Friday, September 21, 2007

The View from Canada

Or what might as well be another world:

But watching Gen. Petraeus, I was struck by how familiar his words sounded. The general talked like every Sunni I’ve ever met in Iraq—hell, he sounded a bit like Saddam. The old tyrant would have had one of his characteristic chest-heaving guffaws watching Petraeus as he intoned the old Baathist mantra about the dangers to Iraq: Iran, Iran, Iran. Bush took up Gen. Petraeus’s views a few days later in a nationally televised speech about Iraq, in which he talked about the threat Tehran posed. It seems that Petraeus and Bush have come to the same conclusion as Saddam: the main enemy is Iran, and you can’t govern Iraq without the Sunni Arab tribes, even as you encourage anti-Iranian nationalism among the Shia. This is what Saddam did during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and what Washington is trying to do now. One of the main problems with this strategy is that both the Sunni tribes and Shia nationalists are profoundly anti-American and don’t trust each other—a potential recipe for further disaster.

Going back to Iraq is like sitting through a depressing Scheherazade, 10,001 Nights of Horror Stories. Everybody had them. Do you want to see a picture of someone’s 10-year-old boy, chopped up in pieces and put in a cooking pot because his parents couldn’t pay the Shia militia’s ransom? Here, look at the burns on my body, inflicted by the bodyguards of the Sunni politician who sold my eight-year-old son and me to al-Qaeda. Let me tell you about being kidnapped in Falluja by a gang that pretended to be al-Qaeda—they made me drink urine and had a fake beheading studio where they set up mock video executions to scare us into raising ransoms. As a friend of mine kept saying over and over—“Where do they get these people? What kind of a person does this? Where do they get them?”

Sadly, these stories are true, while so much that is said about Iraq is myth and delusion. As the famous American war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote about armed conflict, there is “the real war and the propaganda war.” During the congressional hearings about the surge, I kept thinking of Tattoo on Fantasy Island, half expecting Ambassador Crocker to tug on Gen. Petraeus’s sleeve and say, “Look, boss, da plane.” Smiles, everyone, smiles! Sometimes I think Iraq doesn’t exist at all. It’s just a series of preconceptions, a country invented to keep the West’s intelligentsia busy arguing and pontificating, fighting over facts about a place that is so clearly a work of fiction. Frankly, I wish it didn’t exist, at least for the sake of Iraqis. First Saddam, now this.

Certainly the notion of there being any cohesive central power in Iraq is a myth. Whatever is running the country, it’s not a government. Iraq’s body politic has some kind of autoimmune deficiency syndrome in which the antibodies designed to defend it have turned on its own organs. It’s a perfect environment for opportunistic parasites, in this case Iraq’s neighbours. So it seems almost unfair to criticize Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s failure to govern, as if somehow he was in charge of anything that could be called a state.
Consider a few facts:

The great irony of Maliki is that under other circumstances a government like his—one that is: a) accused by the U.S. of close relations with an American enemy (Iran); b) running a strategically important country (like Iraq); c) involved in the oppression and murder of one of its minorities (the Sunnis), which is closely linked to an important U.S. ally (the Saudis)—is an administration that many Americans would want to eliminate. There is a good chance that if the U.S. Army wasn’t there already, Washington would have invaded to get rid of Maliki. But having toppled Saddam, lost thousands of soldiers, and so far spent some US$500 billion on combat operations alone, the U.S. is now in too weak of a position to do much.
And as for "al Qaeda in Iraq"? We did it. Again. The details are in the article. And lest you think it is simply some foreigners anti-americanism (the first dodge of even "serious" American analysts, I've found):

The American role in the promotion of the terrorist organization is not some mad conspiracy theory, but a well-documented attempt by the U.S. government to demonize the insurgency and make it appear to be the central front in the war on terror.
So how did the US "create" al Qaeda in Iraq? By promoting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

[H]e was a minor figure unlikely to get much of a following on his own in Iraq. Jordanians are not greatly respected by Sunni tribal Iraqis, who tend to view them as the metrosexuals of the Middle East. I used to watch the nightly news with insurgents—they called themselves the “resistance”—and they would laugh at what U.S. spokesmen were saying about the insurgency and Zarqawi’s prominence.
And what happened, in brief?

U.S. military leaders did what Americans have gotten very good at doing in the last few years. They made up a story, which they repeated on the news for U.S. domestic consumption—and then started to believe themselves.
It's so familiar a story it doesn't need elaboration. But there's plenty in the article, if you want to look for it. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Just because we've turned that observation completely into cliche, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because we claim we've learned from history, doesn't mean we aren't doomed to repeat it. William Polk gave an absolutely chilling interview on NPR yesterday. I'd much rather consider his thoughts and read his book than complain about the Senate's pointless and toothless condemnation of a political ad.

But then, I'm funny that way.

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