Feb 20. 2009
I was in the process of writing a piece on Joan Walsh's remarkable review of "The Gamble" -- the latest book by Thomas Ricks, in which the intrepid Washington Post reporter hooks up (in just about every sense of that phrase) with General David "Ovalbound" Petraeus, to explain just how Ovalbound and his inner circle pretty much "won" the Iraq War single-handedly with the great "surge" -- when I found that Justin Raimondo was already on the case, and had covered it well. So I'll just weave in a few bits of my unfinished post with excerpts from his analysis of what is, as he says, a very emblematic article by one of the leading progressive progressivists of our bold new progressivistic era.
...Walsh suddenly discovers that the "surge" in Iraq was a success, and berates herself for ever having opposed it. General Petraeus, the architect of the Bush administration's newly aggressive – albeit "smart" – strategy, is portrayed as an heroic innovator, who ignored liberal critics like herself – and MoveOn.org, to whom she delivers a gentle slap for famously calling him "General Betray-us." Against all these liberal voices, Petraeus, she avers, went on to achieve an "inspiring" victory over the forces of Darkness in Iraq. Walsh contrasts a picture of an "incompetent" war, waged by Bushian "knaves and buffoons," to one that deserves admiration if not quite whole-hearted support on account of the men who lead it....
Raimondo then zeroes in on one of Walsh's truly astounding assertions:
In any case, you have a "responsibility" to read the Ricks book, Walsh avers, in order to "have some of your prejudices challenged."
It's a "prejudice," you see – not a considered opinion – that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should never have been launched to begin with, no matter how "smart" the strategy employed nor how "inspiring' the leadership.
The Petraeus clique, we are told, was "appalled" by Abu Ghraib and other abuses, because it widened the insurgency and backfired in our faces: perhaps their objections didn't quite attain the high moral tone of liberal concerns, but, heck, the result was the same. In any event, Petraeus and his co-thinkers launched "their own insurgency," says Walsh, to wrest "control of the disastrous war as it spiraled out of control in 2006."
Heaven forfend that the Americans should lose control of their conquered province – or of anything , for that matter. Liberal, conservative, left or right, when you're talking about America, it really makes no difference – Yankee arrogance is a well-nigh universal trait no matter where one sits on the political spectrum.
To be fair, Walsh does note, way down in her review, that the downturn (or, following the brilliant rhetoric of our vice president, Joe Biden, should we not say "downtick"?) in violence in occupied Iraq was due in large part to the American tactic of bribing and arming violent sectarian gangs and giving them chunks of territory to lord over, as an alternative to their previous practice of, well, killing Americans. This tactic, of course, had nothing to do with the so-called "surge" plan hatched in the bowels of that neocon chicken coop, the American Enterprise Institute -- which Walsh reluctantly praises for its surge plans which "healed" Iraq. She writes:
I remember making fun of AEI's color-coded, Google-mapped surge sales brochure back in 2006, as well as its "neighborhood watch" approach to pacifying Iraq. It was tough for me to believe that one set of plans hatched at AEI destroyed Iraq, while another might begin to heal it.
As Raimondo notes with understandable agogacity:
MoveOn is dissed as a collection of ill-mannered malcontents, while AEI, the War Party's high command, is praised as a bastion of healers. The mind reels. Not since the breaking of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and the overnight transformation of America's fellow travelers from opponents of war to brazen jingoes, have we seen the likes of this.
And even Walsh's acknowledgement of the central role played by the "bribes and bullets for local warlords" gambit ignores other major, non-surge-related factors in the downtick. For instance, the completion of the American-abetted Sunni-Shia civil war, which saw "ethnic cleansing" on a scale that made, say, the Serbia-Kosovo imbroglio or the conflict in Northern Ireland look like a family reunion; and the part played by Iran in backing the American-installed Iraqi government – which is, of course, now run by long-time clients and dependents of Iran. In other words, the violence has abated to a degree – a degree that still makes Iraq one of the deadliest places on earth – because so many people had already been killed and displaced that there were fewer people to kill and displace, and because the Americans bribed one set of antagonists to quit the battlefield and the Iranians helped tamp down internal violence, especially a potentially catastrophic intra-Shiite conflict between their Green Zone clients and the Mahdi Army. There was also the American use of death squads, hit teams and "extrajudicial assassinations," as Bob Woodward reported – and lauded – last year. All of these developments that had nothing at all to do with the deployment of 30,000 extra troops that constituted the "surge."
A lot of this very recent history was reported in detail in the pages of Walsh's own internet magazine, Salon.com, but perhaps Ricks' tale of heroic generals finally getting it "right" in Iraq has effaced Salon's institutional memory. There is also the fact that Obama himself has declared the surge a success "beyond our wildest dreams." So this new reality proclaimed by the Leader must be accomodated somehow, even as Walsh tries hard to qualify and shade her reluctant acceptance of the "fact" that the "surge – sort of – won."
