Thursday, August 25, 2005

War News for Thursday, August 25, 2005 Bring 'em on: Five Iraqis killed in Najaf after Badr Brigade militia attacks al-Sadr offices. Bring 'em on: Heavy fighting between Mehdi Army and Badr Brigades reported in Sadr City. Bring 'em on: Militias and US troops reported fighting in Baquba. Bring 'em on: Six Iraqi civilians killed by gunmen near Abu Sayda. Bring 'em on: Filipino contractor and two Iraqis killed in ambush near Kirkuk. Bring 'em on: Fifteen killed, 40 wounded in coordinated attacks on police in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Twi Iraqis killed, eight wounded in Mosul mortar attack. Bring 'em on: Four Shi'ite pilgrims killed in bus ambush near Baquba. Bring 'em on: Four Iraqi police wounded by mortar attack in Baquba. Bring ‘em on: Missiles fired at SCIRI offices in Basra. The American Lesion. "Resolution 3 passed unanimously by 4,000 delegates to the annual event states: 'The American Legion fully supports the President of the Untied States, the United States Congress and the men, women, and leadership of our armed forces as they are engaged in the global war on terrorism, and the troops who are engaged in protecting our values and way of life. For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories,' Cadmus said. 'We must never let that happen again. I assure you, The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom loving peoples.'" Commentary Opinion:
Those of us who are old enough to have seen this movie before were reminded of other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, who were haunted by another war and dogged by war protesters and a nation that lost confidence in their leadership and wound up divided against itself. Will history remember this week as the tipping point for George W. Bush and the Republicans who control Congress? Can they stay the course as they head into mid-term elections next year? One more question: Will our children and grandchildren and their children harvest a bitter crop of budget deficits, higher oil prices, Islamic militancy and a broken Army and Marine Corps that was seeded in Iraq by this president, his vice president and his secretary of defense? Will that bitter harvest, not a cakewalk, a mission accomplished and a Mesopotamian march of democracy, be Bush's legacy?
Without an interpreter, our people are essentially blind to what is happening around them. They cannot tell if the loud argument in the market is over the price of tomatoes or a threat of murder. And because in general we hire local Iraqis to surmount the language hurdle, Americans don't even know if they can trust their own interpreters. Equally important, Iraqis who want to share important information with an American patrol cannot unless there is an interpreter - a message as simple as "look behind the grade school" is impossible to convey in hand signals and pigeon English. How can average Iraqis help us secure the country if they can't speak to us? Yet American forces in Iraq average only one or two interpreters per company (about 150 soldiers or Marines). When I was there on active duty last year, I worked in the department providing all American logistical and maintenance support for the nascent Iraqi armed forces. Our office had two Americans and 22 Iraqis - and not a single translator. At the various military bases we oversaw, conversation between American advisers and their Iraqi counterparts was catch-as-catch-can. And we were banned from hiring Iraqis on our own because we were told that one American contractor had a "sole source contract" with the Pentagon. Why couldn't the contractor provide sufficient translators? While I never received an official explanation, I did get a pretty good hint: the translators we worked with told me they were getting about $400 a month for their services. This is clearly insufficient to encourage many Iraqis to risk their lives to help us. The American businesses in the region, like the oil contractors and even press organizations, paid much more.
I doubt his call to arms is going to reverse Bush's parent problem, and I'm not just talking about the grieving ones protesting and counter-protesting over his conduct of the war. Parents are also increasingly resistant to the hard sell that built the volunteer Army. Kids are still enlisting (although not enough to meet demand), even though before they can train to be a high-tech whiz, they must first spend a couple of low-tech years patrolling Mosul. At 18, they still feel immortal. But parents no longer swallow the pitch that the military offers a better life for their kids, not if it means being blown to bits in an unarmored Humvee by an improvised explosive device. A Pentagon survey last November found that only 25% of parents would recommend military service to their children, down from 42% shortly after the start of the war.
