Friday, January 26, 2007

A couple of must sees...

This leads to a news segment by CBS News that was never broadcast, although it is, for now, available on their Web site. It's very hard to reconcile the noises that anyone makes on the pro-escalation side of the argument, especially at its far end with Cheney's recent comments about how swell things are going, with the bleak picture painted by this piece. To even think that we're talking about our inability to control a majority traffic artery less than two miles from the seat of the Iraqi government and the nexus of American interests and that government...

To even have to consider that we can accomplish that seemingly simple task should make anyone wonder how we can trust any judgment that this administration and its ideological backers and justifiers have in regard to how we should carry out and terminate this conflict.

For another interesting perspective on Iraq, here’s a video of a Humvee driving thru Baghdad traffic. It’s of surprisingly good quality.

This confirms my suspicion that nothing could be more depressing and terrifying than being a soldier in Iraq. I mean, I think for the most part American soldiers in Vietnam had it better. At least there were colors besides, whatever that is, sand color, I guess, in Vietnam.

Some people I know have been shocked at the brusqueness and aggressiveness of the driving of the American soldiers in the Humvee. "They won a lot of hearts and minds," someone said. And I’m sure it pisses people off in the general Baghdad population, too, it can’t but piss you off.

But I was actually surprised at how casually people took it. Yes, it would suck if you lived in that neighborhood, but if the general perception of the Baghdadi population were abject fear and panic at the approach of the American menace, then I really would not have expected those guys walking along the median as the Humvee shot by to be so damned casual. There were guys right next to the truck in the median as it went by, not panicking at all, maybe smoking a cigarette or something. To me, that indicates that they feel that the behavior of the Humvee is adequately predictable and assimilable into their regular view of the world. It sucks and causes resentment, sure, but it’s also not the semi-random careening violence that it appears to someone not familiar with it. It is, instead, sadly routine. People there pull to the side of the road just as they do here when an ambulance screams by.

I'm not sure which is more damning, overall. Is it that our soldiers are regularly so aggressive as they drive through the civilian population (and in spite of the inarguable insurgent danger there, most of the people on the city streets are innocents)? Or is it that everyone simply accepts that aggressiveness as the required mode in which everyone has to live because the overall situation is so savage and dehumanizing?

In the end, I can't help but sympathize with the guys driving the Humvee, doubly damned. Once in their immediate environment by those who seethe against and hate them for their role in bringing such death and chaos down upon the Iraqi people. And twice for being in the position that they're in, to have to cause such chaos simply as the price of making it out of there alive. Not accomplishing their mission, where sometimes an unfortunate but unavoidable sacrifice has to be made. But just making it out alive, with no idea of what their mission is and no clear connection between what they do each day and how what they do will somehow contribute to making the tragedy end. It may be OK to take part in tragedy to avoid a greater tragedy. I think even amongst the warriors in Iraq that it's becoming clear that we're veering into the greater tragedy now.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Who lost Iraq? David Frum's a bit unclear on history...

So I'm listening to Hugh Hewitt today, because every once in a while I need to remind myself that there are people as doctrinaire and oblivious as... well, Hugh Hewitt. So today promised to be an extra crispy bowl of right-wing nuts, because David Frum was on. This whole David-Hugh lovefest was basically paving the way for the President's speech tonight, sort of setting the scene of all the unanticipated obstacles and challenges, as well as illustrating how the American people needed to have the spine for the inevitable challenges that everyone should have known we would face in Iraq in spite of the Administration and the right-wing press, talk radio, and bloggers' insistence that it wouldn't be a challenge.

OK, never mind all that. I expect that, it's par for the course. The thing that really took me aback was a fairly simple statement by Frum that was so amazingly transparently untruthful and dishonest. It really illustrated the utter lack of respect for their audience that Hewitt and Frum have.

Frum said something to the effect that one of the big obstacles we faced in Iraq was the lack of a continuous government in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein (note that I've tried to find a transcript of this interview, but haven't been able to yet, so this is all paraphrased from memory; if I can find a transcript, I'll post a link to it). This was compared to the fact that, after the fall of Imperial Japan in WWII, the government continued to function, which is what helped Japan on its transition to a parliamentary democracy.

