My hometown paper

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Small paragraphs on large topics (or sometimes you, the reader, have to do your own reporting):

Here, for instance, is the fourteenth paragraph of Free Market Iraq? Not So Fast by Daphne Eviatar in the Saturday Arts & Ideas section of the New York Times on the legality of the occupation administration’s moves to transform the Iraqi economy: “So the [Coalition Provisional] authority is pressing ahead with most of the plans for economic reform in Iraq and promises to have new laws in Iraq governing, among other things, business ownership, foreign investment, banking, the stock exchange, trade and taxes by June, when power is to be transferred to the Iraqis.

And here are the seventeenth and eighteenth paragraphs of The Military: In Hussein’s Shadow, New Iraqi Army Strives to Be Both New and Iraqi by John Burns, also in the Times, on the development of a new military in Iraq: “By the Pentagon’s count, the new battalion will join 160,000 armed Iraqis serving alongside the United States-led occupation forces But the hard fact, admitted by American commanders, is that the new Iraq will depend on a steadying presence of tens of thousands of American troops for years, even if Iraqi politicians, Arabs and Kurds and Turkmens, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and the small minority of Christians, can settle their squabbles over power-sharing in a new constitution. Some American officers said troops would be here three to five years; others say 10 to 15. Iraqis tend to the higher estimates, even as they say they wish the Americans could withdraw much sooner.

Note, by the way, that of the impressive “160,000 armed Iraqis,” as far as I can tell, less than 1,000 seem to make up the new Iraqi army. As with so much else, since L. Paul Bremer, our viceroy in Baghdad, dissolved the Iraqi military, we’ve been a tad slow and less than successful in training a new one. And in any case, our prewar plans, which seem not to have changed, were for a reconstituted Iraqi Military Lite of about 40,000 troops with no air force or possibly heavy weaponry, which in that neighborhood of our world more or less ensures that another military has to hang around to protect the country. Guess which one?

Okay, maybe you have to be a news junkie to dig paragraphs like these out of long articles, but put them together and what do you get? A question, I think. By the time “sovereignty” is handed back to the Iraqis, any Iraqis, the economy will be “legally” opened to foreign control forever in a way not at all advantageous to the Iraqis, and American troops will undoubtedly be ensconced in bases there for, oh, 10-15 years to come, and don’t forget we’ll have the largest “embassy” on Earth in Baghdad, a virtual Green Zone of representation, over 3,000 “diplomats” to enforce er “sovereignty.” It gives new meaning to that old Janis Joplin lyric, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin left to lose.”

Now, for the fun of it, let me put together two more quotes from the paper of record. Think of them as dueling quotes — like dueling banjos. One was embedded in Neela Banerjee’s, Energy: In an Oil-Rich Land, Power Shortages Defy Solution, on the left side of page 14 of the Thursday New York Times; the other by John Burns, Insurgents: Iraqis Shell Living Quarters at U.S. Base, Wounding 35, was on the right side of the same page.

Somehow I’m reminded of a nonsense rhyme from my childhood that began: “One fine day in the middle of the night, two dead boys went out to fight/ Back to back they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other”

Here’s the Burns quote (and context):

Overall, American commanders have begun to sound far more upbeat about the conflict since the capture of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit on Dec. 13. The most confident assessment yet was offered at a news conference on Tuesday by Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. General Swannack’s operational area includes a swath to the west and south of Baghdad, including some of the hottest trouble spots in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where more than 90 percent of all attacks on American troops have occurred.

“The general, a large, imposing figure renowned among his troops for his no-nonsense ways, began his remarks by reminding the reporters that he had appeared in Baghdad six weeks ago, about the time of the insurgents’ Ramadan offensive, and had said he believed in his area were ‘turning the corner.’

“Now, he said, ‘I’m here to tell you that we’ve turned that corner.'”

And here’s the sword Banerjee drew (with context):

In addition, the American bureaucracy for awarding contracts and releasing funds, pilloried by Congress for giving away money too easily, nevertheless moves too slowly to satisfy Iraqis, whose impatience is fertile ground for more acts of rebellion.

