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CounterPunch Diary

Ominous Signs

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

The timbre of war reporting changed on Sunday, from brazen hubris to a more nervous posture. Typical was a report in the London Financial Times by Victor Mallet, datelined the Iraq/Kuwait border, and titled, “Ominous Signs for Coalition in Battle for Umm Qasr. “The sound of machine gun exchanges and bombing raids by Royal Air Force Harriers was clearly audible on Sunday from Kuwaiti territory,” Mallet wrote, “ in spite of repeated official assurances in recent days that control of the port had been or was about to be secured. In an ominous sign of the military and ultimately political – difficulties that may lie ahead for the invasion force if it seeks to capture urban areas, the word "guerrilla" was used at the weekend by Colonel Chris Vernon, chief UK military spokesman in Kuwait, to explain the unexpectedly stiff resistance encountered in Umm Qasr.

Mallet explained that “The failure to bring calm to Umm Qasr is particularly galling because the US-led coalition wants to bring in humanitarian aid through the port as quickly as possible to demonstrate its good intentions to the Iraqis and to world opinion, which remains overwhelmingly hostile to the war.”

"Umm Qasr and the port is absolutely vital to us and we’re going to have to go in and seize it," said Lt-Col Ben Currie of the British Royal Marines in Umm Qasr on Sunday. "We’re going through and clearing it street by street, and house by house." The Iraqi regime of President Saddam Hussein was quick to capitalize on the fighting, some of it televised live by crews flown into Umm Qasr by the British.

“Events…suggest the war will be much more complicated than President George W. Bush had hoped,” Mallet wrote. “One problem for the Americans is that however much the Iraqis hate Saddam Hussein, they do not appear to be overjoyed in the Shia Muslim south, at least about the prospect of a US occupation. Reporters traveling independently in southern Iraq say some residents of Safwan, another town on the Kuwaiti border, were openly hostile to the coalition forces, although others said they were happy that President Bush was seeking to end the rule of President Hussein. “

When they developed plans for the attack on Iraq, Rumsfeld, General Franks and the others were no doubt operating under the assumption that the US would be acting with the support of the UN Security Council. Nor could they have anticipated the antiwar movement that continued to organize powerful demonstrations in New York and San Francisco through the weekend, with scarcely any showing by the pro-war forces.

“Shock and Awe” was over-hyped from the start. When you calculate the tonnage of explosive dropped, the raids were far from being the Doomsday sorties excitedly presaged by the Pentagon and denounced in every peace rally. By World War 11 standards it was small in scale, compared with the payloads of B-17s.

Add in the extraordinary fragging attack on senior officers of the 101st Airborne, the Patriot downing an RAF plane, the news of casualties and one can see why the vainglorious predictions of the preceding week are dying down abruptly, as the prospect of serious city fighting begins to come into focus.

Terror Chief Quits

Another piece of news that almost got lost in the onrush of events was the resignation of Rand Beers, the top National Security Council official in the war on terror. He timed his exit to the expiry of Bush’s official ultimatum to Saddam (the US started sending Special Forces into Iraq 48 hours before the deadline UPI quoted “intelligence sources” as saying “the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.”"Hardly a surprise," UPI quoted one former intelligence official as saying. "We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies."

James Bamford further demolished the rationales for the attack on Iraq. “There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration — by the president, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell — over Iraq."

These are damaging quotes. There’ll be many more of things don’t go well.

Rumsfeld Again

The most surreal piece of hypocrisy belonged of course to DOD’s Rumsfeld, who threatened the Iraqis with war crimes trials for displaying American POWs on TV. So what were all the photos of Iraqis surrendering? For his part Bush said, "I expect Iraq to treat the prisoners of war just like, uh, we treat their prisoners." Like in Guantanamo?

More on Baruch Goldstein

Roane Carey writes: Goldstein committed the ’94 massacre of Palestinians on Purim, or the eve of Purim, ostensibly as a kind of sick "celebration" of it. He emigrated from the US, I think as an adult, and I think from Brooklyn. As for intellectual inspiration: Goldstein was a follower of the charismatic (now dead) Brooklyn Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and of his Chabad movement. The late Israel Shahak quotes the rebbe at length to the effect of his racist pronouncements about the genetic inferiority of all gentiles.

One interesting aspect of the Goldstein case is that after he emigrated and joined the IDF in the mid-1980s, as a doctor, he refused to treat non-Jewish patients. This means not only Palestinians but Druse, who have always served loyally–usually ferociously–in the IDF. Shahak points out that far from being severely punished or possibly even court-martialed, as basic IDF ground rules would have dictated, Goldstein was protected by high-level officers and given plum (from his perspective) assignment in Kiryat Arba, the extremist settlement outside Hebron.

The crucial point about this story, as Shahak tells it, is that the extremist settler ideology, as represented by the National Religious Party, had by the 1980s become a major influence in the IDF, at all levels, including the very highest. (And now, of course, they’re in Sharon’s Cabinet: the crackpot general Effi Eitam of the NRP is now Housing Minister, which gives a good indication of what this government intends vis-a-vis settlement expansion.) The high-level protection of Goldstein in his refusal to treat non-Jews (which he grounded in halachic teachings) reflects this. And not only was he a follower of the Lubavitcher rebbe–he was an open and ardent follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Much of the settler movement still consider Goldstein a kind of saint for what he did at the Ibrahimi Mosque.

And A Coda on the Chicks

To Alex & all at Counterpunch:

I was disappointed also that Natalie Maines apologized.
Her apology was pretty pro-forma, however, and didn’t climb down too far from her anti-war position.

Here is the text:

Statement from Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks
March 14, 2003:

"As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers’ lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American."

On the whole, it’s not the worst. It certainly sounds like she wrote it herself, too. "I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect": there’s a backhanded apology for you.My bet is that they’ll still continue to top the charts and sell out their upcoming US tour. We’re going to get tickets to see them in Oakland. They’re a good group, and more power to them.

Best,
Aidan Wylde

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