Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oh, East is East and West is West

We came to smite the Arab Brute
And pulled him from a rabbit hole.
Our goal achieved,
We could not leave,
Which seemed a trifle droll . . .

Now, helling 'round
These shifting sands
May taste of grand adventure.
But oh the cost,
It sets you back,
In blood, and limbs, and treasure.


The Economist has a worthy article, Mugged by Reality, on the "troubles" in Iraq. As a sidebar, there is a comparison of Iraqi survey results between 2005 and 2007 on a number of illuminating questions.

What went wrong? Well, for starters:

". . . there can be no denying that the project was bungled from the start. Western intelligence failed to discover that Saddam had destroyed all his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the removal of which was the main rationale for the war. However, the incompetence went beyond this. The war was launched by a divided administration that had no settled notion of how to run Iraq after the conquest. The general who warned Congress that stabilising the country would require several hundred thousand troops was sacked for his prescience.

America's plans for Iraq's political transition were also rudimentary, to the extent that they existed at all. The Pentagon wanted Mr Chalabi and his fellow exiles put swiftly in charge. The State Department thought an American administration would have to be installed. State had organised a pre-invasion Future of Iraq project, but the Pentagon declined to adopt its ideas. Several knowledgeable State Department Arabists were prevented from going to Iraq because they were deemed ideologically unsound. Jay Garner, an amiable general called in from retirement to manage the transition under an understaffed ad hoc body known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, received no intelligible instructions from Washington, and baffled the liberated Iraqis in his turn. “You're in charge,” he told a gathering of 300 or so mystified tribal leaders and exiles who attended a conference soon after his arrival, hoping to discover what the future held under Iraq's new rulers."


I don't know why I'm quoting all of this, when I've already linked to the article. I suppose that - having spent myself in a frenzy of poetic composition - I've little left to add.

The survey results are worth touching on, though.

78% of Iraqis polled in 2007 "somewhat" or "strongly" opposed the presence of coalition forces in Iraq, as compared to 65% in 2005. (When were we ever loved for our sacrifices?)

51% saw attacks on coalition forces as "acceptable" in 2007, as compared to 17% in 2005. (A promising trend.)

The question, "Which political system do you think would be best for Iraq now?" elicited the following responses in 2007:

Strong leader: a government headed by one man for life: 34%

Islamic state: politicians rule according to religious principles: 22%

Well, there you go! 56% of Iraqis favor either a return to dictatorship, or life under a theocracy similar to Iran.

Yes, the remainder opted for "democracy," whatever the hell that means in the Iraqi context. (To be fair, I'm increasingly unclear as to what is meant by "democracy" in the American context. But that's for another day.)

In regard to the current state of Iraqi democracy, the article has this to say:

In public utterances Mr Maliki is careful to say all the right things about national reconciliation. These are encouraging pointers. The trouble is that Americans who listen in to his government's internal chatter are horrified by what they hear. Some conclude that the Shias have no real intention to share power, only to string America along while using its firepower to destroy rivals and entrench their own dominion. It is also uncertain whether the politicians who claim to speak for the Sunnis in the National Assembly are close enough to the insurgents to make them stop fighting even in the event of a political settlement. In short, time may show that the democratic structure the Americans worked so hard to install can neither run Iraq nor reconcile its warring clans.

To quote Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now:

"Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam that you needed wings to stay above it."

Come to think of it, he offers another salient quote:

"The war was being run by a bunch of four-star clowns who were about to give the whole circus away."

In the case of Iraq, I blame not the clowns, but the ringmasters.

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