“‘There’s a large set of people who are neutral and their patience is wearing thin, and they can join those against us,’ said Col. Kurt Fuller, commander of the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, which has responsibility for much of south Baghdad.”

I’m sorry, which corner was that we were turning? Perhaps the one just south of Hell’s Kitchen and east of the Sunni Triangle, the one without the traffic light but where the guy with the RPG is standing. By the way, don’t forget that corner — which Col. Fuller, being closer to the ground, probably turns far more often than General Swannack, and which their troops undoubtedly turn far more often than either of them. I’m going to return to it after turning another corner below. By the way, I wouldn’t mind asking some of their troops which corner they think they’re turning these days. Just this week we had one of the largest one-day casualty tolls of the war and “postwar” period (from a downed helicopter, 9 dead, and a mortared supply base, 1 dead, 34 wounded), though I didn’t see a lot of papers doing the math.

But let me finish beating up on my hometown paper. It’s been one of those bad WMD weeks for the administration by any normal measure. First, a piece bluntly headlined Iraq’s Arsenal Only on Paper hit the Washington Post‘s front-page. Written by Barton Gellman, who has been doing splendid reporting on this issue, it was a long exploration of the actual state of Iraqi research on and programs for producing weapons of mass destruction before the war. Its key passage was:

“Interviews here — among Iraqi weaponeers and investigators from the U.S. and British governments — turned up unreported records, facilities or materials that could have been used in unlawful weapons. But investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ-warfare agents such as anthrax bacteria, and no work on a new designer pathogen — combining pox virus and snake venom — that led U.S. scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months. The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a ‘grave and gathering danger’ by President Bush and a ‘mortal threat’ by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s.”

That was on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Times itself had a report by Douglas Jehl, admittedly tucked deep inside its news section, revealing that the Bush administration had very quietly withdrawn a 400-man team of weapons hunters from Iraq. On the same day, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace issued what Inter Press reporter Jim Lobe called (Iraqi WMD: Myths and more myths) “the most comprehensive public analysis so far of the administration’s WMD claims and what has been found in Iraq.” Written by Joseph Cirincione, George Perkovich, and the Endowment’s president Jessica Tuchman Mathews (whose mother’s old book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, is undoubtedly still a topical read, given our world),WMD in Iraq was scathing. Among its conclusions:

“Iraq WMD Was Not An Immediate Threat: Iraq’s nuclear program had been suspended for many years; Iraq focused on preserving a latent, dual-use chemical and probably biological weapons capability, not weapons production. Iraqi nerve agents had lost most of their lethality as early as 1991. Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, and UN inspections and sanctions effectively destroyed Iraq’s large-scale chemical weapon production capabilities

“Intelligence Failed and Was Misrepresented: Intelligence community overestimated the chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. Intelligence community appears to have been unduly influenced by policymakers’ views. Officials misrepresented threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missiles programs over and above intelligence findings.”

And let’s not forget that “no solid evidence of cooperative relationship between Saddam’s government and Al Qaeda [was found, nor] evidence that Iraq would have transferred WMD to terrorists — and much evidence to counter it.”

The authors called for, among other things, “a nonpartisan, independent commission to establish a clearer picture of what the intelligence community knew and believed it knew about Iraq’s weapons program.”

Cirincione also told reporters, “It is very likely that intelligence officials were pressured by senior administration officials to conform their threat assessments to pre-existing policies.”

Lobe concludes:

“The new report is likely to be taken as the most serious blow yet to the administration’s credibility. Carnegie is the publisher of the journal Foreign Policy, and, while its general political orientation is slightly left of center, it has long been studiously non-partisan, and also houses right-wing figures, such as neo-conservative writer Robert Kagan. Carnegie president Mathews travelled to Iraq last September as part of a bi-partisan group of highly respected national security analysts invited by the Pentagon to assess the situation there.”

