Friday, March 03, 2006
"IRAQ'S MOMENTOUS ELECTION, ONE YEAR LATER" Iraq War Supporters Are Running For Cover James S. Henry
For those who have not been paying attention in class, the so-called "Iraq War" has recently been setting new records for violence, brutality, and terror -- with at least 379 to 1300 iraqi fatalities in the last week alone, in the wake of the bombing of the 1,062-year old Al-Askariya shrine at Samarra.
Nor did the apprentice Iraqi Army -- with its 20,000-man force, trained by the US military at the phenomenal cost of $15 billion to date, or $750,000 per soldier -- prove to be much help in quelling the violence. This is not really surprising -- after all, this Army shares the same divided loyalties as the population at large.
While a few senior US military officers have issued Westmoreland-like statements assuring us that "the crisis has passed," and that this is not -- I repeat -- not a "civil war," it is hard to know what else to call it.
A few journalists have speculated that, ironically enough, all the increased violence and polarization may undermine the Pentagon's "hopes" to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq to 100,000 by year end.
Those "hopes," however, are vague. One suspects that they have always been mainly for public consumption, including the morale of US troops. We only began to hear about them last fall when opposition to the war really soared in the US.
The Pentagon's not-so-secret hope -- among senior planners, at least -- is different. This is to turn Iraq into a neutered or even pro-US -- better yet for cosmetic purposes, "democratic" -- regime right in the heart of the Middle East, complete with permanent basing rights, immunity for US personnel from war crimes prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and, naturally enough, the occasional juicy construction, security, arms, and oil contract for friendly US and UK enterprises -- at least so long as they are not owned by Dubai.
ALL AGAINST ALL?
It is this vision that is most threatened by the recent surge in Iraqi violence. Clearly this is no longer just a "foreign terrorist/ dead-ender-led insurgency" against the US and its apprentice army.
Nor has the US-guided constitutional process, and continuous interventions by our heady Ambassadors in Baghdad -- safe behind the walls of the world's largest US embassy -- succeeded in stabilizing the country.
Rather, Iraq is now engaged in a complex, multi-sided bloodbath, fought along age-old religious, ethnic, and clan lines by well-armed groups. While American battle deaths continue, almost all the casualties are now Iraqis felled by Iraqis.
Furthermore, this inter-Iraqi violence goes well beyond the suicide bombings that still garner most of the media's attention. It escalated sharply in the last year, long before the Samarra bombing, and even as the vaunted constitutional process was unfolding.
For example, as reported by the Guardian this week, the former director of the Baghdad Morgue recently fled the country, fearing for his life after reporting that more than 7000 Iraqis had been tortured and murdered by "death squads."
According to the former head of the UN's human rights office in Iraq, most of these victims had been tortured by the Badr Brigade, the military wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
As we reported over a year ago on this site, SCIRI is not just some fringe element. It is one of Iraq's two key Shiite-led political factions, and one of the principle victors in the December 2005 parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, our expectations have been fulfilled. Upon acquiring power, SCIRI has behaved exactly as anyone familiar with its history -- but apparently not the US military -- would have expected.
Meanwhile, among America's befuddled liberal intelligentsia, hard-nosed realism has been sorely missing. The December election and its January 2005 predecessor were events that most neoliberal observers -- for example, the American Prospect -- could not praise highly enough:
Iraqis have concluded one of the most successful constitutional processes in history. Rarely, if ever, before has an important country moved from tyranny to pluralism so quickly, with so little bloodshed, and with such a quality and degree of popular participation.
This assessment was spectacularly wrong. Iraq's constitutional process has not led to "pluralism," much less staunched the bloodshed.
Rather -- no doubt with ample assistance from Iranian secret agents, "foreign fighters," and other officious intermeddlers -- the process has exacerbated social and religious divisions -- divisions that Iraq was always noted for mitigating.
The continued US presence has also helped to legitimize the extremists, letting them fly the "national liberation" flag. We have reached the point where country's armed private militias are expanding faster than the US-trained police and army.
Indeed, about the only thing that all Iraqi factions -- apart from some
Kurds and the country's dwindling minority of remaining secularists -- agree on now is the desire for the US military to leave. We should respect their wishes.
TOO FEW TROOPS?
By now, even arch-conservative pundits like William F. Buckley have agreed that the Iraq War was a costly mistake, and that a US withdrawal is called for.
Meanwhile, however, some die-hard US neoliberal defenders of the war -- including tough-guys like the New York Times' Tom Friedman and Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens -- are still denying the existence of Iraq's deep-seated, historically-specific obstacles to democratization and unified self-rule, as well as the overwhelming opposition in Iraq to the US presence.
It might also interfere with certain pet theories, like the "inevitable triumph of technology and free markets over local markets, nations, peoples, customs and practices," or the "inevitable struggle to the death between Islamic extremism and Western democracy."
On closer inspection, this claim spins itself into the ground faster than a Halliburton drill bit.
- One key reason why more troops were not available was the fact that the war's supporters -- not only the Bush Administration, but also leading Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman, and their pundit camp followers -- failed to persuade anyone other than Mad Tony Blair that a variety of cockamamie theories about "democratizing the Middle East," the "connection" between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and WMDs had any validity whatsoever.
- Second, while a handful of Pentagon skeptics did support larger troop commitments before the invasion, they were in the minority -- and not just because of Rumsfeld's desire to fight the war with a high-tech army. Most of the war planners and pro-war enthusiasts alike were swept away by Friedman-like naievete about the enthusiasm of ordinary Iraqis for US-backed "liberation." They systematically underestimated the Iraqis' nationalism and their resentment of occupation -- especially by armies of "Christian" nationals from the US and the UK. In retrospect, it is easy to say that even more troops were needed to maintain order and suppress resistance. But the larger US presence would have provoked even more resistance.
- As most US commanders agreed, the "more troops" answer is flawed from a technical perspective, given the nature of the insurgency. It would have provided more targets for suicide bombers, without delivering a remedy for their simple IED and sniper tactics. While more troops might have provided better border interdiction, Iraq has a larger land mass than Vietnam, and twice as many neighbors. For the "more troops" claim to work with any certainty, the number would have had to rival Vietnam proportions -- at least 500,000, probably for several years. The US military manpower system has already experienced great strains trying to sustain its 133,000 commitment to Iraq with a volunteer army -- to be effective, the "more troops" approach might well have required a military draft.
Apart from New York's Congressman Rangle, who may have just been tweaking the establishment's chin for his black constituents, not even the most aggressive neoliberal warhawk has ever proposed that.
Ever since WMDs failed to turn up and Saddam's connection to al-Qaeda turned out to be a canard, the neoliberal warhawks have been running for cover -- worried, quite rightly, that history will not take kindly to their dissembling, and their collaboration with the Bush Administration's neoimperialists.
For much of the last three years this cover story was provided by the expectation of "nation building," "democratization," and the "training of the Iraqi Army" -- achievements that always seemed to be, conveniently enough, just around the corner.
As the last week's events have dramatized, these are all more mirages in the desert. We've run out of time and excuses.
Monday, June 13, 2005
"Earth to Ms. Clinton - There's A War On!" ...And Most Americans Want An Exit Plan!
(Note to readers: The US anti-war movement is picking up steam. This week, four US Congressman -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- introduced the first resolution demanding a definite time for a withdrawal, and the UK announced that it will begin transferring its 9000 troops in Iraq to Afghanistan over the next 18 months, following in Italy's footsteps. As discussed below, recent opinion polls shows that sixty percent of Americans want at least some troops withdrawn now.
Meanwhile, diehard supporters of the War, like the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, are getting nervous and somewhat desperate. This week, in the face of the opinion polls and the UK withdraw, Friedman proposed doublling the number of US troops in Vietnam...oops, Iraq. Many of us still recall Friedman's candid April 2003 interview with the leading Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:
"This is not a war that the masses wanted. This is a war of an elite, I could give you the names of 25 people, all of whom sit without a 5-block radius of my Washington, D.C. office, who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq War would not have happened." (T.Friedman, interview, Ha'aretz, April 5, 2003).
This time around we will listen to this special-interest driven "elite" no more.)
Late last month we received a curious fund-raising letter from a New York-based organization called "the Friends of Hillary," disguised as an opinion poll. We're not registered Democrats or Republicans, and often receive and discard similar solicitations from both parties, marveling at their persistence. But this one struck us as especially odd and ineffectual, even if it had given a jot about the recipient's actual opinion, which is doubtful.
It started off by asking us to "rank the following issues in order of their importance," and then gave the following closed-ended list:
"Economy/Jobs," "Environment," "Social Security/Medicare," "Education," "Homeland Security," "Health Care," "Tax Cuts," "Reproductive Rights," "Separation of Church and State."
Now of course all these are more or less important, but they are at best topics, not "issues." One hopes that this confusion does not reflect some deeper unreadiness on the part of Hillary and her friends to articulate specific policy alternatives.
Most of them are also so-called "bread and butter issues," a Democratic mainstay. This is as if Hilary & Co. have learned nothing from the last two elections: millions of middle-class Americans have in fact been willing to support candidates who are diametrically opposed to their own "bread and butter" interests, on matters like tax cuts, health care, and Social Security -- so long as they perceive that these candidates take a principled stand on something they do care about.
That's not what really bothered us about Hillary's pseudo-poll, however. After all, Senator Clinton is a lifelong "policy wonk," who could probably wax eloquent for hours on any one of these policy arenas, unscripted....whoohhhhh!
Rather, the really annoying, patronizing thing about Hillary's poll was the fact that one of the most important current issues of all, the fiasco in Iraq and what to do about it, did not even reach the start gate.
That is especially puzzling, because the latest US public opinion polls show not only that President Bush's popularity is on the ropes, but also that American support for the Iraq War is falling like a rock -- virtually to European levels.
According to the latest Gallup Poll, for example, almost six in ten Americans now say the US should withdraw some or all of its troops; 58 percent say the war "wasn't worth it;" 31 percent want some troops withdrawn now; 28 percent want all troops withdrawn immediately; and only 36 percent support maintaining or increasing US forces in Iraq.
What's most interesting about this poll is that while opposition to the war has commanded a majority for some time, genuine support for it has stayed in the "upper 40s" range -- but now it is collapsing. That indicates the even some Bush loyalists must be taking another look.
Furthermore, a closer look at the 42 percent who still believe that the war was somehow "worth it" reveals that this poll was really a kind of intelligence test -- since over half of these folks still believe that the War had something to do with September 11th (9/42) protecting the US, showing that the world "cannot mess with the US," or finding WMDs (!)
Fewer than 20 out of every 100 Americans buy the frayed Administration line that our presence in Iraq is about "exporting democracy to the Middle East" -- at least with respect to that justification, most Americans now recognize a used car salesman when they see one.
Most of these results echo a ABC/Washington Post poll last week, which found that 65 percent of Americans thought the US was "bogged down" in Iraq, while 73 percent thought that US casualty levels -- now more than 1703 dead and 12855 wounded and counting -- are "unacceptable;" 52 percent thought that the War has not contributed to US security.
Two out of three Americans correctly preceive that President Bush does not have a clear plan for ending the war, while 45 percent fear that we are "heading for the same kind of involvement in Iraq as in Vietnam. " Just 41 percent approve of the way President Bush has been handling Iraq -- presumably the same crowd that still thinks the invasion was about 9/11.
Several other recent opinion polls have also found very similar trends.
In the wake of all this mounting evidence for the War's unpopularity, as well as rising US and Coalition casualty levels and all the other recent setbacks on the ground in Iraq, even some Republican Congressmen have called for President Bush to set a firm timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.
So far, however, no leading Democrats have followed suit. Indeed, the hapless Democratic Party, riven by special interests and virtually devoid of courageous, thoughtful leadership, has so far not been able to profit one iota from President Bush's shrinking popularity. Its own popularity also tied an historic low in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll.
Perhaps this should not surprise us. After all, almost all Congressional Democrats, including Hillary, took the "safe" road politically and naively followed President Bush into Iraq, voting for all his proposals on the War.
Most likely they are now trying to take the safe road again, waiting for this lame duck President to do the right thing and change course. Of course that kind of midcourse correction has never been his style -- he is nothing if not "linear."
Meanwhile, deserted by their mainstream political leaders, ordinary Americans have been left to "vote with their feet" -- another striking resemblance to the Vietnam War era.
Despite offering record incentives, US Army recruiters have now missed their goals for four months in a row, and are accepting record levels of sub-high school graduate recruits to make up the difference.
If that particular trend continues, the Iraq War could soon come to resemble Vietnam in even more unpleasant ways.
If this leadership void continues, and no top Democrat or Republican emerges to take a principled stand against the war, we should be prepared to take it to the streets one more time -- and show our support for the troops by demanding their return home from this senseless, costly, bloodthirsty, interminable conflict.
(c) SubmergingMarkets.Com, 2005.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
"I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN, AN OIL TRADER!" George Galloway Kicks Senate Butt
This week's developments in the so-called Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal ("OFF") have turned out to be nothing less than a fiasco for the US Senate's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee and its feckless freshman Republican Chairman, Minnesota's Norm Coleman.
In the first place, a newly-released minority staff report by Democrats on the Subcommittee shows that Bayoil USA, a Houston-based oil trading company headed by David B. Chalmers, Jr., now under indictment, was by far the most important single conduit for the illegal surcharges pocketed by Saddam Hussein under the program.
The report showed that more than half of Iraq's oil sales that generated surcharges for Saddam were made to US buyers during the period September 2000 to September 2002, most of them right under the nose of the Bush Administration and the US Treasury's rather lackadaisical Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Other US companies that have reportedly received subpoenas in the on-going surcharges investigation include ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and Houston's El Paso Corp, as well as prominent Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., who was also deeply involved in supporting and profiting from oil-for-food.
Next, British MP George Galloway, appearing voluntarily before the Subcommittee, deliverered a feisty denial of allegations that he had personally profited from the oil allocations, as well as a withering assault on the last twenty years of US policies toward Iraq.
Meeting little resistance from the badly-outgunned Senators, Galloway made the points that
- He met with Saddam no more times than Donald Rumsfeld, who had met with Saddam to sell arms and provide maps, while Galloway met him to seek peace and encourage arms inspections;
- He had actually opposed Saddam's policies way back in 1990, while the first Bush Adminstration was still making loans and selling arms to Saddam;
- He had always opposed the oil-for-food program as a poor substitute for lifting sanctions, which unfairly punished all Iraqis for the sins of its dicator -- especially its children, up to 1 million of whom may have died because of increased infant mortality;
- The Subcommittee's investigation was a "smokescreen" that distracted attention from far more serious issues -- such as the disappearance of more than $8.8 billion of Iraqi national funds during the first year after the US invasion.
The combative Scot's hard-hitting testimony makes compelling viewing.
Meanwhile, we recall that back in June 2003, J. Bryan Williams III -- ExxonMobil's former head of global crude procurements, and the US' hand-picked UN overseer on the Iraq Sanctions Committee, in charge of making sure that Saddam did not obtain any illicit income from the oil-for-food program -- pled guilty to evading taxes on $7 million, including a $2 million kickback to help Mobil win business in Kazakhstan's oil dictatorship.
So there is at least some good news here, Senators -- if you want to find big-time corruption in the international oil trade, you don't have to go looking for it in London, Moscow, or Paris.
These developments also help to put Senator Coleman's continual "head-hunting" of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in perspective. While there's no evidence that Kofi profited personally from OFF, his minions were probably not squeeky-clean. But the enormous profits earned by Saddam's "fellow travelers" in Houston make them seem like pikers.
