Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Changing the Rules of the Game

The time has long passed to change the framework of the debate over the occupation of Iraq.

Since 2002, proponents of the war and subsequent disastrous occupation have flooded the rhetorical landscape with ad hominem, fallacious arguments for a policy and execution that have spun a demonstrably different tale than they continue to weave. The disdain this motley crew have for logic and the American public are both plainly evident and appalling.

That time has seen dereliction of duty by Congress prior to the invasion and unparalleled incompetency by the administration after. This combination, however, has not led to a more reflective and intellectually-honest debate over the occupation, but instead to an even greater reliance upon misdirection, misinformation, and Orwellian fabrications that would pass for satire were they not so sadly said in earnest.

Marginalize, Propagandize, Fantasize:

The first, and most utilized, tactic of war proponents is to marginalize their opposition. Faced with facts that belie their position, supporters of the war and occupation have no choice but to change the framework of the debate, and all too often their victims are happy to oblige. By tossing around terms like 'pacifist' or 'cut-and-run,' or questioning patriotism or commitment to America's security, the war supporter instantly makes the debate about his opponent and not the war.

The marginalization and ridiculing of opponents allows the true believers to avoid having to actually answer factual questions or examine the actual reality of the situation. Their opponent is sent into defense of self rather than the preferred defense of position.

Part and parcel of the marginalization scheme is utilizing words which dampen any discussion of things below the surface. George Bush, Dick Cheney, and John McCain are all masters of the schoolyard theory of foreign policy. Words like 'victory' are thrown about with reckless abandon without anyone ever asking for their definition. Their attitude toward foreign affairs is one of retribution akin to baseball teams trading bean balls, their sense of right and wrong guided only by some sadistic sense of standing among their imagined peers. In this light, saving face is more important than reason. Pride more important than substance.

But 'victory' is a word one must define before he can achieve it. This administration has never given--nor, seemingly, been asked to give--a clear definition of when victory will occur in Iraq. We know through endless repetition that the US must stay until "the job is done," but no one seems all that interested in when that is. As it stands, the military are involved in an interminable contest between two teams where only one gets to decide when time is out. Or allocate points. Or know the score.

This is as much the fault of the opponents of the occupation as its propagators. The refusal to require a clear definition for a word that has an absolute need for one if it is to acquire any meaning beyond the rhetorical has allowed this train to continue, derailed as it may be, unabated while a country burns.

If victory was ridding Iraq of Saddam, the US has succeeded. If victory was ridding the country of WMDs, it succeeded before it even began. If victory was democracy, it's succeeded. If victory is ending insurgency, Bush and McCain can forget about it. IOZ puts that point as blunt as it requires:

How the hell do you "oust Shiite militias"? They're militias. Citizens. Not. A. Regular. Army. The motherfuckers live there. They're not visiting from Shiitopia, dropping in for some combat before heading home for dinner. They're not bivouacing. The motherfuckers motherfucking live there. I mean, how do you "oust" them unless you kill all the men in . . . oooohhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The circular logic of occupation again rears its ugly head. We won't leave until they stop fighting, they won't stop fighting until we leave. To suggest that the citizens of any country, especially the United States, would acquiesce to foreign invaders because the invaders promised it was good for them is outright insanity.

This Isn't a War Anymore

Bush declared war on Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is dead. The objectives of the war are complete. To continue calling the occupation a war serves only to muddy the picture of the debate surrounding it. To leave from a war implies one has 'cut-and-run,' as the war supporters are want to say. But to simply stop occupying a foreign country carries no such implication. That is why Bush cannot, and will not, ever call the US presence in Iraq what it is: an occupation.

Comparisons to the US military presence in countries such as Germany, South Korea, and Japan abound, but all of them come up short on noting distinctions. First and foremost, the world view of a Shiite Iraqi is not the same as a German or a Korean. Failure to understand Islamic reaction to foreign forces throughout history at this point is unforgivable. Agreement is not necessary, but recognition of the fact is, and its relevance to the current situation is ignored only at the price of logic. Second, the Americans in those countries are confined to bases, are invited guests, and aren't taking casualties.

Orwellian Fantasy

Somewhere between ad hominem attacks and irresponsible linguistic travesties lies a world of shear fantasy. A world in which al Qaeda is the main purveyor of evil and violence in Iraq. A world in which Iran supports only those Shiites we oppose and somehow remains out of the way if they're on our side. One in which less than a hundred murders a day is progress.

Last week, as al Maliki impotently confronted the Sadrists in Basra, Bush was discussing al Qaeda and praising al Maliki for standing up to "Iranian-backed militias."

Problem is, fighting Sadr's militia were the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade, the militia of the ISCI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Sadr's rival but more importantly friend and ally of Iran. Presenting a fight between two Shiite factions both supported by Iran as a battle between good and evil only stands to highlight the (lack of) depth to President Bush's knowledge of foreign affairs. In the rush to turn every issue, every occurrence into a clear-cut delineation of good versus bad or light versus dark, the proponents of the occupation have stifled all discussion or understanding of the situation.

When the truce was brokered it was Sadr, not al Maliki, who set the terms. The Iraqi government had gone from giving a firm ultimatum to being told that Sadr would call of the dogs if al Maliki (and the US) would just go away.

John McCain has a different understanding:

Apparently, it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire, declared a cease-fire. It wasn‘t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declaring a cease-fire.

Aside from the fact that he has his facts a little backwards, the prescient part of the quote is that he finds a way to slip playground anatomy-measuring contests into the argument. Forget that al Maliki was told to take his ultimatum and go home. Forget that al Sadr's fighters get to keep their weapons. Forget that the Sadrists will be allowed to fade back into the population until they fight again. Forget all that. This week of fighting can be boiled down to "you blinked first."

But, while on the subject of facts, perhaps McCain should examine some:

The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.

There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

It was the government, not al Sadr who sought to broker the cease fire.

"The statement issued today by (Muqtada al Sadr) is a result of the meetings," said Jalal al-Din al Saghir, a leading member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "The government didn't have any disagreement with the Sadrists when it went to the city of Basra. The Sadrist movement is the one that chose to face the government."

"We asked Iranian officials to help us persuade him that we were not cracking down on the Sadr group," said an Iraqi official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Again, this illustrates a progression in one short week from a government gaining its sea legs and cracking down on bad apples to running to Iran and telling Sadr they didn't mean it. That odor wafting up isn't the smell of victory, John. It's something else entirely.

The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki - who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.

Fortunately for al Maliki, when his credibility and standing take a tumble, they don't fall far.

Oh, and the Iranian broker?:

The Iranian general who helped broker an end to nearly a week of fighting between Iraqi government forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern Iraq is an unlikely peacemaker.

Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to stop the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council watch lists for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology.

The week of fighting illustrated several things. One, Bush, McCain and their ilk either don't have more than a surface knowledge of the forces at work in Iraq or they don't care to share (for the aforementioned reasons). Two, there is no clear distinction between good and evil in intra-faction fighting. Three, and most importantly, the US invasion of Iraq handed the country to Iran on a silver platter. As much as the US loathed Hussein, he at the least stood as a slightly-impotent check upon Iranian influence in the region. Not anymore.

Altering the Frame of Reference

The debate over Iraq needs a new direction. It needs a direction that points to a discussion of the realities on the ground instead of hopeless clinging to long-debunked theories supporting retroactive, revisionist justification of war.

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