Just Above Sunset
May 15, 2005 - The Price of Failure in Iraq

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Juan Cole, that professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress now and then is worried.


Because he reads Rolling Stone. And finds this in the latest issue.

The Quagmire
As the Iraq war drags on, it's beginning to look a lot like Vietnam
Robert Dreyfuss, May 05, 2005

The first paragraph opens with a simple contention: The news from Iraq is bad and getting worse with each passing day.  And detail is provided.

The second paragraph opens with another: But to hear President Bush tell it, the war in Iraq is going very, very well.  And detail is provided.

The third paragraph starts with thus: In private, however, senior military advisers and intelligence specialists on Iraq offer a starkly different picture.  And detail is provided.

What follows that is an analysis, filled with carefully chosen detail, of the prospects, real, for a major civil war – with the Shiite folks on one side supported by Iran, the Sunni folks on the other with the rest of the Arab nations piling on, and the Kurds. Do we back the Kurds, along with Israel?

And the paragraph in Rolling Stone that gets Professor Cole really worried?


If it comes to civil war, the disintegration of Iraq will be extremely bloody. "The breakup of Iraq would be nearly as bad as the breakup of India in 1947," says David Mack, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state with wide experience in the Arab world. "The Kurds can't count on us to come in and save their bacon. Do they think we are going to mount an air bridge on their behalf?" Israel might support the Kurds, but Iran would intervene heavily in support of the Shiites with men, arms and money, while Arab countries would back their fellow Sunnis. "You'd see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, even Egypt intervening with everything they've got -- tanks, heavy weapons, lots of money, even troops," says White, the former State Department official. "If they see the Sunnis getting beaten up by the Shiites, there will be extensive Arab support," agrees a U.S. Army officer. "There will be no holds barred."


Oh crap. Why did he have to quote this Mack guy – the former assistant secretary of state who knows that part of the world well? And this White fellow too?

Well, does one listen to the State Department, really? Over the last several years it has become clear that the Defense Department holds all the cards, and is where the president turns on international matters. Powell was ignored, and Rice seems to be redoing State as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Defense – doing her Mistress of Pain dominatrix thing in those black boots and putting the tough back in tough love.  This is the new face (or foot) of diplomacy.

But the traditionalists at State, in sensible shoes, are worried, it seems – that a civil war, if it comes, would pull in all the players in the region, and force our hand with the Kurds.  What WOULD Israel do?

But will this happen?

Dreyfuss ends with this –


In fact, it may already be too late to prevent Iraq from exploding. Iraq's new government is stuck in a fatal Catch-22: To have any credibility among Iraqis it must break with the U.S. and oppose the occupation, but it couldn't last a week without the protection of American troops. The Bush administration is also stuck. Its failure to stabilize Iraq, and the continuing casualties there, have led to a steady slide in the president's popularity: Polls show that a majority of Americans no longer think that the war in Iraq was worth fighting in the first place. Yet withdrawing from Iraq would only lead to more chaos, and the rest of the world has exhibited little interest in cleaning up America's mess. Of the two dozen or so countries that sent troops to Iraq, fewer and fewer remain: Spain, Portugal, Hungary and New Zealand have already quit, and the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Italy have announced they are getting out. Even if the United Nations agreed to step in, there is little or no chance that the administration will internationalize control over Iraq. In the face of a full-scale civil war in Iraq, says a source close to the U.S. military, Bush intends to go it alone.


And that fellow says - "Our policy is to make Iraq a colony. We won't let go."

We say that isn’t our policy.  In a private email from an Army officer in Mosul I received this –


The elections started the constitutional process which could throw even the most democratic societies (which this one is not yet) into a tail-spin. I offer to all of you to watch this as we try to create or at least grow democracy in a cycle of less than five years. It will become a model of either true success or discouraging defeat often not because we don't want it to work -- but rather because it is not up to us but the Iraqis and people like the UN and the Independent Elections Committee - Iraq or IECI.


