Thursday, May 20, 2004

News flash: We lose

From today's "Independent," here's another Chatterati who wants an American defeat in Iraq so bad he can taste it. This is the guy who writes the "Mars-Venus" books. I suppose that qualifies him as an expert on international relations, to the "Independent." This is the same "philosopher" whose academic credentials were exposed by bloggers as fraudulent. He threatened to sue one of them in response. But at least he's dropped the "Dr."

The title of the article is "Power and vainglory: Iraq isn't another Vietnam - it's much worse. The images of abused prisoners demonstrate not just American depravity, says the philosopher John Gray, but the folly of waging war as a moral crusade" Fasten your seatbelts. The Vietnam identifications vomit forth from this guy with a force that makes Ted Kennedy look like a sober historian.

Misguided from the start, the war in Iraq is spiralling out of control. Any legitimacy the occupying forces may ever have possessed has been destroyed, and there are signs that Iraqi insurgents are coming together to mount a movement of resistance that could render the country ungovernable. With even more damning images likely to find their way into the public realm in the near future, the United States is facing an historic defeat in Iraq - a blow to American power more damaging than it suffered in Vietnam, and far larger in its global implications.

The inescapable implication of currently available evidence is that the use of torture by US forces was not an aberration, but a practice sanctioned at the highest levels. Undoubtedly there were serious breaches of discipline, and the blank failure to understand that they had done anything wrong displayed by some of the abusers does not speak well for the levels of training of sections of the US military.

He compares the "resistance mounted by the Iraqi insurgents" to "the anti-colonial liberation struggles of the 1950s," and declares that U.S. forces have been "plunged into a type of conflict for which they are supremely ill equipped." And that is fighting in an Iraq where "the enemy comprises much of the population."

He decries the U.S. because it "unilaterally declared members of terrorist organisations to be illegal combatants who are not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention." I suppose, though he does not say this, we should have "multilaterally" negotiated their status with al Qaida. I don't know about Mars and Venus, but I detect an influence of the Moon there.

Gray has been predicting an imminent U.S. "cut-and-run" from Iraq since last summer. He's still predicting it:

The US cannot afford an ongoing war in Iraq, but the price of a quick exit will be high. Even so, it looks clear that that is exactly what is about to happen. After the torture revelations, 'staying the course' is no longer feasible. This is not because the American public has reacted with massive revulsion to evidence of the systematic abuse of Iraqis - as has been the case in Britain and other European countries. Rather, Iraq and its people are now viewed with a mix of bafflement and hatred, and a mood of despair about the war has set in. Most Americans want out - and soon.

Now, this might be a good point to mention that there is not a single number of any sort in the entire Gray piece (except for "1950s"). That's right; this pontificating palace of power-prose ("vainglory ... destroyed ... historic defeat") is built without a scintilla of proof for its foundation.

This might also be the right point to note that Gray is flat-out wrong. The most recent comprehensive survey of Americans (by the Pew Research Center, released May 12), even after the horrible last few weeks, shows that, so far from most of us wanting "out -- and soon," 53 percent favor keeping the troops in Iraq, versus 42 percent who said the troops should be brought home. The poll's error rate was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

From his armchair in London, Gray reads a "coming together" of the resistance and a "historic defeat" of the Americans. His "currently available evidence" leads to "inescapable" conclusions about the structure of the U.S. military and (as he reports later) the "trailer-park mentality" of American recruits.

He swivels in his chair and turns his all-seeing Sauron eye across the Atlantic, and discerns that, to Americans, "the Iraqi people ... are now viewed as virtually subhuman."

And he reports that the U.S. didn't merely overthrow a dictator; it "destroyed the Iraqi state, with the result that the country is now in a condition of semi-anarchy."

The artist formerly known as "Dr. John Gray" may be shy of numbers, but I am not. Here are a few examples of the "semi-anarchy," the "historic defeat," and the Americans' "subhuman" contempt:

  • "In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month." In Baghdad, "American authorities created nine district councils ... with representatives sent by 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The district councils, in turn, sent representatives to the Baghdad City Advisory Council to work with the American administration." [Washington Post]

  • Salaries are rising, employment is rising, and retired government employees are finally getting decent pensions.