This report was devastating enough that Colin Powell at a Thursday press conference defended himself on the subject and then that night appeared in the friendliest of settings on Nightline to defend again his shredded prewar UN performance. (On Charlie Rose at that very moment, Richard Perle and David Frum were attacking Powell and his ilk as they pushed their new neocon cri de Coeur, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror and peddled their mad wares under equally sympathetic questioning). At his press conference, while defending the administration’s (and his) now ludicrous WMD claims for Iraq, Powell, as MSNBC reported, “reversed a year of administration policy, acknowledging Thursday that he had seen no ‘smoking gun [or] concrete evidence’ of ties between former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.”:

“Powell, speaking at a news conference at the State Department, stressed that he was still certain that Iraq had dangerous weapons and needed to be disarmed by force, and he sharply disagreed with a private think tank report [the Carnegie report] that maintained that Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States. ‘I have not seen smoking gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I do believe the connections existed,’ he said.

“Powell’s observation marked a turning point in administration arguments in support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq last spring.”

A turning point. Oh, and speaking of modest turning points, last week National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also admitted, according to the British Guardian: “The United States has no credible evidence that Iraq moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria early last year before the U.S.-led war that drove Saddam Hussein from power.. `Any indication that something like that happened would be a very serious matter. But I want to be very clear: we don’t, at this point, have any indications that I would consider credible and firm that that has taken place, but we will tie down every lead.'”

This had, of course, been one administration explanation, no less farfetched than the rest of them, for why Saddam’s WMD were “missing” from Iraq.

Historian Juan Cole puts the reality clearly indeed in a headline at his site: “No WMD. Nada. Bupkes” and comments:

“I think a lot of conceptual unclarity could be undone if we avoided the phrases ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and ‘war on terror.’ Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction. They are battlefield weapons. They have primarily been used in battlefield situations, or against civilian insurgents (as with the RAF in Iraq in the 1920s or Saddam against the Kurds in the 1980s). The major attempt to use Sarin for terrorism failed, though it killed a handful of people and sickened others to one extent or another (Aum Shinrikyo and the Tokyo subway in 1995). The patterns of urban airflow make them extremely difficult to deliver for small groups lacking a military.

“Iraq at one point had chemical weapons stockpiles. Does not appear to have had any recently. That it once had them was not a casus belli in 2003. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. It did not have the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons. It has had no active nuclear weapons program for a decade. We were told by the pundits that Iraq could have nuclear weapons in 3-5 years, i.e. by 2006 or 2008. This was not true. It wasn’t even remotely true. A facility big enough and sophisticated enough to make nuclear weapons would have been huge and impossible to hide. Kahuta in Pakistan was an open secret, because it had to be. It couldn’t be a closed secret.

“Most members of Congress say that it was the thought of Saddam having nuclear weapons that impelled them to vote for the war. They were had. We were all had.”

(Well, maybe not everyone. Former UN inspector Scott Ritter, for instance, claimed that Iraq had no significant WMD. He said so often in the run-up to war, but was more or less laughed out of town by the administration and the media.)

Now here’s the curious thing, to return to the New York Times for a moment, during this week when the administration’s approach to Iraqi WMD was surely news, nothing on the subject was considered worthy of the Times‘ front page. The paper carried two pieces on the subject, the first by Jehl on Thursday actually made news on that withdrawn weapons team (Arms Search: U.S. Withdraws a Team of Weapons Hunters From Iraq) and the second on Friday by Christopher Marquis (Diplomacy: Powell Admits No Hard Proof in Linking Iraq to Al Qaeda) reported on the Powell admission that there was no “smoking gun.” Jehl’s piece was relegated to page 14, bottom; the Marquis to page 10, bottom. Both mentioned, more or less in passing, the Carnegie report, which didn’t merit a piece of its own, even though Powell found it a significant enough challenge to respond to; the Jehl reported briefly on Gellman’s Washington Post revelations. Neither piece mentioned the Carnegie call for an investigatory commission. Neither was considered by the editors worthy, nor was the subject, of the front page.

