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August 21, 2005 - What's gone wrong with the narrative?













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If Sunday, August 14, was the day The Day the Wheels Fell Off, with Frank Rich in The New York Times saying that, for all intents and purposes, the war is over, except the president doesn't seem to realize it, and the same day Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer in The Washington Post reporting that key people in the administration are admitting we're just not going to get what we fought for, a democracy in Iraq - it seems the best we can hope for is some form of Islamic republic - then Monday was the day things might have been better.  The first two major rationales didn't pan out - WMD and ties to al Qaeda - so maybe...

Monday, August 15, 2005 was the deadline for the draft of the new Iraqi constitution.  That didn't happen.  No WMD, no ties to al Qaeda - so this wasn't war to keep us safe from those - and now this.  Democracy, that's the ticket!  So we won't get a western-style one – no matter - but now they cannot even decide on the kind of Islamic republic they want to have.

Iraq constitution drafters get extension
Parliament grants seven more days to complete draft; Bush, Rice hail effort
MSNBC News Services, Updated: 6:42 p.m. ET Aug. 15, 2005

 

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's parliament agreed to a seven-day extension for leaders to complete a draft constitution after politicians failed to reach a midnight Monday deadline to agree on the charter. The White House, apparently resigned to the delay, hailed the constitution as "the most important document in the history of the new Iraq" and reinforced the completion procedure as "an Iraqi process."

Parliament adjourned after voting to extend the deadline until Aug. 22, acting on a request from Kurdish leaders for more time.

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish framers of the charter had reached a tentative deal late Monday, agreeing on issues ranging from oil revenues to the country's name but putting off decision on the most contentious questions - including women's rights, the role of Islam and possible Kurdish autonomy.

Efforts to meet the Aug. 15 deadline showed how determined Iraqis are to maintain political momentum under intense U.S. pressure, but their failure to agree was a clear sign that their sharp political divisions are far from over.

 

Ah, there are difficulties.  Maybe they'll work out something or other.

The best rundown of what those difficulties are is from Juan Cole, the professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, here.

In short? Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani dislikes the idea of a confederation, which would seriously weaken the central government and might pave the way for a break-up of the country.  The major advocates of a loose federalism plus provincial confederation are SCIRI and its paramilitary offshoot, the Badr Organization, and they're unhappy.  The Kurds have a three-province confederation, which even has its own legislature (Scotland?), and have demanded that it be expanded (adding parts of three other provinces) - and they've also demanded that some proportion of petroleum receipts from Kirkuk in the north stay in the Kurdish confederation.  The Shiite south has a bigger and younger field, the Rumaila oil field, and a Shiite confederation of provinces would benefit if they could keep a proportion of the petroleum receipts locally rather than having them go to Baghdad.  The Sunni Arabs at the moment have no petroleum fields, so they do not like this system and are making a stand against it.  Add to that the Shiites also want a provision in the constitution that no statute may be passed by the federal legislature that is contrary to Islamic law (shariah).  The Kurds reject this provision absolutely.  And should the prime minister or president actually appoint the provincial governors, who are not elected by the people? That's a regional thing, and how things work in Egypt, for example.  And of course the Shiites are moving closer to Iran, and Bush says over the weekend that he could take military action against Iran over its nuclear program - in an interview broadcast in Iraq from Israel.  That's what Cole says. 

Yipes!

Can this be fixed, even with an additional week of negotiations?

I asked my nephew, Major Cook, in Baghdad - West Point '90, previously posted to Mosul, fluent in Turkish (there was that year's posting in Istanbul and now he knows more about Kurdish matters than anyone I know) - and got this back:

 

Fixed? Whew, pretty ambiguous - so I think we should use the words "made to work." In actuality, many Iraqis are embracing democracy, but it is old-school lovers of Islamic Law (Sheriat) like SCIRI that continue to drive a wedge between religious factions that keep this country apart. Truth be known, not all will like the constitution, but they all will get a chance to vote on it. That will be the democracy of it - and if "No" is the vote on the constitution, then the December vote will not be to elect the lasting National Body but another temporary government to build yet another constitution. Regardless, the US Military is not in the politics business. It is our job to provide a secure environment to allow the process to continue. But, in the end, I think it will be "made to work" - and if SCIRI doesn't come to the table to facilitate a solution, then the Iraqi people may vote around them, though that is unlikely. But, heck, that is democracy, and I like to see it.

 

Fair enough.  The military secures the environment for the "nation building" to begin, but they don't do the building.  Of course that has been a tough go, but Brian and his like are doing their best to make it possible.  And the Iraqis will build - what, exactly?

