Monday, September 29, 2003

Back to Iraq

A friend and reader of Silentio recently asked me about my relative silence, lately anyway, on the situation in Iraq. 'Do you no longer even care?' were his words, I believe. I'm not sure if his question was rhetorical, an observation in the form of a question, or what; nevertheless, it did provide some incentive to point out that not only am I curious enough in general to read about Iraq, I care enough to post about it a bit more. My thoughts, I realise, are not the most helpful for most people. (Newbies to this blog, realise, please, that I'm not a primarily a 'linker', but a self-conscious obfuscator.) Fortunately, there's 'big media' to help us out. Having sunk their heads deep in the earth the past few months, lo and behold, many editors are now arising and greenlighting the kind of pieces that would not have seen the light of day six months ago.

Case in point -- the latest Newsweek cover story..

LAST FEBRUARY, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner was trying to put together a team of experts to rebuild Iraq after the war was over, and his list included 20 State Department officials. The day before he was supposed to leave for the region, Garner got a call from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who ordered him to cut 16 of the 20 State officials from his roster. It seems that the State Department people were deemed to be Arabist apologists, or squishy about the United Nations, or in some way politically incorrect to the right-wing ideologues at the White House or the neocons in the office of the Secretary of Defense. The vetting process “got so bad that even doctors sent to restore medical services had to be anti-abortion,” recalled one of Garner’s team. Finally, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to stand up for his troops and stop Rumsfeld’s meddling. “I can take hostages, too,” Powell warned the secretary of Defense. “How hard do you want to play this thing?”

Pretty hard. Powell lost, as he often does in the councils of the Bush war cabinet, and Rumsfeld had his way. Only one of the 16 State officials was restored to Garner’s reconstruction team. It was a petty triumph, but emblematic of Rumsfeld’s dominating, sometimes overbearing style. Rumsfeld was not a rogue elephant. In much of what he did, Rumsfeld himself was following orders. The hidden hand of the White House (read: Vice President Dick Cheney) was decisive in many of the behind-the-scenes struggles over postwar policymaking in Iraq. But President George W. Bush put the Defense Department in charge of both invading Iraq and rebuilding it after the war. Since 9/11, the secretary of Defense has been a brilliant war leader. Yet when it comes to making peace, he has been guilty of almost willful denial. His deep reluctance to use the American military for “peacekeeping” and “nation-building”—he scorns the very terms—threatens to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq.

The rest of the article, though attempting to maintain that quintessentially American, jejune journalistic objectivity that I find particularly boring, is worth reading -- for the quotes alone:

At the State Department, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, Powell’s number two, fought bitterly with the Defense Department neocons, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s third-ranking civilian. Armitage was convinced that the Defense neocons had spies at the State Department. “Bats, we call them. Bats,” said Armitage, in a colorful private harangue reported to NEWSWEEK. “Because they hang upside down all day, with their wings over their eyes, pretending they don’t see anything. But at night they spread their wings and fly off to whisper, whisper, whisper.”

[. . .]

“I’m sorry, but I just got off a phone call from a level that is sufficiently high that I can’t argue with him.”

[. . .]

On May 16, five days after he arrived in Baghdad, Bremer assembled the top American officials in Baghdad and announced that all ministries would be “de-Baath-ized” by removing roughly the top six layers of bureaucracy. The CIA’s Baghdad station chief demurred. “We’ll, that’s 30,000 to 50,000 pissed-off Baathists you’re driving underground,” said the senior spook. Bremer went on: the Army would be formally disbanded and not paid. “That’s another 350,000 Iraqis you’re pissing off, and they’ve got guns,” said the CIA man. Said Bremer: “Those are my instructions.”

[. . .]

On the ground, the Coalition Provisional Authority, charged with actually running Iraq until the Iraqis can take over, is the source of increasing ridicule. “CPA stands for the Condescending and Patronizing Americans,” a Baghdad diplomat told a NEWSWEEK reporter.

[. . .]

At least one old Middle East hand is a pessimist. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently passed a message to Rumsfeld. It ran roughly: “There’s a 5 percent chance you get Saddam tomorrow, the energy goes out of the resistance and things get dramatically better. There’s a 5 percent chance a car bomb takes out the entire Governing Council, and things go to hell. In between those, it will get better over time, or worse over time. Right now, I say it’s twice as likely that it gets worse.”

'Why don't you write more about Iraq?', M. asked. I wonder.