Bizarro Iraq

by , August 09, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is on a mission. The death of her son in combat in Iraq has sent her on her own personal odyssey, a quest for the answer to the question: Why? The latest stop in that journey: Crawford, Texas, right outside the presidential ranch, where she and a few intrepid antiwar protesters marched in the triple-digit heat, determined to confront the author of this war. Bush didn’t come out to meet her, but, surprisingly, she was met by two of his top aides – national security advisor Stephen Hadley and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin – who spoke to the distraught-but-determined Sheehan for 45 minutes.

Amazing. Even a White House that prides itself on its insularity – “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality” – must acknowledge how painful this war is to a growing number of Americans. The triumphalists in the White House aver that “freedom” is in the air, but it is actually the stench of death: even in their air-conditioned bubble our rulers can smell it, sense it, and fear it. Or, at least, they fear the consequences of so much sorrow. The day before Sheehan’s march on Crawford, a Newsweek poll showed a whopping 61% disapproval rating for the President’s war, a clear national consensus. The War Party is laying low, at least for the moment, while they quietly prepare to go after the next item on their “regime change” wish list: Iran.

Death haunts both opponents and supporters of this war, as exemplified by the recent murder of Steven Vincent, the art-critic-turned-journalist whose zeal on behalf of the war was ignited as he watched the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center from the roof of his lower-Manhattan apartment. In time, however, his intellectual honesty tempered his zeal – and eventually got him killed.

Vincent was in Iraq without bodyguards, and he openly reported the murderous activities of the Basra “police,” who are little more than uniformed gangsters operating on behalf of the various Shi’ite parties. They ruthlessly enforce sharia law and disappear anyone who dares raise a voice of protest: Vincent’s op ed piece in the New York Times, which exposed the takeover of Basra by Shi’ite militias, was his death warrant. There is a preternatural passage in the piece that presages his own death with eerie accuracy. Citing an Iraqi police lieutenant, Vincent wrote:

“There is even a sort of ‘death car': a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.”

That same Death Car came for him shortly after his op-ed was published. The London Times cites Lieutenant Colonel Karim al-Zaidi, of the Basra police, as saying that “Vincent and the translator were kidnapped by five gunmen in a police car.”

These are the same Iraqi cops lauded by President Bush and supporters of the war as heroes who are building a new, democratic Iraq. And they didn’t even bother disguising themselves:

“Last night, as he walked with his translator to exchange some money outside the Merbid Hotel in Basra, he found out what the new ‘death car’ was: a brand new white Chevrolet pickup without registration plates but with the word ‘Police’ written on it.”

In “liberated” Iraq, the police are the criminals: instead of protecting people from harm by thugs, they are the thugs who inflict harm on others. It’s a Bizarro World rendition of law enforcement, albeit one that perfectly fits in to the upside-down logic – not to mention the inverted morality – of those who brought us this war.

Vincent decried the growing influence of political Shi’ism, writing,

“Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizations’ ranks, many of Basra’s rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.”

One has to wonder who he thought won the Iraqi elections. Well, actually, we don’t have to wonder, because he wrote about it on his blog:

“In this interval between ballot victories and cabinet formation, what fascinates me are reactions from foreign observers–especially those who are turning their political convictions inside-out in order to discredit the Bush Administration. A standard bit of this fare is ‘Have Iraqis voted for a dictatorship?’ asked by Muqtedar Khan in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Star. And the ever-dependable Juan Cole rounds up various pundits – for example, Robin Wright in yesterday’s Washington Post, Stanley Reed in Business Week – who point out that the Shia victors of the elections are not exactly the Jeffersonian democrats Washington hoped would take the reins of power. This, of course, is the left’s fall-back position on Iraq: okay, the election went well, but before you war-mongering, Bush-excusing, in-the-pocket-of-Israel-and-Halliburton neo-conservative Christian triumphalists declare victory, look what you’ve wrought – a dictatorship in Iraq!

“Yes, yes. And where were these hand-wringing liberals during the Vietnam War? When younger and more hirsute Coles of the day marched in solidarity with the NLF, did these concerns about totalitarianism not seem conspicuously absent? If academics are so concerned about the loss of civil liberties, why do they continue to idolize Fidel Castro – not to mention Saint Che of Rosario?”

Vincent rounds out this rant with a riff about Foucault – completely evading (indeed, forgetting) the original point: “Look what you have wrought – a dictatorship in Iraq!” One that eventually rose up to kill him – as it will kill many others, given half a chance.

In spite of his political naiveté, Vincent had the courage to name the murderers who had inherited the fruits of American “victory” in Iraq – and he paid the ultimate price. So did Cindy Sheehan’s boy, along with 1,800-plus other American soldiers, and Mrs. Sheehan and her Gold Star Mothers for Peace want to know what friends and supporters of Steve Vincent are no doubt curious about: What exactly is the rationale for our continued presence in Iraq? If the Iraqi police are killing Americans who run afoul of the local politicos, then who, exactly, is the enemy – is it the so-called “insurgents,” or is it the Shi’ite fundamentalist party militias filling the security vacuum?

Incredibly, we are now hearing from the War Party – or, at least, that section of it that hasn’t been shamed into silence by the ongoing implosion of the occupation – that the new danger is posed by growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The only proper answer to that is: don’t say you weren’t warned. I wasn’t the only analyst who foresaw Iranian domination as the necessary outcome of the Iraqi invasion, but surely that is one point we emphasized at Antiwar.com from the beginning of the debate over the Iraq war question.

This new “danger” posed by Iran is entirely a creation and consequence of the Iraq war. As in economics, so in the foreign policy realm: the only answer to the problems caused by state intervention, according to the interventionists, is further intervention, far more strenuously applied. Steve Vincent was calling attention to the theocratic thug-ocracy fastening its rule on southern Iraq in the hope that, as Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, put it to him: “The entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy.”

