Sunday, October 10, 2004
New York Times
October 10, 2004
The Other Intelligence Failure
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Such attention was rightly paid last week to the huge intelligence failure of the Bush team in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no W.M.D. But I would argue that there is another, equally egregious intelligence failure when it comes to Iraq - one that is still bedeviling us right now: It is our complete ignorance about the P.M.D.'s of Iraq - the people of mass destruction, the suicide bombers - and the environment that nurtures them. The truth is, the intelligence failure in Iraq was not just about the chemicals Saddam was mixing in his basement; it was about the emotions he was brewing in Iraqi society.
Let's start with a simple observation: There have been some 125 suicide bomb attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq in the last 16 months, carried out most likely by Sunni Muslims. We need to think about this. There is some kind of suicide-supply chain working in the Muslim world and in Iraq that is able to draw recruits, connect them with bomb makers and deploy them tactically against U.S. and Iraqi targets on an almost daily basis. What is even more unnerving about these suicide bombers is that, unlike the Hamas crew in Israel, who produce videos of themselves, explain their rationale and say goodbye to families, virtually all the bombers in Iraq have blown themselves up without even telling us their names.
We don't really know how they are chosen, trained, indoctrinated, armed and launched. What we know is that the suicide bombers have killed and maimed hundreds of Iraqis, many of them waiting to join the police or army, and in doing so have done more to block U.S. efforts to reconstruct Iraq than any other factor. To put it bluntly: We are up against an enemy we do not know and cannot see - but who is undermining the whole U.S. mission. In fairness, this sort of network is very hard to crack, especially when it has the support of many Sunnis, but our ignorance about it is part of a broader lack of understanding of changes within Iraqi society.
When I visited Iraq after the war, what struck me most was how utterly broken it was. The 35 years of Saddam's misrule, including a decade of U.N. sanctions, had decimated Iraq's physical and social infrastructure. The young masked gunmen sawing people's heads off today came of age in this vacuum, which was filled in by religion - some of it injected by Saddam for his own reasons, and some of it flowing over the borders, mainly from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.
For the past few decades there has been "a surge of Islamic identity, not just in Iraq, but all over the Arab world," said Yitzhak Nakash, the Brandeis University expert on Shiite Islam and author of the upcoming "Shiism and Nationalism in the Arab World." "We definitely ignored it. We were in denial." But Saddam recognized its potential, Nakash said. On the Shiite side he allowed Moktada al-Sadr's father to lead Friday prayers in hopes of soaking up the religious energy among Shiites and directing it away from the regime. When the elder Sadr turned it on Saddam instead, Saddam had him killed in 1999. On the Sunni side, Nakash added, Saddam went on a mosque-building spree, to bolster his legitimacy, and he tolerated an infusion of Wahhabi Islam from Saudi Arabia to counterbalance the Shiites. By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, "Islam was a potent force," Nakash said. "Iraq was no longer a largely secular country, waiting to embrace America, as many of the exiles remembered it." Does this mean all is lost in Iraq? Not necessarily, Nakash argues. It does mean that we have to alter our strategy and narrow our short-term expectations. The Shiites and the Kurds, who are 80 percent of Iraq's population, still want a democratic Iraq. That is a foundation for hope. However, the first manifestation of any democratic Iraq will almost certainly be strongly influenced, if not dominated, by religious figures. We will not go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Sistani - the ayatollah we can work with. You just hope that the road will be short.
What is required on America's part now, Nakash said, "is a strategic decision to come to terms with the reality on the ground" - to accept the notion that not all Muslim clerics are alike, and actively engage the moderate Islamists as part of the solution in Iraq. We clearly need a broad strategy for Iraq and the Middle East that will give Islamists a chance to prove that Islamic democracy could not only stop the suicide bombers, but also genuinely promote accommodation between Islam and the West.
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A new politics and the culture of fear
By Christopher Selth
April 16, 2004
Christopher Selth is a former head of international equities at BT who wrote his first Webdiary piece after September 11 in What happens next and his second in Why is Howard not addressing us?
In this extraordinary time, there are two themes which strike me in reading the discussion in Webdiary.
Firstly and most obviously there is outrage at the situation in Iraq. Regardless of ones political persuasion it must be seen at the very least as a humanitarian catastrophe.
Secondly, lurking below the surface in a number of comments posted in this forum is a question about the nature of the debate taking place across our community. The question is to what end, if any, are these heated discussions leading? This concern applies both to the political debate between our leaders, and to what is happening within Webdiary itself. With respect to this latter point I refer to pieces by Susan Metcalf, Paul Walter, and most recently by Jack Robertson.
I’ll quote him:
But as I started plucking all the naughty hidden agendas from the latest columns of writers like Miranda Devine and Chris Pearson and Andrew bolt, I was overwhelmed by a sense of futility and self disgust.
Is anyone else at Webdiary or in the blogosphere for that matter – as bored as I am with constantly trying to have the last word in these endless tit-for-tat cyber battles?
Jack, I agree with you.
I have been struggling to sort through my sense of anger and frustration at the scale of the problems facing the world with a sense that our institutions may not be up to the challenge of resolving them. Yet within that analysis I do not believe the problem lies simply with "bad policy" implemented by our current leadership.
Whilst I have the gravest of doubts about a number of the positions held by our governments, I believe the failings we are witnessing reflect not only on our leaders, but on us all. We can find key elements of the problem in the way we, the community, engage in political debate.
Debates which appear ultimately to bog down in finger pointing do little to achieve a better world. There is a tendency to characterise political arguments as some kind of Manichean struggle, “good guy” versus “bad guy”. We seek to prove how disconnected our opponents are from us and from reality, rather than seeking to understand the points of connection. We have turned both our political and intellectual processes into adversarial forums where both sides arm themselves with their own self righteousness. We are more intent on “I told you so” than analysis. Little wonder that our “analysis” leaves us feeling more scared and alienated.
As is so often cried out in the Webdiary, we get the politicians we deserve. The politics of fear is not just a creation of our politicians. It is our creation. It can be seen within our self righteous debates, where we resist understanding our opponents, and characterise all their positions as being founded only on the basest of motives.
Without finding some connection or understanding there is no way we can move forward in a constructive manner. Change will be forged through bitter catharsis. The pendulum will swing violently. Human history is clear.
It’s the point I think Susan Metcalf touched on in Media don't get it on Latham and Iraq when she challenged the nature of the debates taking place in Webdiary. As she says, this style of argument risks being reductionist and reactionary. It’s what I characterise as “adversarial logic”. Analysis is structured in order to confirm our good guy bad guy hypotheses.
Sometimes it feels like we have turned Iraq into some kind of football match where we try to score the performances of John Howard and Mark Latham. We know which team we are barracking for.
I agree with Paul Walter in Adelaide. He describes what I have been struggling with, and I quote:
What REALLY emerges on second glance us not so much contempt of debate [referring to the argument by Susan Metcalf and Marilyn Shepherd] but intense disappointment that so little emerges FROM all this earnest debating.
I sense here that many of us are looking for a new way. But is there another way, or do we just have to tighten our seat belts and hope our side wins? Is a new way just fantasy?