To crown the week’s decisions, the lead editorial on today’s Sunday editorial page, The Faulty Weapons Estimates, dwells at greater length than either of the week’s articles on both the Carnegie report and the Gellman piece, and then calls for exactly what the Carnegie authors called for (though without acknowledging that they had) — “a nonpartisan investigation independent of political pressures from the administration and Congress.”

Though the editorial itself is hardly a powerful critique, no less a ringing denunciation, of administration lies, evasions, and propaganda, it certainly is an admission that the paper missed the boat all week. I mention all this only because the Times is, after all, considered the paper of record. And in certain ways on this issue, it has proved to be just that. Remember, Times reporter Judith Miller seemed to confirm the administration’s claims that underlay the war via post-war, front-paged bombshell revelations about supposed discoveries of Iraqi WMD, which turned out to be bogus, as she wandered around Iraq with a military search team. Now, its news decisions seem to have captured something of the mood of this moment.

The administration, of course, just wants the “search” to continue until at least mid-November 2004, while administration figures continue to claim, largely without being disputed, as Powell did this week, that “the game is still unfolding.” What an appropriate word from their point of view. Ah, the “game” of WMD searching — not the Great Game perhaps, but a little game which is to remain endlessly afoot, no matter the evidence. The Times also seemed to catch a more general attitude in our media that might go something like: Okay, maybe it’s news but who the hell cares.

This was no less evident at the Times in its week’s end coverage of former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s revelations in The Price of Loyalty, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill claimed that the president in meetings was “like a blind man in a group of deaf people,” Reaganesquely without interest in what went on in his own administration.

The Times “covered” this Saturday on page 21, the last page before the editorials, placing a small (or cut-down) AP piece next to its “National Briefing” of news shorts and, as of Sunday, there was no follow-up, even though the most startling revelation (missing from the Saturday report) should have been front-paged. According to CBS News:

“And what happened at President Bush’s very first National Security Council meeting is one of O’Neill’s most startling revelations. ‘From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,’ says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic ‘A’ 10 days after the inauguration — eight months before Sept. 11.

“‘From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,’ says Suskind. ‘Day one, these things were laid and sealed.'”

Mike Allen of the Washington Post at least reported O’Neill’s war revelation today (O’Neill: Plan to Hit Iraq Began Pre-9/11), though the piece was placed on p. 13; and the Los Angeles Times did similarly, though the Boston Globe seems to have front-paged it. Time magazine offered perhaps the most thorough piece on O’Neill’s revelations, including the following gem (Confessions of a White House Insider):

“‘In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction,’ he told TIME. ‘There were allegations and assertions by people. But I’ve been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence.'”

And the following:

“A White House that seems to pick an outcome it wants and then marshal the facts to meet it seems very much like one that might decide to remove Saddam Hussein and then tickle the facts to meet its objective. That’s the inescapable conclusion one draws from O’Neill’s description of how Saddam was viewed from Day One. ‘From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country It was about finding a way to do itThe President saying, “Fine. Go find me a way to do this.”‘”

But for the New York Times and many other papers, the possibility that planning for war with Iraq had actually begun in the White House by late January 2001 was no news, or next to no news at all.

(And while we’re at it, doesn’t somebody find it strange that those rumors/reports circulating abroad in perfectly reputable news outlets about the possible Kurdish capture of Saddam Hussein — which, if true, would make another of our stories a set of lies and propaganda — isn’t being dealt with, as far as I can tell, in the American media at all, not even to be denied, disproved, or dismissed? These reports may not be true, but shouldn’t they at least be acknowledged?)

There was, of course, some good writing on the subject of this week’s WMD news from people like David Corn of the Nation magazine and Derrick Z. Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe, both of whom have been highlighting Bush administration lies for months and months. And columnist Bill Berkowitz at the Tom Paine website, having reviewed the case of the missing WMD, comments (Media AWOL): “If there’s any scandal brewing at this point, it’s that the mainstream media has not held the Bush administration accountable for its misinformation and disinformation campaign about Iraq’s WMD stockpiles.”