That is not a question for the military.  It is not a tactical or operational question.  It is a question of strategy, the geopolitical kind.  The civilian leadership, the administration we elect, works those questions.

Comments here and there last Monday?

Eric Alterman asks What do we have here?  He pulls this quote from the Sunday Post item:

 

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

 

He says this:

 

Yeah well, you know what's coming next; tens of thousands dead; more than that wounded; hundreds of billions wasted; the hatred of the world; the creation of countless terrorists and torture victims, the destruction of a nation; and the dishonoring of the leadership of the United States of America. All in the service of something that "was never realistic," an "unreality" that was sold to us by a dishonest, fanatical group of ideologues and their cheerleaders in the so-called liberal media.

What's is perhaps most galling about this is the fact that if you tried to warn your fellow citizens against just this likelihood three years ago when it was still preventable, you were part of some decadent, fifth-columnist coastal elite that hated America, while the chest beating patriots were the ones who drained this nation of its blood and treasure is the service of their own lethal combination of ignorance, arrogance, and ideological obsession. Onward Christian Soldiers.

 

Jerry Bowles says this:

 

No WMDs, no al Qaeda link, no Iraq oil boom, and now, insult to injury, no democracy.  A secular country with relative freedom for women is about to become an Islamic Republic and breeding ground for future terrorists.

 

Yes, so it would seem.  But if is what they choose?

Somehow, in a geopolitical way, this is not what we intended.

But that is what we were sold.

Harold Meyerson covers the press side of sales job in this item in the upcoming edition of Prospect (issue date September 10).

This was a war of choice - a preemptive war (or preventative or prophylactic war, if you will) - and it needed promotion.

 

A war like the Iraq War, whose public support before the idea was seriously discussed started out well below 50 percent, needs to be sold - "marketed," as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card once put it - needs, well, marketers.

And, in the information age, an administration can't, and doesn't, market alone. It takes an army of salespeople - it takes a village, you might say - to accentuate the positive. And when an administration spreads demonstrable lies and falsehoods, or offers "evidence" that can't be wholly refuted but for which there is nevertheless no existing proof, it takes that same army to stand up and say: "Yes! These assertions are true! Those who deny them are unpatriotic, or simpletons, or both!" And finally, when the war goes terribly, terribly wrong, that same army is called to the ramparts one last time, to say, in a fashion that approaches Soviet-style devotion: "Things are in fact going well! The insurgency is dying! Abu Ghraib is not a scandal! Saddam Hussein did have ties to al-Qaeda; you just don't know it yet!" And so on.

For its war in Iraq, the Bush administration relied on and benefited from the cheerleading of a group of pundits and public intellectuals who, at every crucial moment, subordinated the facts on the ground to their own ideological preferences and those of their allies within the administration. They refused to hold the administration's conduct of the war and the occupation to the ideals that they themselves professed, or simply to the standard of common sense. They abdicated their responsibilities as political intellectuals - and, more elementally, as reliable empiricists.

 

And so they did.

He singles out William Kristol, working on promoting the war since 1998 - getting rid of Saddam Hussein should be the central goal of our foreign policy. Then came 9/11 and a month later you get this on NPR's Talk of the Nations: "We know that over the last three or four weeks, he has moved many of his chemical and biological weapons programs in preparation for possible U.S. attacks." Yeah, yeah. On November 19, 2001, he and Robert Kagan wrote: "Iraq is the only nation in the world, other than the United States and Russia, to have developed the kind of sophisticated anthrax that appeared in the letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. What will it take for the FBI and the CIA to start connecting the dots here? A signed confession from Saddam?" Right. April 2003 on NPR again: "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America - that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all." And so on and so forth...

Charles Krauthammer (Time and the Washington Post)?

In the spring of 2003, with Secretary of State Colin Powell was trying to slow things down at bit - remember the Pottery Barn Rule business? - Krauthammer: "No more dithering. Why does the president, who is pledged to disarming Hussein one way or the other, allow Powell even to discuss a scheme that is guaranteed to leave Saddam Hussein's weapons in place?" And Meyerson points out that when the interim government of Iyad Allawi was about to come into office, Krauthammer said this on Fox News - "It's the beginning of the end of the bad news. I mean, we're going to have lots of attacks, but the political process is under way." On Abu Ghraib? "A huge overreaction. Nobody was killed. Nobody was maimed." Well, some were.

Victor Davis Hanson, the classics professor and intellectual of the neoconservative right?

