"This house of cards, built on deceit, will fall"

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Quote of the day: In response to a request from the director of antiquities of Samawa province for help guarding ancient Mesopotamian archaeological sites now being despoiled by looters, Lt. Col. Daniel O’Donahue, the commanding officer at a Marine base just outside Samawa, responded: “‘We told them we needed American soldiers at checkpoints, in combination with Iraqi guards’ Colonel O’Donohue confirmed that he had discussed the issue. But he said marines were attending to more basic needs like securing enough water, food and medical care for people in the area. ‘We don’t have anywhere near enough marines to police every fixed site in the country. Our view is that if it’s a fixed site, it’s primarily an Iraqi responsibility.”
(Edmund L. Andrews, Iraqi Officials Say Looting of Ancient Sites Continues Despite Pleas to U.S. Troops for Help, the New York Times)

At the end of a long weekend, when I’ve put out only material original to the site, I thought I might offer a little summary dispatch on some of the more interesting things I ran across, but didn’t post. First for the news: Remember pre-our second Iraqi War when an American general suggested that upwards of 300,000 troops might be needed to successfully occupy Iraq and Rumsfeld and his supporters practically shouted him off the media stage? Well, American troop levels in Iraq are rising — up 15,000 now to 160,000 — and (as in forgotten Afghanistan) Americans are dying in small but possibly growing numbers. In the last 24-48 hours, there were two ambushes of American troops – one of a humvee in Baghdad and one of a convoy in the north of Iraq that resulted in two dead and seven wounded Americans – and an attack on Americans directing traffic in Falluja (where Americans fired a couple of weeks ago on demonstrators) killing at least two more and wounding nine. “A violent day in a war officially over,” as NBC TV prime time news put it last night.

In the meantime, the new Paul Bremer administration in Baghdad has put Iraqi elections off until the dim future. (We’re evidently delivering democracy as promised, but it seems to be mixed in with the bulk mail at the general post office, undoubtedly burned by looters, not with Fedex). Bremer also announced the dissolution of the Iraqi army, 400,000 men, without, it seems, having a plan in hand to employ the former soldiers or promising the payment of pensions. Until the most recent casualties, the general line has been reflected in Bremer’s comments at a news conference, as reported in the Boston Globe today:

”’We are nearing the end of the first phase” of the occupation, Bremer said. ‘We’ve established control, we’ve turned the water and power on,’ and have gotten government ministries and local police back in operation.

”’The primary task of the next few weeks is to figure out in what order” steps should be taken to invigorate the economy, he said. ‘A free economy and a free people go hand in hand. History tells us that broadly held resources protected by private property is the best way to protect freedom.’

“Bremer said the occupying powers ”would like to see market prices, we would like to see privatization of key elements” of the economy, but would not attempt at this time to change the government-run rationing system on which most Iraqis depended for food under the previous regime.”

Given that assessment, among the more interesting recent pieces on Iraq was a report from the Observer‘s Ed Vulliamy, whose Sunday piece began with a passage you might otherwise assume came from the first days after the war (Gun gangs rule streets as US loses control):

”’The primary task of the next few weeks is to figure out in what order” steps should be taken to invigorate the economy, he said. ‘A free economy and a free people go hand in hand. History tells us that broadly held resources protected by private property is the best way to protect freedom.’

“Bremer said the occupying powers ”would like to see market prices, we would like to see privatization of key elements” of the economy, but would not attempt at this time to change the government-run rationing system on which most Iraqis depended for food under the previous regime.”

Given that assessment, among the more interesting recent pieces on Iraq was a report from the Observer‘s Ed Vulliamy, whose Sunday piece began with a passage you might otherwise assume came from the first days after the war (Gun gangs rule streets as US loses control):

“As the blood-red sun sinks below the Baghdad skyline, the shooting begins. It is the sound of the anarchy into which the Iraqi capital has spiraled since the war’s end: the rasp of machine-guns accompanied by arcs of red tracer fire across the sky. Throughout the city, fires burn, their flames licking the night.

“Iraq is now a society of either predators or prey, fully armed with weaponry looted from military stores the Americans failed to secure after the war. ‘We all have guns now,’ says Abdul Ahmed Hasan, 25, surveying the charred remains of his looted photo laboratory. ‘Some have guns to attack, some have guns to defend their families. I have four at home.’

“Baghdad is being carved up by armed gangs. Towns in the south – apart from the port city of Basra, under British control – are even more dangerous.”

Here’s how Eric Margolis, columnist for the Toronto Sun, sums up the situation in his Sunday column (Oh, what a tangled web Bush weaves):

“Iraq is in chaos and near-anarchy. U.S. occupation forces have so far been unable to form even a puppet regime, as was done in Afghanistan.