While day after day the media dissects Howard Dean’s last meal, news about the lies that lay at the heart of a war that continues to result in needless American deaths (not to speak of Iraqi ones) gets at best timid and haphazard coverage in our media; sometimes none at all. None of this, of course, stops the Bush people from continuing to talk in the most solemn way about pursuing WMD in Iraq or repeating most of their lies for the umpteenth time, and my suspicion is that in some way they are now lead-proofed against the x-ray of evidence on the subject.

The closest analogy I can come up with is Ronald Reagan’s SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) in the 1980s — initially a wild dream of the President’s to put an “invulnerable shield” against nuclear weapons over our heads. When critics called his plan “Star Wars” to ridicule it, he embraced the term. Each time scientific types shot one version or aspect of SDI out of the skies, using evidence and reason, the program simply morphed into another dreamy form and — like the Blob of 1950s scifi fame — continued to absorb its surroundings; in this case, R&D funds from the Pentagon. The critics were right again and again, but it didn’t matter. SDI and its “high frontier” enthusiasts have never left us and now the Bush administration is about to put the first “fruits” of SDI, an anti-missile system that has absorbed and will continue to absorb multibillions and won’t work as advertised, into place. SDI proved impermeable to criticism, to evidence, to reason. The Iraqi WMD question seems to be following a similar path. It has been discredited over and over again, but never in a fashion that trumped the coverage of administration claims, no matter how wild, and who cares?

Naomi Klein, writing for the Nation, recently came to a similar conclusion on the more general topic of administration fraudulence and untruth (The Year of the Fake)

“When Bush came to office, many believed his ignorance would be his downfall. Eventually Americans would realize that a President who referred to Africa as “a nation” was unfit to lead. Now we tell ourselves that if only Americans knew that they were being lied to, they would surely revolt. But with the greatest of respect for the liar books (Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Big Lies, The Lies of George W. Bush, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq et al.), I’m no longer convinced that America can be set free by the truth alone. In many cases, fake versions of events have prevailed even when the truth was readily available Rather than being toppled for his adversarial relationship to both the most important truths and the most basic facts, Bush is actively remaking America in the image of his own ignorance and duplicity.”

In some way perhaps, for many Americans, administration lies seem to make more sense — or at least more comfortable sense — of events than any set of truths, and that may be enough.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of weapons of mass destruction — and things you’re not likely to see in your hometown paper, here’s a missing WMD story, printed up in England. Australia, Canada, and elsewhere, but as far as I can tell, MIA in the American mainstream media world. Tony Blair’s chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, just wrote a piece for the prestigious American (not British) scientific magazine Science, decrying the American role in global warming. Here’s how Steve Connor of the British Independent began his piece on this — front page, naturally (‘US climate policy bigger threat to world than terrorism’):

“Tony Blair’s chief scientist has launched a withering attack on President George Bush for failing to tackle climate change, which he says is more serious than terrorism. Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, says in an article today in the journal Science that America, the world’s greatest polluter, must take the threat of global warming more seriously.

“‘In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism,’ Sir David says

“‘If we could stabilise the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration at some realistically achievable and relatively low level, there is still a good chance of mitigating the worst effects of climate change.’ But countries such as Britain could not solve the problem of global warming in isolation, particularly when the US was by far the biggest producer of greenhouse gases on the planet. ‘The United Kingdom is responsible for only 2 per cent of the world’s emissions, the United States for more than 20 per cent (although it contains only 4 per cent of the world’s population).'”

But, of course, Sir Davey must have the wrong country in mind.


Let me now return to General Swannack’s “corner” because, believe me, for those of us of a certain age, turning that corner brings back memories, none of them good. When not spotting the famed “light at the end of the tunnel,” we were always officially “turning corners” in the Vietnam years. It’s no mistake that that image popped into the poor general’s mind. It’s lodged there — as is our Vietnam experience — like something caught between the teeth with no dental floss in sight.

