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The Courage to Withdraw

by SAUL LANDAU

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and his staff of neo con hard liners, and assorted handwringers could not have predicted the horror show that erupted in Iraq. The war makers were ignorant. Most remain that way–and proudly.
Did Bush shake his head when he saw a typical April 8 US newspaper photo (AP), showing an Iraqi man in Mahmoudiyah, some 20 miles south of Baghdad, trying to rescue his belongings after a pickup truck exploded? The fortunate man — 15 others died in the attack; more were wounded–found a suitcase with only some shrapnel in it.

Why does the media play only on the negative side, showing evidence of what appears to be another typical bloody day under US occupation? Even the Red Cross–not exactly sensational media — announced that Iraqi conditions of life continued to deteriorate.

Last week, Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr called on followers to attack US military personnel, his answer to Bush’s “surge” (read escalation). In Najaf, tens of thousands burned American flags and demanded: “leave.” Bush spun this event, calling it an example of free expression in Iraq. How will he spin 2,000 assassinated Iraqi doctors, all slain since the US invasion of Iraq? (Dr. Bert De Belder, coordinator of ‘Medical Aid for the Third World)
Hoping the public would not recall his May 1, 2003 “mission accomplished” claim, Bush reported “progress”–after four years — in restoring security to some parts of Baghdad. Senator John McCain’s “shopping tour” of Baghdad required a large and armed entourage, including attack helicopters flying overhead. He pronounced Baghdad secure–more so than his failing presidential campaign.

Iraqi child mortality has spiraled upward. No wonder, given deteriorating sanitation and water conditions, lack of food and war violence. Arab television shows children among the Iraqis detained by US troops during routine raids. You’d think someone was filming “Cops” in Baghdad.
“20/20” and “60 Minutes” should do weekly episodes on Iraqi sanitation.

Joseph Chamie, former UN director of the Population Division, said sanitation in the country had regressed to 1950 levels. A recent UN Population Department study showed 1/3 of Iraqis living in poverty; more than 20% in destitution. More than half a million Baghdad residents have no access to water for most of the day; electricity for 3 hours daily. One of eight Iraqis has fled the country. Almost one of nine has died since George W. Bush liberated them; almost one of four Iraqis gone.

An early March New York Times/CBS News poll rated Bush at 29% approval. Poll numbers indicate public disgust with the war. The White House clings to “credibility,” no matter the human and economic costs; most Members of Congress wring their hands as if to stave off an attack of courage that would allow them to vote to cut off funds for war.

In late September 2002, I interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Iraqi Parliament speaker Sadoun Hamadi (now deceased). In addition, I talked to dozens of Iraqis in Baghdad, Najaf, Karballah, Babylon and Mahmoudadyiah. The Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Kurds and Turkmen with whom I spoke all identified themselves as Iraqis. Whatever their religious or ethnic differences, they agreed on one thing: “Don’t come.” No matter how much they hated Saddam Hussein, they concurred: a US invasion and occupation would worsen Iraq’s situation. “You have no idea what will happen if your armies come here,” said Ghassan, an engineer.

“One of my brothers died in the war against Iran,” said a shop keeper in Babylon. “Another died in the first Gulf War. If US troops come here we will have another war, the worst one. Please don’t come. Tell your President what I said.” He smiled.

The war makers, brilliant intellectuals like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, knew nothing of Iraqi reality. Nor did they evince interest in learning. Their neo con formula holds that as the strongest military power the United States can impose democracy by force to countries ruled by brutal dictators. They fashioned the “axis of evil,” spun the “rogue states” phrase for the media as ways to disparage disobedient third world governments. Academics invented “failed states.” Hey, call ’em anything but late for dinner.

Why should Wolfowitz, Perle, Douglas Feith and Scooter Libby bother studying the country they wanted the U.S. to invade? In 2002, their bosses held prayer meetings for war and cheer-led intellectuals and pundits, most of whom had never fought so much as a schoolyard brawl.

Wolfowitz shrugged off the cost factor as well, since he wouldn’t have to pay. “We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” (Testimony before House Committee on Appropriations, 3/27/03)

The “brilliant” advisers relied on Iraqi dissidents who fed them faulty pre-war intelligence and a rosy picture of post-Saddam Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, admitted to the British Telegraph “We are heroes in error,” (2/19/04) He was right about the error.

He lied to Dick Cheney, whose staff then cherry picked intelligence to reinforce the lies. High ranking aides like Libby and Feith ordered intelligence providers at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans to censor information that might contradict their war rant. (Lt. Col. Ret. Karen Kwiatkowski, Salon.com 10/23/04)

Cheney repeated myths of Saddam-Al-Qaeda connections and of Iraq’s supposed yellow cake uranium purchase in Niger. The CIA knew better. Cheney dismissed the truth. Lies worked better to convince a frightened Congress, media and public. Cheney used the Karl Rove super-tactic: he threw fear in the faces of potential skeptics to intimidate them. It worked. Congress authorized Bush’s invasion of Iraq; the media behaved like White House PR hacks.

“More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society,” wrote Ali A. Allawi in his new book. (The Occupation of Iraq, Yale University Press 2007) Allawi accuses US occupiers of such “shocking” mismanagement that people who hated Saddam Hussein now have “turned their backs on their would-be liberators.” Since 2003, Allawi — a cousin of Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s prime minister in 2004 — educated in the United States and at Oxford University, served as Iraq’s trade, defense and finance minister. He observed the April 9 fall of Baghdad and waited for a US plan to allow Iraq to recover and reconstruct under a viable new government. Instead, US authorities disbanded the coherent institutions–the military (more than 300,000 men with weapons) and the Ba’ath Party. This created massive unemployment and left Iraq without an internal security force.

In September 2003, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Chief Paul Bremer ordered the privatization of 192 public sector companies. People whom Allawi refers to as Saddam’s old boys, a “commercial gang,” grabbed the new businesses. Without army and police, looting began. The thieves sold Iraq’s infrastructural equipment in neighboring countries. Bremer later complained–in his 2006 book, My Year In Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope– that the Bush White House micromanaged or mismanaged the administration he was supposed to lead.

Allawi alleges that the US failed to reconstruct Iraq’s electricity, health care and sanitation infrastructure, but instead offered the media an “insipid retelling of ‘success’ stories.” Way back, on April 9, 2003, US Marines orchestrated the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Four years later, Kadhim al-Jabouri, an Iraqi weightlifting icon, stood in front of TV cameras and pounded through the concrete pedestal bearing the statue.

“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” he said. “We no longer know friend from foe. The situation is getting more dangerous. People are poor and the prices are going higher and higher … Saddam was like Stalin. But the occupation is proving to be worse.” Instead of a brutal but secular government, religious Shia clerics like Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the much younger Moqtada al Sadr now have great power. Iran has far more influence in Iraq than ever. The entire Middle East has become more combustible.

Bush’s bumbling has led to an immense increase in military spending as well. Spending on weapons far outranks education and health outlays. Bush still uses fear as his main political tool. He screamed at Congress for more funds for Iraq and Afghanistan wars and behaved as if they had gotten the country into the mess.

Bush claimed the “courage” to take the country to war. Congress and the media rubber stamped his decision. They collectively lack the courage, integrity and responsibility to admit the error and stage a rapid US withdrawal. So, the rest of us had better keep pushing hard.

SAUL LANDAU’s new book, BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, with a foreword by Gore Vidal, is now available from Counterpunch Press. His new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE, is available on DVD from roundworldmedia@gmail.com

 

 

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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