BACKGROUNDING THE NEWS:
After the "Victory," the Quagmire
In the four months since Bush theatrically ["President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended"] announced (in military costume, with a warship as a backdrop) that “America and its allies” had “prevailed” in Iraq, reality has increasingly pushed its way through American propaganda. Even censored, the bipartisan congressional report on the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks showed the ["Even the censored version of the 9/11 report makes it clear the U.S. focused on the wrong nation"] obvious: none of the terrorist bombers came from Iraq, and 15 of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia. America didn’t go after these terrorists’ supporters in the country from whence they came for an obvious reason: oil, and close ties with a backward regime. In Iraq, which it made less sense than Afghanistan to invade except to seize further control of the world’s oil supply, no weapons of mass destruction ever turned up, nor did Saddam. W here was the evidence to justify the invasion which most of the world opposed? There was none.
The investigation of the Blair government’s relation to the BBC and the suicide of David Kelly ["Blair refuses to quit in suicide row"] demonstrated that Blair, like Bush, was cooking (“sexing up”) the data to rush into the attack on Iraq. The premises behind the invasion have been more and more openly questioned in Britain and, more significantly perhaps, in the US. If Blair’s government topples, it may mean more than the symbolic toppling of a statue of Saddam in a square. It may foreshadow Bush’s own political demise. The excitement and confusion generated by the “Shock and Awe” invasion have faded and the smoke has begun to clear.
Hence the situation in Iraq itself is more and more often seen by mainstream Americans as deteriorating. While propagandistic victory photo books wilt on American drugstore and supermarket shelves unbought, daily news reports of the ongoing chaos in Iraq under US “coalition” occupation have given rise to the frank and open use in major US media of an old, well-worn Vietnam war word: “quagmire.” By ["No Iraq 'Quagmire,' Rumsfeld Asserts"] denying that Iraq is one, Rumsfeld himself has confirmed that the idea is regaining currency. Blair is in serious ongoing trouble, and as the second anniversary of 9/11 approached and he called for massive new infusions of dollars in the postwar occupation, Bush’s approval rating in a ["Bush Numbers Hit New Low..."] Zogby poll was revealed to be at an all-time low since he seized the presidency.
Given the deadly course the US and its dwindling list of allies have been on since two years ago, this is progress.
Does anyone believe the claim in Bush’s September 7, 2003 television speech–that ["Text of President Bush's Sept. 7 speech"] “Iraq is now the central front” of the war on terrorism? The real key phrase in that speech is “we will spend.” Americans have witnessed Bush’s near bankrupting of the country: they’re beginning to see the Iraq invasion not as a noble enterprise but as a cash-gobbler that’s crippling local governments and robbing the people of basic services. The dire domestic consequences of Bush’s foreign policy are becoming more and more evident. How many more billions will be asked for? How many more benefits will be slashed? Has anyone a clear idea of what Iraq is costing the American people? Bush’s awareness that his policies and his support are failing and that he truly is in a quagmire in Iraq is revealed by the tenor of his September 7 speech. His reversal and appeal to the UN for troops shows a desperate attempt to save dollars and make up for the faili ng efforts and diminishing morale of US personnel.
The enormous waste of money and the mess in Iraq are turning Americans away from Bush. But the demoralization and loss of faith his Iraq venture causes take more time to fully show up, and the growing human toll for Americans won’t really be clear for years. The US dead and wounded rates in Iraq, which have risen above their level at the height of the spring invasion (one American death a day since Bush announced victory), are now being ["Wounded Inaction"]quietly covered up. The illness and psychological trauma affecting Americans who were in Iraq and come back maimed by the experience won’t really appear till much later. But there are whisperings of all this already, and these supply an undercurrent influencing public opinion polls.
Meanwhile Iraq continues in a state of anarchy. Assassinations, thefts, and other mayhem v ie with ongoing breakdowns in public services to make life in “postwar” Iraq an ongoing nightmare that leads Saddam haters to wish him back, if only for materialistic reasons. Yes, they’re glad he’s gone. But they want their country back, and they aren’t getting it. The occupation tries to smooth over all this with absurd lies like Rumsfeld’s ["Rumsfeld Says U.S. Wants More Former Iraqi Troops Trained for Security"] crude onsite remarks about Baghdad having "lights all over the place...like Chicago," but the chaos and hostility have a way of leaking out. In one of his London Independent ["Don't say we were not warned about this chaos"] articles, Robert Fisk (September 5, 2003) evokes the wisdom of an earlier British hero and Arabist: " ’The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things are far worse than we have been told... We are today not far short of a disaster.’ The writer,” Fisk comments, “was describing the crumbling British occupation of Iraq, under guerrilla attack in 1920. His name was Lawrence of Arabia.” Fisk sees Baghdad today in much the same way.
There is another quagmire not far away: Israel, another of America’s huge, disastrous cash gobblers. The similarities are becoming clearer: both countries have occupations. Israel however, continuing to evoke its links with the former South Africa, is building a ["Israel's Apartheid Wall Fact Sheet "] massive apartheid wall, a moral and ecological disaster that grabs more land and codifies its Bantustans, cutting off thousands of Palestinians from their crops and their livelihoods, and with this great symbol of oppression turning the whole country—with supreme irony for a nation ostensibly created as a haven for survivors of the Nazi Holocaust—into one big concentration camp. Both Israel’s occupied Palestinian territories and America’s occupied Iraq now are centers of “terrorism” whose occupiers exacerbate rather than quell the violence. And both are quagmires which will continue to be perpetuated as long as they receive a heavy influx of American dollars.
There are simple solutions: pull out the troops and close up the checkbook. But you could draw a camel through the eye of a needle more easily than get America and its dwindling allies to do that in either place.
Chris Knipp, who has family connections in Baltimore, writes from San Francisco. Visit chrisknipp.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story was published on September 18, 2003.