Mark Latham and the hope for a 'new politics'
Mark Latham focused on the need for a 'New Politics' in a speech to the La Trobe Political Society. It picked out themes of the breakdown in civil society and trust in the political structures championed in the analysis of American sociologist Robert Putnam [see Putnam’s book 'Bowling Alone']. I believe Latham’s honeymoon in the opinion polls was in part tied to the appeal of this idea.
Of course in a jaded community, distrustful of politicians hope is balanced with cynicism. Those doubts obviously erupted when Mark Latham made his comments with respect to pulling out of Iraq. Was it evidence of cheap populism, or a considered opinion reflecting Latham’s views as shown in his March of folly speech before the war?
The setbacks in Mark Latham’s recent poll performance might be interpreted as the price paid for poor positioning on Iraq, or disappointment that he had in some way betrayed the hope for a new politics, whether by the Iraq comments themselves, or in the subsequent exchanges with John Howard.
What is the “new politics”?
Mark Latham characterised new politics as being built around rebuilding public trust in the parliamentary system. This is to be achieved by politicians acknowledging the essential nature of that trust, and seeking to gain it through greater honesty. I think many of us would agree that this would be highly desirable.
Latham in his 'New Politics' speech, however, sought to identify civic consciousness, and hence desire to reinvigorate the democratic process, as the preserve of the Social Democratic parties of the centre left. He characterised the right as inherently self serving.
This reading of the right is a logical extension of certain strands of right wing ideology, but not all. To seek to score this kind of political point risks reducing a high minded proposition to old politics. Nor does it sit comfortably with the electorate’s experience of the machinations of the Labor Party at the state level in New South Wales or Western Australia.
So does a 'new politics' mean just promising a greater level of honesty by one side of the political divide, a kind of new politics 'light'? How many in the electorate will believe it? John Howard and George W. made similar claims prior to their elections. If it is to achieve anything at all the new politics must be about more than that.
Latham in his book 'Civilising Global Capital' writes:
[New social democrats] have responded to the complexity of the new political economy with a fresh set of social democratic values. They have eschewed the coalition-building approach of binary politics in favour of the values of a new radical centre. The policy prescriptions of the old Left and Right dichotomy have been abandoned as unsuitable during a time of globalisation and widespread insecurity.
Whilst it is true that this comment refers more to an intellectual divide between left and right with respect to policy prescriptions, it surely touches on a central question of the new politics, abandoning the 'binary' adversarial nature of the old politics to examine issues that can no longer be dealt with by that structure. Latham in his 'New Politics' speech advocates the idea of holding community forums and more direct democracy. You can hardly expect the community to engage constructively with complex issues whilst political debate remains primitive, an ideological battle of the Somme.
This highlights the tension in Latham’s position, between the 'realities' of old style politics, and the requirement that he position himself against John Howard, versus a new style politics which claims to be taking a constructive stance, that substance matters more than spin. As Latham says in his speech, 'a positive contribution to the debate counts for more than negativity and partisanship'.
Latham is an intelligent man. He clearly must be aware of the complexity of reconciling these positions. Is it possible? Does he really believe it? Is it an abstract ideal that requires real world 'compromises'? Or is it just good marketing? So we watch not just whether Latham personally can embody this new approach, but more broadly whether a 'new politics' is achievable or just a naïve fantasy.
A cornerstone of the old politics - the politics of fear
Mark Latham in his inaugural address to the Labor Party conference as party leader raised the issue of the politics of fear as central to what differentiated his vision from that of John Howard. But can Latham really take on a political style that has become so entrenched, or is it a seductive if somewhat glib marketing pitch?
The politics of fear is more than just a political stratagem, deliberately adopted by players of both the Right and Left; it is also linked to fundamental elements of human psychology.
The nature and purpose of fear and anxiety
Of course there are many forms of fear. Some are healthy, natural defence mechanisms. Others may represent ego strategies that if pushed to extreme will ultimately generate serious harm.
Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein used the phrase paranoid-schizoid to describe one of those fear responses. It was an element of theory she developed when examining infant’s behaviour. Klein was seeking to understand the anger babies can show.
Paranoid-schizoid behaviour is a psychological defence strategy whereby given the stresses imposed by non gratification of the immediate desires of the infant, the child sees the failure of the universe to satisfy those desires as evidence of the world being disconnected from the child [schizoid], and directed against the child [paranoid].
This model suggests something which in the modern world may seem obvious to many, that intrinsic to our consciousness is a tendency to see that which is different from us as alien and potentially threatening. Furthermore, and most significantly, we have a tendency to embrace this response as a way of managing our sense of loss in not getting what we want. It is innately not fair. We are not responsible. It is someone else’s fault that we didn’t get what we wanted.
Healthy maturation of the child should lead to dealing with these anxieties, learning not to throw tantrums. The essence of human civilisation is managing this kind of fear. It involves the getting of wisdom, learning at both the individual and the collective level. It involves knowing the nature and limits of personal and collective responsibility, whilst taking appropriate action against real external threats. It does not mean though that the inclinations are eliminated. They sit within all of us, managed but capable of springing out under stress.
I believe we must examine the potentialities of a new politics in light of these human behavioural traits. They bear not just on how we respond to outsiders, as demonstrated by the Tampa episode or One Nation, but also on how we see those not sharing our views within our own society, within our own political debate.
The left is as guilty as the right in this regard. Schizoid behaviour is dysfunctional because it is about disconnection. Disconnection is intrinsic to adversarial politics. It is intrinsic to how we engage in the discussions in forums such as these, and why they have difficulty in going forward.
How does this psychology play out in our political processes?
At the community level government, and our political processes, are responsible for identifying 'real threats' and developing strategies to deal with them.
Complicating this however is the reality that our politicians are subject to the same paranoid-schizoid responses as the rest of us. Furthermore politicians historically have not shied away from using the fear in the electorate for political advantage. These political responses can be seen in scapegoating, jingoistic nationalism, and simplistic populism. No side of politics can deny having resorted to such strategies at some time.
The problem with these strategies is that they don’t effectively deal with the underlying issues that generated those fears in the first place. In fact those threats can to some extent be seen as of being of benefit to certain members of the political class.
I am wary of just pointing the finger at politicians here. Remember they use these strategies not just as a manipulation, but because they reflect who we are, and what we want to hear.
The recent history of anxiety in our community
Before Sept 11 community anxiety firmly focused on the impact of economic reform processes and globalisation.
In an environment where there was perceived widening gap between winners and losers produced by this process, where the integrity of the community and the idea of justice and a fair go was under challenge, the community was ripe for the politics of negativity. This situation did not exist just in Australia. It was pretty much across the Western World.
The nature of these anxieties is very clearly identified in Michael Pusey’s book 'The Experience of Middle Australia'. It is a compelling survey of Australian attitudes, even if you do not agree with all of Pusey’s editorial judgements as to the cause and solutions of the problems Middle Australia is reacting to.
John Howard exploited those fears to defeat the Keating government.
Remember that prior to September 11 the anti-globalisation movement was making headlines. John Howard looked set to lose the Federal Election. Then came Tampa, and Al-Qaeda.
The Liberal Party built its fear politics on nationalism, foreign hordes and terrorism. The Labor Party built its own version on the attack on Medicare, Telstra, and the GST.
This is not to say that there were and are not legitimate issues associated with all of the above, but do we believe there have been credible constructive responses to any of these issues by our leaders? Surveys of the public’s attitudes to politicians show most of us are unconvinced.