Indeed, it appears that Annan's key fault is that he had the temerity to oppose the Iraq invasion, and even to label the War "illegal" -- once the invasion had already occurred. With Paul Volcker's final report on the oil-for-food scandal due out soon, and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (!) likely to arrive as soon as he clears the Senate and adjusts his meds, the outlook for the summer is definitely for more fireworks.
(c) SubmergingMarkets.Com, 2005.
Monday, April 18, 2005
WHAT'S SO F'IN FUNNY? From One Wolfie to Another "We Have a New Pope!"
Send your proposed entries to email@example.com. Good luck!
A note to our Faithful Readers: Our Editor is on book leave, writing a long-awaited tome on international private banking. Meanwhile, we will pass the time by offering free "Submerging Market" hats to the best proposed captions. Here's the first. Question: Why are two these fellows smiling?
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Tuesday, February 01, 2005
IRAQ’S ONLY ELECTION More Lipstick on the Pig? James S. Henry
On Sunday January 30, according to the official results finally released on February 13, 8.46 million Iraqis, or 58 percent of Iraq’s 14.6 million registered voters, seized the opportunity to participate in a “free election” of sorts. They voted for candidates and parties that most of them had never heard of, marked ballots that a majority of them could not read, walked for miles to secret polling booths under the watchful eyes of a foreign occupation army that had “collaterally” killed, injured or brutalized tens of thousands of their fellow citizens, and defied threats from thousands of other blood-thirsty, anti-democratic insurgents.
About 265,148 of those who voted were located outside the country -- just 13 percent of all the relatively affluent Iraqis who live abroad. Indeed, on Election Day, a large fraction of the Iraqi elite, and many officials in the interim government, were not to be found in the country -- like many members of the Iraqi elites, they had decamped for Jordan, Dubai, or London, anticipating that the insurgents would strike hard.
These non-resident voters did include some 56,568 Iraqis who voted from Iran, 15,062 who voted from Syria, and 11,409 who voted from the UAE -- places that are not otherwise known for holding free elections. That might indeed be viewed as one small victory for "democracy" in the Middle East.
But most ordinary Iraqis had little choice but to stay in Iraq, and a majority of them braved all the difficulties -- including 260 attacks and more than 50 fatalities -- to vote.
Indeed, for once, this display of bravery was something about Iraq that most international leaders could agree on.
In President Bush’s words, “The Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success.” The UN’s Kofi Annan described the Iraqi people as “courageous.” Britain’s Tony Blair reported that he was “humbled” – no mean accomplishment in itself. Even Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, perhaps anticipating a Shiite victory, and hoping that this will accelerate a US withdrawal, pronounced the elections a "success" and a "sign of nobility of the Iraqi people.”
It is clear as well that the long-suffering Iraqi people also deserve our respect for simply having survived more than three decades of costly wars, occupations, international embargoes, and a brutal dictatorship – aided, armed, and abetted by several of the very same foreign powers that are now boasting so loudly about being the midwives of Iraq democracy.
Despite all the collateral damage, the security forces -- mainly unknown young Iraqi, American, and British soldiers -- who protected these voters also deserve credit. Without this protection, even with all the Iraqi bravery, there would have been no election. These efforts go a long way toward repaying the moral debt that is owed to the Iraqi people for the Great Powers’ decades of complicity with authoritarian regimes in Iraq, their failure to reckon with Saddam much earlier, and the fact that the Bush Administration and its friends have otherwise botched this latest intervention so thoroughly.
ANY OTHER CREDITS FOR THIS MOVIE?
ANY OTHER CREDITS FOR THIS MOVIE?
As usual, success has generated paternity suits.
According to France’s Jacque Chirac, who spearheaded opposition to the war at the UN and has been of little assistance since then, the election was somehow “a success for the international community.” Chirac did not explain how this was consistent with the fact that the US alone has so far provided more than 90% of the funding, non-Iraqi Coalition forces, and Coalition casualties.
We could have held better elections much earlier, with much less bloodshed.
On the other hand, if you listen to President Bush and his supporters,, as illustrated by the President's State of the Union speech, the election is nothing less than another “mission accomplished,” a complete vindication for the Administration’s entire Iraqi strategy. There is also no shortage of hyperbole and self-congratulation from journalists and pundits, especially those who supported the invasion from the get-go – marching up one rationale and down another.
~ For example, The New York Times Magazine’s Michael Ignatieff declared that Sunday’s election in Iraq was “without precedent,” a bold experiment in democracy that everyone ought to “embrace.”
~ Similarly, The Guardian’s David Aaronovitch, another long-time supporter of the invasion, wrote that, however we may feel about how we arrived in Iraq and what it cost to get there, the only issue now is, “Are you for or against democracy?”
~ FOX’s flak-jacketed Jerry Rivers (Geraldo Rivera), surrounded by four heavily-armed US Army riflemen, and this time apparently reporting from where he said he was without giving away any troop positions, called the Iraqi election “right up there with “1776 (sic), voting in Selma in 1960 or whatever (sic), and the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Indeed, this newfound enthusiasm for democracy on the American center-right is so thick that some observers have been reminded of The New York Times’ upbeat assessment of South Vietnam’s Presidential elections in September 1967. The headline read , “US Encouraged by Vietnam vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror."
So we are all Wilsonian democrats now – except perhaps when elections produce outcomes that we don’t like.
In the local elections in the West Bank and Gaza in December 2004, for example, an unprecedented 81 percent of registered Palestinians voted, and more than a third of them voted for Hamas.
Was this comparatively free election, held under Israeli guns in the occupied territories, not a “resounding success?” Were the Palestinians who braved rival factions and the Israeli Army and came out to vote not “courageous?” Are we really, after all, “for or against democracy?”
THE HIGH COST OF MIDDLE EAST DEMOCRACY
THE HIGH COST OF MIDDLE EAST DEMOCRACY
It is not surprising that so many have stepped forward to take credit for the courage demonstrated this weekend by ordinary voters, soldiers, and police in Iraq. After two years of terrorist dentistry, we were starved for good news from Iraq.
Expectations have been incredibly low. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s remark about the singing dog, we were not surprised that the Iraqi election had imperfections; we were surprised there was any election at all.
The war’s supporters are also down to their very last official justification for preemptively invading a country that never attacked us. Having given up on justifying preemption by finding WMDs, and having made Iraq more of a terrorist base camp than it ever was before, those who “embraced” the original invasion are leaping at the opportunity to say – hey, look, maybe there will be at least some return on this incredibly costly experiment. Maybe the West really can plant democratic seeds in Middle Eastern deserts!
The investment certainly has been huge. It includes more than 1,606 Multilateral Force fatalities, 10,371 US wounded, 1,200 other MLF forces wounded, at least 1,362 fatalities among pro-Coalition Iraqi security forces, and anywhere from 15,563 to 100,000 or more Iraqi civilian and insurgent fatalities, depending on who is counting.
The direct dollar cost of the war and its aftermath is fast approaching $220 billion for the US alone, plus whatever costs the other Coalition members and the Iraqi interim government have paid out of their own pockets – and another $9 billion of Iraqi money that apparently simply vanished under Paul Bremer's administration.
All told, this amounts to nearly$30,000 per Iraqi voter, 15 times the country’s per capita income.
Nor was all this spending only a financial cost, because there were opportunity costs – a fancy way of saying that the money could have been spent elsewhere and saved thousands of lives. After all, it amounts to eight times the annual level of all foreign aid provided by all First World countries,and100 times the amountrequested this year by the World Health Organization to fight the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
In practice, of course, if President Bush had not been able to launch his pet project in Iraq, he might well have just pursued another tax cut.
But for that much money, maybe we could at least have persuaded Saddam and his loyalists to leave the country and set up shop in Panama or Cuernavaca, following in the Shah’s footsteps. Like the Shah, Saddam has now contracted cancer, and may just have a couple years to live.If only we had waited…..?
Under a microscope, most of the ex-post back-patting turns out to be simplistic, self-serving nonsense. Before we take off the flak jackets and break out the champagne, let's recall some sobering realities:
1. Most Iraqis Want Us Gone Whether or not most First Worlders and the Bush Administration “embrace” Iraqi democracy,most Iraqis have clearly not “embraced” occupation. Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority – not only the insurgents, but also those who voted in this election – would like nothing more than for the foreign occupation to end. Indeed, if they had had the chance to vote directly on this subject, one suspects that Sunday's turnout would have increased to 90 percent, and that more than 80 percent would have voted to send all US and British troops packing, to replace them with a few thousand peacekeepers from neutral countries, and to immediately cease construction of the Pentagon's 14 permanent military bases in Iraq. 2. We Could Have Held Better Elections, Much Earlier In recent months, as the insurgency gathered steam, some observers began to suggest that it should be postponed. But Sunday’s election came nearly two years after the US-led invasion. The real issue is, what did we really gain from waiting so long?
1. Most Iraqis Want Us Gone
Whether or not most First Worlders and the Bush Administration “embrace” Iraqi democracy,most Iraqis have clearly not “embraced” occupation.
Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority – not only the insurgents, but also those who voted in this election – would like nothing more than for the foreign occupation to end.
Indeed, if they had had the chance to vote directly on this subject, one suspects that Sunday's turnout would have increased to 90 percent, and that more than 80 percent would have voted to send all US and British troops packing, to replace them with a few thousand peacekeepers from neutral countries, and to immediately cease construction of the Pentagon's 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.
2. We Could Have Held Better Elections, Much Earlier
In recent months, as the insurgency gathered steam, some observers began to suggest that it should be postponed. But Sunday’s election came nearly two years after the US-led invasion. The real issue is, what did we really gain from waiting so long?
In fact, largely because of the deteriorating security situation, this election was almost certainly much less effective, efficient, and democratic than the election that we could have held within a few months of the invasion – using the same simple ration card- and finger-printing based system for voter registration that we ended up using anyway.
Way back then, we probably could have achieved even higher turnout at much lower cost, with a much weaker insurgency -- as the Ayatollah Al-Sistani, Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, advised Paul Bremer some 20 months ago.
Indeed, in other transitional situations, like South Africa’s transition from apartheid in 1994 and East Timor’s election in 2001, snap elections were held with only a few months of preparation, with great success – more than 90 percent turnout in both cases.
Instead, the Bush Administration decided to postpone the election for almost two years, in a failed effort to manage Iraqi’s political destiny, assert control over Iraq’s domestic policies, head off Shiite and Kurdish regionalism, and install a government that would be more sympathetic to US "neocon" ambitions.
As a result, the Bush team really deserves responsibility for stoking an insurgency -- now estimated by some observers at having at least 10,000 to 20,000 fighters. This armed resistance, in which foreign fighters actually play only a minor supporting role, has derived much of its fire from the continued occupation and the perpetuation of the unelected “interim” government.
This insurgency, in turn, came very close this month to squelching this election entirely -- to the point where Prime Minister reportedly called President Bush in mid-January to propose delaying it again.
In the end, only an all-out mobilization of Coalition forces, including shipping another 12,000 US troops to Iraq on top of the 140,000 already there, prevented a disaster.
While this transition was never going to be easy, the US control-oriented strategy also antagonized many other Iraqis, making it harder to work with local allies and train Iraqi forces. It exacerbated divisions within Iraqi society, as groups like the Kurds grew more and more independent, radical Shiites took up arms, and more and more Sunni Arab areas became no-go war zones.
Far from serving democracy’s cause, therefore, the Bush Administration’s high-risk strategy actually amounted to a dangerous game of “chicken.” After two years of this, we arrived at a situation where people were amazed that the election could even take place. It is bizarre for us to celebrate this close escape as a triumph for the President -- we really have only the Iraqi people and our troops on the ground to thank for narrowly avoiding disaster. As usual, the fortuitous G. W. has just skated by.
3. The Real Meaning of “High” Turnout
“Higher than expected” turnout in this election has been the main cause for celebration so far. But in fact many other developing countries have also held first-time elections and achieved even higher turnouts, even under occupation.
We already mentioned the case of Palestine’s recent elections. UN-supervised elections in Indonesian-occupied East Timor in August 2001 saw a 93 percent turnout. Kosovo’s 2001 legislative election, also supervised by UN peacekeepers, recorded a 65 percent turnout. In Afghanistan’s October 2004 Presidential election, the turnout was 70 percent.
Only in the US, where voter turnout struggles to exceed fifty percent, does he Iraqi turnout look like a big number.
The overall turnout also masks some important potential problems in Iraq, because turnout rates varied sharply along religious, ethnic, and regional lines.
For example, among the Shiites, who constitute 60 percent of Iraq’s population and live mainly in better-defended parts of Baghdad and the south, turnout reportedly averaged more than 80 percent. Among the 15 percent of the population that lives in Iraq’s three Sunni/Kurdish provinces in the better-defended north, turnout was even higher.
Iraq’s population statistics are subject to huge uncertainties – there has been no census since 1997, and in the case of the Kurdish areas, since 1987. But if we assume that these conventional population share estimates are roughly right, they already add up to more than 8 million votes in Sunday’s election -- even if turnout in Iraqi’s Sunni Arab-dominated provinces was zero.
In other words, the final voter turnout would have to have been substantially greater than 8 million for there to be any room left over for Sunni Arab participation. This is consistent with many reports that this participation was very low.
4. Signs of Disunity?
Since the overall turnout rate was partly a product of these growing divisions, it may not be a sign of health.
Sunday’s election employed a nation-wide list proportional representation system to select the 275-member National Assembly that will choose interim leaders and draft a new Iraqi constitution.
In other contexts, such a voting system is arguably much more democractic than many others. For example, if it had been employed to elect representatives to the US Congress, rather the current "single member district/first one past the post" system, the Democratic Party would control both the House and the Senate.
However, in Iraq's case, this system asked a great deal of many people who had never before voted, did not know the candidates, and, indeed, often could not even read. Almost half of them are under the age of 18; the median age of voters is under 25. Adult literacy is just 39 percent. These voters were expected to choose among more than 111 different national parties and 200 separate candidate lists, which, in turn, contained 7,000 candidates for the Assembly and 12,000 for regional offices.
Most of these parties and candidates were virtually unknown. The ballots were so complex that even the Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, needed special instructions on how to fill them out. Because of the security situation, there were severe constraints on how much campaigning could be done beforehand by all but the best-funded parties – for example, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi List party, which was somehow rich enough to afford massive TV advertising and $100 bills for embedded journalists. Most individual candidates chose not to be publicly identified – the leading United Iraqi Alliance party only identified 37 of its 225 candidates, “to keep them alive.”
This peek-a-boo national list system may have been the only one that was feasible, given the late date of the election and the precarious security situation. But as we have just argued, that was not inevitable. It almost certainly increased the leverage of a handful of political gatekeepers like Allawi. It also reinforced the incentives for block voting, and the potential for regionalism and fratricide.
5. Another “Mission Accomplished?"
5. Another “Mission Accomplished?"
While Sunday’s election was an essential battle for democracy to win, it is premature to declare victory. Even apart from the insurgency, which is likely to continue as long as there are any US or UK troops in the country, Iraq remains a semi-artificial colonial construction that is subject to strong centrifugal forces. This election may have only succeeded in increasing these forces, by reinforcing group and regional polarities.
For example, to maximize their influence on the constitutional debate, and press their not-so-secret ambition to have an independent Kurdish state, the two leading Kurdish political parties established a united front, the Kurdish Alliance List, for Sunday’s election. They also sponsored a referendum on "Kurdistan’s" independence, side-by-side with the election.
