Just Above Sunset
March 19, 2006 - Three, Going on Four

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On Saint Patrick's Day three years ago we saw this on television - the president, standing behind a podium, stiff and grim, saying that if Saddam Hussein didn't step down, if he didn't give up and leave Iraq, we'd invade and remove him and his government. He had forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours later we attacked. It was over before long. He was gone. We were there.

We're still there. The war turns four.

On May 1st in 2003 the president declared "Mission Accomplished" (the White House photos from the aircraft carrier off San Diego are here - the shots of the "Mission Accomplished" banner looming large in the background now gone - it's just barely visible in one shot).

No one seems to have any victory celebrations planned for May 1st - but, since that is the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate "labor" and celebrated around the world, there is a conflict. That day is already "taken." And people seem to be using the weekend of March 18-19 to have their say about the ongoing war.

Saturday was the big day.

Around the world here (AP) - "Thousands of people held anti-war demonstrations Saturday in global protests that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by demanding that coalition troops pull out."


But everyone is just tired - in London, police said about fifteen thousand marched from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square, but the authorities had been told there'd be a hundred thousand. In Stockholm, about a thousand marched to our Embassy, and it seems someone held up a United States flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs. Two thousand marched in Copenhagen, and more around Denmark - the five hundred thirty Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq need to come home.


AP notes big demonstrations in Turkey, but then "previously close relations with Washington were severely strained after parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory." And there was that movie


A movie depicting Americans as the bad guys in Iraq has become a super hit in Turkey, a secular Muslim country and a NATO ally of the United States.

More than 2.5 million Turks thronged to see the movie "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" in the first 10 days and pirate copies reportedly are doing a roaring business.

"The film is absolutely magnificent," Bulent Arinc, the parliament speaker and one of several politicians to attend the gala in Ankara, told The London Times. "It is completely true to life."


And elsewhere? "In Italy, Romano Prodi, the center-left leader who is challenging conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next month's election, said he and his supporters wouldn't join Rome's march because of a risk of violence." And there were small demonstrations in Greece, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain of course, and three thousand marched in Seoul, South Korea.

The French were busy - "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of French cities to protest against a youth labor law proposed by the prime minister." All three cable networks carried live images, long segments of scuffles in Paris, not any of the ant-war marches around the world. And the administration thought French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was their enemy, given what happened at the UN when he was the French ambassador there and elegantly dismissed Colin Powell's "smoking gun" presentation on why the UN had to get behind our proposed overthrow of the government in Iraq. Now he's keeping the anti-war images off our television screens by arranging photogenic street battles on the boulevards of Paris that are far more compelling than scruffy marchers at the same time seeking some air time. Very convenient. But, of course, not his plan.

Here in Hollywood, there was this - "Paul Haggis, the Canadian director of 'Crash,' this year's Oscar winner for best picture, will lead a protest in Hollywood this weekend against the war in Iraq, now three years old, organizers said."

Yep, he's Canadian, and the movie is about how people just cannot connect in this awful, dangerous, crime-ridden place - so Canadians know something we don't? Noon. Hollywood and Vine. But the Paris scenes are on television. We'll, Haggis is a director, not a marketing guy. Martin Sheen and Harry Belafonte seemed like a good idea. So was Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, the author of the book "Born on the Fourth of July" - later a film where Tom Cruise played Kovic (Oliver Stone won the 1990 Oscar for Best Direction, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor). But then, Tom Cruise wasn't there. He was also busy - he had just forced Comedy Central to cancel a "South Park" episode about Scientology, threatening to boycott publicity events for his new movie and pull ads and all that. The extraterrestrial Thetans inside his brain told him protecting the faith was from satiric cartoons more important, just like in the world of radical Islam.

But the marches are pointless.

Yes, three years ago Rumsfeld was talking about a war that would last weeks rather than months. Cheney was saying out troops being greeted as liberators. We had a spare Iraqi government in reserve - Ahmed Chalabi (with his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago) and his band of Iraqi-Americans who after three or four decades exile wanted to get back home. Pop them in power. Accept thanks. Go home.

Yes, that didn't work out. We have 133,000 troops still serving in Iraq, some on third and fourth tours of duty. And there was this on the 16th from the US commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid - "The general trend, given a legitimate government emerging, will be, Iraqis do more, we do less and eventually more reductions come about." Abizaid says troop levels are trending downward, generally, but this is "a period of sensitivity" when "sectarian tensions are high." He thinks national unity government must be formed in the "relative near term."

The new Iraqi parliament did meet, finally, for the first time, on the 16th - for thirty minutes. They couldn't agree on a speaker. They adjourned indefinitely. They'll meet again later, sometime. The "relative near term" seems unlikely.

This isn't looking good, and here Reuters surveys the thinking of experts on what to expect in the next three years of this - something between, on the upside, "gloomy," and on the downside, "apocalyptic" –


"The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war."

... Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation - the insurgency and violence - persisting for the next foreseeable period. I don't know what the period is."

Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilizations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq.

... Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail.

... The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost."

One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Fallujah by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope."


