The ab-surge-ity of it all
"We're winning the war in Iraq," declared Fox News cackler Sean Hannity.
"Wait a second," we said. "On May 1, 2003, Bush declared victory aboard the USS Lincoln -- 'Mission Accomplished.' We won, but now we're finally winning?"
We know Bush started the war in Iraq on impulse. It only took a year or so for the impulse to realize itself. But why have major political figures and mass media continue to accept the nuttiness of this bloody gag and report that the president and his fellow "warriors" are winning five years after Bush first declared we had won?
How many times can one declare victory? The answer: as often as necessary to keep the war going and elect another Republican president. Lincoln said: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time and that's all it takes to get a Republican elected."
The Republicans adore Bush family values -- like peace and loyalty. The President put his arm around and repeatedly swore support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- his hand-picked man in Baghdad. But loyalty obviously requires a healthy degree of suspicion -- especially of close friends. So, Bush ordered Maliki's phone tapped and had his spooks spy on him, his office and other Iraqi government officials. (See Bob Woodward, The War Within.)
Such details don't impact on campaign propaganda, however. The organizers of the Republican National Convention in Minnesota banished all truth from their agenda and instead promoted the "winning the war" fable while its hordes -- called delegates -- chanted "USA,USA" (not German for Sieg Heil, by the way) and "drill, baby, drill," a fittingly logical answer to liberal wusses who hold fast to the global warming myth.
Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in her September 3 acceptance speech won thunderous applause from the giddy crowd when she showed her loyalty to the chant: "Victory in Iraq is finally in sight." She did not elaborate.
Accepting his Party's presidential nomination, "maverick" McCain praised himself for supporting the January 2007 surge of nearly 30,000 troops to Iraq: "I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do." McCain has repeatedly attacked calls for troop withdrawals and voiced "support for continuing efforts to win in Iraq." He has also assured voters that more wars will come -- as if to say, "Elect me and I'll show 'em."
Some voters might have gotten distracted by the media tumult over moose hunter Palin's nomination. Like McCain, she has her Christian values. She would rather see her 17-year-old daughter pregnant than teach her birth control. Hey, one little slip in the abstinence method and well … But the important issues according to McCain and Palin involve character and experience. McCain could teach young pilots how not to get shot down while trying to bomb civilian targets. Palin, having served as a small town mayor and briefly as Alaska's Governor, is almost as qualified as Dan Quayle, according to an Anchorage reporter who has followed her career.
Amidst the chanting and theatrical prevarications, the Republican heavies repeated silly platitudes about the economy and Iraq. Thanks to Bush's and General David Petraeus' brilliant surge strategy, for example, U.S. forces have turned the corner toward victory in Iraq, a corner they had turned successfully half a decade earlier. But who remembers?
The convention delegates agreed with the right wing radio screamers who assure the faithful that this bold strategy has befuddled the "rag heads" and embarrassed the pacifist liberals. Informed observers on the scene, however, noted that the U.S. troop escalation had little to do with reducing the force of the Iraqi resistance. Rather, say reporters Patrick Cockburn of the Independent and CNN's Michael Ware, before Bush announced the surge the U.S. military had already turned from fighting to bribing Sunni militants -- people who formerly targeted U.S. troops. They paid these tough guys well and gave them better arms to fight against Al Qaeda and any other "un-cooperative" group in Iraq.
These "Sunni militias," the so-called "Sunni Awakening," began to operate without the oversight of Iraq's fragile central government. According to Nir Rosen, members of the Awakening "are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power." (Rolling Stone, March 6, 2008)
In his testimony to Congress in April, Petraeus attributed reduced levels of violence and civilian deaths in Iraq to the increase of troops, the role of the Awakening and Moqtada al-Sadr's 2007 ceasefire (which declared that the Mahdi Army would not attack rival Shia groups or the U.S. military). He didn't explain how having more U.S. soldiers led to decreased violence. Did the suicide bombers get scared? He also neglected to mention that the reduction of violence in some parts of Iraq also related to the ethnic cleansing of civilians and to 4 million plus Iraqis who were displaced since the war began in 2003.
Unlike Petraeus and his boss, Ware attributes ethnic cleansing as a disturbing reason for "security improvement" in Iraq. "The sectarian cleansing of Baghdad has been -- albeit tragic -- one of the key elements to the drop in sectarian violence in the capital," notes Ware. "It's a very simple concept: Baghdad has been divided; segregated into Sunni and Shia enclaves. The days of mixed neighborhoods are gone. […] If anyone is telling you that the cleansing of Baghdad has not contributed to the fall in violence, then they either simply do not understand Baghdad or they are lying to you." (Think Progress, April 3, 2008)
The motives behind U.S. actions in Iraq may have more to do with the presidential elections than with war strategy. "The aim is to give the impression that Iraq has finally come right for the US and victory is finally in its grasp," wrote Patrick Cockburn from Baghdad. "The surge is promoted as the strategy by which the tide was turned and it is true that the Sunni uprising against the U.S. occupation has largely ended. But it has done so for reasons that have little to do with the surge or American actions of any kind. Crucial to the success of the government against the Mahdi Army has been the support of Iran. It is they who arranged for the Shia militiamen to go home." (Counterpunch.org Sept. 3, 2008)
McCain chants "real progress" in Iraq. But had he taken a real trip through Baghdad's segregated neighborhoods -- not his heavily armored guided tour -- he would have seen the mythological nature of "Progress in Iraq." Indeed, the rosy lens of "progress" conceals a larger problem issue: how to convince 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled the country mainly to Syria and Jordan to return "home" when their residences have likely been destroyed or their neighborhoods seized by hostile militias? On August 11, for instance, Prime Minister Maliki began sending his own jet to retrieve Iraqi refugees from Egypt. Some 1,000 returned home (Washington Post, September 7, 2008). The vast majority (nearly 100,000) stayed put. The offer of free flights home did not include guarantees to returning refugees -- those who no longer can afford to live elsewhere -- such as the certainty of reintegration into a very broken country; nor did it promise them security from daily ethnic violence.
While the Republicans chant "the Iraqis are better off" mantra, AP reports cholera killed at least "five people in Baghdad and southern areas in an outbreak partly caused by the deterioration of water facilities during years of conflict."
Iraq's Health Minister Salih al-Hasnawi "confirmed 36 cases …so far [September 11], including 13 cases in Baghdad and 20 cases in Babil province, south of the capital."
The Minister blamed the outbreak on "war and hardship," which "degraded water-treatment facilities in Iraq and deprived many Iraqis of clean drinking water, contributing to the cholera outbreak." (AP, September 11, 2008)
In addition, the optimists don't refer to U.S. forces having arrested and jailed at least 2,500 children in detention centers since 2002. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, "The detention of children in adult detention centers violates U.S. obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as accepted international human rights norms." (AP, May 19, 2008)
Iraqi unemployment remains at high double digit figures, public sanitations systems still don't function and no life insurance salesman in his right mind would sell a policy to an Iraqi. Despite these superficially unpleasant facts, W continues to claim with a smile and McCain and Palin repeat confidently, "The Iraqis are better of because they're free" and remain free thanks to W's brilliant surge strategy. The new dictionary has interesting synonyms for the word "absurgeity."
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (A/K-Counterpunch) and producer of many films. See http://roundworldproductions.com/Site/Films_by_Saul_Landau_on_DVD.html.
Farrah Hassen is the Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.