One country’s liberation is another’s nightmare. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan recently expressed grave concern over the Kurds’ designs on oil-rich Kirkuk, their continued interest in an independent state, and the refuge they have provided to some 5000 fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters – “terrorists” in some vernaculars -- in northern Iraq. Two pro-PKK parties also participated in the Iraqi elections, despite Turkey’s denunciation of them as “terrorists.” There were also complaints from Kirkuk’s Turkomen community that 72,000 Iraqi Kurds had migrated there and registered to vote, to shift the balance of power.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shiites are also struggling to organize their political power. One reason why Shiite turnout was so high is that 75-year old Iran-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, issued an edict declaring it a religious duty for them to vote, and also permitted women to vote. Al-Sistani could not vote in the elections himself because he is not even an Iraqi citizen. But together with fellow cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, and accused Iran spy/ bank fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, al-Sistani helped to organize the United Iraqi Alliance, which has reportedly captured at least 45 percent of the vote.
The UIA is a diverse lot, and it is by no means clear who will lead it or what policies it will support. But what is clear is that some of its leaders would make very strange bedfellows for the United States of America, and that perhaps, at a minimum, we should not count on them to serve as the vanguard of our efforts to export democracy to the Middle East.
For example, Al-Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of two leading Shiite parties in Iraq, has been openly opposed the “US occupation.” The second element of the Alliance’s program demands: “…A timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq.”
In May 2003, two months after the US invasion, Al-Hakim returned from exile in Iran and set up shop in Najaf. SCIRI, which has been called the “Hezbollah of Iraq,” also maintains the Badr Corps, an Iranian-trained militia that Al-Hakim helped to found in the early 1980s, is based in Teheran, and numbers anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000.
There is more. In the run-up to the war, SCIRI was one of six Iraqi exile organizations that shared at least $92 million in US military aid. (Another was Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.)
However, in April 2003 it earned Donald Rumsfeld’s wrath. He sternly warned Iran about using Badr Corp, which had also developed strong relations with the Kurd’s military wing, to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs. The SCIRI is also staunchly opposed to the recognition of Israel until the “occupation of Palestine” has ended.
In October 2004, Iraq’s national intelligence chief Mohammed al-Shahwan accused the Badr militia of assassinating 10 of his agents, and accused Chalabi, Al-Hakim’s ally, of being a spy for Iran. Indeed, according to the US 9/11 Commission, SCIRI, Hezbollah, and Hamas are all basically sister organizations that are heavily supported by Iran.
Of course this is the Middle East, so one has to take all such scuttlebutt with a grain of saffron. Maybe just the experience of participating in elections will cause religious radicals to become moderates! True, that hasn't exactly happened yet on the US religious right, much less among Iranian, Arab, or Israeli true believers. But hope springs eternal -- after all, US foreign policy is a faith-based initiative!
So perhaps now we understand another reason why Iran’s Foreign Minister was just as enthusiastic about the elections in Iraq as President Bush. Hamas’ recent victory in Palestine may not have been his only cause for celebration. Or perhaps everyone is reading Woodrow Wilson these days!
But you ‘re still either for democracy or against it, right?
6. Seedbed for Democracy?
6. Seedbed for Democracy?
Whatever the longer-term consequences of this election for Iraq, can we at least be assured that it has had a salutary effect on the rest of the Middle East? Here again the waters are murky.
Not surprisingly, Hamid Kharzai, “the mayor of Kabul,” was enthusiastic about the election. Jordan's King Abdullah, a dapper, English-speaking Arab Sunni monarch and a leading US aid recipient whose own country doesn’t quite yet hold Iraq-style elections for some reason, worried that the Sunni Arab turnout was "a lot lower than any of us hoped.” But he also added that "This is a thing that will set a good tone for the Middle East, and I am optimistic."
Other US allies in the Muslim world have found Iraq’s example much less contagious.
Pakistan’s President Musharraf has made no public comment on the elections. But in December 2004 he called the Iraq War a “mistake” that “made the world a more dangerous place.” That same month he also broke his solemn promise to give up absolute power, extending his term as Army Chief and President several more years. The US currently gives Musharraf's nuclear-armed military dictatorship more than $300 million a year in military aid and $306 million in economic aid, and has also recently helped it reschedule billions of foreign debt.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak ventured the hope that the Iraqi election “would open the way for the restoration of calm and stability.” But just last week, Mubarak, who gets $2 billion a year of US economic and military aid, said he may run for a fifth 6-year term – unless his son runs. Just this weekend, as Iraq starting to hold elections, his government detained Egypt’s main opposition leader.
So now that we’re here, where are we? How do we make sense of this bizarre, contradictory outcome, where the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want us to leave their country forthwith, but could not retain their electoral freedoms for one New York minute without us?
Was trying to force-feed democracy-to-go in this complex environment really ever a good idea? Once there, couldn't we have done a vastly better job of it than we have? Will the astronomical price that we and the Iraqi people have paid, in terms of blood, distraction, international law, and treasure, ever be worth it? How long will it be until we will know for sure?
But history is not made by critics, historians, and other second-guessers. For better or worse, it is often made by simplistic, decisive little men (and women) who are able, one way or another, to grab hold of the reigns of power and say -- "Follow me - I'm sure the trail is this way." Our continuing propensity to respond to such appeals, in the face of mounds of evidence about the likely results, is astounding and disturbing.
In any case, whatever else the Iraqi experiment has accomplished, at least the Iraqi people have now held their first election since…..Well, come to think of it, up to now, there never has been a truly free election in “Iraq,” the pseudo-nation that Britain and the World War I Allies cobbled together out of three Ottoman Empire administrative eyalets (provinces), Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in 1921, and deemed “independent” in 1932.
For that matter, the Great Powers of that day probably could have mandated an election way back then that was no less free, secure, or fair than last Sunday’s and avoided the whole bloody sequel.
(Note to readers: SubmergingMarkets™ enjoys the dubious satisfaction of having been roughly right about developments in Iraq for the past year and a half. For example, see Reference 1 and Reference 2.)
© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™, February 05
Saturday, October 30, 2004
IRAQI FUBAR: The Road to God Knows Where
Whatever Americans may choose to believe about whether they are really better off with Saddam Hussein gone, it is by now evident that, nineteen months after the US invasion of Iraq, most ordinary Iraqis feel much less secure, much less well-off, and more anti-American than ever before.
Indeed, the country appears to be spiraling out of control. Nor is it clear that even a sharp post-US election crackdown by Coalition Forces, with all the attendant Iraqi casualties that it is likely to produce, will be able to turn this trend around.
So far, neither leading US Presidential candidate appears to have fully come to grips with this deteriorating situation in Iraq, or the fundamental strategic blunders that underlie it. At least they are not saying so in public.
A rather undistinguished, pig-headed, President continues to defend his faith-based initiative for “democratizing” the Middle East.
A rather undistinguished junior Senator from Massachusetts -– who has spent much of his life trying to be on all sides of recent US wars -- continues to argue that the key problems with the Iraq War have been tactical – too few troops and equipment, too little Allied support, too few trained Iraqis, careless handling of high explosives, and so forth.
Neither of these positions is realistic.
Indeed, as we will argue below, regardless of who is elected US President on November 2, the facts on the ground in Iraq are now pointing relentlessly toward one seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion:
The US will only be able to stabilize Iraq, preserve that country's national unity, win more support for the interim government, undermine the role of “foreign terrorists” in the country, and secure a modicum of domestic and international support for “democratization” if and when it links the calendar for Iraqi democratization and constitutional reform to a firm, near-term timetable for the withdrawal of all US forces (though not necessarily all Coalition forces) from the country.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Democracy in America and Elsewhere: Part II: Recent Global Trends Toward Democracy
Of course we are also very proud of our free markets, our relative affluence, and our occasional ambitions -- at the moment perhaps a bit muted -- to provide equal opportunities for all our citizens.
However, when we try to market our country’s best features to the rest of the world, or teach our children to be proud of their country, it is not the economy that we brag about.
Even self-styled “conservatives” usually lead, not with glowing descriptions of perfect markets and opportunities for unlimited private gain, but with our supposedly distinctive commitment to defending and expanding political democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
Indeed, one of the most important official justifications for recent US forays into the Middle East, as well as our many other foreign interventions, has been to help bring “democracy” to supposedly backward, undemocratic societies like Iraq and Afghanistan (…and before that, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guyana, Guatemala, Iran, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. etc. etc.)
Even though, time and again, this noble commitment has turned out to be pure rhetoric, it provides such an elastic cover story for all our many transgressions that it keeps on being recycled, over and over and over again.
Whatever the truth about US motives for such interventions, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the last two decades, the United States itself has actually fallen behind the rest of the democratic world in terms of “best democratic practices” and the overall representativeness of our own domestic political institutions.
Meanwhile, many developing countries have recently been making very strong progress toward representative democracy, without much help from us.
Indeed, in some cases, like South Africa, this progress was made in the face of opposition from many of the very same neoimperialists who have lately voiced so much concern about transplanting democracy to the Middle East.
While we have been resting on our democratic laurels, or even slipping backwards, the fact is that emerging democracies like Brazil, India, and South Africa, as well as many of our First World peers, have been adopting procedures for electing governments that are much more democratic at almost every stage of the electoral process than those found in the US.
The institutions they have been developing include such bedrock elements of electoral democracy as the rules for:
Of course effective democracy has many other crucial elements beside electoral processes alone. These include (1) the relative influence of legislative, executive, and judicial branches; (2) the concrete opportunities that ordinary citizens have -- as compared with highly-organized special interests and professional lobbyists -- to influence government decisions between elections; (3) the respective influence of private interests, religious groups, and the state; (4) the degree to which the rule of law prevails over corruption and "insider" interests; and (5) the overall degree of political consciousness and know-how.
However, fair and open electoral processes are clearly a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for effective democracy -- all these other elements simply cannot make up for their absence.
We hope that increasing the recognition of this “electoral democracy gap” between the US and the rest of the democratic world will be helpful in several ways:
This used to be much easier than it is now. As of the early 1970s, there were only about 40 countries that qualified as “representative democracies,” and most were First World countries.
Since then, however, there has been a real flowering of democratic institutions in the developing world. This was partly due to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. But many more people were in fact “liberated” by the Third World debt crisis, which undermined corrupt, dictatorial regimes all over the globe, from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Zaire.
Voting in the Philippines, 2004
Assessments of the degree of “freedom” of individual regimes by organizations like Freedom House or the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators, are notoriously subjective. However, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about specific countries, there is little disagreement on the overall trend. (See Table 3.)
By 2004, about 60 percent, or 119, of the nearly 200 countries on the planet could be described as “electoral democracies,” compared with less than one-third in the early 1970s. Another 25-30 percent have made significant progress toward political freedom.
Voting in South Africa, 1994
Indeed, notwithstanding our present challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the standpoint of global democracy, this has been a banner year. As of September 2004, 32 countries had already held nationwide elections or referenda, with 886 million people voting. (See Table 4.) By the end of 2004, another 33 countries will join the US in doing so – nearly three times as many national elections as were held each year, on average, in the 1970s.
All told, this year, more than 1.7 billion adults – 42 percent of the world’s voter-age population -- will be eligible to vote in national elections, and more than 1.1 billion will probably vote. That that will make American voters less than 10 percent of the global electorate.
Of course, some of these elections will be held in countries where democratic institutions and civil liberties are still highly imperfect. And some developing countries like Russia and Venezuela have recently been struggling to find a balance between democracy and national leadership, partly to undo the effects of neoliberal policies in the 1990s, or in response to terrorist threats.
But the good news is that democracy is clearly not a “luxury good.” The demand for it is very strong even in low-income countries like Bolivia, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Guatemala, and Botswana. And while self-anointed dictators, military rulers, and one-party elites or theocracies are still clinging to power in 50-60 countries that have more than 2.4 billion residents, such regimes are more and more anachronistic. (See Table 5.)
Interestingly, Asian dictatorships, especially China and Vietnam, now account for more than three-fifths of the portion of the world’s population that still lives under authoritarian rule. While several Islamic countries appear on the list of authoritarian countries, they account for just one fifth of the total. Furthermore, by far the most important ones happen to be close US “allies” like Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Evidently the simple-minded neoconservative “clash of cultures” model, which pits supposedly democratic, pluralist societies against an imaginary Islamic bloc, doesn’t have much explanatory power.
Furthermore, the US also clearly faces some very tough choices, if it is really serious about promoting non-discriminatory, secular democratic states that honor the separation between church and state among its Islamic allies, as well as in Palestine, and, for that matter, Israel.
Voting in East Timor. 2001
A more encouraging point is that many developing countries are already providing useful lessons in democratization. Indeed, as we will see in Part III of this series, there is much to learn from the experiences of new democracies like Brazil and South Africa.
These countries are undertaking bold experiments with measures like free air time for candidates, “registration-free” voting, direct Presidential elections, electronic voting, proportional representation, and the public finance of campaigns. While not all these experiments have worked out perfectly, the fact these countries have already demonstrated a capacity to innovate in “democratic design” is very encouraging.
Of course there is a long-standing tension between the US dedication to Third World democracy and its tolerance for the independence that democratic nationalism often brings. By renewing and deepening our own commitment to democracy at home, we will also protect it abroad -- even though (as in Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and perhaps eventually also Iraq) it does not always produce governments that we agree with.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
The UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq: Breakthrough?
Yesterday the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve a new resolution with regard to Iraq. This action is already being positioned by Bush, Blair, and some journalists as a legitimation of the 160,000 Coalition forces in Iraq, and a sea change in the international community's attitude toward the war.
We need to examine this closely, to see whether it really is a turning point. Does it represent an important concession by the hard-pressed Bush Administration to important UN demands -- not so much because of the June 30 deadline, but because of the real deadline, November 2? Or was it just another example of the UN's inability to accomplish very much on this core international issue other than to "follow the US or get out of the way?"
Doesn't the UN resolution really amount to a kind of "appeasement" of Bush and Blair, a bizarre reward for having launched this illegal war without explicit UN authorization? What do the Kurds think of the UN resolution, which completely ignores their demand for autonomy? And where does it leave the hapless John Kerry, who now finds that one of his few policy suggestions for Iraq, the notion of getting the UN more involved, has been encapsulated by the President?
To begin with, the resolution endorses President Bush's June 30th deadline for the transfer of "full responsibility and authority"to the "sovereign" Interim Government of Iraq.
The UN resolution also notes that on June 30, control over accumulated profits from oil sales and the UN's "oil for food" program will be transferred to the interim Iraqi government. Of course, given the high costs of security and recent constraints on production and exports, oil profits have been relatively modest. As for the UN oil for food program, it is almost extinct, with key former administrators under investigation for corruption. For the foreseeable future, therefore, the interim Iraqi Government is likely to remain heavily dependent on aid from the US Government, which is still sitting on more than $18 billion that was supposed to have been spent on infrastructure, and on relief from Iraq's $130 billion foreign debt.
Furthermore, the new "sovereign" government is also instructed to "refrain from taking any actions affecting Iraq's destiny beyond its interim period of governance."
Presumably this rules out privatizing oil assets. One hopes that it doesn't also prevent the interim government from challenging US plans to build 14 new military bases all over the country, or from revising the extraordinary neoliberal provisions in the country's new laws on investment, trade, privatization, and taxes.
These were drafted by Paul Bremer's staff (including McKinsey veteran and Greenwich-based venture capitalist Tom Foley) and adopted by the Iraqi Governing Council and the CPA without any significant debate. They include some of the most extreme "free market" provisions in the developing world -- 2 percent import duties, wide open capital markets, and a maximum 15 percent income tax rate. Russia, which already tried an experiment with such measures in the early 1990s, should volunteer to give the new interim Iraqi government some free advice about the effects of such measures.