Just reporting. That's what they said. It could all work out. You never know.

But marching down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon demanding that the war end will help? It's hard to see how. The administration will suddenly see no one trusts them and most thing this is going badly and will end badly?

They know that. A week of awful polling ended with this from Newsweek


President Bush's approval rating has dropped to new lows on domestic issues and public anger is rising over his handling of Iraq and homeland security, according to NEWSWEEK's latest poll. ... His image as an effective leader in the war on terror is tarnished, with less than half the public (44 percent) approving of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security. Despite a series of presidential speeches meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq, as well as the announcement of a major military offensive when the poll was getting under way, only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.


They know.

The counterargument came from the president in his weekly radio address, as the AP explains here - you see, all that sectarian violence in Iraq, with mosques blowing up left and right and reprisal executions of the families of those who have insulted the other, is really a good thing. Why, you ask? Because it "has motivated warring political factions to move quickly to set up a representative government."

Yep, it's a great motivational tool. Except they're not doing that.

AP - "Bush's broadcast came in advance of a speech he plans to deliver in Cleveland on Monday, the second in a series of talks marking Sunday's three-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the speech, Bush will discuss how the United States is working with various sectors of Iraqi society to defeat terrorists, restore calm and help rebuild homes and communities."

He'd better screen his audiences more carefully than ever before.

And as for that major military offensive launched when the Newsweek poll was getting underway (news item here), well, luckily the polling was completed before items like this


According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The "number of weapons caches" equals six, which isn't unusual when you travel around Iraq. They're literally everywhere.

... About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they're scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight.


Then Time reported On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled


... Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war... In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation... was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces... But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.


And elsewhere a Vietnam veteran says this - "Hey, folks, this is a small operation. It sounds like a battalion of infantry (maybe two battalions) from the 101st Airborne Division and some Iraqi police troops. In Vietnam this operation would have been too small to have been given a name. It would have just been, 'what you were doing tomorrow.'"

Was someone impressed? (Note: for a full discussion of the effects of air assaults and aerial bombardment on "insurgency" or "guerrilla" forces see this - the effect is always to increase the anger and will of the resistance, and to assure more people join them.)

But there will be the speech Monday in Cleveland. We'll be told we're doing fine, or doing the right thing and things will, at some point, be just fine.

Jennifer Loven explains what to expect in Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches


"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

... A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said.


Well, it sure beats dealing with real people. Of course the question is whether this is a cynical rhetorical trick to manipulate the gullible, or whether the speaker actually believes those who oppose him are arguing nonsense that the didn't actually say but really meant to say. Is the speaker deeply cynical, or merely delusional, living in a world of imaginary people who oppose him for no good reason and spout nonsense.

Take this for what it's worth –


Abrahams, who has a vast knowledge of improbable scientific literature, compares Gier's work to that of two Cornell scientists who showed that one attribute of extreme incompetence is "that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent." The study, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It," demonstrated that people who scored, on average, at the 12th percentile in tests of humor, grammar and logic assessed themselves to be, on average, at the 62nd percentile. Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."


So three year on, that's where we are. March in the streets if you'd like. It won't do much good.


Note: Saturday, March 18, 2006, brings us this in the New York Times, one more exposť - everything you wanted to know about Task Force 6-26, our military's free-lance torture unit and the "Black Room" at Camp Nama, a converted Baghdad military installation located at the Baghdad airport –


There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.


And their slogan? "No Blood, No Foul" –


"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.


The Times - "The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Maybe so. But who knows? As in - "Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost."

As Andrew Sullivan notes here


Induced drowning, hypothermia, repeated beatings, the torture of relatives of intelligence targets: we have seen all these already multiple times. They are always the same techniques, almost as if someone had figured them out and trained people in them. But that couldn't have happened, could it? We don't know. We do know that the Pentagon's Steven Cambone tried to stop it, which implies the second explanation, which is that there were elite military units beyond the control of the Pentagon and the law, let alone the Geneva Conventions, who felt they had been allowed to enter the twilight zone.

Cambone's efforts seem to have come up empty, by the way. We have the far-right Christianist, general William Boykin, telling Cambone on March 17, 2004, that he had "found no pattern of misconduct with the task force." (Boykin was the man who declared the Iraq war one between his God and the God of Islam. He suffered no discipline for that comment.) So the alternative explanation is simply a complete breakdown in the chain of command. Other agencies - even CIA officials some of whom had been trained to abuse inmates at Gitmo - tip-toed around this black hole. They acted as if they knew someone had sanctioned it; or that no one dared stop it; or that these troops were empowered to do whatever they wanted.


Nothing new, but for the new unit. Readers here know Boykin, as in, from Monday, 8 December 2003, Who would Jesus assassinate? (subhead - "We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William 'Jerry' Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis") For Stephen Cambone and the torture business, from May 23, 2004 see Notes on the War Scandals. It just takes time for things to develop.

But we are where we are. March if you will. Those in power will shrug. One thinks of what our governor out here in California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, said in a 1990 interview with US News and World Report - "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave."

Back to sleep.

Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

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