  • "We have rehabilitated the orphanages, the centres for the handicapped and special needs institutions in Iraq, as well as the institutions for the deaf and blind. Work is on to accommodate all the homeless and orphaned children and ensure the needs of the handicapped. In addition, we have opened 28 offices for the ministry in different parts of the country to accept applications of Iraqi citizens in search of employment and job training."

  • "More than five million Iraqi students are back in school and more than 51 million new Ba'ath-free textbooks are in circulation" [CPA]. Some 100,000 healthcare professionals are working in 240 re-opened hospitals and 1,200 clinics.

  • "Iraqi crude oil sales since last year's U.S.-led invasion hit more than $9 billion ... The Coalition Provisional Authority had deposited a total of $9.28 billion in its Development Fund for Iraq."

  • "Some 20,000 contractors are doing business in the country with relatively few security problems ... Most are sharing in the $18.4 billion that has been allocated by the U.S. government to rebuild roads, public utilities, schools, housing and other parts of the Iraq economy."

  • The Army Corps of Engineers has been restoring oil infrastructure. It also is building and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq. As reported below, villages that never had clean drinking water now have their own filtration plants.

  • Overall "about 2,200 different [reconstruction] projects worth around $2.5 billion were under way, with 18,000 already completed. Targets had been met with oil production, which was back to 2.3 million barrels a day, clean drinking water and power."

  • Thanks to the generosity of U.S. civilians, Spirit of America has donated 10,000 school supply kits and three tons of medical supplies, as well as Frisbees and soccer balls, which are being given to Iraqis by the Marines "as gifts of friendship from the American people."

  • In late April, USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll of 3,444 Iraqis asked "Thinking about any hardships you might have suffered since the US/British invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not?" Some 61 percent said it was worth it. In the Shia areas, 74 percent.

  • The Kurdish third of the nation is living in unparalleled peace and prosperity and freedom. The Sunni region is quieter than it has been since the end of the war. In Fallujah, as reported below, U.S.-appointed retired major-general Mohammed Abdul-Latif seems to be getting the job done. "We can make [the US] use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," he told "a gathering of more than 40 sheikhs, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb .... As he spoke, many sheikhs nodded in approval and listened with reverence. Later, they clasped his hands and patted him on the back."

  • In the Shia region, the thuggish al-Sadr is isolated and increasingly despised. The silent majority of Shiites have not heeded his call to rise up. The real ayatollahs will be leaders, and they are men like Sistani, who has made it clear that religious leaders should not be in charge of the state.

  • Marsh Arabs, whose homeland was destroyed by Saddam as collective punishment for their 1991 rebellion, are reclaiming their ancient way of life. As Saddam's dams come down, the marshes reflood and the ecosystem revives, along with the the way of life they brought.

  • All of which leaves aside the predictions of the doomsayers from a year ago, which never materialized: millions of refugees, tens of thousands of American dead, millions of Iraqi dead, chemical attacks, nukes over Tel Aviv, the Arab street in revolt and moderate governments overthrown, oil fields up in smoke.

"In the US," Gray reports, "American withdrawal will be represented as a reward for a job well done. The rest of the world will recognise it as a humiliating defeat, and it is here that the analogy of Vietnam is inadequate. The Iraq war has been lost far more quickly than that in South-east Asia, and the impact on the world is potentially much greater."

"The full implications of such a blow to American power cannot be foreseen," Gray concludes. He doesn't even try to foresee them. Instead he goes on to gloat over the impending death of "liberal imperialism" and to cackle at Tony Blair.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he really means all this, and really thinks America is devastated by its defeat and forever discredited as a superpower. Do you think he'd pause for a moment to consider the implications of this for the world. Or, if he really doesn't care much about that, how about the implications for his own sorry ass? Or maybe for the millions of people who put the money in his pockets by buying his book? For the civilization that allows his psychological puffery to flourish?

Don't you think he'd pause, for a moment, and consider whether this impending "historic defeat" is a good thing or not, and, if not, what he ought to be doing right now besides celebrating it prematurely?