AN END TO OCCUPATION?
The UN resolution also declares the "end of the occupation" and the authority of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority as of June 30th. On the other hand, it also recognizes the mandate of the "multinational force" (MNF) currently in Iraq at the request of the interim Government (sic)" to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability."
In exercising this broad mandate, the MNF is requested to "work in partnership" with the new "sovereign" Iraqi Government. The request from France and Spain that the MNF report to the Iraqis was turned down.
Nor is there any attempt to create a UN peacekeeping force, other than a "small" (4,000 person!) force to protect UN workers themselves. (How many UN workers will there be, exactly?) Apart from the US and the UK, none of the other Security Council members are yet prepared to commit their own troops to joining the MNF in this adventure -- despite their newfound enthusiasm for Bush's plans.
The UN promises to review this MNF mandate in one year. It also assures us that if the Iraqi Government wants the UN to terminate the MNF's mandate to be in Iraq, it only has to ask. Of course the US will then promptly withdraw all its troops from Iraq, because, after all, we only invaded the country with...uh..UN authorization?
That kind of request might conceivably occur under some hypothetical future Iraqi government. But the UN knows full well that at the moment, this "right to demand withdrawal" business is pure cosmetics -- the Tigris- Euphrates will freeze in summertime and all looters will leave Baghdad before such a request is made by the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
This rising star and secular Shiite was not a London brain surgeon for nothing. He is also a leading Chalabi rival, Iraqi National Accord leader, and early Baath Party member who was hand-picked by the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, with Paul Bremer's backing.
Allawi, who is reported to have spied for the Baathist Party in London before he turned against Saddam in the 1980s, has a long history of cooperation with US and UK intelligence agencies, as well as with disgruntled senior Iraqi Army officers. Allawi has become the agencies' preferred alternative to Chalabi -- a talented administrator who represents "the acceptable face" of Baathism, and has none of Chalabi's weird connections with the Iranians, busted Jordanian banks, or the insufferable Richard N. Perle.
It is far too early to say whether or not Allawi will be able to leverage his "transitional" role into a more permanent one, or even live to see the fall, but he and his numerous relatives -- some of whom are married to Chalabi's relatives -- are more likely to ask for increased MNF troops than to ask them to withdraw.
The UN resolution does recognize that Iraqi security forces will, at least technically, report to the Iraqi Government rather than to the MNF. This provision may help Allawi restore more control to his friends in the Iraqi Army. But since they will continue to derive most of their payroll, training, arms and ammunition from the Coalition for the foreseeable future, it is unclear how much practical difference this really makes.
Unless the MNF is booted out by a successor Iraqi Government, according to the UN resolution, its mandate is scheduled to expire "on completion of the political process outlined above." Optimists may read this to mean "by December 31, 2005." But that assumes that this "process" will stay on track. We have all seen in the last 14 months just how accurate such forecasts have been with respect to Iraqi politics -- for example, the abortive effort to "write a constitution by March 2004." Bearing this in mind, the UN resolution was careful not to specify an explicit date for MNF withdrawal.
THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY?
The UN resolution also endorses a rather convoluted timetable for the creation of representative government in Iraq -- the broad contours of which can only be described as "Floridian," in terms of the efforts being made to control the exercise of democratic choice as much as possible, even while making loud noises in favor of it.
- The process begins with a "national conference reflecting the diversity of Iraqi society." How a conference can do that without being democratically elected is a puzzle that evidently the UN has solved, since it will help to organize and convene this conference in July 2004.
That conference, in turn, will select a "Consultative Council" of 100 members, which will "advise" the Interim Government and have "veto power over its orders." Precisely how this Council, which has just been added to the stew, will exercise this potentially very important power over Allawi and his team, is unclear -- remember, folks, we are making this up as we go along.
- With the UN's help and the Consultative Council's "advice," the Interim Government will then hold "direct democratic" elections for a "Transitional National Assembly" by the end of 2004, or January 31, 2005 at the latest. This is the UN, remember; one-month variations in schedules fall like raindrops from the sky.
- This Transitional National Assembly, in turn, will establish a "Transitional National Government," which would take charge of drafting a "permanent constitution."
Presumably the Consultative Council will by then have faded away, along with the interim Iraqi government and the Iraqi Governing Council before it. Iraq may be setting something of a record here for prophylactic appointed governmental bodies, designed to sharply slow the rate of descent to that point where ordinary people actually get to vote. (The so-called "non-Florida point.")
- Finally, on the basis of the yet-to-be drafted constitution, a "constitutionally-elected government" will finally be elected by the Iraqi people themselves by December 31, 2005. Or perhaps by January 31, 2006; who knows?
What are ordinary Iraqis likely to make of this "timetable?"
First, they've already had more than 14 months of "interim" rule by people who were basically appointed by foreigners, and many of them evidently have some very strong opinions about the results.
Now they are being told that they will basically continue to be governed by recycled ex-Baathist exiles and military men, also chosen by foreigners, for at least another seven months.
Furthermore, these appointees will also now be in charge of the Iraqi military. In a country where government is commonly viewed, with strong historical justification, as a private fiefdom that is populated by a gang of thieves, this is unlikely to encourage people to believe in the UN's roadmap.
Finally, they are also being told that even when they do finally get to vote for the first time, by say January 2005, they will only be electing yet another "transitional" government, on the way to a constitutional convention and yet another new government the following year.
In this regard, the Iraqi Kurds, in particular, have enormous reasons for concern. Their demands for a loose federation and a great deal of autonomy, which were recognized in the draft March 2004 constitution, were not mentioned at all by the UN. Apparently they face the prospect of having to start over from scratch, without nearly as much leverage and high level support as they had before. Already key Kurdish members of the interim Iraqi Government have threatened to resign over this issue.
In short, even if everything goes according to plan, this political timetable requires ordinary Iraqis -- many of whom are still unemployed, and most of whom are already incredibly angry at how the US has mismanaged Saddam's overthrow -- to have extraordinary patience and to suspend an extraordinary amount of disbelief.
But we've already seen how difficult it was to achieve agreement on an overall national constitution this year. My humble conjecture is that that difficulty was not due to a shortage of UN advice, consultative councils, or Security Council resolutions.
Rather, it reflects very real, deep-seated divisions of views, interests, ideology, and affiliations within Iraqi society.
These divisions may never be overcome, or they might be overcome by a bold experiment in de-occupation, liberation, local autonomy, and democratization. But they are unlikely to be overcome by the slow-motion, controlled kind of pseudo-democratization that the UN, in its wisdom, has just endorsed.
We should not really be surprised, therefore, if the roadmap just outlined produces even greater resistance and discord, rather than peace and quiet.
Beyond the impacts of the UN resolution within Iraq, the other key risk is that it constitutes appeasement. In effect, rather than being sanctioned by the UN for starting this preemptive war on false grounds in clear violation of international law, the US and the UK are now to some extent being let off the hook. And Bush and Blair, in particular, who are both fighting for their political lives, will undoubtedly be helped by the perception that their policy has at last been embraced by the UN.
Of course UN members can argue that they had little choice from the standpoint of helping the Iraqi people, and that the new resolution says nothing about the "original sin" that may have been committed.
This will be cold comfort to Bush opponents like John Kerry, who had made UN and Nato involvement in Iraq a key pillar of his approach to the war. At this point, armed with the UN's blessing, it is no longer clear how Kerry's position differs at all from the President's.
More important, by swallowing whole so much of the Bush/Blair program for Iraq, caving in on UN representative Brahimi's preferences for key appointments in the interim Iraqi government, and effectively sanctioning the continuation of the occupation until the country achieves political nirvana (or forever - whichever comes first), the UN may have reduced its own influence even further, and cleared the way for more such adventures.
After more than a year of grossly mismanaging Iraq's transition to democracy, and more than eight decades of pushing the country toward autocracy, the reluctance of today's "Great Powers" to put an end to this custodial occupation and proceed more expeditiously with a bold experiment in "ASAP" local democracy is discouraging.
Between the lines, this measure has really sanctioned the continuation of an open-ended military occupation, alienated key constituents like the Kurds, undermined the opponents of the war, and rewarded serial violators of international law.
Yet to our senior leaders, and, indeed, many journalists, victory, suitably redefined, is once more just around the corner.
Of course we never found those WMDs or the links to al-Qaeda, we were not welcomed as liberators, and a majority of Iraqis now want us to leave the way we came in --quickly. But the theory is that now, with the UN solidly in our corner, and more and more troops on the ground (perhaps including some from NATO), we really will be able to (1) stabilize the country; (2) hold more or less free elections; (3) make sure that the winners are friendly moderates; (4) hang on to our precious military bases; and of course (5) minimize US casualties.
Over the next few months, I fear that a great many more lives will be wasted as we wait once again to find out whether or not this latest untested neo-imperialist prophesy is true.
(c) James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets.com, 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent from the author. All rights reserved.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
052704.Iraq - High Time to "Cut and Walk" Defining Alternatives to"Stay and Die" and "Cut and Run"
“A nation has prestige according to its merits. America's contribution to world civilization must be more than a continuous performance demonstration that we can police the planet."
“A nation should not send half a million military personnel to a distant continent or stake its international standing and domestic cohesion unless its leaders are in a position to describe victory. This implies a definition of attainable political goals and a realistic strategy to achieve them.”
Back in the days when fixed exchange rates were the order of the day, Citibank's former CEO, Walter Wriston, had a very simple rule for deciding when to short a country's currency -- whenever a Finance Minister reassured investors that under no circumstances whatsoever would the country’s currency ever be devalued.
One might have thought that a similar rule would apply to US military misadventures. Perhaps it does, but with a much longer time lag.
In the investment world, of course, the cardinal rule is to “cut one’s losses early."
Recently, however, a growing number of US politicians, senior officials and pundits on all sides of the political spectrum have counseled us to do precisely the opposite in Iraq.
Despite the many recent setbacks, and the evident lack of any clear strategy, they’ve repeatedly warned about the perils of “cutting and running."
This is as if a precipitate withdrawal were the only conceivable alternative to the open-ended military occupation that the Bush and Blair Administrations and the would-be Kerry Administration are all promising to maintain even after June 30.
Ironically, public opinion is far ahead of these timid political lemmings, and much more consistent with the “cut your losses” strategy. Right now, just 45 percent of US adults still believe that it was “worth going to war in Iraq,” down from 76 percent a year ago. A majority in the US and 66 percent in the UK now oppose sending any additional troops to Iraq, and fully 40 percent of US adults and 55 percent of UK adults now support a withdrawal of US and/or UK troops after the handover of power to the interim Iraqi Government on June 30.
This is comparable to the level of popular US opposition to the Vietnam War that prevailed immediately after the January 1968 Tet offensive. Of course the vast majority of the Iraqi people have favored the withdrawal of Coalition forces for some time.
In fact there is a clear alternative to the current “prolonged occupation” strategy. As explained below, this “cut and walk” strategy has many advantages -- not the least of which are the many lives that it would save on all sides.
WHERE’S OUR BOBBY?
Despite these strong public sentiments, one searches in vain for any mainstream American political leaders, other than Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, who are prepared to insist on a definite timetable for a withdrawal of US troops.
In other words, with respect to the Iraq War, we’re still missing our Robert Kennedy, our Eugene McCarthy, and our Martin Luther King. I'd hate to think that this leadership deficit reflects something fundamental about our ethical and cultural regression since the 1960s, but I fear that it may. (Where are, after all, the student protests in this period? Where are the Berrigan Brothers, the Sloane Coffins, the teach-ins, the Chicago 7s, and so forth?...Was all that just about the fear of being drafted?)
In the UK and Australia, a few daring military and political leaders are beginning to catch up to public opinion and advocate a more rapid exit. Even there, however, the alternative to the status quo is often described rather pejoratively and unimaginatively as “cut and run.”
This “muy macho” lingo was used in early May by Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, who vowed that Australia’s troops in Iraq would not “cut and run,” despite the unpopularity of this position. It was also used by the UK’s Tony Blair on May 17. Ignoring the mounting political crisis that he faces over the war, Blair repeated at least three times that under no circumstances would the UK “cut and run.”
President Bush, whose political fortunes are also flagging, has also recently issued a crescendo of assurances that he will not “cut and run” from Iraq. The first assurance was given last November, when Iraqi resistance started to take off, and it was repeated in March, April, and again on May 10. Every time the President repeated it, more and more people had doubts about whether he really meant it.
Some pro-war pundits have also become fond of the “cut and run” formulation. The Wall Street Journal’s arch-conservative Deputy Editor George Melloan warned in May that “those who counsel a “cut and run” solution to the problems of Iraq are kidding themselves.” This echoed a November WSJ Op-Ed Page piece entitled “Don’t Cut and Run,” and another one last July by Paul Gigot that proclaimed that “The Iraqis' greatest fear is that America will cut and run.”
Of course the truth, as indicated by Iraqi polls, is that most Iraqis would probably be delighted if they woke up one morning to find us gone.
Many Democrats who support the war have also been using the "cut and run" formula as a convenient way to avoid serious discussion of alternatives. Among the leading practitioners on this side of the isle is John Kerry. As early as September 2003, with respect to Iraq, Kerry promised that “We're not going to cut and run and not do the job." In November he said, “I know we have to win. I don't want to cut and run.” In December, in an “attack from the right” speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, he warned that the Bush Administration itself might be on the verge of a “cut and run.” In April, annoyed by anti-war critics, Kerry insisted that “…The vast majority of the American people understand that it's important to not just cut and run. I don't believe in a cut-and-run philosophy (sic)." ("Muy macho, muy macho!")
Similarly, Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently warned that “To succumb to political pressure and cut and run would be a catastrophe for U.S. interests.” Similarly, Joe Lieberman: “We simply cannot lose. We can't cut and run,” and again: “…America cannot cut and run from Iraq. Both parties and both Presidential candidates agree that we should send more troops….” Similarly, Indiana’s Evan Bayh, who’d love to be Kerry’s VP: “We can't cut and run…” New York's Chuck Schumer commented on the killing of a US citizen in Iraq: “If they think this is going to make us cut and run, they are dead wrong.”
On the Republican side, John McCain is also fond of the phrase. On November 5 he told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Iraq is not Vietnam. There is no popular, anti- colonial insurgency…..I was heartened to here the President say there will be no cut and run.” On April 7 he cautioned, “Is it time to panic? To cut and run? Absolutely not.” On May 18, he warned, "If we fail, if we cut and run, the results can be disastrous.”
Variations on the same construction have been used by many other Republicans, including Virginia’s John Warner, Minnesota’s Norm Coleman ("It’s not to cut and run"), Missouri’s Chris Bond, and Alabama’s Richard Shelby. (May 12: “We've got a lot at stake. We cannot cut and run.”)
Other senior US officials also love this dismissive. Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who actually presided over the tail end of the Nixon-Ford Adminstration’s “cut and run” strategy in Vietnam, told the US Senate with respect to Iraq on April 20 that “We going to be there for an extended period, unless we decide to cut and run, which I trust will not be the case.”
Last November, Secretary of State Colin Powell commended Italy for its decision to “… not cut and run.” On May 18 he echoed Blair: "We don't want to stay a day longer than we have to but we are not going to walk away. We are not going to cut and run."
Powell, a Vietnam vet like Kerry and McCain, uses this construction a lot -- evidently that aspect of the war is still a sore point. But at least with respect to Powell’s warnings against “run cuts,” the “Walter Wriston contrarian” rule may apply. In 2001, for example, with respect to US troops in the Balkans, Powell remarked that “The U.S. would not "cut and run" from the region.” At the time this was viewed as an implied criticism of neoconservatives who were seeking to limit America’s ”imperial overstretch” and “open ended military commitments,” as Presidential candidate Bush actually pledged to do in 2000. Since then, the number of US troops in the Balkans has been reduced from 6900 to 4100, and the Administration is now reportedly looking for ways to eliminate this commitment completely.