In the end, Walsh does not go all the way with Ricks, who reaches this conclusion in his book:
"Even as security improved in Iraq in 2008, I found myself consistently saddened by the war, not just by its obvious costs to Iraqis and Americans, but also by the incompetence and profligacy with which the Bush administration conducted much of it. Yet I also came to believe that we can't leave."
Here again we see a constant refrain of the American political and media establishments, even – or especially –from the "progressive" quadrants of those rarefied precincts: the great sadness at how incompetent the Bush Administration was in its conduct of the war. As if it would somehow have been better if this putrid, criminal, evil act of mass murder had been carried out more competently, more efficiently! Oh, doesn't it just make you sad to think of the incompetence and proligacy with which the Hitler administration conducted much of its war? Isn't it tragic that they didn't do it better, that they didn't have generals like David Petraeus to finally get it "right"?
Walsh says she still can't quite accept Ricks' parroting of Petaeus' ideas of continuing the war in more or less its present form until 2015 or beyond. But as Raimondo notes:
Yet before she's done the very concept of withdrawal begins to blur, in her mind, as it will in the minds of countless Obama-ites who will defend this administration 'til the cows come home:
"Appraising the difference between my conclusions and Ricks' at the end of 'The Gamble,' I found myself thinking about the old adage Where you stand depends on where you sit.' Ricks spent a lot of time sitting in (and courageously running around) Iraq and American military bases, admiring and respecting the courage and intelligence of the men and women who've turned this mess around as best they can, and he understandably doesn't want their work to be in vain. I'm sitting in my office in California, where teachers and other public workers are facing furloughs and layoffs, and poverty, homelessness and crime are on the rise. So I still want troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. But reading this well-reported book may have changed even my notion of what that means."
Walsh may be for getting out of Iraq, but she considers this a "prejudice" – after all, where you stand depends on where you sit. Everything's relative. Ricks may be right, for all we know. Why, didn't AEI's plan for the surge turn out to be "healing"? And what does getting out of Iraq really mean, anyway? As Walsh puts it: "A lot depends on the meaning of 'leave' – as well as on the meaning of the term 'combat troops.'"
No, Walsh can't quite accept the idea of an open-ended occupation (not yet anyway) – although she does quote, with evident approval (or at least no sign of disapproval), Ricks' regurgitation of another revolting trope one often hears from Team Obama and the progressive progressivists: that the shiftless, no-good Iraqis are ungratefully refusing to take advantage of the marvelous opportunity that America has given them by invading their country for no reason, destroying its social and physical infrastructure, introducing widespread terrorism and savage civil conflict, driving four million people from their homes, and killing a million innocent people:
"It is not too much to say that American troops were dying to give Iraqi politicians the chance to find a way forward [Ricks writes] -- but that it wasn't clear if Iraqi politicians wanted that chance."
Those ingrates. The gall of these sand monkeys, eh, dithering around, squabbling, playing political games -- in between burying their dead -- and refusing to, say, pass a proper oil law that nice white people had drawn up for them back in Washington and Houston!
No, one must sadly admit that just as the healers at AEI were right after all, it looks like the poor Iraqi natives are just not "serious" enough to be worthy of America's benevolence. So if it turns out that Obama decides -- with the wise counsel of the courageous and intelligent men and women who've turned this mess around -- that we must stay on longer in Iraq, with far more troops, than he originally planned, in order to help these poor ignorant savages get back on their feet, then we must support this decision, and not give way to our silly "prejudice" against mass murder and military aggression.
It's the progressive thing to do.
UPDATE: By the way, this is what "turning this thing around" in Iraq looks like. This is the victory won by General Petraeus and the healers at AEI. From Dahr Jamail at Antiwar.com:
BAGHDAD – "We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad. Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped. "I don't like being afraid all the time," says one of Um Qasim's daughters. "But my mother tells us to always be careful, and I can see her fear, so it scares me."
The compound, which was the headquarters of former dictator Saddam Hussein's son Qusay Hussein, was heavily damaged by U.S. air strikes during the invasion in March 2003. Buildings like this became shelters for thousands displaced then and later.
In all 135 families, about 750 people, live in this compound....The bombed building is in a state of total disrepair. Concrete blocks hang precariously from metal bars, many ceilings are partially collapsed, and all of the outer walls are gone.
There is no water, no electricity, no sewage, and no garbage disposal. Piles of garbage, diapers, decaying food scraps and human excrement are scattered around the area.
"We have no water, no money, and no work," says Ahmed Hussein, 15. "How can a human live in this misery? We are so tired."
...Last month the government decided to evict all people who have been squatting in government buildings or on government land since the invasion. Local NGOs estimate that more than 250,000 squatters live on the streets or in such shelters all over Baghdad....
Ingrates, every one of them. Whining and crying about being homeless, going hungry, getting raped, living in fear and darkness. Don't they understand what the intelligent and courageous team of General Petraeus has done for them in winning the surge? You