Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1
South Hill Today

 

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We have no ability to get intelligence on the insurgency or the resistance, and I'll talk about what that word means in a minute. The goal is: We're just going to take it down, city by city. We haven't had any intelligence at all on the inside, and so the thinking is we want to make the people who are protecting the insurgents -- I want to call them resistance -- we want to make the people in the Sunni provinces more afraid of us than of the local terrorists or insurgents.

"Insurgency" bothers me. What they call now an "ongoing insurgency" suggests that we won the war and there are some people resisting after it's won. The New York Times the other day [used in a] headline the word "rebels," as if everybody accepts this horrific government we call the Allawi government, this former murderer and macabre operator, this secret police operator for Saddam who is now our acting prime minister, who has no standing whatsoever. We call this "the government." And they use the word "rebel." The fact is, the real simple fact is -- and what I'm telling you is not me, but is from my friends in the intelligence community; this is what they've been saying for over a year with nobody listening -- it's not an insurgency. What we're fighting against are the people we started the war against. We're fighting with Baathists, and most of them don't like Saddam any more but they still like their party, the Baathist Party; they still think it's going to come back to win.

The socialist party that ran Iraq, since '68, we're fighting them. What did they do? They didn't fight the way we wanted them to. We wanted them to stand up and fight. They gave us Baghdad. They gave us the Sunni Triangle. They moved away; they moved into small cells. They're fighting us at their pace, and at their level. But that's very hard to grab around. It's also very frightening to think that we are really into something we don't know much about.

And that's where we are.

We're in the middle of something. Yes, I think there's a legitimate loyal resistance. There are also certainly at least 1,000 or so people -- what we call jihadists, salafis, wahabis, martyrs, wanna-be martyrs, young kids who just want to run cars into things. But those are not from inside Iraq. That's not the Iraqi way. Iraqis have never been into suicide bombing.

They're fighting us more with more and more sophistication.

So we have this president who somehow believes that if he can make the Middle East democratic, terrorism will end and wars will end, as if democracies somehow don't fight wars, which is really hard to explain since we started a war as a democracy in Iraq. When I think about this president, who keeps on making these statements about how democracy will bring peace, it will be an end to terrorism, it will be the end of conflict, I keep on thinking, "Let's see. My government since World War II -- uh, let's see, how many wars?"

As much as I have ambivalence about Bill Clinton, I've always given him a great deal of credit because he was the first president since World War II -- listen to this -- to actually bomb white people [laughter and applause]. Think about it, before going into Yugoslavia and Kosovo we'd always gone against little brown people, little yellow people in the Middle East because we could do that to with impunity. Grenada, with a population of about 100,000 people, most of whom work as house cleaners in New York, you know, we went to war there. That was easy because they were little, you know, semi-brown, you know there's a little Indian blood there.

So, we're into it. What don't we know? Well, I'll tell you a couple things we do know. Let's see. Bombing -- we've been bombing a lot. Since Allawi became acting prime minister on January 28, I make the case -- and I believe what my friends tell me from inside -- that the bombing has gone up. Certainly last fall it went up enormously through the winter, went down maybe in the beginning of the year, and is back up. We bomb. We bomb a lot. There's no Iraqi air defense. There's nobody stopping us. There's no embedded journalist at the air base in Doha, where we fly out of Iraq -- I think it's the Harry Truman carrier that we work off of, and maybe flies out of there and maybe the marines do some flying somewhere out of the Gulf. Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bam, bam, bam.

We don't have any statistics on how many sorties or how much tonnage. We don't know whether it's stable or not. Nobody asks. The are limits to what we can do in my profession. And Italian journalist gets shot up at a check-point. There are not even any calls for the soldiers, the American soldiers, to be interviewed. There's not even a question that a normal reporter would go to the GIs with. I'm sure there's some story, some panic and fear [in these soldiers as they bomb]. Nobody's suggesting it's murder, but it would be fascinating to hear their account. And any good reporter would want to. But it's not even a suggestion [in stories]. It's not even in the paper that the army won't produce [the stories]. It's not even in the paper that they're not telling us the statistics. I don't see any great calls [for specific information] about the bombing.

