Iraq’s past and future

October 8, 2007 § Leave a comment

How can we get beyond this mess? Who does what about Bush? Do we just drift till the elections in November a year and a few months from now?

The NYT Sunday had a powerful story of an Iraqi author, not just any, but who wrote The Republic of Fear, a first book to brig to our attention much of the regime’s terror in Iraq. I had known many Iranian and Iraqi students in Washington dc where I was living at the time. I knew about the torture. A powerful movie had been made and shown in Toronto and Washington in the 80’s. This was in the late 70’s. There were big marches in Washington against the Shah in the 70’s.

Regrets Only?

By DEXTER FILKINS

Kanan Makiya spent years in exile advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The war he supported brought about an Iraq he never imagined.

It is powerful to read because it hi-lights the difficulty of knowing what to do, since normals cues (really bad guy) are not enough for action in a complex interdependent world. The further questions – should we leave – should we allow an implosion – should we march on to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan? – are equally murky questions without guiding principles and common sense. Certainly if one has not lived in another country and had close friends from such places, it is very hard to have common sense, because we are remote from what we need to understand. Our – the US – lack of experience with people from other places as friends severely limits us. In this case, living in Iraq and making it a lifetime endeavor are clearly not enough.

The exiles returned as Hussein fell, most of them scrambling for power or money in the new Iraqi state. Makiya returned, too, but tended to stay away from politics. Instead, he set up the Iraq Memory Foundation. Since 2003, Makiya and his small staff have scoured Baath party offices and dungeons, adding to a collection that would reach more than 11 million pages of records. And they began filming interviews with the regime’s victims.

His hope has been that reconciliation through honesty would be possible. Given the religious differences  I think exist, I do not see how this would work, but I can see how one could imagine it would. He provides little insights,  those little pieces of forensic evidence, that help round out the larger story. Not conclusive, but suggestive.

On Iraq, he says, there certainly were clues before the war began — for instance, that meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, two months before the war. Sitting across his wide desk from Makiya, President Bush declared that the United States was launching not one campaign but two, the first to topple Hussein and the second to rebuild Iraq. Makiya recalls: “Bush turned to Rice, who was seated on the other side of the room, and he said to her, Our preparations for rebuilding Iraq are well advanced, right? And Rice looked down. She could not look him in the eye. And she said, Yes, Mr. President. She looked at the floor.”

If this is true, the implication is that Bush, in his weakness, was bamboozled by his staff more than he bamboozled them.

But for all of that, Makiya doesn’t really hold the Americans responsible for the disaster. For that, he blames the Iraqis themselves, and in particular the Shiite leaders who have taken control of the country since 2003. Most of them had been exiles. Many are Makiya’s friends.

The article continues

Makiya’s argument goes like this: Once Hussein fell, the stability of Iraq depended, above all, on the willingness of the newly empowered Shiite majority to assuage the inevitable insecurities of the dispossessed Sunni minority. And on this, Makiya says, Shiite politicians failed utterly. The Shiites should have held their fire in the face of the car bombs and at all costs refrained from anything that hinted at sectarian politics. But the Shiite leaders did precisely the opposite, acting from the start in a blatantly sectarian fashion and then arming the Shiite death squads that turned the one-way insurgency into a two-way civil war. “There was this attitude,” Makiya said of the Shiite leaders, “ ‘This is a war, this is it — the showdown — why don’t we just gird ourselves for it, why not recognize it as a war and fight it to win? Because we can win.’ ”

This seems to me very naive.  People were confronted with the lack of a gov’t, wild scale looting, and no jobs.  People looked to align themselves with what they thought might work. Makiya seems to be implying that there should have been a whole culture in place that was not.  Is he just intellectualized and out of touch?

He continues,

In Makiya’s view, the one person who could have stopped Hakim and his like-minded cohorts — the one person who could have slowed Iraq’s gallop toward civil war — was Ahmad Chalabi. If Iraq was going to turn out like South Africa, Makiya reasoned, then it would need its Mandela — someone who could rise above revenge and parochial interests and steer the country toward a united future. Makiya said he believed that Chalabi could have been Iraq’s Mandela. If this sounds fanciful, given Chalabi’s current reputation in the United States as a peddler of bogus prewar intelligence, it should not. By the time the war began, Chalabi had pulled together the whole galaxy of Iraqi exiles, some of whose interests were wildly opposed: Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians, some pro-American, others pro-Iran. “That was his finest hour,” Makiya said.