” A neo-conservative diplomat has been brought in to run IraqMeanwhile, U.S. firms, led by Texas oil giant Halliburton, VP Dick Cheney’s old firm, are fighting like hungry vultures to get a slice of Iraq’s petro-wealth.

“But America now risks a colonial morass in Iraq that may cost even more than the profits it may make from ‘liberating’ Iraq’s oil

“Early on, Bush vowed to avoid ‘nation building’ and avoid Mideast entanglements. But thanks to his clumsy war on terrorism, his unnecessary invasion of Iraq and his relentless belligerency toward the Muslim world, the Mideast may come to be the nemesis of his administration, just as Iran undid that of former president Jimmy Carter.”

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week, the British journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote a piece, with a certain sense of wonderment, whose title tells it all (It’s apparent that Washington has no clear plan for Iraq):

“the civilian leadership of the Pentagon are uniquely reckless, arrogant and ill informed about Iraq. At the end of last year Wolfowitz was happily saying that he thought the Iraqi reaction to the capture of Baghdad would be much like the entry of the U.S. Army into Paris in 1944. He also apparently believed that Ahmed Chalabi, then as now one of the most unpopular men in Iraq, would be the Iraqi Charles de Gaulle.

“These past mistakes matter because the situation in Iraq could easily become much worse. Iraqis realize that Saddam may have gone but that the United States does not have real control of the country. Last week, just as a Bremer emissary was telling academics at Mustansiriyah, the ancient university in the heart of Baghdad, who should be purged from their staff, several gunmen, never identified, drove up and calmly shot dead the deputy dean.”

Let’s not bring up “quagmire” too quickly. But to be stuck in Iraq for a political eternity, as the Bush administration now seems to be, without significant funds (or allies) for the process of rebuilding the country, surrounded by a disgruntled, armed populace seems like something of a formula for long-term disaster – which, I’m afraid, for the Pentagon and the inside-the-Beltway neocons translates into a formula for moving on. In translation, their mantra will, I suspect, be something like: we’re in a mess, let’s escalate. Evidently somebody forgot to turn off the tape recordings from the lead-up to the last war at the White House and the Pentagon over the weekend and so we heard a series of all-too-familiar statements, once made about Iraq, based on “intelligence information” that can’t, of course, be released: Iranian Al Qaeda ties, involvement in attacks on Americans (in Saudi Arabia), weapons of mass destruction, mutterings and leaks to the press about meetings to discuss “regime change” Well, you know the routine. And in the background those far smaller, less noticeable news stories that say CIA analysts can’t find evidence to support this stuff (other than, of course, the Iranian nuclear program), that the intelligence community is riven, and so on. No matter.

Given the post-war results in Iraq as far as Al-Qaeda ties and the like, why anyone should believe any “intelligence” information trumpeted by any top figure in this administration is beyond me. It’s not just that we’re claiming the missing evidence in Iraq has wandered elsewhere, but that our own justifications for war are now crossing borders in the Middle East as well.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times caught this perfectly in her Sunday column, Yo, Ayatollahs!, which read in part:

“The Iraq WMD’s and ties to Al Qaeda were merely MacGuffins, as Alfred Hitchcock called devices that drove the plot but were otherwise inconsequential.

“The plot was always to remake the Middle East, while remaking a Bush into a Reagan.

“Far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, the hawks are hawking the next regime change.

“‘Of course, they have senior Al Qaeda in Iran, that’s a fact,’ Rummy said at the Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. ‘Iran is one of the countries that is, in our view, assessed as developing a nuclear capability, and that’s unfortunate.’

“By the time the C.I.A. delivers its report [on intelligence-gathering for the second Iraq war], it will be time to investigate how our intelligence was hyped in the prelude to the strike on Iran.”

Today, Simon Tisdale of the British Guardian offers us a sense of what this desperate situation looks like from the Iranian point of view, and of the proliferation wars that Bush administration policies have set off (Next Stop Tehran?). Like Dowd’s column, it is well worth reading in full. It begins:

“Imagine for a moment that you are a senior official in Iran’s foreign ministry Inside the ministry, despite the air-conditioning, it’s getting stickier all the time. You have a big problem, a problem that Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, admits is ‘huge and serious’. The problem is the Bush administration and, specifically, its insistence that Iran is running ‘an alarming clandestine nuclear weapons programme’. You fear that this, coupled with daily US claims that Iran is aiding al-Qaida, is leading in only one direction. US news reports reaching your desk indicate that the Pentagon is now advocating ‘regime change’ in Iran.

“Reading dispatches from Geneva, you note that the US abruptly walked out of low-level talks there last week, the only bilateral forum for two countries lacking formal diplomatic relationsTo Iran, the US now looks very much like the Soviet Union looked to western Europe at the height of the cold war.”