Bombing worries me because bombing's very easy; it's an easy solution. And it's a very imperfect solution. Bombs never go where they're aimed, and, you know, there are people beneath the bombs.

 

Another thing that sort of drives me a little wacky is the election, January 30.

Let's see. We had about 130,000 or 135, 000 American troops. The secret army of course is the private guard, an estimated, I can't tell you, 10,000 to 20,000 who work for various private companies, many of them former army and special forces and navy seals. Increasingly, by the way, people are bailing out of the special services and going to work [in private companies]. Blackwater's one of them. [You get] 1,200 bucks a day to be a guard.

So you have 130,000 American troops. You have 15,000 or 20,000 -- some vague number -- in private armies. You have 10,000 or 20,000 Iraqi soldiers all called to monitor this election. Bush brings in all of the satellites for overhead coverage.

What I'm telling you now is right. We moved a lot of the birds, our birds, over Iraq, all of the predators that were operating -- particularly in Afghanistan, where we're still hunting some of the real bad guys, the Taliban and remnants of Al Qaeda, if there is an Al Qaeda. I don't even know if there is anymore, but that's another story. We're hunting somebody in those mountains between Afghanistan and "worsistan," they call it, in Pakistan.

Everybody was locked down, all operations stopped because of the election. And nobody could campaign. Nobody knew who they were voting for. There were slates. In the case of the Shiites, there was a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Sistani: You must vote. Many women didn't vote anyway because their husbands wouldn't let them, but many did. No Sunnis voted. The Kurds voted as many times as they could, which is a lot. Normal.

So, if an election like that had taken place during the Cold War in Estonia, we would have laughed it out of the ball park. We would have just said, "C'mon." But now we're being told this is sort of a new "Pericles, a new age of democracy."

I think of this Richard Pryor bit -- Richard Pryor, the great African American comedian -- one of his great bits wasn't an original, I think, but he did it effectively. His wife's gone, he's home, doing his wife's best friend in their bed, and his wife comes home early from work, starts screaming. He jumps up, pulls the sheet around him, and starts explaining, "What you're seeing did not happen. What you're seeing did not happen. It's not happening. We weren't doing what you saw." He eventually asks her, "Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?"

And this is what Bush has done to us. Are you going to believe him about Iraq, or what we see and what we feel and what we know is going on?

 

I talked to two foreign diplomats this morning in Washington. I actually had to see them about something else, and inevitably we started talking about what's going on in the Middle East. One of them -- very wise, not an ally, but not unfriendly, just in the middle -- said, "You know, the thing about you guys [Americans] is this: You're 3,000 miles away from everything. What threat do you have, really? It's not like being in Western Europe, where what's going on in Iraq is 3,000 miles closer. Not only that, you have a huge, angry Muslim population, mostly in the Netherlands and Germany and France, that's growing increasingly antagonistic. [They have] problems because of the war, and the ongoing mistreatment of Muslims by us is causing a lot of problems; Abu Ghraib would be another example of tightened tension." Then he said, "It is just a nuisance to you -- it's money, some of your soldiers are being killed. There are some political problems as you careen around, making chaos in the Middle East. But what you don't realize is how intolerable it is for the people there. It's just intolerable."

In Baghdad, there's no running water, no garbage collection. No electricity except sporadically. No mail, no phone. No civil society; nothing vaguely connected to a civil life. No security. I know somebody who's staying there. This government always complains bitterly about Syria because so many Baathists have fled from Baghdad into Syria, which is absolutely true. Millions have fled. They have gone all over. Anybody that could get out of there has gotten out -- to the UAE [Untied Arab Emirates] and elsewhere in the Gulf. Jordan is full of many more than in Syria, actually. You can live there.

Iraq is not livable. We've made it unlivable. I know a military guy who's a senior Iraqi, a general who worked a lot with the UN, so I got to know him way back. And so I stayed in touch. Once the war began, e-mail opened up. He has a daughter in medical school there. And last winter he was telling me she has to leave by 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. because after that in winter, when it gets dark early, you're kidnapped. You can't be in the street at 3:00, 4:00. It takes a long time to get home; there's no public transportation to speak of. Roads are chaotic, and often Americans block things. It's hard to understand the impact we've had.

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