It has been a difficult week and many perceptions turn out to be only half true.  If this view of Chalabi as a good guy is 2/3 true I would have to revise my opinion.  It goes against so many opinions of those I trust.

The author says,

To me, Makiya’s analysis seemed unrealistic. It seems highly unlikely that the vast Shiite groundswell released by the American invasion could have been halted by any one man, much less by Chalabi. To have witnessed events unfolding on the ground in Iraq during 2003 and 2004 was to be struck by how little control anyone had over anything — whether it was the Shiites’ surging identity or the Sunni insurgency.

Then we shift to another major figure, with details, like MIT, that are new to me, and also parts of the puzzle.

London Ali Allawi, who fled Iraq as a teenager, has known Makiya since their days in the same dormitory at M.I.T. Unlike Makiya, Allawi opposed the American invasion, but once it went forward he returned to give the new Iraq a try. He served as minister of defense and of trade, and narrowly survived an attack by a suicide bomber. In 2006, he called it quits and moved back to his home in Kensington, London. In September, I spoke with him in his sitting room, an elegant space adorned with works by George Keyt, the Sri Lankan modernist painter.

“It was doomed,” Allawi told me. “What was doomed was the attempt to refashion Iraq in a sort of civilizational makeover, using American power in an alliance with a supposedly grateful Iraqi public, led by a Westernized middle class. The assumption turned out to be false. And it was compounded by a series of disastrous decisions.”

A major part of the story will be to understand those of us who were against the war from the beginning, because we thought that Saddam could be contained by the weapons inspectors, and the Germans offered the plan of spending more money on that effort. What more (or less) did we know before the war that led us to be against it? In my case I had also been against the war in Afghanistan, for the same reason: it didn’t look like it would be ethical or work.

Allawi tried as hard as any Iraqi to make a go of the new Iraq, and he is thoroughly disillusioned. He says he is resigned to the likelihood that Iraq will end up a sort of protectorate of the United States for the next several decades, not unlike the Philippines was for much of the 20th century — dependent, violent, crippled. “The history of the Philippines,” he noted, “is not a happy one.”

The way bush is setting up for the next president, this seems very likely and very depressing indeed. There are worse outcomes.  All out multinational war including nuclear weapons or an Iran Russia alliance against the United States in a war of empires where they have the oil.

Allawi continues,

“Islamic history has always come down very firmly on the side of order against chaos,” he went on to say, “because of the fear that if you do not control these forces, the general tendency of human beings in our part of the world is to veer toward anarchy and chaos and the abuse that comes from the collapse of order. Knowing what I know about Iraq, I would probably opt for order rather than for liberation.”

I asked Allawi if Makiya, and the others who made the human rights case for war, were not responsible for the disaster that Iraq has turned out to be. “I think they are relieved of responsibility only because I think their influence was far less than they thought it was,” Allawi said. “Ahmad Chalabi, Kanan Makiya, all of these people became media stars, but their influence on decision making was next to nothing. I can’t believe that a person like Wolfowitz or Cheney or whoever it was in the neocon cabal would allow themselves to be manipulated in this way. They are far too cynical. They have their own agendas. And these agendas were boosted by Iraqis who seemed to be singing from the same song sheet. The Iraqis gave them credibility, gave them substance. But I don’t think they were influenced by them.”

And then follows a very GardenWorld episode.

Dokan, Iraq The Iraqis gathered round the table as the Power Point presentation began. The slides showed the designs for a new university: the American University of Iraq, to be built in Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdish north. A university of such stature would ordinarily be built in the nation’s capital, but of course Baghdad is too violent for that. It is an ambitious project, but hardly grandiose: the trustees have raised about $40 million, a third of what they need. One trustee is Makiya.