The experts should now be starting to figure out the schedules for our next possible war – American forces, for instance, need to replenish their fabulously expensive high tech weaponry, those bunker busting JDAMs and the like used so profligately in the last war. Even with weapons manufacturers working overtime (and how they must love this), resupply could take us into the fall, plenty of time for the administration to come up with and repeat endlessly six or eight justifications for war with Iran, if they choose that path. And all you have to do is look at the map to see that Iran (like the famed cheese) stands alone between America’s new or upgraded Middle Eastern military bases and our new Central Asian ones. In that light, Iran looks distinctly like an obstacle in the road, right there in the middle of the oil lands of the world.

Oh, and Afghanistan, the Observer this weekend published a grim piece on the state of the country by Peter Oborne, a documentary film-maker who traveled parts of that country to make a movie. His article focuses on “the staggering scale of the Western betrayal” of what may be the poorest country on earth in the wake of an earlier war filled with promises of “liberation” and “reconstruction.” Afghanistan is a country now left to a low-key version of the catastrophic all-against-all civil war that first led (with the support of the U.S. and the Pakistani secret service) to the rise of the Taliban. Devastated as it was, Iraq is not this poor and it does have oil, but this still offers a hint of what reconstruction without funds means. Oborne’s piece, On the roads of ruin, offers, as a start, a vivid image of presidential safety in the most hopeful spot in the country, Kabul. Here’s his description of a visit to the presidential palace to interview Hamid Karzai. It’s an image of a puppet government (even though Karzai is critical of what’s been done for his country):

“Karzai is one of the most protected men in the world. We have to pass through five heavily guarded checkpoints before reaching the palace. Opposite the formal entrance is a large yellowish office block: it houses the CIA. Even in the tranquil courtyard outside the palace, machine-gun toting American guards wearing body armour and slacks stand at every 50 paces.

“Nor will the West put in the resources to provide safety. Some 11,000 US troops, mainly Special Forces, still prosecute the war against terror. This is now an unending conflict, with echoes of Vietnam, fought in the untracked wasteland of the southern mountains and around the Pakistan border. But its aim is emphatically not the protection of the population at large. General security is the responsibility of the International Security Assistance Force. But Isaf confines its peacekeeping to Kabul Isaf’s local nickname is the international shopping-a-lot force.”

Ah, and for a chance of pace, from a piece found at that treasure trove of a site,, here’s an official Washington voice we haven’t heard for a while. On May 14, one of the “moderates” in this administration offers a Middle Eastern vision that’s heartwarmingly fundamentalist. Just think, our government’s in these hands:

“In an exclusive interview with Israel’s daily Yediot Aharonot recently, National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice said that the ‘security of Israel is the key to security of the world.’ Rice added that she feels ‘a deep bond to Israel.’

Asked if her feelings toward Israel stem from her religious convictions, Dr. Rice said, ‘That is a very deep question. I first visited Israel in 2000. I already then felt that I am returning home despite the fact that this was a place I never visited. I have a deep affinity with Israel.

“I am also the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and was brought up on the very moving stories of the Holy Land. They mean a lot to me. When I first visited Mt. Olives, Lake Kinneret, Jerusalem, I felt a very deep emotional experience.'”

Finally, let me offer in full an official voice from the opposition. Here are Senator Robert Byrd’s eloquent comments from the Senate floor last week summarizing our Iraq experience as finely as anything I’ve seen and offering a kind of hope. (“This house of cards, built on deceit, will fall.”) But wouldn’t it be nice if there were a few more voices from the Democratic Party rising to meet his these days? Tom

The Truth Will Emerge
By US Senator Robert Byrd
Senate Floor Remarks
May 21, 2003

“Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again, – –
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers.”

Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.

But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue. We see a lot of this today in politics. I see a lot of it — more than I would ever have believed — right on this Senate Floor.

Regarding the situation in Iraq, it appears to this Senator that the American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing International law, under false premises. There is ample evidence that the horrific events of September 11 have been carefully manipulated to switch public focus from Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda who masterminded the September 11th attacks, to Saddam Hussein who did not. The run up to our invasion of Iraq featured the President and members of his cabinet invoking every frightening image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ laden death in our major cities. We were treated to a heavy dose of overstatement concerning Saddam Hussein’s direct threat to our freedoms. The tactic was guaranteed to provoke a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination of post traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks of 911. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for the anger.