The results of the pursuit of fear based strategies are coming in
The pursuit of these strategies has led to a number of outcomes which at first glance seem somewhat surprising but are in fact the inevitable outcome of the weaknesses implicit to this sort of politics.
I summarise these outcomes as the following:
1. The economy is back as an issue as the structural shifts in the world economy continue to create massive tension in local communities.
2. The terrorist threat is still significant ... possibly worse.
3. Iraq is falling into civil war.
4. It is now the political leaders who drove the politics of fear who look most afraid. They cease being afraid, however, when they can return to an adversarial politics loaded with technicalities.
5. Global warming remains as the unnamed elephant in the room which might change all our long term stories.
Are there positives? Possibly:
1. An undoubtedly evil dictator has been removed.
2. Certain elements of the Arab world have been ameliorated… i.e. Libya.
3. The global economy does well as the “BRIC’s” drive growth [Brazil, Russia, India, China].
And in the ambiguous category, depending on your political persuasion:
1. The strength of the world’s one superpower has proved exaggerated as Iraq devolves into a quagmire.
2. We are moving inexorably to a new balance of power, with the world learning it does not have to obey the United States, and China moving towards a position of significant strength.
It’s the economy, stupid
Through the US Democratic primary process George W Bush found himself exposed. It was not initially about the revelations of Richard Clark, or the impact of another terrorist monstrosity in Madrid, but of the anxieties about the US economy. Polling showed these concerns to be the primary issue in voters’ minds. If Bush gets re-elected, it most probably will be on the basis of a job rebound.
Question marks persist about the structure of the world economy. Job creation in the US has been surprisingly weak. The economic establishment is publicly at a loss to explain this.
Outsourcing of jobs by corporate America to China and India had received high attention by the Democratic primary process, which has resulted in John Kerry being the candidate who has focused on this story.
But the loss of jobs to Asia is only part of the story. Major productivity improvements in the US economy, produced by past technological innovation and structural change mean that US firms have managed to increase output significantly without taking on new workers. This has kept consumer goods prices low, but has created few jobs and given limited income growth. Those low prices have produced a low inflation, which has facilitated low interest rates. This has meant that consumers with jobs can borrow to buy goods, and if you own a house, its valuation has risen. So some of the benefits of this productivity boom, and cheap Chinese imports are made available to the public, but the cost is higher debt and greater job uncertainty. Can this go on forever?
Even if job growth picks up in the US, what is certain is that ongoing structural change in the economy persists. This guarantees a state of anxiety by the community. That anxiety will mean that populist fear based politics will attract political strategists, as opposed to the much harder problem of finding solutions.
The job situation and the structure of community will be a prime focus for John Kerry in the up coming American election. But is this a good thing? India and China are already being scapegoated. The politics of fear is in play again. But are real solutions being suggested?
It is interesting to contrast the US experience with the Australian one.
Australian economic performance has been stronger than the US in recent time periods. It is telling that John Howard is now trying to use the economy to shield himself, just as George W was trying to assume the role of war time president to hide from it. This inconsistency suggests the existence of a fault line which we need to explore.
How does the Australian community feel about the economy? Surface numbers are encouraging. Consumer confidence also appears strong. But the situation is not so clear cut. Qualitative research such as the Pusey survey suggests deep disquiet in the community. One focal point is the gap between rich and poor. This gap opened up by the end of the last Labor government. Little wonder that the ALP is wary of touching this terrain. Statistical evidence suggests that it has not improved under Howard, and has probably deteriorated further. Middle Australia feels it is struggling to maintain its quality of life. It has lost job security. Social services are in decline. If Australia is doing so well, and the government tax take is so high, why then are our schools and hospitals falling apart? The news of economic prosperity doesn’t tally with the headlines in the newspapers.
Mark Latham has picked this point. The sense of community cohesion will continue to be threatened by these trends. But does he really have policies to deal with these issues? Are they the inevitable result of global economic forces? Or is he just going to scapegoat John Howard? Playing the politics of fear?
Look at Europe. Disputes are paralysing France, Germany, and Italy as these societies struggle with these issues. They are gridlocked between holding on to their old community structures, the costs of which are becoming economically crippling, and radically altering the socio-economic structure, which threatens the integrity of certain core values. Will we avoid this?
I asked can this last? The last few days have seen economic news that could mark the end of this period in both the US and Australia. Growth in Asia has supported the Australian economy in part by fuelling commodity prices. It is telling that the oil price is one key reflector of this reality. The strong commodity prices that Australia benefited from are beginning to feed through to higher consumer prices in Asia. Cheap manufacturing prices have been an important element to low global inflation. Last night US inflation numbers came in above expectations. This threatens an increase in interest rates. Beyond that China is beginning to restrain credit growth to try to break its booming economy. There is a major bad debt risk in the Chinese economy. Higher interest rates mean the end of the building boom, higher mortgage rates and lower house prices in Australia. Australian and American consumers are carrying record levels of personal debt. And then there is the massive US budget deficit.
Ian Macfarlane, the head of the Reserve Bank commented about this risk yesterday. We have built an economic structure that is too dependent on low interest rates.
The idea of a new politics will be meaningless unless we can engage constructively with these economic challenges. And the hunt for external scapegoats will escalate. The politics of fear will re-assert itself, violently.
Afterthoughts on the economy
Two significant asides ...
The growth of China and India are structurally shifting the global economy. This cannot be dismissed simply as a capitalist plot. Isn’t it ironic that throughout our history many Australians have been so worried about invasions of our shores by our poorer Asian neighbours jealous of our standard of living and way of life? Now it will appear that the real challenge to our way of life will be the competitive challenges posed as these economies industrialise, and their citizens claim material standards of living which we presumed were only available in the West.
The forces that are entering play have been seen in the world before; during the 70s, and in part as a consequence of the Vietnam War.
The 60s saw the end of a massive productivity boom ... similar to the 90’s. The United States entered into the Vietnam War, and threw out fiscal discipline. It started running massive budget deficits. This was seen as one element that fuelled resurgence in inflation. Commodity prices rose, with the biggest blow off seen in the oil market. The economic boom of the 60s was followed by the stagflation of the 70s.
This process touches on a number of the issues raised in Matt Southon’s piece As seen on TV: the decline and fall of the American empire. I would like to comment on this piece at a later date as it raises significant issues which touch on this analysis.
Iraq, an example of adversarial logic and old politics
Iraq understandably and justifiably dominates our current debate. Within it lie all the elements that I have commented on above.
The Iraqi people, and the world, face a problem on the ground that it would not be hyperbole to describe as a disaster.
It is a consequence of many waves of history, culminating in the policies instigated by the Bush administration.
It is right that we consider those policies. Critical judgement is an appropriate element of that consideration, but where are we going on this?
The discussion of the Iraq war by both our politicians and Webdiarists seems dominated by other the point scoring that characterised the old politics, or by the adversarial logic whereby we dismiss those of opposing points of views as villains, and analyse their positions in order to prove that point.
I have trawled through the arguments over the last couple of months to try to pull out examples of this. In countering a number of the critiques made of the Bush and Howard administrations, I am not seeking to defend them. Rather I wish to demonstrate what Susan Metcalf refers to as reductionist and reactionary thinking.
There are 3 critical models which I read as being applied to the Iraq situation.
