“The two most popular things I’ve done since I’ve been here are the de-Baathication decree -¦ and the disbanding of the Army.”
— Paul Bremer in interview with Newsweek on 2/9/2004
“People say I disbanded the army. There was no army to disband. It didn’t exist. It wasn’t here.”
— Paul Bremer in interview with USA TODAY on 6/17/2004
At the end of June, Paul Bremer will don a silk suit and his trademark combat boots and take one last short drive to Baghdad International Airport. On the last five-mile stretch leading to the terminal, he will hold his breath and pray the Iraqi insurgents won’t take one final shot at his convoy. Accompanying Bremer will be a well-armed contingent of former Navy Seals prepared to take on all comers. Behind him, he will leave a legacy of chaos and abject failure. The only part of Iraq that Emperor Bremer will leave with a semblance of normality will be a fiefdom known as the Green Zone.
By all accounts, the Green Zone is a splendid four square mile oasis where residents have access to 24-hour electricity, air conditioning, great restaurants, an active nightlife, an excellent transportation system and the best protection Pentagon money can buy.
While Iraq is not Vietnam, Baghdad is nothing like old Saigon. Americans do not take evening strolls in the alleys of Sadr City or hang out in the cafÃ©s of Baghdad looking for a good time. And Iraqis can only enter Bremer’s Island by special invitation and after stringent screening. Americans rarely consort with the natives, except those favored enough to wait on them in the lush surroundings of the Green Zone.
Bremer recruited the elite members of this closed society from the ranks of Likudnik think tanks in Washington. These neo-conservative ‘experts’ were assigned the task of charting a new future for the twenty five million Iraqis who inhabit the Iraqi landscape outside the boundaries of Bremer’s fantasy island on the Tigris. The declared mission of this cabal was to build a secular democracy in the terra incognita outside Bremer’s Green Zone. But their hidden agenda was to make Iraq and the Middle East walking mats for Ariel Sharon. Never short on egos, these inept delusional ideologues fancied themselves the heirs of General Douglas MacArthur who transformed post-war Japan.
During their well-paid assignments in Baghdad, these neo-con social engineers rarely ventured into the Red Zone. For them, Iraq was a theoretical academic landscape that lurked beyond the concrete walls and barbed wire perimeter that surrounded their cozy enclave. Their Likudnik mindset and their nerves prevented them from comprehending the value of visiting the land they intended to govern by Bremer’s edicts. After all, everything they ever needed to know about Iraq and Iraqis had already been mastered in intensive courses at the American Enterprise Institute, the mother ship of the Israeli Lobby. They came to Iraq fully immersed in Wolfie’s wisdom, Perle’s certainty, Feith’s gospels and Bolton’s audacity. Most of their efforts were expended on spinning Likudnik mantras, denying Iraqi realities that conflicted with their collective Likudnik hallucinations and covering up the disastrous consequences of the war party’s follies.
But as the security situation deteriorated, it wasn’t only Emperor Bremer’s Machiavellian princess who avoided mingling with their Iraqi wards. These days, even the American military can be found garrisoned in heavily fortified bases waiting for the whistle of the next mortar attack. The coalition forces only venture outside their citadels to protect supply lines and hunt insurgents. Far from being an occupation army, American troops now merely constitute politically stranded military contingents whose primary mission is ‘force protection’. Until the November election, they will remain hostages to the agenda of the neo-con visionaries.
In last January’s State of the Union Address, George Bush boasted that the coalition forces conducted 1500 missions a day. He should have checked with his generals first. They would have advised him that the number of daily patrols had been reduced to 600 to minimize casualties. The continued use of air power is one of the many indicators that the coalition forces have failed to occupy and hold ground in Iraq. Because of the complete lack of security, Bush and Rumsfeld are compelled to stage very rare and very short surprise visits to Baghdad.
Yet, even as he leaves, Bremer continues to blame ‘Saddam loyalists’ for the disastrous security situation. None of the brilliant journalists living in the Green Zone have bothered to inquire why none of the insurgents – even those holding hostages – have ever demanded the release of the former Iraqi dictator or any of his cronies. It should be clear by now that the various groups that make up the Iraqi resistance are not motivated by nostalgia for the bearded lady of Tikrit. They simply want to end the foreign occupation of their country.
