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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Who Lost Iraq?


In the two and a half years since the US became involved in Iraq, it has become clear that Iraqis are too traumatized by the disorder of the country and/or are too tangled in their own tribal traditions and/or their religious allegiances to embrace a democratic society. Torn by post-war strife and previous associations, the most powerful people in Iraq today show little interest in a pluralistic society where individual allegiances must give way to compromise. It did not have to be this way. Perhaps if the Bush administration had had a plan for the peace and had committed enough troops to prevent the chaos following the fall of Sadaam Hussein and his Baathist government, the US might have been able to achieve the goal it fashioned for itself – the flowering of a Middle East democracy. But the neoconservatives who pushed for and planned the war never were interested in what they called nation-building. They were more interested in demonstrating that the US had the capacity to wage a quickly victorious hot war. They were more interested in asserting American muscularity and aggressiveness. They, in fact ridiculed the Clintonian nation-building ambitions and the balanced diplomacy favored by Bush père.

In the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Sadaam, deposed Baathists who had been summarily ejected from all levels of Iraq government and bureaucracy and both Shi’a and Sunni Islamists reacted against the American presence in Iraq. They began a terror campaign that attempted to fill the power vacuum left by an ineffective American sponsored civilian administration which failed to prevent growing criminal activity as well as acts of terror. A major terrorist objective has clearly been to destabilize Iraq’s political class by targeting Iraqis who cooperate in the formation of a constitutional government, and by attacking Iraqis who are working or looking for work in the new Iraqi government. They also have sought to spread terror generally by attacking people where they shop and where they pray in order to make clear that neither the Americans nor the governing Iraqis are capable of stabilizing the country. Equally, the terror campaign is designed to drive Americans from Iraq so that the doors will be open for one of the competing power groups to take control. Think of Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.

Of course the perpetrators of terror are responsible for the mayhem and death that they cause, but the US bears responsibility here as well. The reckless de-baathification of Iraq following the fall of Sadaam left a vacuum at the center of government and created conditions that encouraged the post-war looting and criminality. The failure to hand Iraqis contracts for rebuilding of the country has left many of its citizens paupers, and the initial failure to involve Iraqis in post-Sadaam recovery left the Iraqis feeling, not unjustly, that they had been occupied, not liberated.

It is truly hard to say what the Bushies hoped to accomplish in Iraq when they went to war. Clearly there was no imminent threat; clearly, democracy has not flourished; clearly terrorism waxes in Iraq rather than waning; and clearly, the US is less safe now from terror than it was before 9/11. Of course, it is terrorists who perpetrate terrorism, but the Bushies bear some of the burden. Before George W. Bush, Iraq was Sadaam Hussein’s to lose; now it is the Bushies who have lost Iraq and who are dragging us further in the terrorist miasma.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Disaster in New Orleans

Disaster in New Orleans

I have been watching the scenes from the American south, and all I can think of is that this is so incredibly distressing. Our government is so hopelessly disorganized and useless in this natural catastrophe. So much for improved Homeland Security.

To me the single most invidious statistic regarding our government's utter failure here is that the 8000 National Guardsmen who should be coordinating the rescue efforts in NO and protecting FEMA...that is the guardsmen who are from LA and MS... are on active duty in Iraq. So much for being able to protect the homeland and fight this (pointless) war in Iraq.

What happens when the next tragedy -- natural or manmade -- occurs? Where is George W Bush? Where has he been? Cutting taxes so the Army Corps of Engineers can't do its work; fighting a war abroad that needs to be fought at home. Remember the Constitution promises us a government that will "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our prosterity." No common defense, no general welfare and no blessings tonight again in New Orleans and the gulf coast of Mississippi.