1. No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. As this was the justification for an expensive war in Iraq, whose final ramifications are not yet clear, the failure to find WMD’s and the processes by which these decisions were made demand exploration by opposition groups, and justification by government.
This is the approach implicit in Mark Latham’s speech. It has been adopted by a number of opposition groups under the democratic processes of members of the Coalition of the Willing.
It is essentially legalistic. It avoids complex exploration of the issues involved in the Iraq war and does not of itself challenge the motivations on the part of the governments of the Willing. It also avoids the question as to why certain opposition groups did not more fully engage the debate before the war. This is particularly true in the US where Kerry and the like supported the war, probably scared of taking on nationalist fervour, less true of the Australian Labor Party.
The governments have gone to little effort to justify their decisions with all their ramifications despite the failure to find WMDs. It is hence appropriate that questions be raised by opposition parties. Consequently Mark Latham made his call for John Howard to apologise. The governments of the Willing must take responsibility for this form of attack by opposition parties, as it is built almost totally on the framework that they themselves constructed; the presence of WMDs was the basis for the war.
Having said that, these attacks seem to have proved of little interest to the electorate, at least so far.
I believe that it is because they reek of the 'old politics'. The issue of Iraq and terrorism as understood by the electorate only partially reflect the governments’ pronouncements on WMDs.
The electorate see a connection between the Middle East and terrorism. They see that Saddam Hussein was an evil man. They believe that 'something' had to be done. The association between the two was an easy way for many of us to manage our anxieties. In a piece of now notorious apocrypha, Donald Rumsfeld is reputed to have touched this point post Sept 11 when he commented, "We have nobody to bomb". Our politicians in part reflect our own paranoid-schizoid responses, our fears and our need to find someone to blame. They delivered the enemies we wanted.
A constructive stance on the issue of terrorism and Iraq needs to examine the basis of the electorates fear, and offer solutions. Whilst Mark Latham’s demand of an apology from John Howard might be technically sound it fails to deal with the electorates underlying concern. It smells of finger pointing and old politics.
I don’t want to come down too harshly on Latham here. I am assessing him against the benchmark of an idealised new approach to politics. Of course, John Howard would probably do far worse than Latham on these criteria. And who is to say that there is a new game. Perhaps that is just my fantasy. Mark Latham might still beat Howard, at the old game.
2. The invasion of Iraq was a clumsy anti terrorism strategy, reflecting the structural biases within the US administration. Its execution without a UN mandate alienated US allies and confirmed the appearance of the US as an invader within the Middle East, increasing the attraction of Islamic extremists and the likelihood of civil war in Iraq.
This critique is gaining political momentum. It is especially championed by the likes of John Kerry.
With the deterioration in the Iraq situation it has become politically acceptable to up the ante on the criticism of the administration, particularly in the light of Richard Clark’s comments on the US administrations weak anti terrorist stance pre September 11.
It has only been strongly voiced after the event, when it was deemed politically acceptable. And are those now publicly making this criticism guaranteeing that such policy decisions wouldn’t be made again in the future? Are they committed to set up more open critical forums to function as checks and balances? Is this critique being used more to score political points than to present solutions?
These comments in the New York Times on April 8 with respect Kerry’s position are telling:
In an interview on Wednesday with American Urban Radio Networks, Mr. Kerry described the president's Iraq policy as "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life."
Still, even as he attacked Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry was notably vague in saying how he would handle the matter as president. His advisers said he had no plans to offer a policy speech about a war that aides to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry alike said they now expected to provide a bloody backdrop for the campaign for months.
"Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made," Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday on CNN.
3. The invasion of Iraq was initiated primarily on the claim of the existence weapons of mass destruction, breech of UN security resolutions with respect to those WMD’s, and alleged links, or potential links, between Saddam Hussein and terrorists. It was really designed for regime change with the strategic goal of giving the US effective control of Iraq and its oil. The failure to find those weapons of mass destruction, and revelations by Richard Clark, Paul O’Neill, Karen Kwiatkowski and the rest expose that conspiracy.
This version of the critique I put here is a simple synthesis of a number of the views on Webdiary, blogging sites around the world, Noam Chomsky and the café I go to. Yes I plead guilty to being part of latte society.
It is not publicly supported by any mainstream political group that I am aware of.
It touches on the issue raised previously in this essay, the trouble distinguishing between the facts of the matter, including of course the possible existence of all manner of conspiracies, and our own need to interpret the facts to demonstrate the existence of conspiracies. This satisfies a need to examine the universe in good guy bad guy terms.
This style of thinking is loaded through this interpretation of events, at its most fundamental levels.
Let me give some examples of some of those foundation propositions.
1. That a policy whose focus is oil is inconsistent with a policy to combat terrorism, and/or the interests of the broad community Oil is not just a question of money and power for the rich; it strikes at the heart of the global economic system.
For example, OPEC jacking up oil prices in the 70s was one of the key factors that devastated the world economy in that period.
The Bush administration, and in fact most governments across the world would see such policy prescriptions not as conspiracies but as the necessary outgrowth of their exercising their responsibilities as economic managers. The Gulf has been a focus for this kind of politics for almost a century by all players.
I am not suggesting that there have not been actions by oil companies driven primarily in their self interest, and that could be classified as conspiracies. Nor am I saying that this kind of politics is attractive or even desirable. What I am saying is that most governments would reject the proposition that targeting oil as a policy focus was in dereliction of their responsibilities to their core constituencies.
If the Australian or US economy blew up because of an oil shortage the public response to what is appropriate policy in Iraq or the Gulf I am sure would be more brutal than anything we are witnessing now.
2. That the desire by the US to shift military bases from Saudi Arabia was inconsistent with a policy to combat terrorism, and/or the interests of the broad community.
The issue of Saudi Arabia brings us back to the question of oil and the geo-politics of the Gulf and terrorism.
Saudi Arabia is the dominant oil producer in OPEC. Furthermore it is the producer with the greatest technical capacity to expand or contract production at will. For a long time it controlled the tap on how much surplus oil was entering the market. It hence effectively controlled the world oil price.
It is unsurprising under the circumstances that American sought to build strong links to Saudi. Of course these were of commercial interest as well. One must add to this picture that the second largest OPEC producer is Iran, openly hostile to the west.
When Iraq was removed from the equation post the first Gulf war, Saudi Arabia effectively kept OPEC in check, and the world, including the US of course, benefited from low oil prices for much of the decade.
What became clear however was that Saudi could not be simply categorised as a compliant American state. Members of the Saudi establishment were funding bin Laden. Saudi was the centre of one of the most fundamentalist strains of Islam. America ultimately found itself with limited leverage on Saudi, which effectively controlled OPEC and was funding al Qaeda.
Prior to the war it was reported by certain think tanks that the war's objective was to gain a counter weight to Saudi in OPEC so that Saudi could not continue with impunity funding al Qaeda and controlling the oil price.
Hence a fundamental link between oil, Saudi, and al Qaeda was seen by the US establishment. Within the terms of this analysis Iraq becomes an essential piece of leverage over Saudi, and the ultimate funding of al Qaeda.
Furthermore both Iran and Syria, Iraq’s neighbours, had relationships with terrorist groups of some form or another. The Pentagon had little capacity to apply leverage to either state if they chose to expand those terrorist relationships, and possibly supply arms.