I’ve said many times that Iraq is obviously not Vietnam, but in a world with only one superpower, with an arms race of one and an imperial drive of one, a world that is in many ways unprecedented and deeply unnerving, the urge for explanatory analogies has been powerful. Since September 11th, any number of thoughtful people have groped for analogies that would make some sense of our world. This may be the other side of the willingness of so many to settle for the administration’s simple, if bogus, explanations.

For Americans, Vietnam is invariably the analogy du jour and so General Swannack is in good company. In recent weeks, two pieces exploring that analogy have been of particular interest. William Pfaff, columnist for the International Herald Tribune, suggested that in this “year of all the answers” (Bush is ignoring the political lesson of Vietnam):

“It is true that some critics have warned of a ‘new Vietnam,’ but they nearly always do so in terms that suggest only that the eventual victory will be more costly than the Bush government expected. The Vietnam analogy is wrong in military terms The relevant analogy of Vietnam with Iraq is political. The Bush administration’s ambition in Iraq is identical to that of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations in Vietnam. It is to find or shape a plausible national movement that will turn the country into a strategic American ally.

“If a secure and at least nominally sovereign Iraqi government exists a year from today, alongside American bases in that country, the United States will have won the Iraq war. The odds are low that there will be such a government. The possibility that the United States might lose the Iraq war has yet to be seriously discussed at the level of national politics and policy.”

However, anything resembling defeat in Iraq might, he concludes, mean defeat for George Bush and of course for the very idea that “Pax Americana is America’s new destiny.”

In the Washington Post‘s Sunday Outlook section at year’s end, Robert Kaiser, who covered the Vietnam War in 1969-70, wrote a fascinating piece (Iraq Isn’t Vietnam But They Rhyme) about similarities between Iraq and Vietnam, once the obvious military dissimilarities were removed from the picture. Among those similarities, he included: Official optimism, American isolation on the ground, American isolation in the world, and the primacy of political considerations. About this he says:

“Two beleaguered presidents, each hyping his unpopular war, suggest how these two episodes can turn out to be similar in their effects. The war in Southeast Asia was Topic A for three successive presidential elections, from 1964 though 1972. Iraq seems destined for a similar role in 2004. In a domestic context, there are many similarities between the two: Disputed and inaccurate intelligence, molded for political purposes, created pretexts for both wars; each caused deep divisions in the country; and pro-war presidents draped themselves in the flag and preached the stark necessity of their war, while promising its speedy, successful conclusion

“Vietnam undermined the U.S. economy, nearly destroyed the U.S. Army and contributed to a generation or more of public cynicism and distrust of government. There are no grounds today for predicting consequences as grave from the war in Iraq. Indeed, a successful outcome, including a new democratic Iraq, remains possible. But the rhymes should give us pause.”

Of course, what analogies you choose are going to depend on where you happen to stand. If you are a former Indian ambassador to Turkey, as is K. Gajendra Singh, then quite different analogies may come to mind (Occupation case studies: Algeria and Turkey):

“After Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Middle East is the new American West. The US administration, scared of Islamic fundamentalism and religious fanatics, has yet to evolve a coherent policy to counter it. But it is turning occupied Iraq into an oligarchy of crony capitalism, after an ill-advised and illegal war on Iraq, set off and egged on by Christian fundamentalists at the core of the administration

“In an era of nation states based on patriotism and shared history, people just hate occupying powers. While Vietnam’s example and its people’s fight for freedom and making it a quagmire for US forces has been talked about, Iraq’s comparison with post World War 2 Germany and Japan shows little historic understanding. The ground situation and the evolution of the war for independence in Muslim, Arab, and till now secular Iraq, is closer to the wars of independence in Algeria and Turkey.”