Since the war’s end, every subsequent revelation which has seemed to refute the previous dire claims of the Bush Administration has been brushed aside. Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject. No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up, but we are told that they will in time. Perhaps they yet will. But, our costly and destructive bunker busting attack on Iraq seems to have proven, in the main, precisely the opposite of what we were told was the urgent reason to go in. It seems also to have, for the present, verified the assertions of Hans Blix and the inspection team he led, which President Bush and company so derided. As Blix always said, a lot of time will be needed to find such weapons, if they do, indeed, exist. Meanwhile Bin Laden is still on the loose and Saddam Hussein has come up missing.

The Administration assured the U.S. public and the world, over and over again, that an attack was necessary to protect our people and the world from terrorism. It assiduously worked to alarm the public and blur the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden until they virtually became one.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the U.S. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq’s threatening death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. Their missiles proved to be outdated and of limited range. Their army was quickly overwhelmed by our technology and our well trained troops.

Presently our loyal military personnel continue their mission of diligently searching for WMD. They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons, and the occasional buried swimming pool. They are misused on such a mission and they continue to be at grave risk. But, the Bush team’s extensive hype of WMD in Iraq as justification for a preemptive invasion has become more than embarrassing. It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?

What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are “liberators.” The facts don’t seem to support the label we have so euphemistically attached to ourselves. True, we have unseated a brutal, despicable despot, but “liberation” implies the follow up of freedom, self-determination and a better life for the common people. In fact, if the situation in Iraq is the result of “liberation,” we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years.

Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people, water is scarce, and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi people have been looted, and nuclear material may have been disseminated to heaven knows where, while U.S. troops, on orders, looked on and guarded the oil supply.

Meanwhile, lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and refurbish its oil industry are awarded to Administration cronies, without benefit of competitive bidding, and the U.S. steadfastly resists offers of U.N. assistance to participate. Is there any wonder that the real motives of the U.S. government are the subject of worldwide speculation and mistrust?

And in what may be the most damaging development, the U.S. appears to be pushing off Iraq’s clamor for self-government. Jay Garner has been summarily replaced, and it is becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the U.S. as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier. The image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom. Chaos and rioting only exacerbate that image, as U.S. soldiers try to sustain order in a land ravaged by poverty and disease. “Regime change” in Iraq has so far meant anarchy, curbed only by an occupying military force and a U.S. administrative presence that is evasive about if and when it intends to depart.

Democracy and Freedom cannot be force fed at the point of an occupier’s gun. To think otherwise is folly. One has to stop and ponder. How could we have been so impossibly naive? How could we expect to easily plant a clone of U.S. culture, values, and government in a country so riven with religious, territorial, and tribal rivalries, so suspicious of U.S. motives, and so at odds with the galloping materialism which drives the western-style economies?

As so many warned this Administration before it launched its misguided war on Iraq, there is evidence that our crack down in Iraq is likely to convince 1,000 new Bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we have seen in the past several days. Instead of damaging the terrorists, we have given them new fuel for their fury. We did not complete our mission in Afghanistan because we were so eager to attack Iraq. Now it appears that Al Queda is back with a vengeance. We have returned to orange alert in the U.S., and we may well have destabilized the Mideast region, a region we have never fully understood. We have alienated friends around the globe with our dissembling and our haughty insistence on punishing former friends who may not see things quite our way.

The path of diplomacy and reason have gone out the window to be replaced by force, unilateralism, and punishment for transgressions. I read most recently with amazement our harsh castigation of Turkey, our longtime friend and strategic ally. It is astonishing that our government is berating the new Turkish government for conducting its affairs in accordance with its own Constitution and its democratic institutions.

Indeed, we may have sparked a new international arms race as countries move ahead to develop WMD as a last ditch attempt to ward off a possible preemptive strike from a newly belligerent U.S. which claims the right to hit where it wants. In fact, there is little to constrain this President. Congress, in what will go down in history as its most unfortunate act, handed away its power to declare war for the foreseeable future and empowered this President to wage war at will.

As if that were not bad enough, members of Congress are reluctant to ask questions which are begging to be asked. How long will we occupy Iraq? We have already heard disputes on the numbers of troops which will be needed to retain order. What is the truth? How costly will the occupation and rebuilding be? No one has given a straight answer. How will we afford this long-term massive commitment, fight terrorism at home, address a serious crisis in domestic healthcare, afford behemoth military spending and give away billions in tax cuts amidst a deficit which has climbed to over $340 billion for this year alone? If the President’s tax cut passes it will be $400 billion. We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate. We accept soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly.

But, I contend that, through it all, the people know. The American people unfortunately are used to political shading, spin, and the usual chicanery they hear from public officials. They patiently tolerate it up to a point. But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood – – when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie – – not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody’s grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory.

And mark my words, the calculated intimidation which we see so often of late by the “powers that be” will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.

To read Byrd at Commondreams where I found his comments click here