That's true enough, I'll grant him that. But then he went on to wax poetic (again, paraphrased):
Iraq was like a picture from a satellite, where we could see all of the power lines in the picture and we thought everything was fine, we could just show up and everything would continue working. But we didn't realize that Saddam's rule had really destroyed all of that and when we showed up it all just crumbled. That's what the government was like. We thought there was a functioning government, but when we showed up it just fell apart.
Which is a really interesting take on it. It just fell apart like the desiccated pages of an old book as we tried to open it to read. Or, you know, we figured out which pages we didn't like and ripped them all out then got pissed at the lack of continuity:
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, issued two sweeping orders in May 2003: one outlawed the Baath Party and dismissed all senior members from their government posts; the other dissolved Iraq's 500,000-member military and intelligence services... Bremer's first order led to the firing of about 30,000 ex-Baathists from various ministries.
Huh. I wonder if that had any effect. Now, it's fair to ask, how would Bremer know anything about this? In a Stalinist state like Iraq, it must be very difficult to determine how deep the tendrils of control delve into the functioning of society, government, and all of the other machinery of state. I mean, it would take someone brilliant, like an Atlantic Monthly reporter back in 1979, to figure this out:
The [Ba'ath] party still retains much of the secret compartmentalized structure and the clandestine methods by which, like many revolutionary parties, it has ensured its survival... They function everywhere-in the workplace, in the neighborhoods, and in all ranks of the military forces... Since its emergence from the underground, and following a decade of experience in power, the Baath leadership had been able to train a second elite group to operate at all levels of the bureaucracy and the military forces.

This is of course a hallmark of totalitarian control. In fact, the Japanese bureaucracy and ministries were jam packed with people who loved the dickens out of the Emperor. And the reason that Japan didn't have the same continuity problems as Iraq is that we didn't summarily bounce them all out of the government! In fact, it's worth noting we didn't even depose the Emperor himself!

And Frum has to know this. He's not an idiot. Hewitt has to know this. And yet they sat there and discussed it as if, well shucks, who could have anticipated such a thing? Well, all the people who warned that we shouldn't rush into Iraq because of the consequences that were difficult to foresee, the ones who were dismissed by the likes of Frum and Hewitt as insufficiently bold to grab the gold ring that lay before us with world utopia and the downfall of the terrorist threat lying tantalizingly on the other side. Those guys, obviously, but who else, was there anyone that could be trusted?

I'm willing to have an honest discussion about Iraq. Maybe with a large enough force, we really could pacify Iraq and give the fledgling government time to consolidate as a truly representative government of all the Iraqi people. I doubted it could be done before the war and I really doubt it could be done now, but we can discuss it. But not if those who already strong-armed the debate in the beginning through lies, manipulations, and untruths insist on continuing to try to construct their own reality that ignores such mundance concerns as cause and effect, culpability, and the recognition that simply stating something does not make it so.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Next under the bus is....

Congratulations, General George Casey, you're the next to go under the wheels!
Over the past 12 months, as optimism collided with reality, Mr. Bush increasingly found himself uneasy with General Casey’s strategy. And now... Mr. Bush seems all but certain not only to reverse the strategy that General Casey championed, but also to accelerate the general’s departure from Iraq, according to senior military officials.
See? Stay the course, but Bush, as it turns out, was uneasy with that course. Not his fault. It was Casey's fault. The problem, really, is that Casey is just a shirker:
But as Baghdad spun further out of control, some of the president’s advisers now say, Mr. Bush grew concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory... Mr. Bush came to worry that it was not just his critics and Democrats in Congress who were looking for what he dismissed last month as a strategy of “graceful exit...” Mr. Bush made it clear that he was not interested in any ideas that would simply allow American forces to stabilize the violence.
Plenty more tasty incompetence and serial stupidity in there. Check out the whole article.

File under "Well, duh..."

The headline screams: "Teens binge drink!"

In other earth-shattering news, the sky is blue. Please don't panic at these startling revelations.