The New York Times and Iraq
Still Getting It Wrong
By ROBERT FANTINA
It is somewhat ironic that on the same day that Mr. Michael E. O’Hanlon and Mr. Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institute extol the progress of President Bush’s ‘surge’ in Iraq, (New York Times, July 30) the Associated Press reported the following:
“About 8 million Iraqis -- nearly a third of the population -- need immediate emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.”
It is not easy to conceptualize the number 8,000,000. One way to look at it is to consider that that is the approximate population of New York City. One can imagine the horror that would be felt if the entire population of the United States’ largest city were in desperate need of water, sanitation, food and shelter. Does one feel that same sense of horror for the Iraqi people? Perhaps that dismay should be intensified one hundredfold because it is the United States that has caused, and continues to cause, this unspeakable suffering.
When the U.S. government basically told the people of New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, that they were on their own, the world shuttered in disbelief. Ignoring its own people following a natural disaster is shocking behavior for any government. In Iraq, the U.S. ignores the suffering it has intentionally caused. One-third of the population of the country is in desperate need because of the U.S. invasion; this does not even include the 2,000,000 who have fled the country since President Bush’s barbaric ‘Shock and Awe’ war began.
These realities appear to be ignored in the recent article in the New York Times by Messrs O’Hanlon and Pollack.
Among other things, they state the following: “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.” That an overwhelming force from the world’s most powerful country will eventually kill enough Iraqi people to subdue the population is hardly something to be proud of. Yet they crow about progress in ‘military terms.’
The two gentlemen report their further observations:“Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population….” One wonders what exactly that statement implies. Are the invading and occupying soldiers making the Iraqi population free from harm, an oxymoron if ever there was one, or are they ‘securing’ them in the sense of taking possession of them?
According to Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack, the U.S. military is “providing basic services -- electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation -- to the people.” How long, one wonders, will it be before those basic services are restored to the 8,000,000 Iraqis deprived of them by Mr. Bush’s war? How many will die before they ever have those needs fulfilled? How many grieving parents will bury their children because of the U.S. invasion and occupation of their nation?
Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack observed a “Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit.” In their McCainish way, do they feel that this happy circumstance portends an end to the centuries-old sectarian rivalry between these groups, a rivalry that was held in check prior to the U.S. invasion, but has been unleashed with horrific results since then?
Another interesting observation: “American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed.” In sharp contrast to this rosy assessment, an NBC news report of July 31 is interesting: “The report, written by U.S. advisers to Iraq's anti-corruption agency, analyzes corruption in 12 ministries and finds devastating and grim problems. ‘Corruption protected by senior members of the Iraqi government,’ the report said, ‘remains untouchable.’”
Not all that the writers saw was so encouraging: “we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation -- or at least accommodation -- are needed.” While U.S. soldiers die trying to achieve whatever it is they are supposed to be achieving, and making such marvelous progress in ‘military terms,’ the Iraqi parliament has left for its month-long vacation. No political solution can be achieved when the people needed to achieve it are not around.
As they close their interesting editorial, the writers ask a few pertinent questions: “How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission?” They don’t have the answer to these questions, but it appears that the United States citizens do. The answer seems to be that American troops should remain in Iraq only as long as it takes to safely evacuate them. The citizens disagree with Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack, who recommend continuation of the war at least into 2008.
The United States invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq four years ago. Since then millions of Iraqi citizens have been displaced, hundreds of thousands have been killed, the nation’s infrastructure, already badly damaged from years of sanctions and bombings, has been destroyed. The death toll for Americans is steadily climbing toward 4,000 and the number who have sustained life-altering injuries is in the tens of thousands. Hatred towards the United States has risen dramatically, and Iraq has become a major recruiting tool for the terrorists that were not there when Mr. Bush invaded. The negative consequences of that invasion and the subsequent occupation will be felt for years throughout the world.
It appears that Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack see some merit in the subjugation of Iraq as a U.S. colony. They predict the possibility within Iraq “of a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.” Subjecting a nation by force to do the will of the U.S. is not acceptable to the Iraqi people. If U.S. polls, and last November’s election, teach us anything, it is that this violent and brutal suppression is not acceptable to Americans either.
Robert Fantina is the author of Desertion and the American Soldier.