The tragicomedy of errors currently playing in Iraq took an ominous turn the other day when the ambush of 49 Iraqi National Guards by insurgents was blamed on … the U.S. And, no, the accuser wasn’t Michael Moore, or Noam Chomsky, or any of the other demonized figures in the Bush-neocon gallery of hate: it was “Prime Minister” Iyad Allawi, our very own puppet, who unilaterally decided to cut his own strings (or, at least, appear to be seen doing so). Allawi told the “interim” national council:
“There was an ugly crime in which a large group of National Guards were martyred. We believe this issue was the outcome of major neglect by some parts of the multinational (forces).”
Iraqi government spokesmen are now claiming that Allawi’s remarks were “misinterpreted,” but it is really hard to imagine who else he might be blaming for the ambush: the Poles? The Brits don’t operate in the northern part of the country, or at least haven’t until very recently. So if our own sock puppet is turning on us, what can we expect from the rest of that “liberated” country? Certainly not gratitude.
And why should they be grateful? After all, while most of the Iraqis are glad to see Saddam gone, albeit not as many as we would like to think, at least under the Ba’athists the people didn’t have to worry about getting kidnapped – either by Ali Babas or by American troops scooping up suspected insurgents at random (Abu Ghraib was filled with the latter) – or killed, as long as they stayed out of politics.
Yes, yes, all peoples everywhere “yearn to be free,” as George W. Bush would have it. But if you aren’t free to avoid random violence, if you can’t go to the market or send your kids to school or do any of the things people everywhere in the West take for granted – then how “free” are you? And I have another question: How long before Allawi winds up like Ngo Dinh Diem?
Place your bets now….
There’s going to be an investigation into whether the Iraqi National Guard has been infiltrated, but one wonders why they’re bothering. It’s not like this is the first indication that the Iraqification program might be in trouble. A top commander of the Iraqi National Guard in Diyala province, where the ambush occurred, was arrested last month as a spy for the insurgents. In any case, readers of this column were informed last year that “Iraqification” was doomed from the start precisely because there is no way to vet each and every member of the 100,000-plus National Guard force projected by the administration.
As I wrote in November of last year:
“The idea that foreign troops were going to fill in for the Americans was always an illusion. Now the Bushies are pursuing an even more elusive pipe dream: ‘Iraqification.’ But this is merely a euphemism for withdrawal, albeit at a much slower pace than Antiwar.com would prefer.”
In that column, I also wondered what “victory” might look like, and, these days I’m not the only one. A recent profile of Paul Wolfowitz in The New Yorker, relates how, in a visit to the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division in Wurzberg, Germany, Rumsfeld’s powerful deputy was asked:
“How will this war be won? What will victory look like?
“Wolfowitz responded that in January Iraq will hold elections. The resulting transitional government will write a permanent constitution. That government will run Iraq for a year, until elections at the end of 2005 produce a permanent, fully independent government. By then, he said, American forces will have trained several Iraqi Army divisions and, equally important, fifty or more battalions of the Iraqi National Guard, the domestic stability force. Reaching down to the table and knocking wood, Wolfowitz mentioned recent progress in regard to the National Guard, noting the Iraqis’ participation in the wresting of Samarra from the insurgents’ control.”
Wolfowitz was in Wurzberg paying a visit to Major General John R. S. Batiste, who had been Wolfowitz’s military adviser at the Pentagon. When he visited in January, before the division was deployed to Iraq, Batiste had adopted FDR’s vision of preemptive warfare as the division’s motto: “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until it has struck before you crush him.” By June, however, when Wolfowitz showed up at the division’s forward base in Iraq, Batiste had abandoned his cocksure Rooseveltian style and come up with a new, much more evocative and realistic motto:
“There is no way we can go forward except together, and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs. We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.”
Gerald Ford first said those words, in 1974, as he succeeded a disgraced president brought down by an unwinnable war against a guerrilla insurgency, as much as by his own hubris. As author Peter J. Boyer points out in his New Yorker piece:
“The words reflected the then emerging exit strategy, which was to set up an Iraqi government and an Iraqi security force to fight the insurgency, allowing the Americans to pull back and, eventually, to withdraw.”
