A debacle by any other name
09/15/2007 07:53 PM | By Fawaz Turki, Special to Gulf News
If it looks like a debacle, plays out like a debacle and declares its own form of being as a debacle, then surely it must be one, and no amount of spin will make it otherwise. A debacle by any other name is still a debacle.
The testimony before a congressional committee last week by General David H. Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the most eagerly awaited since General Westmoreland's testimony on the "progress" of the war in Vietnam, yielded little beyond the kind of spin that even the most ardent Republican supporters of the American intervention in Iraq will not buy.
To be sure, these two men are qualified, well-meaning professionals. Petraeus is a Princeton PhD who finished at the top of his class at the Army's Command and General Staff College, and Crocker, considered among the "best and the brightest" at the State Department, is a career Foreign Service officer with high-level experience in the Middle East. So when they testify on the Hill, we have to listen. We did.
What we heard was testimony designed to echo the cheerful White House assessment of what is happening in Iraq: Iraq's armed forces are improving, violence is down, Baghdad is more peaceful, the surge is working, Sunnis are turning against foreign insurgents, Iraqi political leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki (leaders long written off as relentlessly sectarian even by administration officials) have, according to Crocker, "a deep sense of commitment and patriotism ... and the will to tackle the country's pressing problems" - and the rest of it. In short, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
All of this flies in the face of facts on the ground. You can manipulate figures any way you want but you cannot hide the fact that Iraqis are dying in the thousands. Ethnic cleansing has been so extensive, indeed so brutal, that mixed neighbourhoods, for generation a way of life in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, is now history. Roughly 80,000 people a month are being uprooted.
The notion of de-Baathification has become a disguise for an anti-Sunni purge by Shiite factions who feel that under the old regime they had been cheated out of their rightful political role in the government. Iraqi police forces are no more than militias, who often double as death squads, pursuing sectarian goals. And a report released last week by the US Government Accountability Office said that Iraq had fully met only three out of 18 benchmarks for political, economic and military progress. And so it goes. Hardly the time, Petraeus and Crocker nothwithstanding, to bring out the cheerleaders.
If there is light at the end of the tunnel, neither man offered a clear pathway to reach that end. The fact that America's top commander in Iraq backed an initial, albeit modest, pullout of troops by next summer, and that its top diplomat there claimed that "substantial US resolve and commitment" will ultimately win the day, does not provide reason to believe that Washington has an effective, coherent or well-defined strategy.
The debacle in that ancient land between the Tigris and the Euphrates (for debacle it is) has been the consequence of a policy devised by hell-raising neocons in the Pentagon who clearly knew little about the region's complex history and political culture, and by bunglers in the White House who, on the eve of war, would give credence only to those intelligence reports that reinforced their own biases, a policy so murky as to be beyond redemption.
Even at the best of times, planning the violent overthrow of a regime in a major country, in a volatile region of the world, is a dicey business. But when the planning is done by irredeemably incompetent policy makers, intoxicated by the lure of exercising power and regrouping the political destiny of another people, the end result is unspeakable suffering and massive social dislocation.
Which is what Iraqis have been made to endure over the last four years: a miasma of parochial sectarianism and uncontrolled hatred. Moreover, by virtue of history and culture, language and tradition, religious faith and political values, Iraq is very much a part of the Arab world, and the retrenchment of any such part to barbarism and ethnic vituperation is a threat to the vitality of the whole.
One by one, the lights, as it were, have gone out in Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did not evince the slightest hint in their admittedly poised, calm testimony early this week that they knew, much less cared about, what their government has wrought in that sad land. Instead they had us believe that all is well that ends well, at the end of the tunnel, right there, where the light is.
Tell that to the five million pauperised Iraqi refugees deracinated in the surrounding countries since this ill-conceived, unnecessary and, yes, immoral war started.
Fawaz Turki is a veteran journalist, lecturer and author of several books, including The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile. He lives in Washington D.C.