More Arguments with Bush
I just want to make a few observations about President Bush’s remarks on Monday:
Transcript: Bush Gives Rumsfeld Vote of Confidence
Monday, May 10, 2004; 12:32 PM
“BUSH: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense. And our nation owes you a debt of gratitude . . . ”
Mr. Rumsfeld’s leadership has brought the country to the brink of international disaster. It was his leadership that allowed dozens of Iraqi prisoners (the Red Cross estimates 90% of all prisoners held by the US were innocent) to be tortured, some tortured to death. His determination to create spaces of extra-judicial status contributed centrally to the practice of torture at Abu Ghuraib. Rumsfeld is personally responsible for most of the things that have gone wrong in Iraq. His one good enterprise, the war in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda, now appears to have been undertaken with great reluctance, half-heartedly, and to have been abandoned as soon as possible, all so he could plunge the US into the Iraq quagmire. He even stole $700 million from a Congressional appropriation for Afghanistan and spent it on Iraq. The sums involved dwarf even the Iran-contra scandal.
“The United States has a vital national interest in the success of free institutions in Iraq as the alternative to tyranny and terrorist violence in the Middle East . . . ”
I’ve decided that what he means by “free institutions in Iraq” is actually a laissez-faire economic system where workers cannot unionize and a small class of robber barons can ride roughshod over everyone else. It is, in short, a mirror image of Texas robber baron capitalism. If democracy were at issue, Bush wouldn’t have sent Jay Garner to turn Iraq over to corrupt expatriate Ahmad Chalabi. (It was only Tony Blair who saved us at least from that).
“BUSH: Like other generations of Americans, we have accepted a difficult and historic task. We have made clear commitments before the world, and America will keep those commitments . . . In and around Fallujah, U.S. Marines are maintaining pressure on Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters and other militants. We’re keeping that pressure on to ensure that Fallujah ceases to be an enemy sanctuary . . . ”
There are no Saddam loyalists in Fallujah and no or only a miniscule number of foreign fighters. It is time for the President to simply admit that a lot of ordinary Iraqis don’t like being occupied by the Americans, and that often the brutality of the occupation has pushed them to take up arms against it.
“BUSH: And our forces are also helping to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to families that suffer as a result of the chaos in certain communities created by the terrorists and those who want to halt the advance of freedom . . . ”
Not so long ago, Bush’s policy in Fallujah was to besiege and starve the city. US troops prevented civilian aid convoys from getting through. Even some members of the American-appointed Interim Governing Council made it public that they thought the siege was being conducted in ways that contravened the Geneva Conventions, involving collective punishment against innocent civilians.
“In Najaf, a major Shiite population center, in the holy site, our military is systematically dismantling an illegal militia that has attempted to incite violence and seize control . . . ”
Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia had been careful not to attack US troops and it had been largely excluded from Najaf. On April 3, Bush gave the order for Muqtada’s arrest, which provoked a massive Shiite uprising throughout the South and created the chaotic conditions that allowed Muqtada’s militia to take over the shrine and city center. Muqtada had not done anything to provoke such a precipitous move against him, and Bush was remiss in not preparing for a blow-up if he insisted on moving in this way against him.
At the moment, the main US plan for curbing Muqtada’s militia is to depend on another militant Shiite militia, the Badr Corps of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Bush has coddled this Iran-backed movement and its Iran-trained militia. The US has not taken a strong stand against sectarian militias. Rather, it has simply tried to exclude the ones that are not bosom buddies with corrupt expatriate and American proxy, Ahmad Chalabi.
“Elements of this militia have been ejected from the Najaf governor’s office and a legitimate governor has been appointed . . . ”
No one in Najaf, least of all Grand Ayatollah Sistani, believes that it is within the gift of the Americans to appoint a “legitimate” governor of Najaf! Sistani views the American Occupation as essentially illegal. If Bush had held proper elections in Najaf, instead of appointing a series of corrupt incompentents, maybe things wouldn’t have deteriorated to this extent to begin with.
“Our second great commitment in Iraq is to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible. Decades of oppression destroyed every free institution in Iraq, but not the desire to live in freedom. Like any proud country, the Iraqi people want their independence. The Iraqi people need to know that our coalition is fully committed to their independence and we’re fully committed to their national dignity. This is the reason the June 30th transfer of sovereignty is vital . . . ”
This “transfer of sovereignty” is just a publicity stunt without substance. The caretaker government to be appointed for this summer is just a set of appointees. They won’t have been elected by anyone in Iraq and we won’t be sure that they even represent any Iraqis. If general elections had been allowed to go forward, that might have produced a legitimate government. This one is just another dreary subcommittee of the Occupation Authority.
“The United Nations’ special envoy, Mr. Brahimi, is now back in Iraq consulting with diverse groups of Iraqis. In the next few weeks, important decisions will be made on the makeup of the interim government . . . ”
Can you imagine how difficult you have made Brahimi’s job, with the Fallujah and Najaf sieges (neither of them growing out of military necessity), and now with these sadomasochistic porn shots?
“Third, because America’s committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. Conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency . . . ”
A full accounting should start with us calling it what it is. It is torture, not just abuse. By the time you sic German shepherds on naked shivering prisoners to take a chunk out of their legs or you are sticking broomsticks up their rectums, that isn’t abuse, Mr. President. It is t o r t u r e.
“One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly. In January, shortly after reports of abuse became known to our military, an investigation was launched. ”
In other words, Rumsfeld sat on this for months in hopes it wouldn’t come out, and thinking in his own mind it wasn’t a big thing. And now that it is out, a few privates are going to be hung out to dry while Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cambone and Boykin, who set the tone that allowed all this to happen, do not have to take any responsibility or suffer any accountability at all.
“Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the chance they have been given to live in freedom, a chance made possible by the courage and sacrifice of the United States military. ”
Military occupation by a foreign power is not freedom, which is why a large majority of Iraqis wants the US military out right now. Being guinea pigs for pet Republican experiments like a flat tax or economic “shock therapy” and a fire sale on all Iraqi assets– no Iraqis think this is “freedom.” Everyone recognizes our debt to the brave men and women of the US military for bringing the genocidal Saddam regime to justice (however much we might debate whether there were better means to accomplish that goal than military action). But the policies of your administration in the aftermath have been a huge disaster, and it is wrong of you now to wrap yourself in their uniforms and make them share the blame for poor civilian leadership.
“We have great respect for the people of Iraq and for all Arab peoples, respect for their culture and for the history and for the contribution they can make to the world. ”
This statement is poorly crafted, even if the intention may have been a good one. It makes it sound like the Arabs, for all their culture and history, haven’t yet made “the contribution” to the world that they could if only they fell under American tutelage. In fact, of course, the Arabs’ contributions to the world have been crucial, from algebra to the lateen sail, from Sufi spirituality to key discoveries in astronomy.
“We believe that democracy will allow these gifts to flourish, that freedom is the answer to hopelessness and terror, that a free Iraq will lead the way to a new and better Middle East and that a free Iraq will make our country more secure . . . ”
So far American-ruled Iraq has been the biggest black eye for democracy since the Reichstag fire. And, the photographs now circulating of prisoner torture are the biggest recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorism that Bin Laden could ever have hoped for. The US occupation of Iraq has been so incompetently handled that it has made all Americans less secure by an order of magnitude.
Unfortunately that isn’t true, either. This is only the beginning, and not of anything good.