3. That the absence of established links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda signify that the goal of removing him was inconsistent with a policy with a policy to combat terrorism, and/or the interests of the broad community.
The great writer and anti-establishment US critic Norman Mailer commented that the issue of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was misrepresented.
The arrival of al Qaeda meant that the likes of Saddam Hussein, even if historically they had no links to it, gained a new policy option. If relations with the West deteriorated he and others like him could always insinuate supplying weaponry to al Qaeda. The risk if the US permitted such brinksmanship strategies would be either that at some point terrorists would access to WMDs of some capacity, or the west would always be subject to blackmail by the likes of Hussein. North Korea is a case in point.
4. That action which might be seen as supporting certain interest groups in the United States are essentially inconsistent with a policy to combat terrorism, and/or the interests of the broader community.
Of course US oil companies are concerned with who controls Iraqi oil reserves. There are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a strong connection between the US administration and the oil industry.
Does that mean that the intervention in Iraq which may be in the interests of some of those companies was also inconsistent with broad policy objectives? Of course conflicts of interest such as this should be avoided in the idealised democratic template, but is this a realistic proposition?
Oil companies are just one of the many powerful lobby groups entwined with the politics of many nations. There were a string of highly documented scandals about French government links to the now merged oil giant Elf Total and the Russian government's involvement with its own majors is naked; Gazprom, Lukoil, and now Yukos. It was France and Russia that opposed the invasion of Iraq. Their oil companies have been highly involved in oil deals in Iran and have circled Iraq. The interests of oil companies and their respective nations are inexorably linked. Whilst it would seem appropriate that the US should act with detachment from its oil industry, is that likely when other nations are not operating with similar detachment? (See Gigantic sleaze scandal winds up as former Elf oil chiefs are jailed.)
The pro Iraq arguments need to be understood in the context of the Bush administration’s belief systems...
Why did the Bush administration focus on these arguments as opposed to the alternatives?
The role of neo conservative philosophy
It would be naïve to categorise the neo cons as simply corporate cronies. Many of the technocrats’ backgrounds would be better classified as academic and primarily ideologically driven.
Those ideologies suit certain capitalist interests, but not all. There are significant areas where the neo-con framework threatens the global trading structure that trans-national capital prizes. Equivalently the budgetary stance taken by the Bush administration is not what global capital would have envisaged, even if the tax breaks are primarily distributed to the wealthy.
This is a point where I feel uncomfortable with Matt Southon’s analysis. I do not believe that the various power groups in the US, even corporate interests, can be considered part of some singular establishment edifice with homogenous views as to the nature of the world. The neo-cons represent one camp. Their views were developed in think tanks associated with the industrial-military complex and the Pentagon. They tend to show little sympathy for many of the views on Wall Street or Silicon Valley.
The neo-cons values can be characterized as Social Darwinist and libertarian. They see themselves as having moral authority and values. Liberal Humanists tend to claim a similar moral authority, but on the basis of a different philosophical model.
The neo con history sees that after World War 2 democracy was transplanted into Germany and Japan.
The Berlin Wall fell in their view as a direct consequence of Reagan’s hard line stance with the Soviet Union. Democracy 'swept' Eastern Europe.
Within their sociological model, and their reading of history, the invasion of Iraq would trigger a similar domino effect across the region as they had seen in the past. This would be their way of impacting terrorism at street level.
This view seems naïve and was formed in the absence of significant expertise on Arab affairs within the neo-con establishment. But I have little doubt that a number of them hold it sincerely.
A belief in the “free market” economic system
There is a degree of alignment between neo-cons and 'neo-liberal' economists on economic models. That view would suggest that the economic betterment of the Iraqi people and the Arab world will inevitably flow from the application of 'free market' economics. State intervention is seen as counter productive. A long term strategy to counter terrorism is hence based on the application of western liberal democratic values, and free market economics to better material conditions. Note that the neo-cons are quite comfortable in throwing out market economics if it runs counter to their view of the application of political and military power at a national level.
The structure of US institutions dictates responses… "The US had no one else to bomb". There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Pentagon had no contingency plans to deal with terrorists. Its whole operating structure was pitched to dealing with sovereign states. It is ironic, because this is the inevitable consequence of the application of international law. How could the Pentagon develop contingency plans against street level phenomenon within another sovereign state?
It is unsurprising hence that it sought a point of leverage at the national level - Afghanistan, Iraq.
This is the new reality John Howard refers to.
Absence of critical cross checks within the administration
What is of concern is that the US administration allowed these philosophical biases to drive the analysis of information and consequent policy formation.
The formation and application of these philosophies is consistent with the most basic strategies of ego defence, whereby the world is interpreted in terms that ultimately support the position of the establishment. Throughout human history establishments have always adopted philosophies which justify their own positions. They remain unchallenged whilst those philosophies align sufficiently with reality as to prove effective, Hubris, however, ultimately clouds the ability to read underlying changes.
This issue parallels the core of the critical processes we would expect to be the heart of the 'new politics'. It parallels the issue of what would characterise an effective and constructive forum within the Webdiary. Do we simply characterise Bush and co as bad guys, and as the epitome of all the elements we disapprove of in the world, or do we examine the basis of their arguments in order to generate a response?
* Considering the Bush administration in light of the arguments against invading Iraq
Iraq was held together by a central strong man. His removal would see internal factionalism drive Iraq into Civil War. This was widely predicted before the war. The Americans appear to have dismissed this argument. Why?
The stance of the US administration would appear to be consistent with their interpretation of events in Eastern Europe, the economic revolution in China, and their underlying philosophy of historical process.
The avoidance of a plan on how to manage Iraq pos Saddam however would seem either negligent, or having brutal faith that after a 'shakeout' the situation would stabilise. God knows what the human cost of this shakeout would be.
The desire to introduce some form of democracy was/is inconsistent with the objective of having a government that was necessarily sympathetic to the west, and unsympathetic to terrorism.
There is a reasonable probability that the Iraqi people electing a theocratic government that is not sympathetic to the West. This risks defeating on one of the major objectives of US anti-terrorist strategy.
This has now become apparent.
It would appear that US neo-conservatives could not adequately envisage an outcome where western models were not embraced as part of the liberation.
They probably will continue to suggest that it is too early to tell. Their theory of historical progress is driven by Social Darwinism and captured in texts like 'The End of History' by Francis Fukuyama, where their position is the natural and inevitable end point:
...liberal democracy may constitute the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’ and the ‘final form of human government”, and as such constituted the 'end of history.
Iraq will further alienate the Islamic World from the West and prompt greater recruitment by terrorist organisations
With respect to winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world, it seems that US policy makers felt that this battle was lost in the short term.
The reality was that the US could not undo the impact of decades of support for Israel, or force a shift in Israeli politics in the short term. As a result there would always be a pool of Arab “extremists” to join terrorist organisations. Undoing the anti-Western beliefs in the Arab world would require a longer term strategy, which whilst necessary, would need to be supported by a short term strategy to deal with terrorists now.
The Bush administration does have a vision of shifting Arab views to being more pro-Western. It is built on a neo-conservative value system about the ultimate and inevitable desirability of Western liberal democratic political institutions, and with that free market economics. The Bush administration has clearly stated that it will seek to promote those values, rather than some compromise PR campaign in the Arab world.
