Friday, November 30, 2007

On "Good" News from Iraq

I haven't posted about Iraq lately's complex, depressing, and I've been lazy. The media has been repeating that the violence is "down" which is partly true. Suicide bombings are "down" to an average of 10 a day, from a high of 30 a day. Sectarian killings are fewer and a few neighborhood are almost safe. So we're back to the level of violence of 2005. This is being touted as "progress".

Michael Schwartz has written a great article (that I would highly recommend) titled "Why Bush won't leave Iraq":

Whoa, let's hold those surging horses in check a moment. Violence has lessened in Iraq. That seems to be a fact of the last two months -- and, for the Iraqis, a positive one, obviously. What to make of the "good news" from Iraq is another matter entirely, one made harder to assess by the chorus of self-congratulation from war supporters and Bush administration officials and allies, as well as by the heavy spin being put on events -- and reported in the media, relatively uncritically.

The "returning refugees" story sound good at first, but the actual numbers are dismal:

An exception was Damien Cave of the New York Times, who had a revealing piece on a big story of recent weeks: The return of refugee Baghdadis -- from among the two million or more Iraqis who had fled to Syria and other countries -- to the capital. This has been heavily touted as evidence of surge "success" in restoring security in Baghdad, of a genuine turn-around in the war situation. In fact, according to Cave, the trickle of returnees, which had actually been lessening recently, has been heavily "massaged by politics. Returnees have essentially become a currency of progress."

Those relatively modest returnee numbers turn out to include anyone who crossed the Syrian border heading east, including suspected insurgents and Iraqi employees of the New York Times on their way back from visits to relatives in exile in Syria. According to a UN survey of 110 families returning, "46 percent were leaving [Syria] because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security." And that's but one warning sign on the nature of the story under the story.

Remember that there are an estimated 4.5 million displaced Iraqi's, so the current trickle is the proverbial "drop in the bucket".

And the "drop" in violence? Not such a rosy picture, either:

A recent Pew Research Center poll of American reporters who have been working in Iraq finds that "[n]early 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit" and many believe that "coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict." In an on-line chat, the reliable Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post (and author of the bestselling book Fiasco), just back from Baghdad himself, offered his own set of caveats about the situation. He suggested that, in addition to the surge of U.S. troops into the capital's neighborhoods, some combination of other factors may help explain the lessening violence, including the fact that "some Sunni neighborhoods are walled off, and other Sunni areas have been ethnically cleansed. In addition, the Shiite death squads, in addition to killing a lot of
innocents, also killed some of the car bomb guys, I am told." Of the dozens of American officers he interviewed, none were declaring success. "[T]o a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government." And he points out that violence in Baghdad "is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth." In 2005, or early 2006, of course, such levels were considered catastrophic.

Robert Parry of Consortium News points out that, while "good news" dominated front pages here, "the darker side" of "success" has "generally been shoved into brief stories deep inside the newspapers." He adds that "the harsh repression surrounding the ‘surge' has drawn far less U.S. press attention," even as "Iraq steadily has been transformed into a more efficient police state than dictator Saddam Hussein could have ever imagined."

In other words, the sectarian groups have established their seperate enclaves. They don't have as many rivals around to kill.

So the current "plan" is to continue the occupation for 5 more years:

You can tell things can't be going well if your best-case plan is for an armed occupation force to remain in a major Baghdad community for the next five years. It means that the underlying causes of disorder are not being addressed. You can tell things are not going well if five more years are needed to train and activate a local police force, when police training takes about six months. (Consider this an indication that the recruits exhibit loyalties and goals that run contrary to those of the American military.) You can tell things are not going well when communities have to be surrounded by cement walls and checkpoints that naturally disrupt normal life, including work, school, and daily shopping. These are all signs that escalating discontent and protest may require new suppressive actions in the not-so-distant future.

The American military is well aware of this. They keep reminding us that the present decline in violence may be temporary, nothing more than a brief window of opportunity that could be used to resolve some of the "political problems" facing Iraq before the violence can be reinvigorated. The current surge -- even "the five year plan" -- is not designed to solve Iraq's problems, just to hold down the violence while others, in theory, act.