Earlier, in September 1993, when Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he responded to the deaths of 18 US soldiers in Somalia with the comment, “Because things get difficult, you don’t cut and run…You work the problem.” Within two weeks of this statement, President Clinton announced that the remaining 5000 US troops in Somalia would be withdrawn within six months.
In any case, the last time the “cut and run” phrase was used so heavily was over a decade ago, around the time of this Somalia decision. In October 1993, William Safire, the New York Times columnist, former Nixon speechwriter, and self-styled lexicologist, devoted an entire “On Words” column to the origins of “cut and run,” pointing out that it derives from an 18th century nautical term for putting out to sea quickly by cutting an anchor cable.
Given the phrase’s recent revival, in early May 2004 Safire was able to dust off his earlier column and recycle it.
He did not, however, bother to remind his readers that by far the most important occasion for its use was the unhappy experience of the Vietnam War, much of which was presided over by his former boss, who had made quite a point of refusing to "cut and run."
In 1967-68, as opposition to the Vietnam War mounted, President Johnson repeatedly deplored the “nervous Nellies” who wanted to “cut and run.” After the Democrats relinquished the White House and responsibility for the war, many leading Republicans, including future President Gerald Ford and Pennsylvania’s Senator Scott, disparaged those who wanted to “cut and run.” So did President Nixon, in his 1968 campaign against Hubert Humphrey as well as in his 1972 campaign against George McGovern. He repeatedly assured conservatives that the US would somehow achieve “peace with honor” – that we would never “cut and run.” At the same time, Nixon winked and nodded to the increasingly anti-war public that he had a “secret plan” to end the war. But this was turned out to be just one of his many lies, told to garner a few votes from gullible peaceniks.
In fact recent historical research has showed that Nixon and Kissinger decided on a cynical “decent interval” approach to the US withdrawal from Vietnam as early as 1970, after having tried in vain to win the war with expanded bombing in 1969. The result was that the US spent another three years flailing around in Vietnam without a winning strategy, at the cost of 21,000 extra US lives and up to 1.5 million Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian lives. After that, it really did cut and run. This cynical, slow-motion approach to making “peace” probably helped Nixon win reelection. But it did nothing for the Vietnamese people, US troops, or, in the end, American honor. Far better for us to have “cut and run” way back in 1968.
Indeed, it turns out that by 1968, the Pentagon had indeed developed a plan for a rapid US withdrawal from Vietnam. But Hubert Humphrey refused to consider it, despite the fact that it might actually have won him the election. Evidently he was loyal to President Johnson. And Hubert also didn’t want to be perceived as having “cut and run.”
IRAQ - THE CASE FOR “CUT AND WALK”
It may not be surprising that President Bush has forgotten these painful lessons. But the fact that Vietnam veterans like Kerry and McCain have forgotten them, and, indeed, are repeating the same misleading phrase that Nixon once used to describe all alternatives to “staying the course,” is disappointing.
Of course it is nonsense to suggest that the only alternative to an open-ended military occupation of Iraq is to “cut and run.”
One such alternative might be described as “cut and walk.”
In broad strokes, this would include a reasonable (say, six-nine month) deadline for the withdrawal of (almost) all US and UK forces from Iraq, combined with a greatly-accelerated timetable (say, 90 days) for “interim”/ “first-round” elections at the local and regional levels.
The case for such a “cut and walk” policy is very strong, especially when viewed side by side with the high costs and highly uncertain benefits of the current strategy.
First, it is now clear that the Coalition’s purely-defensive security interests in the continued occupation of Iraq are very limited at best.
While the Iraqi Army has been destroyed, we have not found any WMDs, WMD programs, or terrorist training facilities in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the entire region has become an al-Qaeda recruiter’s wet-dream.
Finally, if Iraq ever did become a clear and present danger to us, there’d be nothing to prevent our reoccupying the country – evidently, having done it twice, that is something that we are good at.
Second, far from helping to insure peace and stability in Iraq, the absence of a clear deadline for the presence of Coalition Forces helps to (1) attract foreign terrorists; (2) legitimize terrorism and spread the resistance; (3) increase the power base of those who happen to have private armies at their disposal; (4) undermine Iraqi support for moderate leaders; and (5) militarize ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts.
In contrast, the existence of a firm near-term (say, six months) deadline, along with an accelerated (90 day) timetable for local and regional elections, would almost instantly cause the Iraqi resistance to quiet down.
That, in turn, would create several “virtuous cycles:” (1) It would permit the Iraqi people to turn their attention away from violence and toward the upcoming political elections. (2) It would discredit and undermine popular support for any leaders or foreign fighters who tried to perpetuate the resistance; (3) It would permit economic reconstruction, now largely on hold because of the security situation, to resume, permitting more and more ordinary Iraqis to feel that they are indeed better off than before Saddam’s demise.
Third, far from helping to promote positive relations with the US, other Western powers, and the UN, the Coalition’s continued military presence, including its construction of 14 military bases and its dominance over economic policy, (1) feeds suspicions about neo-imperialism; (2) helps to promote anti-Western ideology; and (3) provides an opportunity for a variety of outside forces – Iran, Syria, and perhaps al-Qaeda – to gain influence.
In contrast, the announcement of a firm withdrawal date would make it much clearer than it is now that the US/UK invasion of Iraq is “well-motivated,” in the sense that there are no grand designs on Iraqi oil, economic policy, or military bases.
Fourth, far from encouraging democracy in the country, the continued occupation, combined a US- or even a UN-anointed, non-elected transitional regime, actually helps to undermine it, by (1) tainting the appointees with “guilt by association” with the occupying army, and (2) deferring popular elections, against the wishes of the vast majority of Iraqis.
For all their imperfections, moving directly to “snap elections” for local governments, regional assemblies, and, soon thereafter, an interim (say, two-year) national congress, would (1) help to satisfy the Iraqi peoples’ strong desire for representative government; (2) give “unstable” parts of the country an incentive to settle down so that they would be entitled to participate in the elections; and (3) perhaps most important, make the Iraqis feel responsible for their own destiny.
With a more representative body in place, it would of course be entitled to request foreign assistance for its police and military. In that event, forces under the auspices of the UN might even be asked back in. They would have much more legitimacy among ordinary Iraqis than the Coalition forces have now.
From the standpoint of the US and the UK, that would also have the added attraction of sharing the astronomical costs of this expensive, misbegotten venture.
Throughout its entire history, the US has almost never “cut and run” from any foreign military intervention that it has undertaken – even in the case of Vietnam, where the last US combat troops did not leave until March 1973, after nearly 14 years in the country.
In fact, an examination of more than fifty US military interventions since the 1880s reveals that the far greater risk has been for US troops to intervene repeatedly and stay too long, overstaying their welcome, especially in the case of relatively-weak developing countries – for example, China (1894-95, 1898-1900, 1911-40, 1948-49), Cuba (1898-1902, 1906-09, 1912, 1917-1933, 1961), the Dominican Republic (1903-4, 1914, 1916-24, 1965-66), Guatemala (1920, 1966-67) Haiti (1891, 1914-1934, 1994-96, 2004-), Honduras (1903, 1907, 1911-12, 1919, 1924-25), Mexico (1913, 1914-18), Nicaragua (1894,1896,1898-99,1907,1910,1912-1933), Panama (1895, 1901-1914, 1918-20, 1925, 1958, 1964, 1989-90, plus bases), the Philippines (1898-1910, plus continuing bases), Russia (1918-22), Vietnam (1959-73), and Korea (1894-96, 1904-5,1950-53, plus continuing bases.)
Despite this, American policymakers continue to fixate on the spurious risk that the US might be viewed as “cutting and running” from such engagements. Just like earlier fixations with Saddam’s WMDs and his purported links to al-Qaeda, this could prove to be very costly.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
4510. Iraq: From a Strategic Standpoint, We've Already Lost Strategic Anomalies, Denial, Redoubling, and the Case for Withdrawing Now
In the wake of the recent upsurge in popular resistance in Iraq, and the evidence of soaring hostility among ordinary Iraqis and Iraqi elites of all persuasions toward the US-led occupation, a growing number of seasoned US military professionals are concluding that, from a strategic viewpoint, the US is either just now losing the "Iraq Peace," or may have already lost it, and should now focus its attention on accelerating the withdrawal of Coalition Forces.
This viewpoint, combined with harsh criticism of the "Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/ Wolfowitz/neocon clique," is becoming more and more widespread among senior Pentagon officers and planners, though most are still reluctant to go on the record.Of course the "usual suspects" on the American Left, like Nader, Chomsky, Jonathan Schell, and Howard Zinn, are ahead of the pack on this issue. But the interest in "withdrawal now" is also gaining ground among some conservative intellectuals, like the New York Times' David Brooks, who argued forcefully in an editorial just this week that the US needs "to lose in order to win" in Iraq. Support for withdrawal is also gaining ground with the American public at large, as noted below. But as in the case of the Vietnam War, the masses are way ahead of their "leaders."
Already, we've heard this revisionist view expressed in public by such Pentagon strategy heavyweights as former Reagan National Security Agency boss General William C. Odom, Army Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr., Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Army Colonel Paul Hughes, who headed strategic planning for the Coalition Authority in Baghdad.
Even before the War, some senior officers, like former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, had grave concerns about the feasibility of Rumsfeld's war plan. But those had to do mainly with resources and tactics -- whether the plan provided for enough troops and heavy armor, and so forth.
In the last few months, however, the deepening concerns have shifted from tactics to strategy -- as in, do we really have one?
By this we mean:
- Does the US have a clear "definition of victory" and a long-term strategy for accomplishing it? Are these the same goals that it has announced publicly, or are there others? Is it now just floundering reactively from crisis to crisis, wishfully hoping that things will somehow work out, while getting locked in to a vicious cycle of anti-Americanism and violence? Even worse, as in the case of Vietnam, are US leaders just staying the course and sacrificing lives mainly for domestic political reasons, or because the US fears appearing to have been "defeated?"
- Are the initial or revised goals realistic, not only in terms of military might, but also political, economic, diplomatic, and moral capital? Has the US reached the point where -- as in Vietnam in 1967-68 -- these goals of the war are no longer feasible, either because, as in the case of WMDs, they based on misinformation, or, as in the case of "democratization," they may be inconsistent with continued US occupation, or have an unacceptable price tag?
- What are the real long-term costs of the current strategy likely to be, in terms of both "direct" and "opportunity" costs, and costs to credibility, image, and international relationships, as well as human and cash costs? How badly were these costs underestimated by the war's planners? Do we have any reason to believe that cost prediction has improved?
- What impact is this war having on other fronts in the war on terrorism? Has it become a costly distraction? Is it actually helping the terrorist cause, by providing a rallying point, an enticing opportunity to strike at US troops and foster internal divisions in Iraq, and a new source of armaments? If the US withdraws now, would that strengthen or weaken global terrorism? Would it clear the way for other countries or the UN to become more involved?
- Is a continued substantial US military presence in Iraq an obstacle to peace and security, and a source of increased religious and ethnic polarization in Iraq and the Middle East in general?
- Rather than announce increased, prolonged US troop commitments, isn't this the time for the US to announce a specific schedule for a US troop withdrawal, perhaps contingent on a ceasefire.?
As we'll see below, the overall answer is that a fundamental Iraq strategy rethink is overdue. We need to take into account the many "anomalies" that we've discovered in the last year, which have fundamentally undermined the original strategy behind the War.
When policymakers find their pet strategies challenged by such anomalies, however, their first response is usually to dig in.
In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, most top Democrats and many Republican leaders had already agreed by the end of 1968 -- in private, at least -- that no "strategic victory" was feasible at an acceptable price, and that a US withdrawal was indicated.
Shamefully, largely for reasons of cosmetics, the war was continued and even expanded during the next four years. At the time, both President Johnson and President Nixon were terribly concerned about "peace with honor" -- the country's appearing "weak" before the supposedly=unified global Communist menace.
That unity soon proved to be chimerical, with Vietham actually fighting China and Cambodia in the mid-1970s. But it took the US from 1968 until March 1973 to remove its last combat troops. And two more years of fighting were needed before the inevitable reunification of the artificial, largely US-inspired creations, "North" and "South" Vietnam. Today, of course, Vietnam remains united and "Communist," but it is known to us mainly as a worthy supplier of shrimp and coffee, and a hefty World Bank client.
As Senator John Kerry of all people must remember, those four extra years cost an additional 21,000 American lives, plus over 1.5 million extra Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian lives. For what? Indeed, as Henry Kissinger himself admitted in a 2001 interview with documentary filmmaker Stephen Talbot, when asked about what difference it would have made if Vietnam had gone Communist right after World War II,
"Wouldn't have mattered very much. If the Vietnam domino had fallen then, no great loss."
So, according to Kissinger, the architect of that war's misguided strategy for withdrawal (and numerous other policy blunders), 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians basically died for nothing. This precedent is worth thinking about, as we each decide individually whether to continue to sit and watch while yet another cockamamie "national security" strategy chews up thousands of innocent lives.
DENY AND REDOUBLE
Unfortunately, the first response to strategic anomalies is usually a denial (or reinterpretation) of the new evidence, followed by a redoubling of efforts to make the tired old strategies work.
Where, as here, senior politicians who are also running for office are in charge, these tendencies are reinforced, since they fear being branded by their opponents as "inconsistent." As in Vietnam, the result could easily be over-commitment to a pipedream, ending in an eventual forced withdrawal that is much more costly than it needed to be -- and yet another young generation of Americans that never quite views their country in the same way.
Both major parties' senior politicos and bosses are stuck like deer in the headlights, committed to the same pro-war strategies they all supported last year, as if nothing has been learned since then. Locked in a tight contest, both candidates are running toward the center of the field at full speed, and not paying much attention to the new hard facts on the ground.
Indeed, Senator Kerry, Bush, Senator Clinton, Senator Lieberman, Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, and almost all leading Democrats and Republicans appear to be in violent agreement about the Iraq War, except about picayune tactical details. Consistent with the "denial/redouble" pattern, all of these "leaders" are also now calling for a significant expansion of US troop commitments in Iraq. In Bush's estimates, this would require at least 135,000 to 160,000 US troops in Iraq at least through 2006. But there is no reason to expect that only two more years would be enough, if the current strategy is continued. Indeed, as discussed below, the Pentagon is already proceeding with a little-noticed plan to build 14 permanent US military bases in Iraq.
All these leaders, including Bush, also now give lip service to some kind of increased role for the UN in Iraq, without defining precisely what that would be. They all a bit too glib about how they expect the UN to reenter. Presumably this would be by way of a new UN resolution, but it is not at all clear how much "control" the US is willing to yield to its owl nemeses on the Security Council, France, Germany and Russia. Most important, if there is no fundamental improvement in the security situation, the UN is unlikely to want such a thankless job. But improving the security situation requires, as we'll argue, a new view of where the insecurity is coming from, and a US/ UK withdrawal timetable.
All this implies a substantial increase over the $175 billion that the US has already spent in Iraq -- Bush's latest $25 billion supplemental budget request is consistent with an annual "run rate" of at least $50-$60 billion a year. If recent casualty rates are any indication, this also implies at least another 1500-2000 US war dead through 2006, and probably 5-6 times that many US wounded, not to mention thousands more Iraqi dead and wounded, including many civilians.