The validity of this approach is a key area we should examine. It is clearly not working in the short term. The question is whether it is valid in the long term, or probably more tellingly, just a hypothetical point which in practice may not be reached for an extended period and at the cost of the lives of millions. This sort of faith seems to represent the equivalent of the ideological jihads of Islam, or Communism.
Impact of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Bush administration has not taken serious steps in resolving this situation. It may be that it is not resolvable in the short term. Of course elements of the Bush administration have historic links to Likud in Israel.
Against such a backdrop the nature of a military intervention in Iraq needed to be considered with the utmost caution.
The intervention challenged the integrity of the international agreements. A proper UN mandate should have been obtained
The Bush administration’s response to this is to reflect on the limitations of such internationalist, multilateralist structures.
European failure to intervene in Bosnia despite massive evidence of a human rights catastrophe is given as a prime recent example. A significant reason for this was horse-trading between the Germans and the French who historically had been associated with Croatia and Serbia respectively. Historic evidence did not suggest that a multi-lateral force could be obtained when these sort of frictions were in place.
Could effective defensive strategies be made subject to such compromised structures? Israel has long pulled back from them under terrorist assault.
Alternatively, America post September 11 had the political capital to reform those structures, and lead a united world on this issue. It chose not to do so.
That it was unjustified on the basis of the loss of life and suffering of the Iraqi people
Inflicting loss of life is in breech of our most fundamental ethical structures. It is telling that an administration that characterises itself as Christian could enter into such a strategy with limited consideration of the human cost.
But Saddam was butchering the people!
This is clearly a powerful argument. It does not however justify an invasion where the consequences after the removal of Saddam had not been adequately considered or resourced. The political chaos, devastation of the country and the civil war mean that the lives of the 'person in the street' will probably be worse now, and for the foreseeable future, than they were under Saddam.
And whilst our leaders can be called politically to account for the deaths of our soldiers, who will call them to account for civilian casualties in Iraq? A test case for war crime tribunals or in the US case civil proceedings under US courts? I doubt the Iraqi people will be confident of a fair hearing.
In conclusion on conspiracy theories
The focus of criticisms of the invasion of Iraq that it was not consistent with the “War against Terror” strikes me as weak. A more reasonable criticism is that it was bad policy and that the formation of that policy was clouded by the philosophical underpinnings of the US and other national governments.
Those philosophical models are not new. They have been explicit to the operation to world politics for centuries. Furthermore, the blindness to the self serving nature of these policies and the weakness of critical judgements is also not new. It is a frequent feature of establishments that believe their own propaganda. It is implicit to our own human nature.
Why did John Howard and Tony Blair sign up for this strategy? There clearly had to be a deeper rationale than just WMD to explain their commitment. It is by asserting a hard core conspiracy theory that their actions seem incomprehensible other than as acts of evil, or corrupt or servile pandering to the United States.
A more reasonable assumption is that the likes of Tony Blair and Colin Powell accepted that the Iraq strategy had some merit, whilst privately maintaining certain reservations. It was President Bush’s prerogative to choose the direction his administration was to pursue. As such Blair and Howard signed on because they felt it better that a clear position of global leadership was taken on these issues than the situation be left unclear. There is strong evidence to suggest that both men saw their roles as balancing the positions of the neo-con ideologues with respect to the implementation of the strategy, and winning broad international support for it. Critics will probably conclude that those efforts were largely failures, and the two men’s agreement to the strategy may ultimately have proven to be a mistake.
Of course the governments of the willing in many ways have themselves to blame for setting up the debate in these terms. That is because they were not honest and forthcoming in discussing with the public the full reasons for their intervention.
This is the nature of the old politics rearing its head. It is probably not the first time. In fact, most wars throughout history have been entered into with some doctoring of the facts for public construction. Government has always claimed that this secrecy was and is necessary on national security grounds. But history also tends to show that the greatest disasters have been caused by the application of bad policy by government. A higher level of critical scrutiny probably would have saved millions of lives. This is the reality of what the “new politics” is fighting for, and what we should be talking about in Webdiary.
The significance of critical forums, and self reflection
Institutions and persons make decisions based on a collection of factors.
1. The 'facts' of the situation.
2. Philosophy, being the view of how the world works, of how the facts fit together.
3. Psychological need, reflecting instincts of self preservation, which are by definition broadly self serving. These drives are not necessarily conscious.
4. The tools that are available. Strategies will tend to be chosen from an opportunity set of available options over theoretical ones.
These 4 propositions are strongly interconnected. The choice of philosophy will be influenced by psychological needs. The development of tools will reflect the application of those philosophies and that psychology over time. Even 'facts' will be subject to a subjective screen determining what is emphasised and what is not emphasised.
Effective action requires that we gain some capacity to distinguish 'what is' from interpretations of 'what we would like it to be' in order to serve our egos. The capacity to develop such responses is most vital in crisis periods such as September 11, or the current Iraqi situation. Recognising and understanding the nature of our own subjectivity is the first step to wisdom.
The evidence suggests that the Bush administration has been particularly weak in challenging its own interpretation of reality in determining appropriate policy. It has weeded out critical voices as weak or treacherous. This criticism does not apply just at the level of direct policy formation, but also at a deeper level. The neo-conservative political philosophy does not seem to have been subject to critical scrutiny on the basis that its conclusions serve the interests of the Bush administrations’ constituency. It presents them as moral champions standing astride the globe.
George W Bush said at his recent press conference:
"I also have this belief, strong belief that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the earth we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom."
As I said at the beginning of this essay most of us seek to define the world in terms where we are the heroes. Bush and team are no different.
To pick up Matt Southon’s theme of the decline of empire, the lack of self reflection coincides with the replacement of self belief with hubris, the inability to distinguish between policies that are primarily self serving, and ultimately self deluding, with an effective response. Such tendencies flag the decline of an individual, an organisation, or a nation.
So can constructive analysis shape history or do we only learn the hard way?
Two competing responses strike me.
The first is one whereby our critical analysis can generate insights that improve our own understanding, and also potentially suggest a way to move forward.
For that analysis to be robust however, we must seek to acknowledge the impact of our own subjective stance, as well as, picking up Susan Metcalf’s point, avoiding the “reductionist” tendency whereby we simplify our opponent’s arguments into caricatures consistent with our own self serving model of reality.
Mark Latham suggests that he believes that we can better our situation through the application of reason. In his 'New Politics' speech he says:
More than any other political movement, we have a belief in the power of social reform by democratic means. Our belief in the capacity of human reason and progress to create a fairer society.
This is consistent with both the aims of a new politics, and of an intellectual forum such as Webdiary. It carries on the idealism implicit to the Enlightenment, starting from the likes of Voltaire, and implicit to the formation of the US constitution and Bill of Rights.
The second interpretation is more consistent with a collection of viewpoints; Social Darwinist, or Hegelian/Marxist. Within it different philosophies will battle it out, and either the “fittest” will win, or a new synthesis will be born on the anvil of history. This view is consistent with the idea that critical analysis can never escape our subjective stance, and constructively engage with the ideas of those not holding our views.
In this model the best possible outcome is that we each of us do what we most believe in to the utmost of our capacities, and in the crucible of life the shape of history will be forged.
