Robert Fisk, reporter for the British newspaper The Independent and long-standing bete-noire of the American right because he won’t shut up about what a failure the Second Gulf War is, is pissed off. Writing in a white heat, he excoriates the American and British media for ignoring what’s really happening in Iraq in favor of reporting Happy Talk from our leaders about how swimmingly everything is going.
Living in Iraq these past few weeks is a weird as well as dangerous experience. I drive down to Najaf. Highway 8 is one of the worst in Iraq. Westerners are murdered there. It is littered with burnt-out police vehicles and American trucks. Every police post for 70 miles has been abandoned. Yet a few hours later, I am sitting in my room in Baghdad watching Tony Blair, grinning in the House of Commons as if he is the hero of a school debating competition; so much for the Butler report.Indeed, watching any Western television station in Baghdad these days is like tuning in to Planet Mars. Doesn’t Blair realize that Iraq is about to implode? Doesn’t President Bush realize this? The American-appointed “government” controls only parts of Baghdad — and even there its ministers and civil servants are car-bombed and assassinated. Baquba, Samara, Kut, Mahmoudiya, Hilla, Fallujah, Ramadi, all are outside government authority. Ayad Allawi, the “prime minister,” is little more than mayor of Baghdad. “Some journalists,” Blair announces, “almost want there to be a disaster in Iraq.” He doesn’t get it. The disaster exists now.
When suicide bombers ram their cars into hundreds of recruits outside police stations, how on Earth can anyone hold an election next January?
Even the National Conference to appoint those who will arrange elections has been postponed twice. And looking back through my notebooks over the past five weeks, I find that not a single Iraqi, not a single American soldier I have spoken to, not a single mercenary — be he American, British or South African — believes that there will be elections in January. All said that Iraq is deteriorating by the day. And most asked why we journalists weren’t saying so.
But in Baghdad, I turn on my television and watch Bush telling his Republican supporters that Iraq is improving, that Iraqis support the “coalition,” that they support their new U.S.-manufactured government, that the “war on terror” is being won, that Americans are safer. Then I go to an Internet site and watch two hooded men hacking off the head of an American in Riyadh, tearing at the vertebrae of an American in Iraq with a knife. (emphasis added)
Did the part I bolded sound at all familiar? That’s right: it’s the Afghanistan pattern. We proclaimed that Afghanistan had a democratic govt, recognized Hamid Karzai as its head, and pulled out, even though Karzai’s forces (with help from a contingent of US troops) only controlled Kabul at the time. Two years later, whether or not Karzai actually still controls the city is a debatable question and nobody is arguing that he controls anything else; the rest of the country is clearly and firmly in the hands of the war-lords once again, and they are making demands that will ensure the short-lived nature of the ‘democracy’ there.
What Fisk describes is an identical scenario developing in Iraq: major cities existing outside the supposed government’s range of authority; control of the capital itself dicey and tentative; a population so decimated by war that it can barely function; talk of national elections that goes on endlessly while nothing concrete happens; and the growing disruptions of the insurgents–in Afghanistan, the re-emergence of the Taliban, who now once again control sizable sections of the countryside; in Iraq, the growing internal discontent that feeds insurgent strength. It’s a pattern anyone watching Afghanistan (which hardly anyone is) will be familiar with.
But Afghanistan is hardly a template we want to re-use. It has been an abject failure under which the country has deteriorated into near anarchy. Basically, we declared victory and ran for the exits. If that’s Bush’s ‘plan’–declare victory in Iraq just in time for the election, brag about how it now has a ‘sovereign’ govt of its own and how we’ve ‘restored democracy’, and then pull our troops back until they’re only defending the capital and the oilfields–it will be a disaster of a magnitude hard to credit even now. The Middle East will have been thoroughly destabilized to no purpose beyond domestic political concerns, and become a powderkeg waiting for a match. That is reality and yet both the US and British govts have decided that it isn’t, and the media in both countries are telling us NOTHING.
If Iraq continues to implode on the Afghan model, the fantasy our leaders are promoting is going to blow up in our faces and it is our troops who will pay the price. We have put them in an impossible position, told them to do impossible things, and then just walked away.
Viceroy Negroponte is still calling the shots, as we all discovered when Allawi tried to use an amnesty, as Mandela did in South Africa, to clean Iraq’s slate and give it hope for a fresh start (the only thing he’s done so far that made any sense) and Negroponte scotched it–our ‘Ambassador’ simply said No to an inititative by a supposedly sovereign govt and that initiative was DOA. So, too, is Iraq’s supposed independence, as Negroponte’s power proves. Sovereign govts do NOT abandon their programs because a mere Ambassador doesn’t like them.
So we have a puppet govt run by a shadow Viceroy masquerading as an ‘Ambassador’, troops in harm’s way in a deteriorating situation, private corporations raping Iraqi resources, mercs in charge of the prison system and increasingly taking charge of ‘security’, and a President who thinks everything is fine and dandy and just as it should be.
No wonder Fisk is pissed.
Now that Sy–our resident National Treasure–has opened the floodgates, the rest of the media is jumping into the afterwash. The NY Times digs out an old report from Afghanistan that shows we were following exactly the same policies and using exactly the same techniques there but the media wasn’t interested in reporting it–including the NYT.
KABUL, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 12 — A former Afghan police colonel gave a graphic account in an interview this week of being subjected to beating, kicking, sleep deprivation, taunts and sexual abuse during about 40 days he spent in American custody in Afghanistan last summer. He also said he had been repeatedly photographed, often while naked.
His account could not be independently verified, but members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission accompanied a reporter during the interview and said his story matched the one given to them last fall, shortly after his release and long before the abuse at the Abu Ghraib near Baghdad came to light.The commission, which was set up by the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai in 2002 and receives money from the United States Congress and other foreign donors, has in recent months received 44 complaints against various actions by American forces.
Those include several on the abuse of detainees who have alleged rough and degrading treatment, including being stripped naked and doused with cold water, even before the pictures of prisoner abuse emerged in Iraq. Afghan military and police officials say they have heard similar stories from detainees and their families.
Anybody still think this was ‘a few bad apples’?
As many of you probably remember, Mike Spann was the first American – a CIA officer – to be killed in the US invasion of Afghanistan. Spann’s death was all over the news (scroll about two thirds of the way down for typical photos), CIA director George Tenet shed a tear on TV at Spann’s funeral, Bush pointed out Spann’s widow in the audience of his State of the Union address, Spann’s funeral and flag-draped coffin were all over the nightly news, and …. well let’s just say that we got a hefty dose of images and stories about Mike Spann and his death.
Leroy Harris-Kelly is a different story. I’m willing to bet that noone reading this has ever heard of Leroy Harris-Kelly. He’s the latest American military fatality (number 706?) in the US invasion of Iraq. He was twenty years old.
So what’s the difference between Mike and Leroy? The answer is that it was politically valuable to broadcast images of Mike Spann’s death back then and it’s politically harmful to broadcast images of Leroy’s death now.
Two recent events relevant to this issue are interesting. An employee of the military contractor Maytag Aircraft was fired for releasing an image of flag-draped coffins coming back from Iraq and there is a battle going on between a press freedom activist and the Department of Defense over the release of these images.
The administration knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there are many thousands of words that they don’t want Americans to hear.