In Senator Kerry's case, this lack of leadership is especially disappointing. As he said recently,
"Americans differ about whether and how we should have gone to war, but it would be unthinkable now for us to retreat in disarray and leave behind a society deep in strife and dominated by radicals."
One might have hoped that Senator Kerry would have learned something about the high costs and radicalizing effects of dead-end wars from his years in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, if not from his four months on a gunboat in Vietnam.
PLUMMETING SUPPORT FOR THE WAR
According to the latest USA Today national poll, taken May 10, 2004, in the wake of the disgusting Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, for the first time since the initiation of the war in March 2003, over half of Americans -- 54 percent -- now believe that it was a "mistake" to send US troops to Iraq. This is a dramatic turnaround in less than six months -- and, interestingly, a much faster erosion of support for this war than occurred during the Vietnam period.
Fully 29 percent now believe that all US troops should be withdrawn now, up from just 16 percent in January, and another 18 percent believe that some troops should be withdrawn. At least 75 percent oppose expanding the number of US troops in Iraq.
Despite this, as noted earlier, this is still the official position of both President Bush and John Kerry, and almost all other leading Republicans and Democrats politicos. As in the case of the Vietnam War, the unwashed masses are far ahead of the "leaders."
At the moment, indeed, the only candidate who supports an immediate (six month) withdrawal from Iraq is the stubborn 70-year old Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader. Many Democrats still vehemently (and incorrectly) still believe that he was the "spoiler" for a Democratic victory in the 2000 Presidential election. Whatever we may think about his candidacy, the fact is that at the moment, he is our only Robert Kennedy. To his great credit, Ralph has opposed this "preemptive war on a defenseless country" since the start, and is now advocating a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq within six months.
As the most recent polls show, Nader's opposition to the Iraq War has given him a burst to 5 percent in the May 10th polls. Perhaps Kerry could take a few lessons from Ralph with respect to his position on the war. For the same poll that showed American support for the war plummeting, and Bush's approval dropping from 52 percent in mid-April and 49 percent in early May to just 46 percent this week, also found Kerry dropping two full points, and losing to President Bush, 47-45, among likely voters. Meanwhile, Ralph gained two points, to 5 percent among likely voters.
Of course this is just one national poll, but if Kerry really wants to win in November, he'd better think about the implications of his me-too position on the war -- the main source of public dissatisfaction with Bush. As one analyst has suggested, he might even consider cutting a deal with Nader, getting Ralph to appoint the same list of Presidential electors as Kerry, in exchange for permitting him to get on the ballot in 50 states. He might also consider adopting Ralph's more popular position on the war, as well that of the National Council of Churches proposal, which has also just recommended withdrawing and turning over control in Iraq to the UN.
Oddly enough, this situation also gives President Bush an incredible opportunity. If he really wanted to insure his victory over Kerry, the smooth move might be for President Bush to reverse course and announce plans for a definite US withdrawal. If the polls are any indication, this "win by losing" approach to fixing Iraq would very popular with the American people -- especially those who are wavering in the center. It would also be popular with many Bush supporters on the right, who fear that aggressive nation-building in Iraq may jeopardize other vital concerns on their agenda -- like gay marriage, abortion rights, more tax cuts, new Supreme Court judges.
However, Bush, like Kerry, also seems determined to dig himself in even deeper on Iraq. This is what he did just this week by unnecessarily backing Secretary Rumsfeld in the Abu Ghraib scandal, despite the many calls from right and left alike for the Secretary's resignation.
STRATEGIC ANOMALIES - "REALITY CHECK, PLEASE!"
Meanwhile, as we've just learned in the towns of Falluja and Najaf, an aggressive US military presence may just lead to increased hostility. This is only one of many "strategy anomalies" that the war's architects -- Democrats, Republicans, and Blair's Laborites in the UK as well -- have encountered. There are many others. Most are already familiar to those who have followed recent events. But it is worth restating them, just to put the case in order.
1. Iraq's WMD Threat. Of course the first basic assumption, declared innumerable times in the fall of 2002 and early 2003 by US and UK officials during the run-up to the war, was that Saddam's Iraq posed a grave threat to the US and its allies. Either it already possessed WMDs and the means to deliver them, or was actively attempting to acquire them.
A key related assumption was that this threat could only be removed by an immediate US invasion, and the complete removal of Saddam from power. The UN weapons inspection program, according to the war's supporters, had been a failure.
In this regard, it is also important to note that the removal of Saddam's regime from power was never a goal of the invasion per se -- apart from the reduction of the WMD threat, reduced terrorism, and democratization. After all, the world is filled with lousy governments, and just replacing Saddam's nasty regime with another nasty regime could never have justified the invasion. So while the supporters of the war have often trumpeted Saddam's removal from power as a sign that we have already triumphed, in fact this depends on whether or not these other goals are achieved. And this is very much in doubt for all of them.
Reality Check, Please: Of course no WMD stockpiles or serious WMD programs have been found, after months of searching by thousands of highly-trained US and UK personnel.
It also now appears that the UN weapons inspection programs was in fact very successful at identifying whatever WMD programs Saddam had, and getting him to curtailing them. For all its imperfections, the UN approach worked.
Indeed, if, as France, Germany, and Russia proposed, weapons inspection had been permitted to continue, the war might have been avoided completely, or, at worst, eventually proceeded with better preparations and much broader multilateral support, as in the 1991 Gulf War.
That, in turn, would have meant less US influence over post-war Iraq (as in military bases and oil). But the costs to the US and Iraq would have been much lower, and the transition to peace and a new representative government much smoother and less violent.
2. Iraq's Role in Supporting Terrorism (Pre-War). The second key strategic premise for the war was that Saddam's Iraq was aiding al-Qaeda and other global "terrorist" groups.
Reality Check, Please: In fact one of the few bona fide pre-war "terrorists" who was living in Saddam's Iraq turned out to be the aging Abu Nidal,, who had been inactive since the mid-1980s. Abu Nidal was reportedly suffering from leukemia, but he died of multiple gunshot wounds in Baghdad in August 2002, long before the invasion -- perhaps the victim of an attempt by Saddam to head it off.
The only other "terrorist group" operating in Iraq before the war was Anwar al-Islam, which was located in northern Iraq in the "no-fly" zone, outside Saddam's control. Its headquarters could easily have been bombed at any time. But the US chose to wait until after the war started, so that it could say that it actually destroyed some terrorists.
Beyond this, no definitive pre-war links between Saddam and al-Qaeda have ever been established. As former Bush Administration counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke and many other experts have long argued, Saddam and al-Qaeda were, if anything, antagonists, and even if he had had WMDs, Saddam was not about to share control over WMDs with a radical like Bin Laden.
The US also made much of the alleged medical refuge that Saddam allowed a Jordanian sympathizer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The US claimed that Zarqawi had links to al-Qaeda. But in fact it seems that his organization, al-Tawhid, was actually a rival to al-Qaeda before the war, focused on overthrowing Jordan's King Abdullah. Of course Zarqawi's influence in Iraq does appear to have been strengthened by the US invasion.
3. Iraq's Role in Supporting "Terrorism" (Post-War). Whatever the details of Saddam's links to global terrorism were before the War, it was assumed by the war's supporters that the invasion would reduce Iraq's role in global terrorism.
Reality Check, Please: In fact just the opposite has occurred. Since the invasion, Iraq has actually become a terrorist Mecca, with anti-US fighters from all over the Muslim world pouring into the country across its now-wide-open borders, eager to kill Americans. They have no need to bring automatic weapons, grenade launchers, mines, or explosives. Saddam's huge stockpiles of these ordinary weapons have been very poorly secured by the under-manned Coalition Army. And arms have also reportedly been for sale from the new Iraqi police force.
So, as Bin Laden's most recent recorded messages have made clear, far from being a "defeat for terrorism," the Iraq War has actually been something of a boon -- rather like the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ultimately proved to be. The Soviets, we recall, lasted nearly 10 years in Afghanistan, at a cost of more than 15,000 Soviet lives and hundreds of thousands of Afghanis. The US is of course vastly more powerful than the Soviet Union. And, unlike that situation, there is no foreign aid available to the Iraqi resistance. Still, as noted earlier, such aid may not be necessary here. And the US is already well on its way to keeping pace with the Soviet casualty count.
Not only has the Iraq War provided opportunities for young radicals to secure weapons and attack Americans close at hand. It may have also distracted some resources from the hunt for other terrorist organizations. Most important, it has antagonized the whole Muslim world, providing the radical factions a wonderful opportunity to recruit new supporters.
4. Iraq's Warm Welcome for US "Liberators" The US also assumed that we would get a warm reception from Iraqis, as "liberators" of Saddam's Iraq.
The US war planners also assumed that Iraqi nationalism was weak, and that and resistance would disappear after Saddam and his "dead-ender" henchman were gone. They defined "victory" as the removal of Saddam and his Ba'athist regime. They also assumed that the Iraqi Shiite and Sunni communities were fundamentally at odds, and that there would be little opposition to the Coalition Forces outside the so-called "Sunni Triangle."
Reality Check, Please: The US invasion created a wave of genuine nationalism that spans Sunni and Shiite community lines and helped to unite radical factions in each against the "occupiers," as they united in their 1920 revolt against the British. The sharpest fighting in Iraq has taken place in just the last month, long after Saddam and all but ten of the other 55 "most wanted" Ba'athist leaders were killed or captured.
Furthermore, just 17% of all Sunnis live in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" north of Baghdad -- Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities have historically been much closer than in other Muslim countries. Indeed, one key challenge faced by "foreign fighters' like Zarqawi has been to try and divide them. In the wake of the continued US occupation, the US has experienced growing armed resistance from Shiites and Sunnis alike, as exemplified by the May 10 US strikes against the Shiite leader al-Sadr's headquarters in Baghdad. While the vast majority of Iraqis are still watching the battle from the sidelines, a majority also now supports an end to the US occupation, believe that Coalition Forces have conducted themselves badly, and believe that the Coalition will not withdraw until forced to do so.
In this situation, destroying the Ba'athist Party turns to have been insufficient for a return to peace and security. Nor, given the importance of "ordinary" former Ba'ath Party members in the educational system, the civil service, and the police, was it a necessary condition. It was, in fact, just a dumb move taken by Paul Bremer in the early days of the occupation, under pressure from Chalabi's INC, and recently reversed.
5. "Liberators" Vs. "Occupiers" The pro-war strategists also assumed that thousands of US and UK troops could be counted on to conduct themselves in Iraq as proper "liberators."
Reality Check, Please: The grim reality is that the US and UK forces have hardly distinguished themselves as "liberators." Rather, they were rushed into duty without adequate training or acculturization, with few skills in Arabic. They had also been encouraged from the top of the Bush Administration on down to believe that Iraqis had something to do with 9/11. As a result, many of our troops have behaved very badly toward ordinary Iraqis -- like crude, rude barbarians. As the events at Abu Ghraib prison have dramatized, there have been widespread human rights violations, ethnic slurs, religious slights, and indignities to Iraqi women. The result has been yet another public relations debacle for the Coalition Forces.
6. Iraq's Support for "Acceptable" Democracy. Yet another key strategic assumption was that in a relatively short time, the Coalition and its Iraqi allies would be able to lay the foundations for an "acceptable" democratic system.
In the US vision, this would be one that would be (a) reasonably representative, (b)able to avoid the kind of popular theocracy that has characterized Iran, (c) pro-US and at least neutral towards Israel, (d) able to maintain a unified federal system, including the Kurds, and, of course, (e) be willing to go along with other key 'imperial" requirements, like permission to build 14 long-term US military bases in the country, the use of oil revenue to defray the invasion's costs, and the opening of Iraq's oil resources to foreign investors like ExxonMobil and BP.
Saddam's Removal Alone Not a Victory.In this regard, it is important to note the simply removing Saddam and his associates was never a goal of th invasion for its own sake -- apart from the goal of removing the WMD threat, cutting his alleged support for terrorism, and ultimately installing democracy. In other words, the world is filled with nasty dictators -- there had to be some special reason for singling him out. And no one argued that simply replacing him with yet another nasty dictator would justify the war -- apart from achieving these other goals. So the fact that he and his regime have been removed only "justifies" the war if, in fact, we are able to achieve these other objectives. So far, as we've seen, the WMDs, reduced terrorism, and democratization have all proved elusive.
Reality Check, Please: In fact it has been impossible to square all these various requirements with each other. As of April 2004, after a year of occupation, while 82 percent of Iraqis still support "democracy" in the abstract, , outside Kurdistan, most Sunnis as well as Shiites are also opposed to a rigid separation between church and state. There is, at this late date, still no complete draft constitution that the various key interest groups in the Coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council Constitution have been able to agree on.
Ordinary Iraqis, it turns out, are also highly critical of the US, the UK and Israel. They are also highly critical of the Iraqi Governing Council created by the Coalition Forces, which is widely viewed as a puppet government. As the Shiite leader Sistani has said, "We want elections as soon as possible."
Finally, Kurdistan, the one part of the country that is now stable and enjoying economic recovery, also strongly favors complete independence, not federation. Since Kurdistan is one of Iraq's richest provinces -- the original source of much of its oil -- the rest of Iraq is determined to prevent this. As if we needed one, this issue provides another potential source of conflict. The whole country is a bubbling cauldron of such regional, ethnic, tribal, religious, and anti-foreigner feelings, and we have turned up the fire.
7. Reestablishing Security/ Avoiding a Military Draft. Yet another key strategic assumption was that it would be relatively easy to reestablish security with a "politically acceptable" commitment of less than 150,000 Coalition troops. This force level was supposed to diminish over the year, complemented by a large number of private security contractors.
This was supposed to be feasible, despite Bremer's disbanding of the entire pre-existing Ba'athist police and military structure, the fact that Saddam had emptied his prisons of all criminals prior to the invasion, and the fact that Coalition troops had little training in policing, crowd control, or non-lethal weaponry.
One implication was that the US and UK troops expected to rotate home on regular schedules, without undue burdens on their families and morale.
Another was that a new Iraqi national police force would be able to provide an adequate substitute for the Coalition's policing activities.
A third was that military forces from other countries, or the UN, might also become available to back-stop US and UK troop commitments, as the security situation stabilized.
Reality Check, Please: All these assumptions about security have proved false. Almost incredibly, the US military repeated the same exact mistake that was made in Haiti during the 1990s. The complete disbanding of Iraq's military, with no adequate substitute, played a key role in the initial looting that occurred in Baghdad in April, 2003, and the general crime wave and insecurity, especially in Baghdad, that has continued ever since.
It also turned out to be much harder than expected to "train up" an Iraqi police force willing to stand and fight (for what? the unelected IGC?) As the Iraqi resistance became more violent, this problem escalated, to the point where, during the recent turmoil in Falluja, more than 50% of the new police force graduates defected or disappeared into the crowds.
The continuing security problem, in turn, scared many private contractors out of the country, and jeopardized the whole schedule for Iraqi reconstruction, which has basically ground to a halt. The exposed yet another dubious assumption by the war planners -- the decision to rely so heavily on private contractors for security services and reconstruction.
The security crisis has also prolonged service terms for US troops, and led many of them to be given assignments to "policing functions" for which they were never trained. That, in turn, led to even great frustration among US troops -- more than 40,000 of whom are members of the US Army Reserves or National Guard. This encouraged increased hostility among Americans and Iraqis, many of whom are now viewed as "criminals who hate us."
The resulting morale problems have caused US Army Reserve and National Guard enlistment and reenlistment rates, as well as regular military enlistment rates, to plummet to 30 year lows. Another byproduct of the continuing security nightmare is that it has been very difficult to get other countries, or the UN, to maintain, much less expand, their troop commitments.
