Monday, November 27, 2006

Reality vs. fantasy 

First, the reality.
As Iraq descends into what will be one of the world's most violent civil wars, British MP Boris Johnson writes a story in the Telgraph newspaper, I remember the quiet day we lost the war in Iraq:

. . . I was wandering around Baghdad, about 10 days after Iraq had been "liberated", and it seemed to me that the place was not entirely without hope.
OK, so the gunfire popped round every corner like popcorn on a stove, and civil society had broken down so badly that the looters were taking the very copper from the electricity cables in the streets. But I was able to stroll without a flak jacket and eat shoarma and chips in the restaurants.
With no protection except for Isaac, my interpreter, I went to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and found the place deserted. The windows were broken, and every piece of computer equipment had been looted. As I was staring at the fire-blackened walls a Humvee came through the gates . . . . a figure begin to unpack his giraffe-like limbs from the shady interior of the Humvee. He was one of those quiet Americans that you sometimes meet in odd places. . . .
he walked slowly towards the shattered foreign ministry building, stroking his chin. Then he walked back towards us, and posed a remarkable question. "Have you, uh, seen anyone here?" he asked.
Nope, we said. All quiet here, we said. Quiet as the grave.
"Uhuh," he said, and started to get back in the Humvee. And then I blurted my own question: "But who are you?" I asked. "Oh, let's just say I work for the US government," he sighed. "I was just wondering if anyone was going to show up for work," he said. "That's all."
And that, of course, was the beginning of the disaster. Nobody came to work that day, or the next, or the one after that, because we failed to understand what our intervention would do to Iraqi society. We failed to anticipate that in taking out Saddam, we would also remove government and order and authority from Iraq.
We destroyed the Baathist state, without realising that nothing would supplant it. The result was that salaries went unpaid, electricity was not generated, sanitation was not provided, and all the disorder was gradually and expertly fomented until it was quite beyond our control.
And what we had failed to see in advance was that almost from the outset the Iraqis would blame us – and not just the insurgents – for every distress they experienced.
It is now commonplace for people like me, who supported the war, to say that we "did the right thing" but that it had mysteriously "turned out wrong". This is intellectually vacuous. It is like saying British strategy for July 1, 1916 was perfect, but let down by faulty execution. The thing was a disaster from the moment we invaded . . .
Yes, well, I would argue that it has been a disaster BECAUSE America and Britian invaded.
Because they never had the right to invade Iraq in the first place.
Second, here is the fantasy - William Pfaff describes the fantastical war which the US leadership thinks it is fighting:

