Sunday, March 21, 2004

Happy anniversary

So it's been a year. And we still ask what was the point? What was the cause? What was the gain?

And the only reasonable answers are none, certainly not the offered ones, and none.

The "threat" didn't exist. The so-called "weapons of mass destruction" didn't exist. The "ties to al-Qaeda" didn't exist. And what's more, the Bushites knew it all along, as journalist/activist John Pilger notes in the March 20 issue of the Australian newspaper The Age.
Ray McGovern, one of the CIA's most senior analysts and a personal friend of George Bush snr, told me: "It was 95 per cent charade. And they all knew it: Bush, Blair, Howard."
Even our (literally) closest ally ultimately wasn't fooled.
Canadian officials say they challenged the U.S. to share secret intelligence showing that the Baghdad regime had dangerous weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war, but Washington failed to deliver....

Washington's refusal to share raw intelligence with its close ally seemed puzzling at the time, one senior official said. But a year later, the reason now seems clear: "They didn't have any evidence."
We've been lied to, tricked, deceived, misled, as even some of the "coalition of the bought and paid for" are now beginning to admit.
Warsaw (AFP, March 18) - In a first sign of official criticism in Poland of the US-led invasion of Iraq, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that his country had been "taken for a ride" about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in the strife-torn country.

"That they deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride," Kwasniewski said Thursday.
And so were we. But we should have known better, we could have known better, but we didn't. Instead we were - we allowed ourselves to be - stampeded, buffaloed, by a morass of oozing, shifting justifications that played alternately on our post-9/11 fears and our conceit that because we are Americans, our cause is inevitably and unquestionably just. The result is that thousands upon thousands have paid and will continue to pay a price for our selfishness, our sort-sightedness, our insularity, our greed, our hubris.

- Approaching 600 Americans have been killed in Iraq, 3200 more have been injured.

- We have no idea how many Iraqis have died, since the US has a deliberate policy of not keeping track. But independent estimates run to 55,000 Iraqis killed, including over 10,000 civilians. Every month, the war and its aftermath cause
the death and injury of 1000 children from exploding cluster bombs [and] has so saturated Iraqi towns and cities with uranium that American and British soldiers are warned not to go where Iraqi children play, for fear of contamination.
- Thousands have suffered from suicide bombings,
a phenomenon unknown here until after the U.S.-led war toppled Saddam Hussein's regime nearly a year ago.

The cycle began nine days after fighting erupted, and has claimed at least 660 lives - far more than in 3-1/2 years of Israel-Palestinian suicide attacks - according to U.S. military officials.

The majority of victims are Iraqis, the U.S. military said. Iraqi officials and police put the death toll higher by at least 100.
- After a year of "rebuilding" and "infrastructure repair," Iraq has been brought back to something in some ways approaching where it was before the war started - that is, an economy devastated by 13 years of crippling, indeed murderous, sanctions.
The UN's two senior officials in Iraq in the 1990s, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, both assistant secretaries-general of the UN, have described in detail a "genocidal embargo" imposed by America under a UN flag of convenience....

"Almost a million Iraqis died as a direct result," Halliday told me, "including at least half a million children. The UNICEF studies are on the record. It was US policy to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, such as the water supply, which killed thousands of infants. By the time Bush invaded, a once prosperous country was a stricken nation."
Stricken as the result of sanctions that, as then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on May 11, 1996, were "worth it" to "contain" Saddam Hussein. "Worth it, yes, we say - as long as it's Arab children who are doing the dying," I wrote in October, 2001. (Oh, and let's not forget bombings - bombings that became so regular that in the summer of 2001 a Pentagon press representative referred to one such raid as "routine.")

- "According to the United States Agency for International Development," the New York Times notes, "Iraq has a third less drinking water than it did before the war." Only just over a third of people in Iraq report that their electricity supply is good, according to a survey commissioned for the BBC. Unemployment stands at around 45%; some estimates run to 60%.