How many votes did the Shabanea Rebellion garner in the much-touted elections? Not many, I’ll wager. An Iraqi journalist confided to Vincent: “No one trusts the police. If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump.” But of course they jump, since the Shi’ite ayatollahs and their party militias command the support of the vast majority of southern Iraqis. Democracy is all about “majority rule” – and isn’t that supposed to be the grand moral ideal our soldiers are fighting and dying for?

If George W. Bush could bring himself to face Cindy Sheehan, I think that would be his answer to her: we’re fighting for capital-D Democracy. That’s what he told us in his “fire in the mind” inaugural address, and he’s emphasized it more often now that the more tangible goals of the invasion seem to have melted away like desert mirages.

In America, the word “democracy” evokes images of that Rockwell painting of a New England town meeting – in Bizarro World Iraq, think of the Salem witch trials. That, too, was democracy in action. In one culture, such a system unleashes the tremendous productive and spiritual resources of a people: in another it is the instrument of mass hysteria and, all too often, of mass murder.

Vincent’s New York Times piece was critical of the British occupiers who looked the other way at the depredations of the “police,” but what did he expect them to do – overthrow the elected government?

The forms of “Democracy” can be imposed at gunpoint, but coercing Iraqis into modernity is another matter.

The failure of the Iraqi occupation points to the completely impractical nature of the neoconservative project [.pdf], which aims to reconstruct the Middle East much as Japan and Germany were recreated in the wake of World War II. There are several problems with this approach, not least of all its almost childlike hubris, but let us start with the obvious point that Saddam, the tinpot Third World tyrant, was no Hitler, and his regime was hardly the Thousand-Year Reich. Nor was the Iraqi military, a ragtag agglomeration of conscripts, ever on the same level as the legendary German war machine.

To even compare the two conflicts is typically overblown neocon grandiosity. We had to level Germany and nuke two Japanese cities, killing the enemy in their millions, before we could begin to reconstruct what had been almost totally destroyed. As devastating as the Gulf wars and the decade of sanctions have been for Iraq, it is a question of scale.

The matter of scale comes up again as we contemplate the future. Is this administration really embarked on a crusade to bring Democracy to every corner of the globe, as the president has promised, starting with the Middle East? If so, then our future is endless war for as far as the eye can see. Nothing but a war of annihilation will permit us to rehabilitate the Basra police, ensure political equality for women in Iraq, and carry out any of the nicey-nicey “reforms” our “idealists”-in-arms would implement throughout the region. Forget Guantanamo: we would have to create giant gulags just to house all the undesirables we’d be forced to lock up. Such a social engineering project hasn’t been dreamed of since the collectivization of the kulaks.

Are we prepared to undertake it?

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

There isn’t any way I can thank the many readers and supporters who contributed to our summer ’05 fundraising drive, so I won’t even try: I’ll simply pledge, right here and now, to be worthy of your support, and convey, at the same time, the profound thanks of our entire staff. I’m just the public face, remember: it’s the staff that does all the real work. They earned your support, and they got it. Thanks for recognizing the tremendous value they give to us all.

Thank you again: and special thanks to James Wolcott, who kindly made a point of drawing attention to our always dramatic efforts to stay afloat:

“Antiwar’s fundraisers are always cliffhangers. Exciting. Tense. With a thrilling conclusion.

“But that conclusion can not be taken for granted. A quarterly shortfall could impair their ability to provide one-stop shopping for real war news and to stick it to the neocons. For example, Justin Raimondo – the dude with the private-eye gaze and cig in his mouth–has been all over this breaking AIPAC scandal from the get-go. A story that is not only developing ‘legs’ but tentacles.”

Ah, how sweet it is! We here at Antiwar.com are in receipt of the two things most dear to human beings: success and revenge. Success for the efforts of the Peace Party to tell the truth about this war, and revenge on the War Party for their criminal deceptions. What more can a man ask for?

I’m not done with the special thanks: Jude Wanniski, author of The Way the World Works and a conservative economist of some renown, very kindly devoted an article to encouraging his readers to contribute:

“There are myriad antiwar websites that serve up news and commentary you can’t find in the major media, but after several years of keeping track of antiwar.com I have to conclude it is the best of the bunch.

“It is one of our recommended websites precisely because it provides reliable reports that the major media shy from because of political sensitivities. Up to a point, you are well- informed by a careful reading of The New York Times, but beyond that point you are as likely to be misinformed as not. Antiwar.com has a sizable staff of researchers and contributors, mostly on a volunteer basis, but they do have a budget that has to be met, which they meet with a quarterly pledge week aimed at the 100,000 viewers who come to the site daily. (I sent a tax-deductible contribution today to help out.) …

“Randolph Bourne’s concept that ‘War is the health of the State.’ With every war, America has made a ‘great leap’ into statism, and as Bourne emphasizes: ‘…it is during war that one best understands the nature of that institution [the State].’ At its core, that ‘nature’ includes the ever-increasing threat to individual liberty and the centralization of political power.”

He goes on to say some very complimentary things about my work, which I’ll resist the urge to reproduce here: just follow the link. I am very grateful for this kind of support, and I would note that this sort of enthusiasm for our efforts here at Antiwar.com transcends the traditional concepts of “left” and “right.” While Wanniski is identified with the “right” side of the spectrum, and Wolcott, roughly, with the “left,” this kind of ideological cross-dressing is something you might expect from a Web site with explicitly libertarian roots. Whatever else Dan Ellsberg and Pat Buchanan disagree about, both have written endorsements of Antiwar.com – and that may rank up there as one of our biggest achievements.

Read more by Justin Raimondo