Of all the recent analogy pieces, the most interesting, I believe, is one by former AP reporter Robert Parry, who quite reasonably points out that the operative analogy in the minds of many of the neocons in this administration isn’t Vietnam but the “successful” wars they fought by proxy in Central America earlier in their careers in the Reagan years, when a number of insurgencies were suppressed. In “Iraq: Quicksand and Blood,” a long and brilliant piece in In These Times (included below), he writes both of the analogy and why its application in Iraq may prove catastrophic:

“The key counterinsurgency lesson from Central America was that the U.S. government can defeat guerrilla movements if it is willing to back a local power structure, no matter how repulsive, and if Washington is ready to tolerate gross human rights abuses

“[E]ven if the Bush administration can hastily set up an Iraqi security apparatus, it may not be as committed to a joint cause with the Americans as the Central American paramilitary forces were with the Reagan administration. Without a reliable proxy force, the responsibility for conducting a scorched-earth campaign in Iraq likely would fall to American soldiers who themselves might question the wisdom and the morality of such an undertaking.

“Perhaps one of the lessons of the current dilemma is that George W. Bush may have dug such a deep hole for U.S. policy in Iraq that even Guatemalan-style brutality applied to the Sunni Triangle would only deepen the well of anti-Americanism that already exists in many parts of Iraq and across much of the Islamic world.”

On the ground:

To end I include an account written by someone I know, Dr. David Hilfiker, who visited Iraq before the war, reported on it for Tomdispatch, and is now back in Baghdad with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). He is a poverty doctor, and a level-headed, careful, sane soul. He reports here, in an email from Baghdad on a single incident, his thoughts about it, and about the kinds of acts and misunderstandings that an armed and embattled American occupation of Iraq can only foster. Tom

Mazin Jumaa’s Story
By Dr. David Hilfiker

“Tuesday morning we visited the Iraq Organization for Human Rights, an
Iraqi non-governmental organization (NGO) that examines human rights
abuses under both the former and present government. We listened to a family tell about the shooting of Abd Wahab abd Razaq on July 13, 2003. Actually an Iraqi translator,

Mazin Jumaa, who was at the time working for the CPA, told most of
the story.

On July 13, Mazin was with an American patrol that had just set up a new
checkpoint in what he thought was an unsuitable place on the road. The
checkpoint allowed only one lane of traffic through at a time, so a queue
formed. Abd Wahab drove his white Peugot at the high rate of speed
normal for the road and could not stop in time without hitting the cars
in the queue so he swerved to the right. (There’s some uncertainty about
why he didn’t slow down more: he may not have realized there was a
checkpoint, witnesses thought it might have been bad brakes, but it’s not
clear.) About a hundred meters from the checkpoint, the soldiers opened
up with automatic fire; Mazin didn’t notice any warnings being given, but
it’s not clear there would have been time for the soldiers to do that.
Abd Wahab died in a hail of bullets. A man from another car was shot in
the eye and killed instantly by a stray bullet.

The lieutenant in charge of the patrol went over to the car and told the
victim to get out of the car. Mazin told the lieutenant that the man was
dying. The lieutenant pulled Abd Wahab from the car and, according to
Mazin, dragged him by his collar 20 — 25 meters across the street. Two
other soldiers came and guarded the man. Mazin said the soldiers were
talking about the victim and “laughing.” (I asked later whether he meant
“laughing” or “smiling” and he seemed unclear about the difference in

“I asked them why they were pointing their weapons at a dying man. An
Iraqi policeman was with us, but they sent him away so that he couldn’t
be a witness. There was also a journalist present from [a local
newspaper], and he had a camera, but the soldiers didn’t allow the
pictures to be taken. The journalist told me that he couldn’t take
pictures or they would shoot him. During the incident the lieutenant
allowed me to talk to the journalist but told me not to say everything to
him. But I ‘left nothing up my sleeve’ [i.e. told him everything,

As far as Mazin knew, the story never appeared in the paper.

The soldiers left Abd Wahab lying on the ground for 45 minutes while they
searched the car, where they didn’t find any weapons or anything else
suspicious. During this time Mazin checked the victim’s pockets and
found his ID card in his breast pocket. There was a bullet hole in the
ID, which obscured the full name. He put the ID on the dashboard of the
car and they pushed the car to a sports club nearby. A witness from the
sports club later told the family that they saw one of the soldiers take
the ID out of the car and tear it up.

