Thursday, May 27, 2004

Quote of the week

“We want to tell the world, and America, that Muqtada al-Sadr is not one of us, and this is a conspiracy against Shiites so that we don’t get any [political] rights,” Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Mehri, the Kuwaiti representative of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

Nattering nabobs

There are plenty of reasons to worry about Iraq. There are also many valid criticisms of the occupation. But I have yet to read any cogent criticism that offers any better future plan than the one President Bush outlined Monday night. John Kerry’s plaintive cries to “internationalize” the transition are so vacuous they barely merit attention. The transition is already being run by the United Nations; very few countries have the military capacity to cooperate fully with the coalition, and few want to; quicker elections would be great, but very difficult to pull off on a national level before the end of the year.

So what are Mr. Bush’s opponents proposing? More troops now? But wouldn’t that undercut the message of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis? A sudden exit of all troops? But no one — apart from right-wing and left-wing extremists — thinks that’s a wise move. Giving a future Iraqi government veto power over troop activities? Done, according to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The truth is: Mr. Bush’s plan is about as good as we’re likely to get. And deposing a dictator after decades of brutal rule could never have led immediately to insta-democracy. Do I wish we had had more troops at the start to maintain more order? You bet. Do I wish incompetence had not allowed Abu Ghraib to happen? Of course. But none of that would have prevented the Ba’athists and jihadists from wreaking havoc. Do I wish the original war had been bloodier so that the real battle with Saddam Hussein’s henchmen could have been joined all at once rather than over a long year of low-level conflict? Er, no. Remember what our antiwar friends predicted at the outset? That the battle for Baghdad could cost up to 10,000 coalition casualties? I’m quite happy that didn’t happen. Eight hundred deaths is bad enough. What I’m saying, I guess, is that as long as the antiwar critics continue relentless negativism without any constructive alternative, they will soon lose the debate. Americans want to know how to move this war forward, not why we shouldn’t have started it in the first place. Right now, the president has the best plan for making this work. What does anyone else have?

Where’s the difference?

Earlier this week, the major papers were highlighting what they said was a major difference between the United Kingdom and the United States on Iraqi sovereignty after June 30. Chief among them is the New York Times’ Patrick Tyler, who claims to read a difference between Mr. Blair’s and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s statements. (This was also BBC World TV’s lead story.) Mr. Blair said: “If there’s a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has got be done with the consent of the Iraqi government.” He elaborated: “That’s what the transfer of sovereignty means. That doesn’t mean to say that our troops are going to be ordered to do something that our troops don’t want to do. The political control shifts, the operational issues have to be decided under various agreements… It may be decided on an operation-to-operation basis.”

Mr. Powell, for his part, said that “we would take into account whatever” Iraqi officials say “at a political and military level,” and if the American military had to act “in a way that might not be in total consonance with what the Iraqi interim government might want to do at a particular moment in time, U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves.” Why is that a contradiction?

They seem to me to be saying exactly the same thing. The Washington Post hides behind the following construction: Mr. Powell “phrased the issue differently.” That’s a major split? Obviously, coalition forces, if attacked, will not ask the new Iraqi government for permission to defend themselves. But equally, offensive operations, especially if they have delicate political repercussions, will be cleared by the future Iraqi government. That’s what Messrs. Powell and Blair both said. There’s no story here. (The BBC, of course, edited Mr. Powell’s quote so that it didn’t include the final, contextual phrase: “and will do what is necessary to protect themselves.” Just when I thought they were improving.)

Sontag award nominee

“Yesterday’s [Guardian] front page describing the crimes of the U.S. military in Iraq and the Israeli military in Palestine denote [sic] for me, late in the day, a crossing of the Rubicon. I have until now, perhaps foolishly, been prepared to admit that in both situations one could agree to differ with the apologists. But no longer. These are not ‘military actions,’ but crimes against humanity. The occupations in both cases have no basis in law. They amount to the brutal repression of civilian populations. As a British citizen I am ashamed to be party to all that. Those old enough to remember will recollect that the French Resistance were held to be heroes when they killed the German occupiers. I did not rejoice at German deaths then, any more than I rejoice at Israeli, American and, yes, British deaths now. But there is no difference.” — Canon Paul Oestreicher, in the Guardian.

More abuse pictures

From Fallujah, a grisly scene, reported by the Associated Press:

“On Sunday, for example, scores of masked mujahideen, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar,’ or ‘God is Great,’ paraded four men stripped down to their underpants atop the back of a pickup truck that drove through the city. Their bare backs were bleeding from 80 lashes they had received as punishment for selling alcohol. They were taken to a hospital where they were treated and released. Residents said a man found intoxicated last week was flogged, held overnight and released the next day.”

Funny. I haven’t seen those photos in the media anywhere.

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