This intriguing comment is left undeveloped, but the implications are clear: Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan, Simon Jenkins, and Tony Karon, all of whom have said we are on the way out, are correct. But how quickly this strategy will emerge, and what is the exact meaning of “eventually” – these are key questions that remain to be answered. Wolfowitz has given a partial answer in his remarks cited above, and it is sharply at variance with the explanation given by Novak, for one.
In Novak’s scenario, the administration will hold the fort until January, at which point the elections will be held, the U.S. will begin to draw down troop strength, and before you know it the Iraqis will be set free to work out their own destiny. Buchanan agrees: the high point of American Empire was reached in Fallujah, he avers, and now the tide is coming in.
The Wolfowitz plan, however, sets up a new hurdle to withdrawal in the form of yet another climactic election a year from now. It sets up an escalating mechanism in the likelihood of a “final” push to gain control of the country in time for the 2005 elections. It also gives the Wolf and his fellow pack members plenty of time to extend the war beyond its present boundaries – in which case, all bets are off.
Those who are counting on a Kerry victory to save us from such a horrific possibility are in for a major disappointment. The Democrats have not dared utter the “exit strategy” phrase, and Kerry has said we’ll be in Iraq at least four more years, though at one point suggesting that we might begin withdrawing troops by the summer of 2005, if all goes well. His program, then, is precisely the same as Bush’s, up to and including the elections scheduled for the end of 2005: continue the Iraqification process by expanding the Iraqi National Guard, pour resources into the country, and “win” the war – or at least come up with a reasonable facsimile of victory.
There are two big problems with this bipartisan scheme to prolong our intervention for another bloodstained year: the first is political. What happens if the elected Iraqi government, however “interim” and “provisional” it might be in the eyes of U.S. officials, asks us to radically accelerate the process that will end in our leaving? As it is, Allawi is already moving against us, trying to make himself seem like an authentic Iraqi nationalist in the eyes of the voters, who are, according to polls, deserting him in droves. If an election were held tomorrow, it looks like the pro-Iranian Abdel Aziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), would wind up the big winner.
The other major problem with the continuation of the occupation through 2005 and most probably far beyond is a military one, exemplified by the two most recent developments on the ground in Iraq. The bloody ambush, in which 49 members of the Iraqi National Guard were murdered, shot in the back of the head execution style, was the inevitable consequence of Iraqification: we must face up to the reality that only more troops on the ground – not Iraqis, but Americans and whomever – can defeat the insurgency, insofar as it can be defeated. Either that, or else get out. The Iraqis simply cannot be trusted, at this point or any point – and the U.S. military is acutely aware of this, in spite of the blatherings of political appointees: that’s why they don’t let the Iraqis near anything like a tank.
In this kind of war, as in Vietnam, there is no way to distinguish friend from foe. That means either reverting to a policy of shooting first and asking questions later, or else effecting an orderly and face-saving withdrawal – while there’s still time.
Which brings to mind the 380 tons of powerful explosives that seem to have mysteriously vanished. I won’t get into whether this disappearing act occurred on our watch, or before the invasion – Joshua Marshall has been following this minute-by-minute, and I refer readers to his valuable website for the details on what is a purely partisan side-issue. The main issue, however, is the likelihood of another Beirut – a spectacularly deadly attack on U.S. forces such as occurred on October 23, 1983, when 241 U.S. Marines were killed by a suicide bomb attack on their barracks.
President Ronald Reagan withdrew American troops from Lebanon shortly afterward, the best foreign policy decision in his entire presidency, and either President Bush or President Kerry may face a similar crossroads sooner rather than later. The bad news is that neither of them are at all likely to follow Reagan’s good example. We have fallen into the Islamist trap, and there’s not a major party presidential candidate in sight with the strength and the foresight to pull us out.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I‘ve received a few letters asking me to comment on Pat Buchanan’s endorsement of Bush, demanding that I "explain" how he could have done this while criticizing the President so bitterly and trenchantly for taking the decision to go to war. To begin with, I don’t understand the meaning of such a demand: do these people really believe that I am some kind of Buchananite Svengali? The very idea is laughable. The pro-America First anti-imperialist Right doesn’t operate like the neocons: back in the good old days of the Old Right, there was no right-wing party line enforced by the likes of David Frum or Jonah Goldberg: we don’t do Vyshinsky. The editors and contributors to The American Conservative published seven different pieces recommending various choices for the top office in the land: Bush, Kerry, Nader, Badnarik, Peroutka (twice), and – the most charming, and convincing – for "The Right to Remain Silent," by the beauteous Kara Hopkins.