- Even a generally upbeat, put-a-good-face-on-it report from the Christian Science Monitor, while saying the US would get "high marks in basic reconstruction," concedes that
in other critical subjects - security, religious and ethnic stability, employment, and building local democratic institutions - it would take home failing grades.
Failure. Failure. Lies and failure. Lies we were told about "irrefutable evidence." Lies the tellers might even have believed themselves about cheering crowds strewing roses in our path. Lies that shifted to cover earlier lies, failures initially undertaken to conceal earlier failures. The war, we're now told was to "liberate Iraq" - "an argument," even the Times says, "that Mr. Bush offered after it became obvious that his original justifications for the war were vaporous." Vaporous and lies.

Well, Iraq has been "liberated" in one sense: Saddam Hussein is no longer there. And there is - let's be honest here - some sense of hope among Iraqis. That BBC-commissioned survey found that 56% of people said they thought things are better now than they were a year ago, about 70% said things were going well for them personally, and 71% expected things to improve in the future.

Those are impressive numbers, even though it's hard to accept that things really are going well for 70% of the population of a nation with upwards of 60% unemployment. But how people feel about their present is often influenced by how they feel about their future: hope generates resilience and patience. And the fact that in some ways, things are measurably better than, or are at least back up to the level they were, at the outbreak of the war, provides a fair amount of succor in otherwise hard times.

But even here the question is liberated to what? And for what? In an interview with Greg Palast broadcast on BBC Newsnight on Friday,
Jay Garner, the US general abruptly dismissed as Iraq's first occupation administrator after a month in the job, says he fell out with the Bush circle after he called for swift and free elections and rejected an imposed programme of privatisation. ...

"My preference was to put the Iraqis in charge as soon as we can, and do it with some form of elections ... I just thought it was necessary to rapidly get the Iraqis in charge of their destiny."
But that destiny could not include control of their own economy. In fact, the Coalition Provisional Authority created a number of laws - laws that by the proposed constitution cannot be revoked by any interim government - to forcibly open the Iraqi economy to international investment, i.e., forced globalization, and put strict and narrow limits on tax levels and the ability of the Iraqi government to regulate economic activity. Their liberation, is seems, is the freedom to become part of a global economy dominated by multinational corporate interests and the nations that serve and embrace them.

The role of the Project for a New American Century is likely too familiar to require anything more than a reminder. Back in 2000, even before Bush was elected, they offered a proposal self-described as a "blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests." It declared, among other things, the need for the US to have a "permanent role" in Gulf security and called "the unresolved conflict with Iraq" the "immediate justification" [emphasis added] for a "substantial American force presence" but added that the issue "transcends Saddam Hussein." Among those for who the paper was prepared were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, and Lewis Libby. The revelations by Paul O'Neill that the Bush team was thinking about ways to take our Saddam "from day one" simply represented moving that plan from the theoretical to the practical, from strategy to tactics.

Indeed, as I wrote just a year ago, just as the first bombs were falling,
the notion that this war is unconnected to oil is ignorant, fatuous crap. The idea of the US occupying and controlling the oil of the Persian Gulf has been around for nearly 30 years, since the oil boycott of 1973-74. It was first proposed in 1975 (in a "deep backgrounder") by Henry Kissinger and policy has been moving in that direction since. But there is one way in which the slogan has it not wrong but not complete: The issue isn't oil profits (most oil companies have shied away from the war, fearing the repercussions) but oil control. Control of oil means control over major portions of the world economy. Taking over (excuse me, reconstructing) Iraq means American power, American dominance, American preeminence, exactly those things the people around (and including) Bush are after. So is the war about oil? Not directly. It's about what war is always about: Power and control.
No, it wasn't about liberation. Especially not for the
more than 10,000 Iraqis [who] are in U.S. custody in Iraq. Entire families, including children as young as 11 and men as old as 75, have been swept into detention. Most are denied the right to lawyers or trials. Many are believed to be innocent. A recent U.S. review recommended that 963 of 1,166 detainees should be released.
And neither was it about resisting terrorism, no matter how hard the Bushleaguers try to conflate the two, as our Liar-in-Chief did for example on Saturday when he said the war in Iraq proves that
terrorism suspects who are still at large "will know there is no cave or hole deep enough to hide from American justice."
No, the world is not "safer now." The terrorism we have visited on Iraq has inflamed terrorism around the world. People in Iraq, in Turkey, now in Spain, can lay the blood of their people at the gates of the White House.
Paris (AP, March 19) The world is a more dangerous place because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which may have toppled Saddam Hussein but also unleashed postwar violence and an upswing in terrorism, the French foreign minister said.

