Custer Battles Iraqis in Alamo
Custer Battles Iraqis in Alamo
Quotes of the Week:
"One senior American officer said that in any urban fight, American troops could turn Falluja into 'a killing field in a couple of days...' One senior American officer said, 'How Falluja is resolved has huge reverberations, not just in
"A security contractor killed in Iraq last week was once one of South Africa's most secret covert agents, his identity guarded so closely that even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not discover the extent of his involvement in apartheid's silent wars... In
"A former British soldier shot while guarding workers in
"In the first months of the occupation, [said Bessam Jarrah, an Iraqi surgeon,] we, the educated people, thought
A new word order
Imagine that: The Iraqis of Fallujah in "the
So we now have potential Iraqi Davy Crocketts and Jim Bowies facing off against the modern equivalent of "the Seventh Cavalry," filled with Gurkhas, Chileans of the Pinochet regime, South African former death squad members, former British special forces officers, American ex-Seals and the like amid what Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times calls a "culture of impunity" in Iraq. Though she's referring to the world of Iraqi kidnappers and assassins, the word "impunity," which means "exemption from punishment, penalty, or harm," and has an old-fashioned imperial edge to it, also catches something of the Bush administration stance toward
The men of Custer Battles guard Baghdad's airport, while the men of Blackwater USA -- if still waters run deep, how do blackwaters run, and where do they get these names? -- four of whom were killed and mutilated in Fallujah, provide the fulltime security team of ten guarding our "administrator" in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and various members of the Iraqi Governing Council (SF Chronicle, 4/1/9/04). They are part of a new word and world order taking disheveled shape in what may indeed become the "killing fields" of
In Imperial China, a new dynastic emperor ascending the throne performed a ceremony involving what was called "the rectification of names." This was on the theory that the previous dynasty had fallen, in part, because the gap between reality and the way it was named had grown to abyss-like proportions. Of course, this yawning gap between the world out there and the words used to describe it has been an essential aspect of Bush-induced American reality since
We can see the results of this in an unnerving survey just conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland (www.pipa.org/) and discussed this week by Jim Lobe of Inter Press News ("Bush's believe it or not," Asia Times on-line, 4/24/04). Not only, he reports, does "a majority of the public still believe Iraq was closely tied to the al-Qaeda terrorist group and had WMD stocks or programs before US troops invaded the country 13 months ago," but a significant majority believe that Saddam's Iraq was in some way involved in the 9/11 attacks and believe that "experts" back them on all these points. They believe as well that global opinion favored our going to war with Iraq or at least was "evenly balanced" on the subject -- and most of these figures vary at best only slightly from prewar polling figures (even as dissatisfaction over presidential "handling" of post-war Iraq policy has risen dramatically). Holding such misperceptions is, in turn, closely correlated with the urge to reelect George Bush in November.
Explain this as you will -- and certainly a ceaseless drumbeat of administration "explanations," magnified (until just about yesterday) in the echo chamber of the media, has to account for much of this -- the disjuncture between the world and how Americans insist on seeing it remains wide indeed and a willingness to acknowledge this in the mainstream -- certainly among mainstream politicians -- low indeed. For instance, all of official Washington, as Tony Karon of Time magazine wrote (4/21), speaks as one about "staying the course" in Iraq, and though that "course" is, at best, an obstacle course, woe be to anyone who breaks ranks. ("
This is what passes for "security" thinking in
Bush administration officials have assumed that the globe's only superpower can simply insist on and define the reality it wants; and no one, whatever the objections, will have the brute power to redefine it. The world, however, is -- as they are discovering in
With that in mind, let's consider a few of the key terms that both in government pronouncements and in media coverage of
"Security firms": It's in the nature of human beings, when they take marginal activities and bring them into the mainstream to want to professionalize them and so upgrade their status. Once upon a time, there were scattered "soldiers of fortune" and "mercenaries" in our world, former soldiers or wannabe soldiers who, as in
As it stands, reports Brendan O'Neill at the Alternet website (Outsourcing the Occupation), American troop strength is so low that most Iraqis -- 77% by one poll -- have never had an encounter with a member of the occupation forces. (This reflects as well the strain of the Pentagon's being committed to an ever greater global imperial mission with ever smaller military forces -- since so much of the Pentagon's budget actually goes into the creation of a vast array of 21st and 22nd century high-tech weapons and into the "pockets" of the megacorporations that create them.) As a result, in places like Najaf, it's been the "contractors," often brutal forces under no legal constraints or oversight in a land of which they know nothing, who have been left in small numbers to man the battlements.