Bremers’s failures go well beyond the abysmal security environment he leaves behind. During his tenure, Iraqis saw very little visible improvements in their daily lives. Electricity in Baghdad is below pre-war levels, as is oil production. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has distributed a total of five million dollars in small business loans. That works out to twenty cents per Iraqi. Eighty per cent of the reconstruction funds allocated by Congress remain unspent. The remaining twenty per cent was mostly squandered on Halliburton, Bechtel, walled compounds and private mercenaries. According to a recent CPA study, half the Iraqis outside the walls of the Green Zone are now convinced that all Americans are capable of conducting torture sessions at Abu Ghraib. The same CPA poll revealed that only 2% of the natives of our Iraqi colony think of Americans as liberators.
When the Emperor of the Green Zone dissolves the CPA and heads home, there will be no official handover ceremonies. The quisling Governing Council will be handing power to its new reincarnation, the ‘sovereign’ Interim Government. What the world will witness on June 30th is one subservient political entity passing nominal power to its clone. The only real transfer of power will be from the neo-con amateurs at the Pentagon to the adults at the State Department and the CIA. In all likelihood, the insurgency will continue and the number of American and British troops might actually increase.
As Colin Powell has pointed out, the American military cannot even provide security for the Iraqi government, much less the entire nation. That might explain why the interim government is so anxious to operate out of Saddam’s palace, deep within Bremer’s green oasis. From there, they will perform the chores of a government in exile or more precisely, a government in hiding.
Thanks to the neo-con ‘cakewalk’, Al Qaida has found a new home in Iraq and more recruits around the world. The dominoes are falling the wrong way with major shock waves already being felt in Saudi Arabia. In the region, the United States is held in utter contempt and Bush is regularly lampooned as Sharon’s monkey. Having discovered no WMDs, American credibility is sub-zero. Now that Saddam’s brutal regime is gone; the most repressive illegitimate regime in the region is the one enforced by Israel’s occupation army in the Palestinian homeland. Bush uses one side of his mouth to condone Ariel Sharon’s brutality. With the other side, he rants off slogans about Iraqi freedom and Arab liberty. Aside from being annoying, it is deeply insulting to the intelligence of the native people of the Middle East.
As he takes off for a lovely summer vacation in Vermont, Paul Bremer continues to boast about his short list of accomplishments: a volatile new currency without Saddam’s mug and an interim constitution in tatters. To his credit, Bremer also managed to postpone Iraqi elections lest the results adversely effect Dumbya’s political prospects. When Islamic parties ascend to power, few Americans will continue to believe that the sacrifice of so much blood and treasure was ‘worth it’. But conveniently enough, Iraqi election results will be in shortly after George’s re-inauguration.
Bremer’s performance should surprise no one. Aside from being a neocon, he is also a protÃ©gÃ© of Henry Kissinger. Just like Kissinger rolled the dice and lost Cambodia and Laos, Bermer and Bush might well end up losing Saudi Arabia at the roulette wheel.
Bremer’s neo-con boys will most likely follow him back to Washington. Michael Rubin and other Likudnik ‘experts’ have already landed safely at their old desks at the American Enterprise Institute and are back in the punditry business, appearing regularly on FOX and CNN.
But it would be a mistake to conclude that the neocons will leave Iraq empty handed. After 9/11, the Israel Firsters were alarmed by the emergence of the unprecedented international coalition that rallied around the United States. It gave them no comfort when Le Monde ran front page headlines proclaiming that “We Are All Americans”. Their fear was that their Likudnik agenda would be diluted by a comprehensive universal approach to dealing with the root causes of terrorism. Sharon was quick to react and warn that Israel would not cave in to international pressures to grant the Palestinian people their rights to an independent state. His neo-con troops immediately rallied and dismantled the international coalition in favor of a much more satisfactory ‘coalition of the willing’ made up of Bush, Blair and Sharon. As a result, American and British soldiers are now standing shoulder to shoulder with a forty-man contingent from Tonga and a few dozen Mongolia warriors.