So it is up to the Iraqis – and to the Shiites backed by Iran, the Sunnis backed by the other Arab states, and the Kurds hoping we’ll back them, and maybe pull in Israel.  Who knows what the Turkish government would make of that?

This should be interesting.

But Professor Cole makes one more point. He comments that “the full horror of it” has been “expertly laid out” by Dreyfuss, with “an acumen and imagination one doesn't see often” in the mainstream media.  As a former English teacher I thought it was a fine composition.  Cole wonders why he was reading it in Rolling Stone.


We live in a bizarro American were Jon Stewart's Daily Show and Rolling Stone are the venues for the real news, while the major cable news networks have confused themselves with the sort of thing the local television stations out in places like Peoria do at 5:17 pm for their human interest segments.


Indeed. Of course, one must know what’s up with the Michael Jackson trial, and did you know that runaway bride served jail time for shoplifting several years ago – something about $1,700 worth of merchandise she lifted from a mall.  And the prosecutor in that case is now serving as her attorney?  MSNBC carried the Associated Press story and it has been talked about all over the news.

So by default sources like the Daily Show and Rolling Stone are where we traditionalists – news hounds - now turn for our fix of things that matter to us.

Jonathan Klein can have his new and improved CNN.  Michael Jackson can be convicted or not, and the runaway bride can be as strange as she likes.  The likelihood of a major war of many nations across the whole of the Middle East, drawing us in, along with Israel, may be of little concern to the target demographic of the corporate news providers – Time-Warner, ABC-Disney, Murdoch’s News Corp, Viacom and whomever – but I’m sure they’ll send crews of earnest young “reporters” when it starts.

Until then those of us outside the target demographic will hunt around for information.  It’s a do-it-yourself kind of thing.




Late update – things getting better?


Via the Associated Press


Gunmen assassinated a top Iraqi Foreign Ministry official Saturday evening in a drive-by shooting while he stood outside his Baghdad home, police said.


Jassim Mohammed Ghani, the ministry's director-general, was killed at about 9 p.m. in western Baghdad's al-Kharijiyah district, Capt. Talib Thamer said.


Officials at the Foreign Ministry were not immediately available for comment. …


Via Juan Cole -


Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder raises the question of whether the January 30 elections made the situation in Iraq worse. Allam writes,

"Two weeks of intense insurgent violence have made it crystal clear that Iraq's parliamentary elections, hailed in late January as a triumph for democracy, haven't helped to heal the country's deep divisions. They may have made them worse. The historic election sheared off a thin facade of wartime national unity and reinforced ethnic and sectarian tensions that have plagued Iraq for centuries. Iraqis immediately began playing the roles the election results delivered to them: victorious Shiite Muslim, assertive Kurd, disaffected Sunni Arab. Within those groups lies a mosaic of other splits, especially between secularists and Islamists vying for Iraq's soul."

I told you at the time that the elections were not a Mardi Gras for Americans and they would be sorry if they took them that way.


The main pumping station for the oil pipeline in the north to Turkey was bombed on Friday, halting Iraqi attempts to resume exports via that root.

Wire services report, "In other violence, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a truck transporting 40 Iraqi soldiers in Baquba, killing two soldiers and a civilian and wounding six others, said security officials."

PM Ibrahim Jaafari extended the state of emergency in the country in the face of a massive bombing campaign.

Shaikh Sadruddin al-Qubanji, Friday prayer leader in Najaf for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, called Friday for a purge of former Baathist high officials in the Iraqi government, of whom he said there were 100,000. The leading Shiites are determined to fire all ex-Baathists, many of whom are Sunni Arab. …


The news from Iraq is bad and getting worse with each passing day. 


But to hear President Bush tell it, the war in Iraq is going very, very well. 


In private, however, senior military advisers and intelligence specialists on Iraq offer a starkly different picture. 


Folks would rather think about Michael Jackson.





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