For reasons that we must try to understand, the mainstream American media mostly offers a deadly combination of two recurring themes - first is the Bush administration's increasingly less credible mantras about needing to stay the course and fight the terrorists "over there" before they attack Kansas City, Omaha and Laredo with atomic bombs; second, is the mishmash of speculation and imagination that masquerades as fact and serious analysis from so-called "terrorism experts." There are several things seriously wrong with most of the "terrorism experts" whom I have seen and heard on American television and radio. Their main weakness is that they operate in the realm of the speculative rather than the factual. The bulk of their analyses are total guesswork, and usually wrong; yet even that is flawed because - and this is weakness number 2 - their guesswork is ideologically defined by the prevalent White House script of the day. Weakness number 3 is that, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of these experts have little direct knowledge of the Arab-Asian societies they are analyzing (one give-away for that problem is that they routinely mispronounce most of the names of people, places and organizations they are supposed to be experts on). Major problem number 4 is that the experts tend to focus their speculation on the symptoms of terror rather than its underlying causes. Most of them seem ignorant of - or at least do not talk about - the full range of issues that propel young men and women into the grizzly business of terror, and that drive political tensions and anger in many Arab-Asian societies. Problem number 5 is that they emphasize military analyses, for a problem that is predominantly political. Most of these "experts" are retired military officers, former FBI agents, ex-special forces toughies, or marketing-savvy journalists or researchers. Their main qualifications seem to be their impressive square jaws, or ability to qualify every sentence they speak with "it seems," "we suspect," or "it is likely that," thereby anchoring their analyses in a ton of speculation and guesswork that sometimes verges on fantasy. Statements of proven fact or verifiable intent seem alien to their universe, which is an insult to the best traditions of American journalism that respect both factuality and one's audience.
Finally, realists never fessed up to the fact that their policies in the Arab world, by justifying tolerance for dictatorships whose brutality provoked a violent Islamist backlash, made September 11 possible. This was the neocon critique, and it remains relevant. Realists regard international affairs as a perpetual negotiation over interests; and while they accept the force of ideology, they often err in miscalculating its sway, because they are so mistrustful of ideology in the first place. That's why idealists have an advantage over realists in understanding the clout of militant Islam, and it's why neocons had a response to Sepember 11 when the realists did not. Bush is indeed resorting to more realism in Iraq, and no one should be surprised; even his administration never believed in absolute unilateralism, which is, anyway, a political impossibility. However, democratic idealism and the U.S. ability to shape Iraqi politics are perhaps the only potent arrows the administration has left in a much-depleted quiver. Sadly, it seems to be steadily abandoning both, hence the realists' delight - a delight that confuses success with embrace of the status quo.
Thanks to alert reader carl p for the two items above. Analysis:
More important yet, the politicians involved - many of them exiles, some of them with few roots in Iraq, the Sunnis among them with limited roots in the insurgent Sunni community (and in any case largely cut out of the bargaining process between Kurdish and Shi'ite politicians) - are fighting for a retrograde-sounding constitution (religiously based and without a significant emphasis on women's rights) inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. It is a constitution aimed at creating an almost impossibly starved central government guaranteed to control little. Meanwhile, outside the Green Zone, amid a brewing stewpot of internecine killing and incipient civil war, vast parts of the country have simply passed beyond Baghdad's rule, and significant parts of central Iraq seemingly beyond any rule at all. The Kurdish areas in the north have long been autonomous, with their own armed militia. In the largely Sunni areas of central Iraq, chaos is the rule, but whole towns like Haditha are now "insurgent citadels" run, as Fallujah was less than a year ago, as little retro-Islamic statelets. (Grim as this may be, such statelets can offer - as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan did after two decades of civil war and chaos - order of a harsh kind that ensures personal safety for most inhabitants. This is no small thing when conditions are desperate enough.) The Shi'ite south, on the other hand, has largely fallen under the control of Islamic parties and their armed militias, all allied to one degree or another with the neighboring Iranian fundamentalist regime. In the north and the south, security is increasingly in the hands of local parties, not the central government, or even the occupying forces. Throw in a full-scale insurgency, constant interruptions in oil and electricity production (as well as production levels at or even below those of Saddam Hussein's weakest post-Gulf War days in early 1990), and high unemployment, and most Iraqis may not greatly care about, or even be affected by, whatever "constitution" is produced inside the relative safety of the Green Zone. With that in mind, imagine some of the hawks and neo-conservatives who first started us (and the Iraqis) off on this glorious Middle Eastern adventure of ours as being capable of seeing the situation in a clear-eyed way. If so, they might easily conclude that they were on a bad LSD trip out of the Vietnam era. After all, they have essentially created their own worst nightmare - no small accomplishment when you think about it.
Casualty Reports Local story: Tennessee Guardsman wounded in Iraq. Local story: Oklahoma contractor killed in Iraq.


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