His dreams are smaller now. As the presentation unfolded, Makiya looked over the plans and made a face that suggested polite disapproval. As an architect, he was concerned, he said, about some of the smaller points in the design: the pedestrian walkway, the shrubbery, the archway at the entrance. “This is not a building, gentlemen, it’s just a plan,” Makiya said. “God is in the details. We all know what happens when you take an abstract idea and stuff it full of grandiose plans that have not been thought through.”

Later, in a van on the road to Erbil, I asked Makiya what — given the catastrophe, given the impossibility of doing it over — could be done.

“We build,” he said, “and we work, on little projects, one step at a time, one brick at a time, we look at the little things. That is the way we build, that is how we climb our way out of the chasm. Slow, steady continuous work. Like the university. Things that offer hope.”

Powerful. Weak. Adequate?

This column by Roger Cohen appears to be rather mainstream tolerant. But the comments …

October 4, 2007 § Leave a comment

Not hard to qualify as a neocon these days. See my column: Neoconitis

This column appears to be rather mainstrream tolerant.  But the comments pull it apart and show it to be the problem with the mainstream media approach, not a reinforcement of it.  The thinking of so many people shows the depth of understanding that much of the population is moving toward.  The lack of support for Rogers thesis is extraordinary.  I think it is part of what pull crude men meant last week, ” the Iraq is over. ” reading the column and the commons is profound

Iran and electricity

July 27, 2007 § Leave a comment

 

The LA Times reports that Baghdadis are down to one or two hours of electricity a day, but that the Bush administration will no longer be measuring or reporting on that sort of local data. It will give Congress only the general statistic for the entire country. But obviously whether the capital has electricity would help you know whether the current policies are working.

Informed Comment

The statistical problem af assessment of trends in Baghdad is made worse because so many have fled or already dead. If the number dying in a day is about the same as a year ago, the reality is then much worse (if it could be worse). I would guess that the current population of Baghdad is less than half of what it was in say 2004.

Bush and Iraq.

July 24, 2007 § Leave a comment

 

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: “Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .

“[B]y a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. . . .

“Many would like Congress to assert itself on Iraq, and about half of poll respondents said congressional Democrats have done ‘too little’ to get Bush to change his war policy. . . .

White House Watch — News on President George W Bush and the Bush Administration – washingtonpost.com

The problem is that the administration lacks competenece at strategy and diplomacy. I think the situation we are in is as follows:

1. We were very wrong to go into Iraq

2. We might have been wrong to go into Afghanistan earlier. Afghanistan represents the same imperial power denying reality (our support of the Taliban against the Soviets)

3. We have stirred up a massive reaction against us, not only from within Islam, but all our Allies: Europe, Japan, Latin America.

4. To pull out of Iraq now would leave a much stronger Islamic fundamentalism and secular Islamic hatred of the US in place and entrenched.  It would also probably lead to increased cross border violence in the Middle East.

5. This logic should lead to the conclusion that we should stay.

6. But the reality is the U.S. does not have the diplomatic skill to participate in and help create the necessary multilateral relationships to carry out this policy.

7. Further, the U.S. goals for oil and bases in the Middle East would not be let go off by this administration and hence a modest strategy of trying to win friends and stabilize the Middle East is undermined by these closely held goals of the administration.

8. The result is we lack all credibility that in fact requires a change of heart and perspective towards the deeper dilemmas of the Middle East and to abandon our narrow support of economic interests and our support of Israel in its current belligerent form.

9. It follows that the only viable path is to announce that we give up the bases and the embassy and start withdrawing troops.

10. Since the White House will not agree to this Congress must take stronger steps to withdraw authorization and to fund only a drawdown of the troops and equipment.

11. This leaves to a later date the issue of the reorientation of American policies at the strategic level.  That puts great pressure on whoever wins the next presidential election.  Problems with Afghanistan and Pakistan are too likely to lead the next administration to find continuity in policy and not do the necessary reorientation.

US and the new Pakistan. Iran

July 24, 2007 § Leave a comment

 

A change of US plan for Pakistan
The Pakistani Supreme Court standing up to President General Pervez Musharraf was not a part of the US-envisaged plan, and Washington has quickly had to rewrite the script. Ideas of a united “moderate center” with a former premier at the core are in the bin. Expect a US military raid into Pakistan, followed by the declaration of a state of emergency. – M K Bhadrakumar

Asia Times Online :: Asian news hub providing the latest news and analysis from Asia

and, same source

US lawmakers unite to demonize Iran
While they may quibble and occasionally outright quarrel over defense funding and a timetable for exiting Iraq, there is one issue that draws whole-hearted support from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill: confronting Iran.