To try to distil it through some intellectual process is foolishness. Within this framework no self reflection will save an empire from decline. In fact self reflection is often a symptom of 'decadence' [read Robert Kaplan for examples of this kind of analysis]. An empire will decline when its operating philosophy and cultural dynamics cease to be effective in determining its relationship with the real world. It will be supplanted by another more vigorous culture and value system.
It is telling that this is the operating model that the neo-conservatives operate under in terms of political theory, and the economic rationalists operate under in economic theory. It sees acknowledging the adversarial principle as the basis of true wisdom.
But it is not just neo-cons that hold this theory. It is also consistent with a Marxist view of history. There is no surprise that there is this overlap as a number of the neo-cons came originally from left wing backgrounds. A number of the arguments presented in Webdiary from a left wing perspective equally are looking for a historic catharsis that will prove them correct.
And then there is Mark Latham. He has sought to position himself as a thinker. He and his political situation now seem to embody the tension between 'idealism' and 'pragmatism'. Is it too much to expect him to champion the new politics that he himself has talked about, whilst at the same as being engaged in the 'realities' of traditional day to day politics?
Is it possible to build a new politics, or does it run against the 'reality' of our psychology? The issues embodied in this debate strike across our society, and many of our intellectual disciplines. I suspect that evolutionary psychology and Social Darwinism would suggest that an adversarial logic is intrinsic and essential. It is unlikely that the application of reason alone, as per the liberal humanist model, will break this psychology. But that is not to say it cannot be broken. To build a new politics we must work on our own consciousness. We must do so whilst engaging with other groups who may not be so self reflective. It involves learning wisdom. There are no guarantees of success.
Can the discussions in Webdiary break out of a cycle of indignation by one side, then the other, or is that the inevitable nature of debate? Is it necessary that we vent our anger against injustice, or is it the more we feel justified in venting anger, the more things stay the same?
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/04/16/1081998311053.html
For Marines, a Frustrating Fight
Some in Iraq Question How and Why War Is Being Waged
By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page A01
ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq -- Scrawled on the helmet of Lance Cpl. Carlos Perez are the letters FDNY. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York, the Pentagon and western Pennsylvania, Perez quit school, left his job as a firefighter in Long Island, N.Y., and joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
"To be honest, I just wanted to take revenge," said Perez, 20.
Now, two months into a seven-month combat tour in Iraq, Perez said he sees little connection between the events of Sept. 11 and the war he is fighting. Instead, he said, he is increasingly disillusioned by a conflict whose origins remain unclear and frustrated by the timidity of U.S. forces against a mostly faceless enemy.
"Sometimes I see no reason why we're here," Perez said. "First of all, you cannot engage as many times as we want to. Second of all, we're looking for an enemy that's not there. The only way to do it is go house to house until we get out of here."
Perez is hardly alone. In a dozen interviews, Marines from a platoon known as the "81s" expressed in blunt terms their frustrations with the way the war is being conducted and, in some cases, doubts about why it is being waged. The platoon, named for the size in millimeters of its mortar rounds, is part of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment based in Iskandariyah, 30 miles southwest of Baghdad.
The Marines offered their opinions openly to a reporter traveling with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines during operations last week in Babil province, then expanded upon them during interviews over three days in their barracks at Camp Iskandariyah, their forward operating base.
The Marines' opinions have been shaped by their participation in hundreds of hours of operations over the past two months. Their assessments differ sharply from those of the interim Iraqi government and the Bush administration, which have said that Iraq is on a certain -- if bumpy -- course toward peaceful democracy.
"I feel we're going to be here for years and years and years," said Lance Cpl. Edward Elston, 22, of Hackettstown, N.J. "I don't think anything is going to get better; I think it's going to get a lot worse. It's going to be like a Palestinian-type deal. We're going to stop being a policing presence and then start being an occupying presence. . . . We're always going to be here. We're never going to leave."
The views of the mortar platoon of some 50 young Marines, several of whom fought during the first phase of the war last year, are not necessarily reflective of all or even most U.S troops fighting in Iraq. Rather, they offer a snapshot of the frustrations engendered by a grinding conflict that has killed 1,064 Americans, wounded 7,730 and spread to many areas of the country.
Although not as highly publicized as attacks in such hot spots as Fallujah, Samarra and Baghdad's Sadr City, the violence in Babil province, south of the capital, is also intense. Since July 28, when the Marines took over operational responsibility for the region, 102 of the unit's 1,100 troops have been wounded, 85 in combat, according to battalion records. Four have been killed, two in combat.
Senior officers attribute the vast difference between the number of killed and wounded to the effectiveness of armor -- bullet-proof vests, helmets and reinforced armored vehicles, primarily Humvees -- in the face of persistent attacks. As of last week, the Marines had come upon 61 roadside bombs, nearly one a day. Forty-nine had detonated. Camp Iskandariyah was hit by mortar shells or rockets on 12 occasions; 21 other times, insurgents tried to hit the base and missed.
Realities on the Ground
Several members of the platoon said they were struck by the difference between the way the war was being portrayed in the United States and the reality of their daily lives.
"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."
Pfc. Kyle Maio, 19, of Bucks County, Pa., said he thought government officials were reticent to speak candidly because of the upcoming U.S. elections. "Stuff's going on here but they won't flat-out say it," he said. "They can't get into it."
Maio said that when he arrived in Iraq, "I didn't think I was going to live this long, in all honesty." He added, "it ain't that bad. It's just part of the job, I guess."
As a reporter began to ask Maio another question, the interview was interrupted by the scream of an incoming rocket and then a deafening explosion outside the platoon's barracks. Pandemonium ensued.
"Get down! Get down!" yelled the platoon's radio operator, Cpl. Brandon Autin, 21, of New Iberia, La., his orders laced with profanity. "Get in the bunker! Get in the bunker now!"
Members of the platoon raced out of their rooms to a 5-by-15-foot bunker, located outside at the end of the one-story building. The dirt-floor room was protected by a low ceiling and walls built out of four-foot-thick sandbags. Once in the bunker, several Marines lit cigarettes, filling the already-congested room with smoke.
"The reality right now is that the most dangerous opinion in the world is the opinion of a U.S. serviceman," said Lance Cpl. Devin Kelly, 20, of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Lance Cpl. Alexander Jones, 20, of Ball Ground, Ga., agreed: "We're basically proving out that the government is wrong," he said. "We're catching them in a lie."
Senior officers said they shared many of the platoon's frustrations but added that it was difficult for low-level Marines to see the larger progress being made across Iraq. Maj. Douglas Bell, the battalion's executive officer, said "one of the most difficult things about the insurgency is identifying the enemy."
Bell said it was frustrating for "every Marine in the battalion" to search for insurgents on a daily basis, only to be attacked repeatedly with bombs and mortars detonated or launched by an invisible enemy. "You want to get your hand around his frigging collar and kick his ass," Bell said. "But they slip away."
Bell said Marines offering dire predictions for Iraq were not taking into account the training of the new Iraqi security forces. He said the installation of the new Iraqi army, Iraqi National Guard and police across the country would lay the foundation for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"That's how we're going to get out of Iraq," Bell said. "That's how America is going to get out of Iraq."
The Marines acknowledged that the elusiveness of the insurgents was frustrating. "You don't really know who you're fighting. You're more or less fighting objects," said Elston, the lance corporal from New Jersey. "You see something on the side of the road. It blows up."
But the Marines said their frustrations run deeper. Several said the Iraqi security forces who are supposed to ultimately replace them were nowhere near ready and may never be.
