiers. The United States was defeated in Vietnam. It was victorious in Iraq.

Howard Zinn is an historian and author of A People’s History of the United States.

To read more Zinn click here