If Iraq's security situation continues to demand increased Coalition troop commitments, and reenlistment/ enlistment rates don't improve, some observers have even speculated that the US might be forced to reintroduce a military draft. For the moment this appears unlikely, unless some new "front" opens up in Syria, Iran, or North Korea. But those of us with college-age children take no comfort from the fact that several members of Congress have already introduced the necessary legislation.
8. Modest, or At Least "Acceptable," Costs. The last key assumption was that this whole effort could be mounted at a relatively modest, or at least politically-acceptable cost, not only in terms of direct financial costs, but also human lives, and "opportunity costs" as well.
Evidently it was assumed by some planners -- Assistant Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, for example -- -- that Iraq's oil production would resume quickly enough to let it make a substantial contribution to funding the costs of the War. It was also assumed that, as indicated earlier, security would improve rapidly after Saddam's demise, and that the new Iraqi police force would be able to substitute for US troops, at a fraction of their cost. Finally, the super-optimists in the pro-war camp may have even assumed that part of the War's freight would be paid by other UN members, even though the Security Council was never permitted to rule on the final decision to go to war.
Reality Check, Please: The reality is that, just one year in, the Iraq War is a budget-buster, both in terms of cash and lives.
The Pentagon's cost accounting for this effort is inscrutable -- perhaps intentionally so, although it is never easy to know precisely what fraction of, say, a hospital in Frankfurt or "wear and tear" on a particular aircraft is properly assignable to a specific front. However, most estimates put the "sunk cost" to date of the Iraq venture at about $175-$180 billion, including the current interest on this spending, since all of it has to be deficit financed.
Going forward, there is now a continuing "run rate" of about $5 billion per month. In terms of real dollars, this is close to the peak $5.1 billion per month run rate for the Vietnam War. These numbers omit the costs incurred by the UK and other Coalition members, which have supplied about twenty percent of the troops.
Nor is Iraqi oil production anywhere close to covering these financial costs. Indeed, production has still not recovered to its pre-War levels, and the cost of securing Iraqi oil exports against increasing sabotage attempts is eating up almost all the profits.
Coalition casualties have also been much greater than expected. As of May 10, after 13 months of combat, the Coalition has sustained a total of 881 combat fatalities and approximately 4716 wounded, assuming that US "dead to wounded" ratios also apply to non-US Coalition Forces.
While these totals are well below those sustained during the peak years of the Vietnam War -- 1967-69 -- they are far greater than those sustained during the first three years of that War, 1961-64, and comparable to the losses sustained by the US in 1965, the first big year of the Vietnam War, allowing for improved survival rates because of improved body armor and "just-in-time" medicine.
As for the Iraqis, officially, our "new Pentagon" no longer keeps track of "enemy body counts" much less civilians -- one major way in which Vietnam was indeed different, at least for PR purposes.
However, efforts have been made by some observers to keep track of Iraqi civilian fatalities reported in the press. While these statistics are probably an understatement, they indicate at least 9,016 to 10,918 Iraqi civilian deaths through April 24, 2004.
In addition, of course, there have also been at least 4-5 times this number of civilians wounded. In a country with a population of 25 million, this is quite a blow. For the 80 percent that is Arab, and has suffered almost all the casualties, this would be comparable, in US terms, to a loss of 100,000 dead and 600,000 wounded. Assuming that the average Arab family in Iraq has four members, that each family member knows 10 people, and each of these 10 people also knows 10 people, the entire Arab population of Iraq is within "two degrees of separation" of experiencing these losses personally.
Is it any wonder that we have already lost the peace?
But the real long-term costs of this war are even higher.
Far from striking a decisive blow for "democracy and liberation" in the Middle East, and setting an example for other Arab countries to follow, this war has become a lightning rod for anti-Americanism, and a text-book example of hegemony run amok.
Far from teaching the world to respect and admire America's newfound power, our global reputation has plummeted to an all-time low.
The citizens of other countries that have practiced imperialism against their neighbors or their own peoples know what it feels like to be despised and hated whenever they travel. Americans are not used to this treatment. As a direct result of this war, as well as our other policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are going to have to get used to it.
Far from providing the world an inspiring example of our truthfulness and honor, the way in which the case was made for this war, and the way it has been conducted, have severely damaged our nation's credibility.
THE CASE FOR WITHDRAWING NOW
Few Americans doubt that we will someday withdraw all US troops from Iraq, as we did from Vietnam.
Probably most of them are not aware that, unlike in Vietnam, the Pentagon's military engineers are already hard at work designing and constructing 14 enduring" military bases all over the country, in Baghdad, Mosul, Taji, Balad, Kirkuk, and near Nasiriyah, Tikrit, Fallujah, Irbil, and elsewhere.
Apparently the objective is to provide a substitute for our bases in Saudi Arabia, both in terms of oil and military presence. Presumably this is being done in part to keep the Saudis happy, because they are afraid that the presence of US troops on their soil excites domestic resistance. The influential Saudi royal family no doubt prefers to have US troops and Iraqi leaders facing down resistance in Baghdad than in Riyadh.
But of course we are still telling the Iraqis that they will "eventually vote and govern" their own country, and that we have no intention to "occupy" it.
In any case, for those who oppose this war, as well as for the vast majority of Americans who have swallowed the brave new lies that our only long-term interest in Iraq was to "remove Saddam's tyranny," "rebuild Iraq's economy and democracy" and "withdraw," the key issue is -- when should withdrawal start?
In light of the recent crisis, the war's architects have not been able to get on with their agenda quite so easily as they once hoped. Faced with the acute security crisis noted above, they now tell us that if we only increase the number of troops in Iraq for two more years, and provide the extra $120 billion that this will require, we can all return to the original smooth transition plan.
On the other hand, they also claim that, unless the Coalition stays the course, Iraq will disintegrate into civil war, instability, and chaos -- even worse conditions, somehow, than already exist.
To this hokum we say, first, as noted above, the credibility of war's architects is not exactly unsullied.
And now they seem to be proposing yet another episode of "Who Do You Believe -- Me, Or Your Lying Eyes?" As Peter Gutmann once remarked,
We're standing there pounding a dead parrot on the counter, and the management response is to frantically swap in new counters to see if that fixes the problem.
The good news is that the war's architects and pamphleteers are actually very few in number. As the New York Times' Thomas Friedman said in an interview with Ha'aretz, the leading Israeli newspaper, in 2002,
This is a war the neoconservatives wanted.....(and) marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11th came, and they sold it. Oh boy, how they sold it. This is not a war that the masses demanded. This is the war of an elite. I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom sit within a 5-block radius of my Washington D.C. office, who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq War would not have happened.
So if this tiny band was able to wield so much influence in our erstwhile democracy, and a much larger number now realize that their assumptions were wrong, shouldn't it be possible to reverse course?
Or is it the case that we are now locked into sitting through this whole dreary play?
We say that it is actually the continued occupation that is the greatest threat to stabilization, democratization, the restoration of the Iraqi economy and oil exports, and the preservation of a unified Iraq.
Indeed, Iraqi hostility to the US/UK occupation has now reached the point where securing these goals is much more likely if the Coalition forces withdraw as soon as possible.
This is true for several reasons:
- The announcement of a definite schedule for a US withdrawal will almost instantly cool the resistance, reduce the leverage of the radicals and the "foreign fighters," permit Iraq's beleaguered police force to focus on fighting crime, and allow the reconstruction of the economy to proceed.
- Mainstream Iraqis know full well how to restore order in their own neighborhoods, once the US provocation is gone. Absent the occupation, the vast majority of Iraqis have will have little patience for foreign subversives like Zarqawi, and will throw the bastards out.
Indeed, an astute US withdrawal from Iraq would surely be as sad a day for "terrorists" as the US invasion of Iraq was a happy one.
- A clear withdrawal timetable would make it clear to the Iraqis that the US has no imperial intentions with respect to their oil wealth. It would permit them, indeed, to recover some of the pride that they must have lost, by having to rely on a foreign power to get rid of their dictator -- even if they did not oust Saddam, they could feel, at least they were able to oust the most powerful hegemon on the planet. That along could provide the ideological foundations for a vast rebirth of national pride.
- Such a withdrawal would also permit us to remove the provocative presence of largely-Christian US troops in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. It would also clear the way for UN assistance and multilateral development aid, as well as debt relief, to flow more freely into the country.
- Few Iraqis want a return to dictatorship -- the demand for democracy is overwhelming. It is indeed odd and un-American for the United States of America, in particular, to insist that Iraqi democracy can only be established at the point of a gun, under the guiding hand of a foreigner. I don't recall the Founding Fathers at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia requiring much help from Tony Blair's predecessors or the British monarchy.
- As General Odom has argued, a clear timetable for a US withdrawal would actually help the UN, or perhaps other Muslim states, to send in peace-keeping forces of their own.
- So long as the war in central and southern Iraq continues, the Kurds have every incentive to continue to move toward complete independence. Only the restoration of Iraq's central government, and the prospect of "win win" gains from interregional trade and development, can break down these regional ethnic barriers, and keep Kurdistan within Iraq.
- A US/UK withdrawal, according to a pre-announced timetable that is brisk, yet responsible, and conditioned on the preservation of security, will give Iraqis an incentive to observe and enforce their own general ceasefire, so long as they clearly see progress being made. Unlike the situation in Israel, where the occupiers have been stalling for more than 30 years on "security" grounds, the US has no settler minority that is trying to hold on to Iraqi resources, unless it is Chalabi's band of thieves, thirsting after an oil privatization. But we don't have to be hostage to his demands; if he becomes a problem, we can simply approve Iraq's new extradition treaty with Jordan, cut off his $300,000 per month allowance, and dump him over the border in Jordan, so that he can finally stand trial for bank fraud.
- If it did turn out that this little experiment with a pre-scheduled withdrawal failed, and the Iraqis themselves, perhaps with UN assistance, were unable to develop a peaceful government, there'd be nothing to prevent the UN or even the US from returning with a more rested, better trained peace-keeping force. After all, we're now pretty sure that the Iraqi Army is not about to fight us with WMDs!
- In the event that a civil war erupted in Iraq, and the situation somehow managed to deteriorate from the abysmal state where it is right now -- which 58 percent of Iraqis believe is "the same or worse" than before Saddam's removal -- peacekeepers would probably be welcomed by the majority of Iraqis. This is unlike the current situation, where only a third of Iraqis believe the Coalition forces are doing more good than harm.
All told, the case for a US unilateral withdrawal from Iraq seems very compelling. If the case for it is made to the American people by a leading political figure, it could also be politically very successful. But, other than a marginal, if courageous and thoughtful, candidate like Ralph Nader, is willing to pick up this torch?
Where, indeed, is our Robert Kennedy? Where is the major US political figure who will stand up to this war?
Of course there are some self-styled "conservatives" in the audience -- people who have otherwise somehow found it possible to give a hearty "Sieg Heil" to one of the most radical, un-Constitutional, internationally illegal, risky, costly and irresponsible exertions of military power in US history -- who will no doubt argue, as they did in the case of Vietnam, that this abrupt policy reversal " might be risky."
These are the same folks whose tidy little war plan has just sullied America's image and credibility almost beyond repair. It has poured hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of liters of human blood into the sands of the Iraqi desert. It has helped make Iraq more of a sanctuary for the world's worst terrorists than ever before. It has alienated the entire world, and succeeded in making many Iraqis actually long for the old regime.
As Bertrand Russell once remarked, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
Or, as Peter Gutmann might have said, the war's supporters are still trying to swap in new counters and pound them with the same old dead parrots.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
04509.US Brutilitarianism Comes to Iraq - Part II: The Roots of Brutality
In the midst of all the hoopla and finger-pointing over Secretary Rumsfeld’s apology for the Iraqi prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, we seem to have avoided getting to the bottom of the fundamental question begged by all those ugly photos: why did it happen?
In other words, how could young American soldiers, raised in a nominally democratic, civilized “Judeo-Christian” society, and members of the world's most advanced military, which has no business being in Iraq if not to “liberate” it from precisely this kind of oppression, come to act in this way?
From this angle, whether or not Rumsfeld or a few military commanders resign is beside the point – a juicy chance for Senator Kerry and his supporters to make political hay, perhaps, but largely irrelevant to our understanding of these disturbing events and the prevention of their recurrence.
This is especially true if, as we will argue here, they may have been part and parcel of the very nature of this ethnically-divisive dirty little urban guerilla war.
At this point, the official US investigation, as well as press accounts, of the recent abuses at Abu Ghraib prison are incomplete. Already, however, there are several conflicting explanations.
“Exceptional Evil-Doers.” As noted in Part I of this series, the prevailing view of US officials is the “bad apple” theory -- in President Bush's words, "the wrongdoing of a few." This explanation -- which has deep roots in American culture, dating as least as far back as the Salem Witch trials, and is also at the heart of our conventional view of "terrorists" -- attributes the problem to brutal, distinctly “un-American” misbehavior by handful of “bad” people. In this view, this tiny group is clearly distinct from the vast majority of decent, Geneva Convention-abiding US military personnel. This explanation has been adopted by a wide variety of political and military leaders, from President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and General Myers to Senators MeCain, Kerry, and Clinton. It also appears to be the predominant view in the mainstream press, perhaps because it lends itself to the kind of lengthy profiles of soldiers that, for example, the New York Times and the Washington Post have both front-paged several times this week. It is also necessarily more comforting to supporters of the Iraq War -- including all the leaders and newspapers just mentioned -- who view this scandal as an embarrassing, unhelpful distraction from the immediate task at hand, which is to get on with "stabilizing" the security situation in Iraq (e.g., crushing the resistance).
This kind of explanation is a standard one for individual criminal conduct in general. Typically it locates the roots of abusive behavior in the supposed predispositions of particular abusers to commit them. The contributing dispositive factors may vary -- pathological or "authoritarian" personalities, genetic defects, retributions for perceived injustices, inadequate schooling, too much TV, weak role models, or Salem witchery, for all we know. Whatever these underlying, the indicated prescription focuses on identifying and and handling these “bad seeds,” and in this case, any individual commanders who may have also “failed” to supervise them.
(to be continued....)
Thursday, May 06, 2004
0505.US Brutilitarianism Comes to Iraq - Part I: Rogue Behavior, Sheer Stupidity, or Something More?
Since all the claims about Saddam’s WMDs and other threats to global security are now in tatters, the goal of replacing his regime with a more humane one is one of the few justifications for the Iraq War that still has any credibility.
It is therefore deeply disturbing to learn that serious human rights violations, including several cases of torture and outright murder, may have been committed against scores of Iraqi prisoners by leading elements of the Coalition Forces, including the US Army Reserve Military Police, US Military Intelligence (INSCOM), the CIA, and private contractors like CACI International that have been providing so-called “intelligence collection” services to the Pentagon. Similar allegations have also surfaced about the British Army, although those charges may have been exaggerated by the Daily Mirror. This is of course in addition to the thousands of civilian deaths that our precision-guided military has produced all over the country with its "fire and forget" tactics.
A preliminary investigation of these charges by US Major General Antonio M. Taguba, disclosed last week by CBS News and the New Yorker, concluded in February that the alleged abuses included:
Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
While this behavior pales by comparison with the sadism that was routinely practiced by Saddam’s minions on a massive scale, it has no place in a post-Saddam Iraq, and the US and UK certainly have no business encouraging it. Nor, despite the usual defences often heard in right-wing quarters for "selective torture" to deal with terrorism, is there any evidence that the interrogation methods employed here produced anything more than a public relations debacle for the US and its allies.