Brian Doherty, of Reason magazine, mocks this as somehow indicative of unseriousness:
"Buchanan himself and his small-circulation mag don’t represent much of a constituency. (If the American Conservative has a constituency, it’s a terribly conflicted one – Pat’s own colleagues Taki and Scott McConnell came out for Michael Peroutka and Kerry respectively.) "
But what about Reason‘s own panoply of dubious "celebrity" libertarians? Between the whole sorry lot of them, the spectrum runs from the frothy-mouthed Louis Rossetto, spitting and fuming about "Islamic fascism" and the need to reelect Our Dear Leader, to the "I don’t vote it only encourages them" abstentionism of Doherty himself, with a few scattered Kerry and Badnarik votes in between. What a bore.
At least the TAC crew has some variety. Can anyone imagine a Reason-oid coming out for, say, Michael Peroutka? Although the Constitution Party that has put Peroutka on the ballot in 40-something states shares many if not most of the libertarians’ fierce opposition to big government, the PATRIOT Act, and Bush’s foreign policy of hyper-interventionism, the party’s dedication to Christianity (a left-libertarian no-no) and opposition to abortion and homosexuality are definite deal-breakers for the "lifestyle libertarians." They’re open-minded and "tolerant" – but not that open-minded and tolerant!
And as for Nader – since the main libertarian argument for Nader’s candidacy is the primacy of the war question, as I point out in my TAC piece, that is the one campaign you definitely won’t see boosted in the pages of Reason. Who cares about mass murder carried out by the American state – when the real issue, as we all know, is seat belts.
They’ll never forgive him for those seat belts.
Oh well, each to their own hierarchy of values.
Doherty is anxious to prove that the "trouble and tumult" over foreign policy and other issues in the GOP will come to naught: that the "telling hints of a revival of traditional Republican foreign policy isolationism in the conservative intellectual movement" recently discerned by Franklin Foer and others is just not in the cards. Gerrymandering, political careerism, and plain old slacker-style apathy will defeat these "fringe" movements which are mostly just a motley collection of intellectuals, anyway, while the GOP war-making big-spending machine cranks on, undisturbed either by reality or internal dissent. So we’d best tune out politics, and trundle off to "Burning Man" – and let’s just hope they legalize marijuana so we can all smile beatifically come the apocalypse.
Was there ever a more tired view of politics, and of life?
Bill Kristol, too, mocks the idea that there will be some accounting to be done when the consequences of this rotten war are fully appreciated by the public, and especially their fellow conservatives. As the New York Times reports:
"Republicans agreed that Iraq would be the major post-election fight should Bush lose, with the neoconservatives who pushed for the invasion as prime targets. ‘There will be firing squads and an attempted purge,’ said William Kristol, the editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard and a longtime advocate of the war. ‘We’ll fight back. It’ll be fun.’"
The quasi-hip nihilists over at Reason, and the neocons who treat them like the harmless children they are, have forgotten the lesson of the fall of the Soviet Union, if they ever learned it. What happens when an ideology loses its legitimacy, when nobody believes the lies anymore, has the power to shake empires – and we are on the brink of just such a seismic event. While the Reason-oids will be too stoned out to notice, and the neocons too horrified of falling into the cracks opening up beneath their feet to do anything about it, there’s something in the air: the times, as they say, are a changin’.
Ideas have consequences: this is something the conservatives used to understand, and some of them still understand. It’s what enabled them to take power in the first place, and what gave them the stamina to take the long road from 1964 to 2004, in a mighty (and so far failed) effort to roll back Big Government. Today, the Republicans, and the conservative movement that energizes the party, face an ideological crossroads, an identity crisis similar to that of 1964 – and just as epochal. The neocons’ day of reckoning is coming, and Bill Kristol is right: it’ll be fun – but not for him and the boys over at the Weekly Standard.