''This is a belief that I have never stopped expressing,'' Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told Le Monde newspaper in an interview in its Friday edition.

''We have to look reality in the face: we have entered into a more dangerous and unstable world, which requires the mobilization of the entire international community,'' de Villepin said.
That's neither an original nor a particularly controversial thought. Back on November 19 the Los Angeles Times reported that
[t]he U.S. presence in Iraq is being used by extremist leaders to rally their followers to jihad, or holy war, around the world. ...

The resurgent global menace leads critics to assert that the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have boomeranged by scattering Al Qaeda's forces, making them harder to detect, and inspiring like-minded extremists.
(Note: The link is to my blog mention of the article; the actual article is now in a pay archive.)

And on January 20, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans said
"In Iraq, the least plausible of all the reasons for going to war - terrorism - has now become the most harrowing of its consequences."
And for us here - are we "safer" from another attack? (I note here that I'm completely leaving aside questions of domestic terrorism and hate groups and the administration's deceitful and despicable refusal to even admit their existence because of their right-wing source and I am for the sake of this argument accepting the unthinking equation of "terrorism" with "fundamentalist radical Islamic terrorism.") We live in a world where suspicion of us is growing and support for us is declining, especially in the Muslim world, a world where "yellow alerts" are the norm, where demands for increased police powers are matched by demands for decreased privacy, where enhanced government authority is matched by restricted civil liberties. We are told in one breath "we have made you safer" by the same smug, power-grasping bastards who will in the next breath tell us "you're in terrible danger, we need more control."

Power and control. Power and control. And in pursuit of that end we have lied, invaded, bombed, killed, brutalized, and falsely imprisoned. We have increasingly turned our backs on civil liberties at home and shredded international law abroad, committing what, as Pilger points out, the Nuremberg judges in 1946 called "the supreme international war crime" - the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country.

And what we have gotten for all our efforts is a tenuous grip on power in a nation constantly threatening to spin out of control, indeed into civil war, a possibility I have raised more than once.

The struggle over the interim constitution, which was almost torpedoed at the last moment, was only the beginning and was perhaps the easiest of the fights over Iraq's political future, because everyone knew at the end of the day that it still can be changed. It was, that is, the exhibition season. The real season is just beginning and already the visiting team is juggling its lineup.
Mr. Powell's visit [to Iraq] came as the United States and its coalition allies have been working hurriedly to make a seamless transition to an Iraqi-led transition government that would replace the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. ...

Asked Friday about suggestions the transition is going poorly, Mr. Powell said, "I wouldn't say we're at an impasse or that anything is frozen. We are in a continuing process of moving toward an interim government."

Mr. Powell said officials "have not resolved yet ... its shape. But we have a number of ideas that are under consideration and we have time between now and then to put that government in place."
Which sounds suspiciously like the cliche brother-in-law who's always got "some big deals in the works."

Some more serious signs of the deeper trouble driving that supposedly non-existent impasse can be found in that BBC poll, the one usually reported as "good news" for the US because of the apparent optimism I mentioned above.

Ominously, while nearly 80% favoured a unified state with a central government in Baghdad, with only 14% supporting a "federalist" system of regional governments under a federal authority, 70% of Kurds preferred the latter system. And although four out of five Kurds say they were "liberated," only one out of three non-Kurds feels that way. That kind of aching, abiding ethnic divide was only temporarily papered over by the interim constitution. The real battle on this is yet to be fought and it may well not be limited to a political one. And one can at this point only speculate about how the Sunnis will feel about a unified state if "unified" appears to equal "Shiite dominated."