An american japanese looks at the US.

July 18, 2007 § Leave a comment

 

I do believe that there is a need in this country, both psychically and politically, to create enemies for the domestic population to focus on, and it’s better if these enemies are of – how might I put this? – a darker hue. For a while, with incidents like the case of Wen Ho Lee [the Chinese-American scientist accused of espionage, whose case was dismissed except for one minor charge], it seemed that the target was going to be China. But then came September 11 [2001], and the focus switched to the Muslim world and the Middle East.

Asia Times Online :: Japan News – A Japanese, born in the US of A

From Juan Cole

Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that the Bush administration will freeze the assets of persons or organizations that attempt to destabilize Iraq. VOA says:

“President Bush has signed an order that allows the U.S. government to block the assets of any person or group that threatens the stability of Iraq.
The order exempts the United States.”

Quoting from Asian Times Headlines


The way to go in Iraq

Iraq’s government has not met one of its US-assigned benchmarks and, with the exception of the revenue-sharing law, they are unlikely to be met. But even if they were, it would not help. Provincial elections will make Iraq less governable, while the process of constitutional revision could break the country apart. The Iraq war’s intellectual boosters, meanwhile, insist the “surge” is working, and are moving to assign blame for defeat. They have already picked their target: the American people. – Peter Galbraith (Jul 18, ’07)

Al-Qaeda regrouping points to US attack
Al-Qaeda has focused on promoting worldwide unity among jihadi groups – Sunni and Shi’ites – more in recent months than at any other time since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. There has been demonstrable progress in achieving this Islamist unity, which al-Qaeda wants in place before its next attack. – Michael Scheuer (Jul 18, ’07)

The terrorist threat to the US homeland
The US faces a persistent terrorist threat over the next three years, especially from al-Qaeda, says the National Intelligence Estimate released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Al-Qaeda is pushing other extremist groups to adopt its efforts to supplement al-Qaeda’s capabilities, according to the Estimate.

quoted from Agonist

BBCA huge underground lake has been found in Sudan’s Darfur region, scientists say, which they believe could help end the conflict in the arid region.

Some 1,000 wells will be drilled in the region, with the agreement of Sudan’s government, the Boston University researchers say.

Analysts say competition for resources between Darfur’s Arab nomads and black African farmers is behind the conflict.

“Much of the unrest in Darfur and the misery is due to water shortages,” said geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, according to the AP news agency.

“Access to fresh water is essential for refugee survival, will help the peace process, and provides the necessary resources for the much needed economic development in Darfur,” he said.

The team used radar data to find the ancient lake, which was 30,750 km2 – the size of Lake Erie in the US – the 10th largest lake in the world.

Scott Horton this morning

America’s armies have always relied in some way on contractors. However, the dramatic expansion of the role and number of contractors in Iraq is changing the culture of American warfare. According to the Los Angeles Times’s T. Christian Miller, newly released figures show that the number of U.S.-paid private contractors exceeds that of American combat troops—even after the surge. More than 180,000 civilians—including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis—are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times. This number is significantly higher than the 160,000 soldiers and few thousand civilian government employees currently stationed in Iraq.

The implications for a new force in US politics is all too obvious.

Americans who have been in Iraq

March 8, 2007 § Leave a comment

 

This is just the tip. I t des not incudethose deployed once only, contractors, or other federal agencies

 

My belief is that the impact of time in  Iraq on the psyche is horrendous. People who see violence come to terms with it, in part by being willing to be violent.  I listened to an interview yesterday with a doc who was never able to discuss Iraq and his experience with his family or friends. This is typical. We remember the Vietnam vets we hvae known and the insoluble depressions they carried. The French veterans of Indochina became the core political support for the war in Algeria.

The report also points out that a total of 420,000 troops have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than once, and over 84,000 National Guard and Reservists have done multiple tours.

Source: Think Progress

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