After the soldiers had finished searching the car, they tied Abd Wahab to
the hood of the Humvee and took him to a small hospital near a US
military base. The soldiers told the people at the
hospital that the identity of the man was unknown even though Mazin had
told them [who he was].

Mazin was very upset by the incident and couldn’t go to work the next
day. The following day he went to the office and resigned on the spot.
“They treated Abd Wahab like an animal, and that was not right.” On his
way out, another lieutenant came up to him and said that he heard the
victim was drunk. Mazin told him he was not drunk. (The family said Abd
Wahab had never drunk alcohol.)

The family finally retraced Abd Wahab’s route and found the shot-up car,
but it took them over three months to locate the body.

During this entire time Abd Wahab’s father and sister sat impassively
listening, occasionally adding something in Arabic. But Abd Wahab’s
brother-in-law, Dr Muhammad, was quite vocal, upset enough about the
incident to be willing to tell the story to us, who could do nothing
except tell the story back home.

Dr Muhammad, it turns out, is an orthopedic surgeon and was one of the
first doctors to treat Jessica Lynch when she was first brought to his
small hospital.

“She received six liters of blood (Iraqi blood is filled with humanity)
and had a surgical reduction of the fractures. If we had not treated her
she would have died. We treated her because she was another human being
and we must love one another. My brother did not get the same

Reflecting on the story, I had a number of reactions. While the family
was certainly upset about the shooting itself, they seemed much more
angry about the treatment that they believe he received afterward. The
felt that Abd Wahab had been treated with ultimate disrespect, and this
was the real offense.

I tried to listen dispassionately to the story, and I certainly don’t
know the complete truth of it (although as I listened to his story, Mazin
spoke slowly, clearly, and carefully, and I’m quite certain that he was
telling the truth as he knew it). I find it difficult to believe that
the soldiers were actually laughing at Abd Wahab or that they
deliberately destroyed his identification. I find it much easier to
believe that the soldiers were still quite emotionally shook up by the
perceived threat, scared about what was going to happen next, and
disturbed about just having killed someone; Mazin does not speak English
perfectly, and I can easily believe that he misread their emotional
reactions. It’s easy to see how witnesses from the street could
misinterpret what they saw; in fact, I can’t see how they could know that
the soldiers intentionally ripped up the identification. But regardless
of the details, it certainly seems important, given the 60% unemployment
rate in Iraq, that Mazin was incensed enough about Abd Wahab’s
mistreatment — being dragged across the street, not getting immediate
medical treatment, being tied to the hood of the Humvee, and not being
identified so that the family could know immediately what happened — that
he gave up what must have been for him a lucrative position.

As a CPT team, we listened to the story because we had been told it was
one of egregious abuse, which may still turn out to be the case. We will
research the story further by conducting some more interviews. But even
supposing that the story can be told without vilifying anyone (young,
scared soldiers shooting a vehicle bearing down on them that they feared
was a suicide bomber; soldiers trying to get the victim out quickly and
away from the automobile so they could deactivate a possible bomb;
soldiers not getting an Arabic name straight in the confusion, etc), this
is a disturbing story of what happens in war: soldiers stationed in civilian
areas where (because of fear of suicide bombers) they must respond in
milliseconds; miscommunication because no Americans speak Arabic; no
dialog between members of occupying forces and loved ones of victims. It
is incidents like these that create animosity and germinate resistance

Iraq: Quicksand & Blood
By Robert Parry
In These Times
December 26, 2003

George W. Bush and his top advisers learned little from the Vietnam debacle of the ’60s, since most avoided service in the war. But many top Bush aides played key roles in the repression of leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the ’80s, a set of lessons the Bush administration is now trying to apply to the violent resistance in Iraq.

As a correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, Robert Parry broke many of the stories now known as the Iran-Contra Affair. To buy his latest book, Lost History, go to or to the order page.

To read more Parry click here