The focus on Iraq gave Sharon plenty of elbowroom to continue battering the Palestinians. The Israeli government took full advantage of the world’s distraction to confiscate more native land, routinely kill Palestinian civilians, assault and murder journalists and American and British peace activists, demolish thousands of homes and build an Apartheid wall to segregate the Arab natives into open-air internment camps. All under the banner of bringing freedom and democracy to the ‘Greater Middle East’.
Getting the opportunity to stoke the flames of anti-Arab racism and anti-Islamic bigotry was also considered a distinct advantage by the neo-cons that actively support Sharon’s ethnic cleansing project. It created a favorable environment for the continued repression and humiliation of the Palestinian people.
These pro-Israeli activists had few problems with the increased prospect of anti-American terrorism. Part of their Likudnik marketing program was to smear the Palestinian resistance as nothing more than a branch of Al Qaeda. On another front, they worked to bring about the demise of the United Nations, which was dismissed as a ‘debating society’. For the neocons, this had the salutary effect of annulling UN resolutions calling for a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
The neo-cons even managed to squeeze in hundreds of millions of dollars of supplemental aid to Israel to ‘compensate’ for Sharon’s ‘losses’ from the Iraq war. If the neo-cons ever believed that Iraq had chemical weapons, they are now satisfied that Israel retains its Middle Eastern monopoly on WMDs.
Of course, Wolfowitz and his gang didn’t get all the items on their wish list. Almost immediately after the fall of Baghdad, they started agitating for an assault on Syria and Iran. That wasn’t going to happen. Still, all in all, it is not a bad score card for the tiny Likudnik cabal that operates under the neo-conservative neon sign. In their estimate, when America loses a mile and Israel gains an inch, it makes for an excellent journey. Even if the neo-cons were permanently exiled from the Pentagon and the State Department, they would forever boast of how so few of them did so much for so many of their Likudnik brethren in Israel.
History will show that the Iraq quagmire resulted from a command and control failure. Bush failed as a commander and the neocons couldn’t control themselves once they laid their hands on the Pentagon’s arsenal. Comparing Iraq to Vietnam is hardly a useful exercise. History rarely repeats itself. Withdrawal from Vietnam constituted a strategic defeat in the Cold War. But a rapid exit from Iraq will only be a nasty embarrassment for Bush and a welcome indictment of his praetorian neo-con brigades. Prolonging the Vietnam conflict resulted in a disaster for Laos and killing fields for the gentle Khmer people of Cambodia. On the other hand, the Iraqi resistance has unified the ranks of the Shiites and Sunnis and prevented a civil war that would have warmed the heart of Ariel Sharon, the patron saint of the neo-con priesthood.
The only sensible alternative now is to withdraw and let the Iraqis win their independence. What exactly is the problem with letting the Iraqis emerge from their 25-year nightmare under Saddam with their national pride intact? Allowing the Iraqis to claim victory does not mean that America needs to declare military defeat. Saddam is gone forever. In the long run, the Iraqis might even be grateful enough for his removal and the lifting of the genocidal sanctions to forgive the Anglo-American invaders for their sins at Abu Ghraib and the slaughter of thousands of their people by ‘smart’ bombs. From an Iraqi perspective, it was much lighter duty to get rid of the Anglo-American occupation than to take on the almost impossible task of removing Saddam on their own. Time is a great healer. It didn’t take long for France and Algeria to patch up their relationship after the Algerian revolution.
But common sense is still in very short supply at a White House that designs foreign policy agendas to suit the requirements of Bush’s re-election campaign. So now, John Negroponte, the man who turned a blind eye to death squads in Honduras, will have an opportunity to demonstrate his skills in Iraq. His record as an anti-Palestinian crusader who enthusiastically marketed the Iraq war at the United Nations is not encouraging. A year from now, he will probably be dodging insurgents on his last trip to Baghdad International Airport. Only time will tell if he can fill Emperor Bremer’s combat boots.