Now comes the real reason for the continuing occupation:

By now, however, most of us realize that there is much more to the American purpose in Iraq than a commitment to an elected government in Baghdad that could peacefully resolve sectarian tensions. The rhetoric of the Bush administration and its chief democratic opponents (most notably Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) is increasingly laced with references -- to quote Clinton -- to "vital national
security interests" in the Middle East that will require a continuing "military as well as political mission." In Iraq, leading Washington politicians of both parties agree on the necessity of establishing a friendly government that will welcome the presence of a "residual" American military force, oppose Iran's regional aspirations, and prevent the country from becoming "a petri dish for insurgents."

Let's be clear about those "vital national security interests." America's vital interests in the Middle East derive from the region's status as the world's principle source of oil. President Jimmy Carter enunciated exactly this principle back in 1980 when he promulgated the Carter Doctrine, stating that the U.S. was willing to use "any means necessary, including military force," to maintain access to supplies of Middle Eastern oil sufficient to keep the global economy running smoothly. All subsequent presidents have reiterated, amplified, and acted on this principle.

The Bush administration, in applying the Carter Doctrine, was faced with the need to access increasing amounts of Middle Eastern oil in light of constantly escalating world energy consumption. In 2001, Vice-President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force responded to this challenge by designating Iraq as the linchpin in a general plan to double Middle Eastern oil production in the following years. It was reasonable, task force members decided, to hope for a genuine spurt in production in Iraq, whose oil industry had remained essentially stagnant (or worse) from 1980 to that moment. By ousting the backward-looking regime of Saddam Hussein and transferring the further development, production, and distribution of Iraq's bounteous oil reserves to multinational oil companies, they would assure the introduction of modern methods of production, ample investment capital, and an aggressive urge to increase output. Indeed, after removing Saddam via invasion in 2003, the Bush administration has made repeated (if so far unsuccessful) efforts to implement this plan.

They're not even trying to hide the fact that we're staying for the oil.

However, maintaining the occupation won't be that simple:

The desire for such an endpoint has hardly disappeared. It became increasingly clear, however, that successful implementation of such plans would, at best, take many years, and that the maintenance of a powerful American political and military presence within Iraq was a necessary prerequisite to everything else. Since sustaining such a presence was itself a major problem, however, it also became clear that America's plans depended on dislodging powerful forces entrenched in all levels of Iraqi society -- from public opinion to elected leaders to the insurgency itself.

American ambitions -- far more than sectarian tensions -- constitute the irresolvable core of Iraq's political problems. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation. They wish the Americans gone and a regime in place in Baghdad that is not an American ally. (This is true whether you are considering the Shiite majority or the Sunni minority.) As for a "residual" American military presence, the Iraqi Parliament recently passed a resolution demanding that the UN mandate for a U.S. occupation be rescinded.

Even the issue of terrorism is controversial. The American propensity to label as "terrorist" all violent opposition to the occupation means that most Iraqis (57% in August 2007), when asked, support terrorism as defined by the occupiers, since majorities in both the Sunni and Shia communities endorse using violent means to expel the Americans.

Remember that we've pumped tons of guns into Iraq, and that we've armed both Sunni and Shia. So we will continue to face an insurgency as long as we remain.

As long as that government is determined to install a friendly, anti-Iranian regime in Baghdad, one that is hostile to "foreigners," including all jihadists, but welcomes an ongoing American military presence as well as multinational development of Iraqi oil, the American armed forces aren't going anywhere, not for a long, long time; and no relative lull in the fighting -- temporary or not -- will change that reality. This is the Catch-22 of Bush administration policy in Iraq. The worse things go, the more our military is needed; the better they go, the more our military is needed.

And shrub will not leave Iraq, regardless of the situation. But shrubs "goals" will never be achieved because they are based on a delusion. The bleeding will continue, because our goals are incompatable with the Iraqi's goals.

It's a tragedy based on empire and hubris of epic proportions, and we'll be facing the blowback for at least a generation.

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