These charges may be new to American audiences, but this is far from the first time that they have been made. According Iraq’s former Human Rights Minister, Abdel Basset al-Turki, who resigned on May 4th in protest over these allegations, US Pro-Consul Paul Bremer was put on notice about this widespread mistreatment as early as November 2003, but did nothing. The International Red Cross also reports that if has been complaining for months to the Coalition of methods "far worse" than those depicted in the photos released by CBS, but to no avail.
This is consistent with the brush-off that Paul Bremer and Condi Rice reportedly both gave to the concerns that Amnesty International first raised about conditions in Iraqi prisons way back in July 2003.
The Pentagon also now says that it ordered a “high-level review” of the issue last fall, but this must have had little impact on the ground, since the abuses noted above took place in December 2003.
Now that President Bush himself has finally pronounced these abuses “abhorrent” on two Arab television stations, the military may find more time to focus on the results of the "30 investigations” of these and related charges that it claims to have conducted over the past 16 months. In the wake of Donald Rumsfeld's passive "know-nothing" response to the escalating scandal, calls for his resignation are mounting, and the heads of more than just a few mid-tier officers may also have to roll before justice is done here. Certainly Rumsfeld has a lot of questions to answer, including why he said nothing to Congress about the investigation; why so many cases of brutality have been recorded; why nothing was done to change conditions at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, despite numerous complaints over many months from Amnesty International and the International Red Cross; why private contractors were permitted to play such a large role in military intelligence; and, most important, why the rules of the Geneva Convention are not being enforced by US military and intelligence personnel.
All told, this scandal is shaping up to be a touchstone for the whole Iraq enterprise. It is worth trying to understand how this happened – and why, in particular, American soldiers who were supposedly raised in a democratic, more or less civilized country and trained by our sophisticated, extraordinarily-expensive modern military, should have participated rather gleefully in such bizarre behavior -- and even photographed it, too!
THE RHETORIC - “TORTURE IS ILLEGAL”
To begin with, lest all the civil and military servants in the audience need to be reminded, this kind of behavior, if substantiated, constitutes a clear violation of one of the most fundamental, widely-shared principles of international and US law – the absolute prohibition against torture.
This prohibition, which is as universal as the ones against slavery or piracy, extends to all prisoners of war, civilians, and all other war-time detainees. Indeed, while Iraqi insurgents may not be deemed to be part of the Iraqi armed forces, and therefore are not technically “prisoners of war” for purposes of the “combatant’s privilege – to fire on enemy troops without fear of prosecution - they are still entitled to the same basic rights so far as interrogation is concerned.
It is interesting to see just how many times this prohibition has recently been repeated in international law -- especially since so many countries still routinely engage in the practice.
- The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1949 Geneva Convention (4th Convention, Article 31): “No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.”
- The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1975 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly: “No state may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1987 UN Convention Against Torture, which focuses on official conduct, repeats the prohibitions noted above, and also provides that (Article 2): "An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture."
All of these conventions have been signed and ratified by both the US and the UK -- although the Bush Administration has actually cooperated with countries like Syria, Libya, and Cuba to oppose efforts to give international inspection “teeth” to these anti-torture conventions.
Of course such prohibitions against torture, cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners prior to conviction, arbitrary detention, “cruel and unusual punishment,” and self-incrimination are also cornerstones of the American and British legal systems.
In the case of the US, they have at least a 200-year history, and are deeply embedded in the US Constitution especially the Fifth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. They have also been recognized by numerous state and federal statutes, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the War Crimes Act (18 USC 2441), and the 1991 Torture Victims Prevention Act (28 USC 1350 App.)
More recently, the US also played a leading role in prosecuting war crimes at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and helped finance and organize the prosecution of the war crimes committed in the Balkans and Rwanda in the 1990s. Of course the Bush Administration has also recently taken pride in distinguishing itself from “Axis of Evil” regimes like Saddam’s, North Korea and Iran in this respect.
So what relief will all this weighty legal doctrine actually provide for the individual Iraqis who were victimized in this case? The short answer is – not much, at least in case of the US.
There appears to be probable cause to prosecute the officers and enlisted personnel involved, as well as any senior officials who knew or should have known about these activities, for war crimes in US or UK military courts, or, in the case of the UK, by the newly-created International Criminal Court (see below.) But while that might satisfy the victims’ needs for retribution, it won’t provide them with any compensation.
The Iraq Special Tribunal that we established in December 2003 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity – mainly those committed by the Ba’athist regime – was carefully limited just to jurisdiction over Iraqi citizens and residents.
In the case of the private US contractors involved in this case, the Iraqi torture victims might at least be able to sue in a US federal district court for the damages inflicted against them under “color of law,” as provided by the Torture Prevention and Alien Tort Claims statutes. But this could be a hard case to prove, especially if the contractors involved were careful to let the military police do all their dirty work.
If the allegations of British misbehavior hold up, the Iraqis might also be able to bring war crimes charges against UK soldiers and their bosses at the new International Criminal Court -- since, unlike the US, Britain ratified the treaty establishing this court last year. This might make for an interesting complement to Saddam’s war crimes tribunal, scheduled to begin later this year. However, even apart from the practical obstacles to such prosecutions, Iraq’s “new government,” hand-picked by the Coalition, would probably readily grant the UK a waiver against such complaints. But British troops might still be subject to the UK's Human Rights Act, which might provide compensation to Iraqi victims for violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, 14 Iraqi families have already commenced an action in the UK's High Court for what they consider unlawful killings of their civilian relatives in the last year by British troops.
When all these revelations first appeared – reportedly after CBS News held the story for two weeks at the request of the US military, which feared the impact on Arab opinion ("duh") -- senior military officers in the US and the UK, as well as political leaders like Prime Minister Blair, President Bush, and even the rather cautious Senator Kerry, were all quick to condemn the obviously indefensible misbehavior. But they were also quick to claim, prior to any investigation, that this behavior must have been exceptional, engaged by at most a handful of “rogue elements” in the military and the CIA, who will now all be sternly dealt with.
However, as Amnesty International has noted, these were not just isolated incidents. Indeed, as we’ll argue below, they appear to be part of a disturbing trend toward the increasing use of “hard-core” interrogation techniques on Arab detainees by the US and its new allies in the “war on terror,” both abroad and at home.
Moreover, the US and UK civilian and military intelligence services and their contractors and surrogates have a long history of intimate involvement with such interrogation methods.
In fact what’s really most unusual about these recent scandals is not the revelation that all these services routinely use such methods, but that in this case they got their hands dirty.
Usually they are smarter than that, outsourcing the "wet work" to Third Worlders in countries with fewer reporters, human rights observers, or young Army reservists.
Ironically, in the case of occupied Iraq, these intelligence services had no other country to "outsource" the work to. With thousands of Iraqi prisoners to deal with, and a growing insurgency, they also had little choice but to rely on at-hand Army Reservists, at least one of whom decided to turn in his comrades. If the military and the intelligence services had not gotten caught, one wonders how many of those "30 investigations" and 25+ deaths in detention we'd have ever heard about.
There is also evidence that, especially in the wake of 9/11, similar tactics may be spreading to domestic law enforcement back in the USA – reflecting a growing militarization of police work. Interestingly, such tough tactics may not actually produce any more solved crimes. But they do provide nice opportunities for frustrated investigators to blow off steam.
Tying all this together, the patterns revealed here really belie the conventional notion that the hard-core interrogation tactics recently seen in Iraq were simply rogue actions by a group of unprincipled individuals.
Nor were they, in Donald Rumsfeld’s words (after four days of silence on the subject), simply “unacceptable and un-American.”
It is more accurate to say that, under the license of our new post-9/11 crypto-culture, many military and civilian intelligence and law enforcement officials apparently feel entitled to violate fundamental civl rights – especially those of Arabs and other suspect minorities – in the interests of pursuing “bad guys.” This is a little taste of what it was like to have been a white cop in Macon, Georgia, or Jackson, Mississippi, in 1956.
So this kind of behavior has become, if anything, all too acceptable, all too American. To make sure that it diminishes, rather than continues to grow, we need to get to the bottom of the institutional failures , not just the individual errors in judgment, that foster it. Just as we (almost) once got to the bottom of the systemic problems in Macon and Jackson.
The latest disclosures from the Pentagon, when added to other reports in the last two years, add up to some disturbing patterns:
Iraq. As the Pentagon only disclosed on May 4, since December 2002 it has launched investigations of at least 25 suspicious deaths of prisoners in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 10 cases of assaults. In addition, in Iraq, three Army reservists –Army Reserve military police, like those accused in the most notorious incidents -- were discharged in January 2004 for abusing prisoners at Camp Bucca, south of Baghdad near Umm Qasr. In December 2003, two British soldiers were arrested but released after an Iraqi prisoner died in their custody. In November 2003, Major-General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, of Saddam’s Republican Guard, fell ill and died during “an interview with US forces." In August 2003, a US Army lieutenant colonel received a fine, but no court marshall, for firing a shot near a detainee’s head during an interrogation. There have been reports of similar abuses at “Camp Cropper” and “Camp Bucco,” near the Baghad International Airport. Furthermore, the US has been very slow to provide information on the whereabouts and conditions of up to 10,000 civilians who have been detained in Iraq, leaving many family members completely in the dark about them. And, according to Amnesty International, these detainees have been “routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention.”
Afghanistan. According to Amnesty International, detainees interrogated by the CIA at Bagram Air Base have allegedly been subjected to "stress and duress" techniques that include ”prolonged standing or kneeling, hooding, blindfolding with spray-painted goggles, being kept in painful or awkward positions, sleep deprivation, and 24-hour lighting.” In December 2002, two Bagram detainees died under suspicious circumstances. A 13-year old Afghan boy who was detained in Bagram for two months described it as
“...a very bad place. Whenever I started to fall asleep, they would kick on my door and yell at me to wake up. When they were trying to get me to confess, they made me stand partway, with my knees bent, for one or two hours. Sometimes I couldn't bear it anymore and I fell down, but they made me stand that way some more."
A December 2002 press report on standard practices at Bagram sounds like it is not all that different from what recently was discovered to be going on at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:
Captives are often "softened up" by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms. The alleged terrorists are commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep. The tone of intimidation and fear is the beginning, they said, of a process of piercing a prisoner's resistance. The take-down teams often "package" prisoners for transport, fitting them with hoods and gags, and binding them to stretchers with duct tape…..
The US military has also been accused of standing by and watching while its allies in the Northern Alliance slaughtered up to 4000 captured Taliban prisoners of war.
Other Secret Detention Centers. There have also been reports of serious psychological and physical abuse at Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta, and other off-limits detention centers, such as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Up to 3000 detainees are being held in such facilities, but US military officials have refused to disclose their precise names and numbers, and have only allowed intermittent visits from the International Red Cross. In Guantanamo alone, after two years, more than 660 inmates are currently in detention, including some children. All these detainees have been designated as “unlawful combatants” by the US military; we do not know their names or the charges against them, and none of them have received any judicial review, access to lawyers, or even contact with relatives. Indeed, even US citizens are being held in this indefinite “right-less” limbo status, the legality of which is now being challenged in the US Supreme Court. It seems likely that the prisoners’ right-less status has helped to encourage abuses against them.
“Refoulement.” The US has also apparently subjected hundreds of suspects – including, according to the CIA’s George Tenet, at least 70 before September 11th -- to “extraordinary renditions” to countries like Jordan, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Syria where edgy interrogation methods are routine. According to one report, in the mid-1990s the CIA significantly expanded its efforts to snatch suspected Arab terrorists for purposes of such renditions, from which it shared in any resulting information, by way of a new secret Presidential “finding” that purportedly "authorizes" it -- in violation of all the international treaties noted earlier. According the US State Department’s own country reports, the interrogation methods employed by these US allies include:
- Egypt: Suspension from a ceiling or doorframe; beatings with fists, whips, metal rods, and other objects; administration of electric shocks; being doused with cold water; sexual assault or threat with sexual assault
- Israel: Violent shaking; smelly head-bag; painful positions; "truth serums;" torture of teenagers.
- Jordan: Beatings on the soles of the feet; prolonged suspension in contorted positions; beatings
- Morocco:Severe beatings
- Pakistan: Beatings; burning with cigarettes; sexual assault; administration of electric shocks; being hung upside down; forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters
- Saudi Arabia: Beatings; whippings; suspension from bards by handcuffs; drugging
- Syria: Administration of electric shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beatings; bending detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts.
Deeper Roots. While the “war on terrorism” has given hard-core interrogation techniques a new lease on life, in fact the Afghan and Iraqi situations are only the most recent examples of their development by both the US military and the CIA. They sponsored a great deal of primary research on the subject, drafted “how-to” manuals for use in torture/interrogation training, and provided a great deal of instruction and assistance to the global hard-core interrogation industry. Among the many recipients of this development assistance were the Shah’s Iran, Brazil and Uruguay in the 1960s (by way of Dan Mitrione and others), Vietnam (by way of the Phoenix Program’s “Provincial Interrogation Centers), Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, and Honduras’ infamous Battalion 316 in the early 1980s -- where our new US Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, also served in 1981-85.
Dubious Methods Back Home. There is also evidence that the same rough-trade interrogations tactics that US soldiers have recently employed offshore are also showing up more frequently in the US. For example, last December, a Department of Justice investigation disclosed the widespread use of mistreatment and abuse during the interrogation of dozens of Muslim detainees at the Metropolitan District Detention Center in Brooklyn, in the aftermath of September 2001.
More generally, there have also been a growing number of instances of gross brutality inflicted on prisoners in the US' own increasingly over-crowded prison system -- which currently houses more than 2.1 million inmates, the world's largest prison population. Some state systems -- like California's, with more than 160,000 inmates -- are on the verge of breakdown, with crowded conditions, "guard gangs" as well as prisoner gangs, budget shortages, and rampant violations of prisoner rights. Just this year, for example, an inmate on a dialysis machine at California's Corcoran State Prison bled to death while guards ignored his screaming, as they watched the Super Bowl. This is just one of many horror stories that occur on a daily basis in the US prison system. So it is perhaps no accident that at least two of the six US soldiers facing criminal charges in connection with the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq were prison guards back home, and one of them was employed at a Pennsylviania prison that is notorious for prisoner abuse.
In an episode that is in some ways even spookier, in February 2004, agents of the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) -- which also oversees the same military intelligence units that have been misbehaving in Iraq -- actually showed up undercover and uninvited at a University of Texas Law School Conference in Austin on “The Law of Islam” in civilian garb, and later demanded a list of all the attendees and questioned several students in an aggressive manner. The Army later apologized, and promised to institute new refresher courses on the proper limits of its domestic authority.
Indeed, the US Army might start by reviewing the fundamental federal law that has been on the books since 1879 – the "Posse Comitatus Act" (PCA) (18 USC 1385), which provides for fines and imprisonment for anyone who uses the US military for domestic law enforcement or surveillance, except in times of national emergency or under certain other limited exceptions, none of which applied here.
This growing militarization of US law enforcement -- complete with Predator drones, SWAT teams, US Marines shooting 18-year old goat-herders in the back on the Mexican border, and now the very latest fine refinements on interrogation techniques from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib -- may be an inevitable byproduct of our brand new global wars on terrorism, drugs, anti-imperialism, and Islamic radicals whose faces we don't happen to like. But those of us who are back home, supposedly the beneficiaries of all this "national security," had better wake up and pay attention to the impact that this emerging "state of siege" mentality is having on our rights -- and those of the Iraqis people that we are supposed to be "liberating."
NEXT: PART II: THE ROOTS OF BRUTALITY.