Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 3:28 pm 
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Published by the Baltimore Chronicle

Where we are now in Iraq and Washington

A year ago we quoted William R. Polk, a retired State Department planner and history professor, on the arguments for withdrawal from Iraq. At that time, Polk's ideas seemed utopian and altruistic. Perhaps they were and still are. But now, two and a half years from the beginning of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the tide has shifted significantly. The falsity of the pretexts for the war have become general knowledge. The FBI is still investigating them. In the summer, the so-called "Downing Street memo" emerged. "Blair Planned Iraq War from Start," a headline in the Sunday Times of London proclaimed. Numerous articles in the US mainstream press have shown that the justifications for the war by Bush as well as Blair, and those presented in the humiliating spectacle of Colin Powell's speech to the UN, were a mixture of fabrication and self-delusion. The Valerie Plame affair also slowly went mainstream. Finally the tentacles of this Watergate-like case reached into the White House, and two months ago Karl Rove was in danger of prosecution. Despite the administration's stonewalling, Rove isn't out of trouble yet. More detailed information about yellowcake and aluminum tubes has just come in a series in La Repubblica in Italy. James Bamford has recently written prominently about US "covert propaganda" as an ongoing policy.

Meanwhile public awareness of US ill conduct brought about by reports on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has been augmented by a spate of stories about "extraordinary rendition," a CIA euphemism for outsourcing torture and imprisonment, which has led in turn to the increasing knowledge that the CIA maintains a vast network of secret prisons in other countries.

All this has had consequences. Powerful figures in Congress have pushed for a plan to get out of Iraq. The Bush administration is furious at Congressman John Mertha for introducing his bill for withdrawal of US troops, but insider stories like Seymour Hersh's latest one in The New Yorker show that the top brass and congressional old-timers have had it with Bush's Iraq venture. For anyone who would listen, and certainly congressmen did, Mertha, known for decades as a super-hawk and in tight with the top brass, provided devastating information about the Iraqi quagmire. "History may well record that the beginning of the end of the American nightmare in Iraq came on November 17," an editorial in The Nation began, naming the date of Mertha's speech. Bush's own party is no longer solidly behind the President, whose approval ratings continued their steady and dramatic decline into late November, when only Nixon's were lower among recent presidents at this stage of their presidency.

Bush remains unrepentant; oblivious. According to Hersh, insiders report Bush is more and more inside a cocoon. In his mind he still has a mandate. His speeches are given only in "friendly forums," chiefly at military bases. But his coterie has had to regroup. A furious campaign to defend the Iraq venture and claim that new strategies are afoot moves forward. Hersh's main revelation this time is that the administration has another plan for that eventuality: to escalate the bombings. The Iraqi troops left behind, if and when that happens, will be like the characters in the movie Jarhead -- powerless members of a sweeping-up crew surveying charred bodies or turned into charred remnants themselves, victims of "collateral damage." Then of course, the devastation to Iraq will continue, and the loss of life. It's anyone's guess what will become of the complex political mess in the country. The fiction that there is safety or stability will be harder to maintain. But American losses will diminish sharply with nobody on the ground, and hence, the Bush strategy is, anti-war protesters will lose their fodder.

With the bombing plan, though, new falsehoods will emerge. First: that the US has adequately trained Iraqi forces to maintain order. That really isn't in the plan, because the powers that be know it's not true. Second: the Bush/Rumsfeld fiction that Iraqis are happy with US conduct of the war. When US casualties decrease, Iraqi casualties will increase, and the Iraqis are manifestly not going to like that. Third: that the bombing system will otherwise work. Air commanders (Hersh again tells us) are concerned that once Iraqis are calling down targets for the bombings, further chaos will ensue. Future air attacks could be used to carry out personal vendettas, or be engineered by Muslim factions, the insurgents, even Al Queda. According to Hersh's Pentagon informant, US Air Force generals think the bombing is already "Stone Age" because it's directed by the Army and follows no consistent strategy. Anyway, none of this, either bombing or Iraqi-led forces, will be able to put down the insurgency. There's no way to beat that militarily.

So the prospects aren't happy for Iraq. They're worse than ever. But there are at least strong signs that the US is waking up. Bush and his closest allies are losing their support. The approval ratings for the President, his cohorts, and their policies keep going down. The press has begun acknowledging the cowardice and passivity it showed in 2003. Americans are growing ready for a change.

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