At Harvard a few weeks ago, Gen. John Abizaid, head of the American Central Command, responsible for operations in Iraq, said that if a way is not found to stem the rise of Islamic militancy, there will be a third World War.
I do not understand from where in the labyrinths of Pentagon and Washington think-tank deliberations, grounds are found for such sensationalist forecasts by people in responsible positions in and out of American government. Henry Kissinger has made the same forecast, while readjusting his personal position from support for the war to a prediction that the war can't be won, but that it nonetheless should continue.
Who is going to fight this third World War? Presumably Islamic militants against the United States (with such allies as remain, now that Britain is leaving). That is not a World War.
It is war of American intervention in foreign countries to stamp out movements supported by at least a part of the people there. We are doing that in Iraq and it's not working, nor did it work in Somalia or Vietnam.
Why go on with it? These movements or countries cannot invade or overthrow the government of the United States. Hijacking airplanes, blowing up the Sears Tower, anthrax in the reservoirs, nerve gas in the New York subway, or even a rogue nuclear explosion at the Super Bowl would not cause the U.S. government to totter and fall, sending masses of Americans to adopt Islam, install Sharia in the place of the U.S. Constitution, while putting 300 million Americans into beards and burqas. Surely Osama bin Laden and his colleagues are clever enough to know they can't win a World War.
Ah, the promulgators of the new World War theory say, the terrorists have already told us that they will first seize power in Iraq (and Iran), proclaim a new universal caliphate, and take power with the support of the masses in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan and the Maghreb.
Then Western Europe, enfeebled by welfare governments and cowardice, in need of oil and subverted from within by Islamic minority populations, will submit to al-Qaida, or appease it (Europe's people turning themselves into "Euarabs," as one recent American scenario has it). That will leave a heroic America standing alone, battling the Islamic hordes.
This is puerile fantasy. Yet Abizaid said to his Harvard audience: "Think of (today) as a chance to confront fascism in 1920. If we only had the guts to do it!" More fantasy and misinformation. There was nothing to confront in 1920. The Fascist party did not exist until 1921, and Mussolini did not form a government until 1923, when it won general praise in America and Britain for its spirit and efficiency.
But enough of this. The third World War that the Pentagon, Kissinger and the administration warn would follow U.S. failure in Iraq is a reverse reading of the bloated claims of the leaders of one radicalized group of Islamic activists, a tiny minority in an Islamic world of a billion people, claiming that they can return their fellow-Muslims to the practices of the late Middle Ages, so as to purge modern Islam of what they consider its corruption. They might believe this, but why should Kissinger and Abizaid?
. . . The only way there now can be a "third World War" is for the United States to insist on staying on in Iraq, and go into Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other states as well, no doubt allied with Israel. Even in that case, it would not be the great clash of ideology and geopolitics that Gen. Abizaid foresees. It would be a narrow war of illusion and ideology which most American allies would wish to avoid.
It would be a struggle by the Islamic people to get the United States out of their countries and out of their lives. American intervention in the Islamic world started long before 9/11. The United States is fighting the ignored legacy of its own past policies. It is time to call an armistice, and go home.
The US leadership is inflating the Iraq insurgency into some kind of global fighting force led by Worst-Than-Hitlers for two reasons -- they have a deeply ingrained belief that the Most Powerful And Well Equipped Military In The World simply cannot be losing a war against just a bunch of 'rag-heads' making bombs in their basements. And they try to justify this illegal war by giving themsevles a High Moral Purpose, to Defend The World From the Caliphate -- which is, of course, Worse Than Hitler.
The US people, I think, know the difference between fantasy and reality.

UPDATE: Bill Scher's Sunday Talkshow Breakdown is back, and this week's talk shows were all about Iraq. Scher provides a frame to view the reality vs fantasy question:
. . . That is evidence of further momentum for the idea of regional talks including Iran and Syria [but] would that amount to a fundamental shift in foreign policy -- away from the unilateralists and neocons and towards the internationalists and realists?
By itself, no. . . . Heed the warning from former Carter-era National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, offered on CNN yesterday, flagged by Think Progress:
The Baker commission will probably come out with some sound advice on dealing with the neighborhood, with Iran, with the Israeli-Palestinian issues, which is relevant but essentially will offer some procrastination ideas for dealing with the crisis.
The fact of the matter is, the undertaking itself is fundamentally wrong-headed ... This is a mistaken, absolutely historically wrong undertaking...
If we get out sooner, there will be a messy follow-up after we leave. It will be messy, but will not be as messy as if we stay, seeking to win in some fashion.
In other words, unless actual foreign policy objectives change, mere tactical shifts won't solve anything.
The crystallization of the current objectives is the permanent military bases.
Trying to exert control over Iraq's political system and natural resources via permanent occupation is the main destabilizing force -- strengthening terrorist organizations and giving incentive to Iran and Syria to be counterproductive.
If you don't renounce the bases, and the plans for further "regime change" that go with them, then talks with Iran and Syria will be nothing but a show.
Much like how the six-party talks involving North Korea have gone nowhere. Because Dubya's Asia policy still centers on constraining China, China has no incentive to help out.
So when sizing up the final product from the ISG -- and more importantly, Bush's actions thereafter -- watch to see if they renounce and begin to dismantle the permanent bases.

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