It's all well and good for celebrities to give concerts and for the president to urge us to give to the Red Cross, but we need leadership, not songs and words.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Where's the Real News

While CNN, Fox, and even the major dailies and of course the tabloids focus their attention on the Michael Jackson trial and the missing Alabama girl in Aruba, the real story goes unreported except on the internet and in the British broadsheets. That is the Downing Street Memos. They clearly reveal that the British knew in advance of the war in Iraq that the bushies were more concerned with building a rationalization for war to overthrow Sadaam Hussein than they were with solving the problems of the man's inhumanity to his people. The first Memo published in May by the London Times explicitly states that the Bushies were not committed to helping the UN get weapons inspectors back in, and that they had no plan for the post-war period. Yesterday, the London Times published a second briefing paper reaffirming the first: i.e. that the US had no real interest in a UN solution and only went ahead with the Colin Powell farce when pressured by the British. It also demonstrates tha the US knew that the post-war period would be chaotic but had no post-war security plans. Furthermore and more strikingly, the memo makes it clear that all the US machinations to bring Sadaam into line were just ploys to give the US and the UK an excuse to start a war that they had planned to conduct all along.

This sounds like real news to me but the Washington Post and the NY Times barely reported on the May memo and did so 4 weeks after the fact. Yesterday, the Times reported on the memo but generally got the sense of it wrong and minimized its import in doing so. The clear message of the memo is that the Bushies were determined to go to war Iraq and built justifications for such a war on a false foundation, and that the Bushies were unprepared for what they knew would be a chaotic and deadly post-war period. Meanwhile, the Times gave space to Scott McClellan's baldfaced denials of the content of the memo saying that they were just someone's impressions and that all the problems were fixed before we went in. The daily attacks by insurgents against troops and civilians tell a far different story. But who should we believe, the billboard slogans of the bushies or our lying eyes?

Today's story on the second memo from Salon. com follows:

The briefing before Downing Street

It took six weeks, but the other shoe has dropped regarding the Downing Street Memo. The thud came courtesy of the Sunday Times of London in its report Sunday on yet another damning, top-secret British government document prepared eight months before the war with Iraq. Like the previous unearthed memo published by the Times on May 1, the latest document paints not only a picture of a Bush administration that, despite its talk in 2002 of averting war, was bent on invading Iraq, but one that, according to close counterparts in the British government, was determined to wage war without thinking through the consequences.

The briefing paper was prepared for participants in advance of the now-famous July 23, 2002 meeting, held at Prime Minister Tony Blair's residence, 10 Downing Street in London. According to the Times report, the briefing paper confirms that Blair had actually signed off on Bush's plan to invade Iraq back in April, 2002, at a summit in Crawford Texas. The two men then spent the next 11 months working to formulate a justification for the invasion -- because, as the briefing paper stressed, it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make the invasion legal.

During the run-up to the invasion there was deep concern among Blair's senior advisors that an unprecedented, preemptive war of regime change would violate international law. According to the United Nations charter, there are only two reasons to legally wage war: self-defense (Article 51), and to restore international peace (Article 42). On the eve of the war with Iraq in 2003, Blair's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, working around the clock with a team of attorneys, stitched together a legal justification for the war. Based on the leaked memos, that justification now appears to have been formulated for the benefit of Blair's political needs.

The July 2002 briefing paper wasn't just about "creating the conditions" and circumventing the law, it was about how Bush's war planners had given "little thought" to the implications of an invasion. That's the angle the Washington Post played up on Sunday, based on excerpts of the leaked briefing paper it received and separately verified with British sources. "The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq," wrote the Post's Walter Pincus. "In its introduction, the memo 'Iraq: Conditions for Military Action', notes that U.S. 'military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace,' but adds that 'little thought' has been given to, among other things, 'the aftermath and how to shape it.'"

The Post notes that some thought about post-war contingencies took place inside the Bush government, within the State Department -- but that the planning there was willfully ignored: "The Bush administration's failure to plan adequately for the postwar period has been well documented. The Pentagon, for example, ignored extensive State Department studies of how to achieve stability after an invasion, administer a postwar government and rebuild the country." This took place even though it was the view of Washington's closest ally, as the briefing paper stated, that "a post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise."

"As already made clear," the briefing paper stressed, "the US military plans are virtually silent on this point."

-- Eric Boehlert

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