"In the same way as the death of Hitler ended the Nazi Party and the ruin of the Third Reich finished the advance of fascist power in Europe, so the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi dictatorship will erode both clandestine support for terrorism and murderous tyranny well beyond Iraq." Tell the fifty-plus dead in London, Victor. Why would things be all better when we captured Saddam Hussein? "The Romans realized this and thus understood that Gallic liberation, Numidian resistance, or Hellenic nationalism would melt away when a Vercingetorix, Jugurtha, or Mithradites all were collared, dead, or allowed suicide." It seems history doesn't repeat itself.

Meyerson call Thomas Friedman of the New York Times an enabler. Christopher Hitchens? Trotsky in Baghdad. Read the whole thing, if you want to see who was cheering.

Well, the weekend had one right-side guy changing his tune. That would be Armstrong Williams over at Townhall, where they post this bio of him:

 

Called "one of the most recognized conservative voices in America" by The Washington Post, Armstrong Williams is a pugnacious, provocative and principled voice for conservative and Christian values in America's public debate.

An entrepreneur and third-generation Republican, Williams has become a multi-media wonder, taking stands for what's right on radio and television, in print and cyberspace. Focusing on issues such as the work ethic, personal responsibility, welfare reform, affirmative action, and especially the restoration of morality in today's society, he brings an independent view with a refreshing twist to the central issues of our day.

 

Monday's refreshing twist - Armstrong Williams suddenly says, Time to Get Out of Iraq:

 

We cannot win this kind of war of attrition. US soldiers are dying at a rate of one per day. Meanwhile the rest of the world is having trouble supporting the United States. You cannot lead in a global democracy, if people do not trust you. It is undeniable that we went about this in a very flawed manner. We need to admit that. We cannot solve the problem of terrorism by asserting our will on the world. Meanwhile, the deterioration of Iraq continues, serving as a sad reminder of the failed promise of this mission, and the need to pull out.

 

Oh my!  In the compendium of conservatism, Townhall?

Maybe it's time to slap people back in line, as in this:

Bush slaps down top general after he calls for troops to be pulled out of Iraq
Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, Sunday, August 14, 2005

 

The top American commander in Iraq has been privately rebuked by the Bush administration for openly discussing plans to reduce troop levels there next year, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

President George W Bush personally intervened last week to play down as "speculation" all talk of troop pull-outs because he fears that even discussing options for an "exit strategy" implies weakening resolve.

Gen George Casey, the US ground commander in Iraq, was given his dressing-down after he briefed that troop levels - now 138,000 - could be reduced by 30,000 in the early months of next year as Iraqi security forces take on a greater role. ...

 

He said the wrong thing. Seems to be a trend.

Note this from USA Today - the Ohio Marine reserve regiment with the nineteen combat deaths earlier this month had repeatedly requested as many as 1,000 additional troops to help defend the area of western Iraq they were covering.

 

Regimental Combat Team 2 began asking for additional troops to police its volatile 24,000-square-mile territory before most of its Marines deployed in February, said operations officer Lt. Col. Christopher Starling, 39, of Jacksonville, N.C.

Starling said the unit could "optimally" use one more battalion, about 1,000 troops, to take some of the pressure off the Reserve unit, which is spearheading an offensive in the region. "With a fourth battalion, I wouldn't have to play pick-up ball," Starling said.

The requests for additional forces were passed to higher headquarters in nearby Ramadi; it is unclear whether they went beyond that level, Starling said.

14 of the regiment's troops were killed in a single incident when an enormous roadside bomb destroyed their amphibious assault vehicle, and another five were killed in firefights.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita responded to the USA Today story by saying he doesn't doubt that "every colonel wishes he had more in his area, but the decisions about how troops are (deployed) are made by the commanders above them."

 

Rumsfeld often says that if those commanders requested more troops, they'd get them.  There are no more.

But things are fine.

As in this...

The "Marine of the Year" as named in the Marine Corps Times (citation here) is being charged with attempted murder.  It seems he "fired a shotgun from his apartment window at a group of revelers outside a nightclub."  Previously?  He prepared soldiers for open-casket funerals while serving as a military mortician in Iraq.

Folks are edgy.

How did we get in this mess?  There's word going around that John Bolton visited Judith Miller in Jail this weekend.  See this: "Steve Clemons has verified that John Bolton was one of Judith Miller's regular sources on WMD issues, and that MSNBC stands by its story that Bolton gave testimony to the grand jury about the State Department memo in question. Bolton, you may recall, has previously been identified to have been involved in the Niger uranium claims that Wilson's trip helped disprove ..."

What were they talking about?  What's gone wrong with the narrative?
And that woman down in Texas - Cindy Sheehan - is still a bother.  She's screwing up the narrative too.