The men of Blackwater and Custer Battles now find themselves at war and, as O'Neill reports, often can't even call on the
As the different "security contractors" mesh more closely with each other, they are, in a sense, becoming the real "coalition" in Iraq -- in conjunction of course with the American military. Here is how David Barstow described the situation in a recent front-page piece in the New York Times ("Security Companies: Shadow Soldiers in
"They have come from all corners of the world. Former Navy Seal commandos from
"But they are there, racing about
In this, Iraq is leading the way into a new world of war-fighting that places not security by pell-mell "insecurity" and -- since such mercenaries are, in the end, answerable to no one -- complete impunity at the heart of the Bush administration's new global order.
"Coalition": It's in this context that the continued use of the term "coalition" should obviously be reconsidered. The term has been an endlessly used -- and rarely challenged -- cover for Bush administration go-it-alone-ism. From the beginning, of course, the formation of the "coalition" -- against the desires of popular majorities in almost every one of the joining states -- involved major arm-twisting and/or large-scale bribery of a sort that has been as striking as it's been under-reported. Most members of the coalition, ranging from Poland to El Salvador, seem to have received some financial support from us for their "contributions" and were generally using their troops as pawns in bargaining for advantageous terms from the U.S. in other areas entirely; or were currying favor with the Bush administration in hopes of other kinds of help (as the South Korean government was in order to ameliorate the American negotiating stance toward North Korea); or were hoping to get cut in on lucrative "reconstruction" deals (almost all of which went to American firms anyway); or, in the case of Japan, was using Iraq to break the "peace constitution" that came out of the post-World War II American occupation of that country.
Almost all of these countries sent minimal numbers of troops, often of a relatively peaceful type (say, engineering forces), and in many cases only to engage in peacekeeping work, not to fight a war. Now, these countries are starting to fall away. This week Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic announced that they would withdraw their troops; the South Koreans hesitated over their promise to send another 3,500 troops, while Polish officialdom faltered slightly in its commitment (The Australian, 4/23/04); the Thais, who are reconsidering their commitment, asked for U.S. troops to "protect" their 400 troops in Karbala (The Nation [Bangkok], 4/23/04); and so on. Only
"Sovereignty": The Bush administration has been touting the July 1 "hand-over" of "sovereignty" to some as-yet-unknown Iraqi administrative body for many months. "Sovereignty" is usually defined as "complete independence and self-government" or "supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state." It's a term that high administration officials from the President on down seem to bring up almost daily in public briefings of every sort in
"The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday."
In fact, the Iraqi army, such as it is, will not be under Iraqi command; an American military army of occupation will remain, ensconced in permanent bases; the privatized economy will be beyond the reach of the new "supreme" body; and L. Paul Bremer has nailed in place a whole untouchable infrastructure that the new body will be able to do nothing about -- so just remind me under these circumstances, what exactly does "sovereignty" mean and why does our media continue to use the term?
Several weeks ago, Jonathan Schell, on a panel at a conference on covering the Iraq war at the Journalism School of the University of California at Berkeley, suggested that not only do the Americans have no intention of turning actual sovereignty over to the Iraqis but that, in fact, they do not possess sovereignty in Iraq and so, in a sense, have nothing not to turn over. How true that is likely to prove.
"Democracy": We entered
In recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on
"One strategy that might have forestalled a lot of opposition would have been to hold early municipal elections. Such free and fair elections were actually scheduled in cities like Najaf by local
The same might be said more generally of nationwide elections. Month after month, the Americans resisted Ayatollah Sistani's insistence that national elections be organized quickly, well before the November American presidential election. They resisted for so long, in fact, that their argument -- it was impracticable -- finally came true. Now under ludicrously worse conditions, they will turn over only, it seems, the supposed power to organize national elections within seven months to whatever new body is decided upon -- a body guaranteed to be seen by many or most Iraqis as without legitimacy. In the meantime, the Americans will remain an occupying force, at least theoretically in control of more or less everything. What do we call this?
"Insecurity": The essence of
"'Frankly, we started to hate the Americans for that,' Towfeek Hussein, 36, an electronics salesman, said of the siege of Falluja as he sat behind a desk in his shop. 'The Americans will hit any family. They just don't care. Children used to wave to the American soldiers when their patrols passed by here. Two days ago, the children turned their faces away.'
"More than anything else, Falluja has become a galvanizing battle, a symbol around which many Iraqis rally their anticolonial sentiments. Some say the fighting there exposes the lie of American justice by showing that the world's sole superpower is ready to avenge the killings and mutilation of four American security contractors by sending marines to shell and invade a city of 300,000 people... The gap between the expectations of many Iraqis and the flagging abilities of the occupiers to improve conditions seems to have widened to a chasm."