Other signs of deep dissatisfaction remain. Even after a year of "freedom" and "reconstruction" and "progress," 39% said the invasion was wrong and 41% felt it "humiliated Iraq." And while their confidence in their economic future may be improving, Iraqis' confidence in their political leaders is not:

- Over 40% have no confidence whatsoever in U.S. and British occupation troops. More than half oppose their presence and 15% want them to leave immediately.

- Over 60% express little or no confidence at all in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), expressing much more confidence in Iraq's religious leaders, the Iraqi police and the UN. Ahmed Chalabi had no support at all, while Saddam Hussein remains one of the six most popular politicians in the country.

- Among Arabs, 17% said attacks on coalition forces were acceptable and nearly that many said the same about attacks on the CPA. Those are clear minorities, true, but not insignificant numbers of people.

Lies and failures in pursuit of power and control leading to bloodshed, suffering, death, and potentially chaos on a level that would make Saddam's realms of butchery look like the good old days. This is what we've done, this is what we've spawned, this is what we've accomplished.

Happily, hopefully, gratefully, none of this has happened without resistance. On Saturday, well over a million people in hundreds of demonstrations around the world marked the anniversary of the start of the war. This is a far from complete list I put together from a couple of wire service stories. First, in the US:

- In New York City: upwards of 100,000
- "Thousands" in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Augusta, Maine
- "Hundreds" in Crawford, Texas; San Francisco; Montpelier, Vermont; Cincinnati; Atlanta; and Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Even Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, saw some action, along with over 200 other places across the country.
- Not to mention a spirited, multi-generational crowd of 50 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, carrying signs such as "Justice, Not War," "War is a Crime Against Humanity," and "Vote the Son of a Bush Out."

Around the world:

- Hundreds of thousands in central London
- A crowd estimated by journalists at 1,000,000 in Rome
- 150,000 in Barcelona
- Thousands in Paris, in Belgium, in Germany
- About 700 in Warsaw, 500 in Manila, 100 in Damascus
- Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain, India, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Egypt, Hungary, and South Africa - all saw demonstrations.

Even the "coalition" is showing cracks in the wake of new Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero's apparent determination to keep his pledge to pull Spain's troops out despite US pressure.
Honduran officials said Tuesday that they would pull their 370 troops out of Iraq during the summer, and diplomats speculated that El Salvador and Guatemala might follow suit.
And South Korea
has scrubbed plans to send troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, citing U.S. pressure to participate in "offensive operations" that are contrary to Seoul's mission of peaceful reconstruction, the defence ministry said today, adding it will still send troops to rebuild the country.
Poland says it will keep its troops but is clearly unhappy with what it feels is the necessity, and the Netherlands is restive. Perhaps there is a change in the wind.

One last thing: For those who would sneer "Oh, I know, you'd be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power," and leaving aside all facts as to just who it was that supported him and who it was that denounced him all those years he was our source of "stability" in the Middle East who was "taking steps in the right direction" on democracy, let me say this.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant the tens of thousands of dead were still alive.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant the tens of thousands more who have been maimed, who have lost limbs or eyes, were still whole.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant the thousands now wrongly imprisoned were still walking the streets, talking with their families, sleeping in their own beds.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant we had not made ourselves a pariah in the eyes of the world.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant that the increased hatred, the increased violence, the increased terrorism, which we have spawned was still unborn.

Yes! I would be happier if Saddam Hussein was still in power if it meant we valued justice over jingoism.

The simple fact is, the war on Iraq was not about our security and safety, it was about our power and privilege. There is a vast chasm, both practical and ethical, between those paired premises - and we as a nation have been on the wrong side. And frankly, yes! I would be happier, I would feel more hopeful for the future of the world and all its peoples - including those of Iraq - if Saddam Hussein still being in power meant that was not true.

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