"They can't take care of themselves," said Lance Cpl. Matthew Combs, 19, of Cincinnati, who added that he didn't think the National Guardsmen "can do anything. They just do what we tell them to do."
The Price of Precaution
The Marines also expressed frustration that they were unable to fight more aggressively because of restraints in the rules of engagement imposed by senior commanders.
The rules, which require Marines to positively identify their target as hostile before shooting, are cumbersome in the face of urban guerrilla warfare, several of them said.
"When we get called out, we'll sit there staging there for an hour," Maio said. "By the time we're ready to move, they're up and gone. A few weeks ago, the Iskandariyah police station was under attack. We staged for damn near an hour before we went out. It's stupid. You have to wait to get approval and all this other stuff."
Kelly, the lance corporal from Alaska, said he understood the need to protect civilians but that the restraints were jeopardizing American lives. "It seems as if they place more value on obeying the letter of the law and sacrificing our lives than following the spirit of the law and getting the job done," he said of his commanders.
Bell said the Marines' frustration was understandable but that it was extremely difficult to make a determination of hostile intent following a roadside bombing that might have been detonated by anything from a remote-controlled toy car to a cell phone. "That's a pretty difficult decision to make for a 19-year-old kid," he said.
Lance Cpl. Jeremy Kyrk, 21, of Chicago, said the insurgents took advantage of the limitations imposed on U.S. troops. "They don't give us any leeway, they don't give us any quarter," he said. "They catch people and cut their heads off. They know our limits, but they have no limits. We can't compete with that."
A Decision to Serve
Perez said the frustrations inherent in the war became apparent almost immediately after he arrived in Iraq in late July. A Colombian immigrant, he said he decided to join the Marine Corps after attending the funeral of a friend who had died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The friend, Thomas Hetzel, was a volunteer firefighter at the Franklin Square & Munson Fire Department on Long Island, where Perez also volunteered.
At the time, Perez was studying criminal justice at Nassau Community College. "While I was at the funeral I was looking at his little daughter cry," he said. "He had a pregnant wife and two kids. I just said, 'All right, this is what I want to do.' "
But Perez said he came to think that war in Iraq was unrelated to his anger. "How do I put this?" he said. "First of all, this is a whole different thing. We're supposed to be looking for al Qaeda. They're the ones who are supposedly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. This has no connection at all to Sept. 11 because this war started just by telling us about all the nuclear warheads over here."
Snyder, who was listening, added: "Pretty much I think they just diverted the war on terrorism. I agree with the Afghanistan war and all the Sept. 11 stuff, but it feels like they left the bigger war over there to come here. And now, while we're on the ground over here, it seems like we're not even close to catching frigging bin Laden."
Perez said he thought that in some ways he was still fighting terrorists "and I can see how they might attack the United States in the future. It's a link, but it's not really based in the same thing."
Perez added that he now believes the primary reason for the U.S. presence is to help the Iraqis. "But they don't seem like they want to be helped," he said. "I've only been here two months, but every time you go out, people give you bad looks and it just seems like everybody wants to shoot you."
The frustration of the Marines was evident one afternoon last week as members of the platoon traveled from Forward Operating Base Kalsu back to Camp Iskandariyah. An attack had reportedly taken place in the area, and members of the platoon were asked to leave their Humvees and walk up a road to look for suspicious activity.
Traffic quickly began to pile up: cars packed with families, trucks loaded with animals and vegetables. The line of vehicles would have taken hours to search. An order was suddenly passed for the Marines to search all buses for insurgents or weapons.
"This is what we call a dog-and-pony show," said Kelly, the heavyset, sharp-tongued lance corporal from Fairbanks. He said the operation was essentially a performance for American reporters who were traveling with the Marines. "This is so you can write in your paper how great our response is," he said.
Combs and another Marine boarded a small bus packed mostly with women and children. He walked up the center aisle carrying his M-16 assault rifle, then got off, disgusted.
"We just scared the living [expletive] out of a bunch of people," he said. "That's all we did."
When the Marines returned to their truck, Autin and Kelly began to debate the merits of the American presence in Iraq.
"And, by the way, why are we here?" Autin said.
"I'll tell you why we're here," Kelly replied. "We're here to help these people."
Autin agreed and said he supported the mission.
He added later that it was difficult to wage the battle when American commanders were holding them back.
"We feel they care more about Iraqi civilians than they do American soldiers," he said.
Asked if he was concerned that the Marines would be punished for speaking out, Autin responded: "We don't give a crap. What are they going to do, send us to Iraq?"
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
When "guilty" becomes "sorry" - 10/09/2004 15:05
Anglo-Saxon Alliance invent new precept as counter-weight to international law
A new precept has taken shape in the international community, that of the Anglo-Saxon Alliance using the public apology as an excuse for its wrong-doings and inventing the logic-defying notion that although they were wrong, they were right.
First it was the British prime Minister, Tony Blair, who declared at his Labour Party Conference that he could apologise for the wrong intelligence but not for the attack against Iraq. Next, it was Rumsfeld, who could not bring himself to say sorry, but who told the Foreign Relations Committee that the intelligence reports on which the casus belli was based were wrong, and the argument that the Iraq question was linked to international terrorism was wrong, then trying to justify everything by claiming that Saddam Hussein intended to produce WMD.
Now it is British Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who stated yesterday on BBC Question Time that "I certainly want to say that all of us, from the Prime Minister down, are very sorry. "(We) apologise for the fact that that information was wrong, but I don't think we were wrong to go in."
The principle that a person can apologise for being wrong and then claim that he was right, defies logic. This is not the case of taking someone's pen by accident and returning it later, with an apology. This is a case of the most flagrant disregard for international law, an outrage against the international community, against the rule of law, against the UN Charter, against the Geneva Convention, in which an act of mass murder was committed.
If the casus belli was based on two precepts - that the government of Iraq had WMD, posing an immediate threat to the USA and its allies and that the government of Saddam Hussein had links to international terrorist organizations and both precepts turn out, by the admission of those who crafted the case for war, to be utterly false, where does this leave those responsible?
Sorry? Or guilty?
Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Blair, how do you plead to the charge that you attacked Iraq illegally, outside the auspices of the UNO, and without any casus belli?
Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Blair, how do you plead to the charge that you are responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians in the said attack?
Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Blair, how do you plead to the charge that you are responsible for the wounding and occasioning of grievous bodily harm either with intent or through criminal negligence, to tens of thousands of innocent civilians?
Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Blair, how do you plead to the charge that you purposefully targeted civilian structures in Iraq with military hardware?
Messrs Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Blair, how do you plead to the charge that you based your actions on a tissue of lies from beginning to end, that you knew fully well what you were doing, that you jumped the gun because you had wrongly started a military build-up on Iraq's borders based upon false assumptions and did not have the decency to admit that you were wrong?
Sorry is not good enough. In all countries, common criminals who are found guilty, even those who admit to their guilt, have to stand before a court of law and face the consequences of their actions.
A vote for the regimes of Bush and Blair is a vote for the rule by the mob over the rule of law. In short, it is a vote for international terrorism, a vote for the continuation of terrorist acts such as those carried out by US and British military forces against civilians. Terrorists and war criminals must be tried, judged and if found guilty, punished. Why should this clique of elitists be treated any differently?
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