Christopher Hitchens tries to take care of that.

Cindy Sheehan's Sinister Piffle
What's wrong with her Crawford protest.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Monday, Aug. 15, 2005, at 11:50 AM PT - SLATE.COM

No one uses the word "piffle" much these days.  Pity.  It's a good word.

Note this:

 

I dare say that her "moral authority" to do this is indeed absolute, if we agree for a moment on the weird idea that moral authority is required to adopt overtly political positions, but then so is my "moral" right to say that she is spouting sinister piffle. Suppose I had lost a child in this war. Would any of my critics say that this gave me any extra authority? I certainly would not ask or expect them to do so. Why, then, should anyone grant them such a privilege?

 

And this:

 

What dreary sentimental nonsense this all is, and how much space has been wasted on it. Most irritating is the snide idea that the president is "on vacation" and thus idly ignoring his suffering subjects, when the truth is that the members of the media - not known for their immunity to the charm of Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod in the month of August - are themselves lazing away the season with a soft-centered nonstory that practically, as we like to say in the trade, "writes itself." Anyway, Sheehan now says that if need be she will "follow" the president "to Washington," so I don't think the holiday sneer has much life left in it.

 

And this:

 

There are, in fact, some principles involved here. Any citizen has the right to petition the president for redress of grievance, or for that matter to insult him to his face. But the potential number of such people is very large, and you don't have the right to cut in line by having so much free time that you can set up camp near his drive. Then there is the question of civilian control over the military, which is an authority that one could indeed say should be absolute. The military and its relatives have no extra claim on the chief executive's ear. Indeed, it might be said that they have less claim than the rest of us, since they have voluntarily sworn an oath to obey and carry out orders. Most presidents in time of war have made an exception in the case of the bereaved -Lincoln's letter to the mother of two dead Union soldiers (at the time, it was thought that she had lost five sons) is a famous instance -but the job there is one of comfort and reassurance, and this has already been discharged in the Sheehan case. If that stricken mother had been given an audience and had risen up to say that Lincoln had broken his past election pledges and sought a wider and more violent war with the Confederacy, his aides would have been quite right to show her the door and to tell her that she was out of order.

Finally, I think one must deny to anyone the right to ventriloquize the dead. Casey Sheehan joined up as a responsible adult volunteer. Are we so sure that he would have wanted to see his mother acquiring "a knack for P.R." and announcing that he was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal? This is just as objectionable, on logical as well as moral grounds, as the old pro-war argument that the dead "must not have died in vain." I distrust anyone who claims to speak for the fallen, and I distrust even more the hysterical noncombatants who exploit the grief of those who have to bury them.

 

For the record, Cindy Sheehan did not claim he son was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal.  That would be David Duke, the former KKK fellow of the far right.

This demonstration, or whatever it is in Texas, may be "dreary sentimental nonsense" - and even some of us on the left are just tired of it - but is a small matter in a larger drama.  Hitchens may wish to scoff at her and erase the problem with hyper-literate scorn.  If there is a larger drama, this is only, now, a compelling subplot.  Hitchens is slick, and he knows his facts.  But removing her from the narrative - she will be "swift boated" away soon - won't make much difference now.  The main plot is the problem.

So where's that constitution in Iraq?  And in a week, or two or three, what will we have there?

We waged this war for what?  Cindy Sheehan is not the only one asking questions now.

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An additional comment from Baghdad -

Major Cook says he just doesn't get it - this all it shows the lack of understanding of what is going on over there.  From Baghdad:

 

I really don't understand Mr. Meyerson's posting as all wars need promotion. The way to win, especially against the tyranny of the insurgency, is to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the populace that they rely on for support. The al Qaeda and Zarqawi's of the World are masters at publicizing their crusades. Hell, Zarqawi has his own web magazine. If we leave their sentiments and don't illustrate all the good we are doing, then the wedge will never be driven and the people will never walk away from the crusade of hate. That leads me to another note on Mr. Armstrong Williams' words, "Time to Get Out of Iraq." Does he know Zarqawi? Just as the democracy is gaining momentum and we are training Iraqi forces to stand on their own? Insurgencies, have never been wars of attrition, they are wars, and even campaigns for the betterment of societies. When Iraq gains and can maintain the increased hope and security (provided by a standing government backed by a viable constitution and standing armed forces), the insurgency will be beaten. If we pull out now, the almost 2000 of my brothers and sisters that have sacrificed will have done it for no reason. Relentless resolve will get us through and the results will benefit many.

 

Resolve is the question, isn't it?































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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