At the Mother Jones on-line website, Nir Rosen writes of life in Baghdad this way in a piece that describes the assassination of a Iraqi police colonel in broad daylight on a major thoroughfare ("Everyday Chaos," 4/04):
"And the attacks are everywhere in
"All day and all night,
This is not quite the
In the meantime, just to offer a list of recent events in that unraveling country in no particular order: Major highways into and out of Baghdad have been shut down due to constant guerrilla attacks, with the dangers of shortages rising; 1,500 foreign engineers have reportedly fled the country so far; reporters largely don't dare to leave Baghdad, and often not even their hotels for fear of kidnapping or death; the BBC is reducing its staff in the country to barebones; the police and civil defense forces as well as the new army largely refused to fight in recent weeks and, according to American Major General Martin Dempsey (BBC, 4/22/04), about 10% of them simply went over to rebels; some reconstruction projects have halted entirely and large contractors are beginning to either shut down, suspend work in the country, or withdraw workers -- GE and Siemens did so the other day, slowing work in particular on the countries power/electricity output as another hot summer with limited lights and air-conditioning looms (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/22/04); some of Saddam's former generals are being dusted off, as de-Baathification is chucked out the window, and put in charge of the "new" Iraqi army (Independent, 4/23/04), while in Kut, the police chief and his deputy have been replaced with two of Saddam's former Republican Guards; kidnappings of foreigners continue apace as do targeted assassinations of translators, policemen, anyone working with the Americans; shootings of people who look "non-Arab, whether Western, Asian, or African are becoming routine" (Los Angeles Times, 4/19/04); at a desert camp in southern Iraq, American troops sleep in their trucks and Humvees because Iraqi merchants are afraid to deliver tents to them, while goods pile up at Baghdad Airport because Iraqi truckers refuse to drive the main highway to the capital or drive supplies to U.S. bases (Los Angeles Times, 4/20/04); suicide bombers hit Basra devastatingly last week as, on Saturday, suicide boats went after oil facilities in Basra harbor, and that seems to be but a beginning to such a list.
Finally, I recommend a piece first spotted by the editors of Antiwar.com from Army News Service about a squad of puzzled soldiers bringing "democracy" to Iraq by tearing down posters of the radical Shiite cleric al-Sadr in the shops of a Baghdad neighborhood and causing a near riot. It ends on the following paragraph -- a quote from the captain who ordered the posters torn down -- worthy, I suspect, of The Onion, rather than the Army News Service:
"I think it was important [to remove the posters] because al-Sadr currently stands for all things that are anti-coalition... It's important to show that we can deal with the propaganda in a non-threatening way, rather than coming in hard and forcefully."
"Escalation": Here's an old Vietnam-era term that might prove modestly useful in the new
Troops: Our military forces in
Funds: It's no shock to discover, given the last weeks in
According to the Los Angeles Times (
The Marines, Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post reports (
"Scrambling to fill its needs, the Pentagon last week diverted 120 armored Humvees purchased by the Israel Defense Forces to
How the $4 billion "shortfall" and the $6 billion-plus-plus in unmet needs mesh -- is the $4 billion included in the $6 billion figure? -- I have no idea. But I think you can count on the fact that from here on, funds for the occupation are only going to escalate.
Detainees: And, oh yes, in the escalatory realm, Aaron Glantz of Inter Press Service reports far higher figures for Iraqi detainees than I've previously seen. He writes: "The
"Reconstruction": There has been endless talk about "reconstructing"
Now, we have another figure to go with that. According to Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor in a piece entitled, "Operation kickback?" (
He adds that "every Iraqi ministry is touched by corruption, the report alleges" and that "the problem is as deeply embedded in Washington as it is in Baghdad... in the past three months, US investigators have disputed more than $1 billion worth of contract fees because of 'inflated charges, incompetence, lack of documentation to support invoices and kickbacks related to subcontract awards.'"
Now, add to the moneys being poured into security and being siphoned off by corruption, the unknown percentage of reconstruction funds that are simply and legally pocketed by large corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton as profits for their work and you have to wonder exactly how much of these Iraqi-bound, congressionally-mandated funds actually make it anywhere near any reasonable group of Iraqis. I mean, we may be talking about one of the great scams of history here, the sort of thing that could make
And then we need some term to cover whatever the downward spiraling process is that we're watching (and the Iraqis are experiencing). We could, of course, just turn the term "reconstruction" upside down and talk about the "deconstruction" of
The question that lies under all this language, somewhere beneath the gap between our description of reality and what's going on out there, beneath the new word and world order, somewhere deep in that dark abyss, is whether, as Paul Rogers of openDemocracy puts the matter, the U.S. situation in Iraq is "actually becoming unsustainable." Put another way, whatever the immediate profits and advantages, even to the Bush administration, is such a world unsustainable?
What, I wonder, will this administration do, to take but a simple example, if fighting boils up again in the land that time forgot --
We know that George Bush imagines himself striding into town as The Law in a western; but, wedded to the gun as he is, the ranks of his supporters filling with mercenaries as they are, what he seems to be intent on creating is a spaghetti-western world -- and, given his corporate cronies, A Fistful of Dollars wouldn't be a bad title for his "film," which unfortunately also happens to be our world.
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]