Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Petraeus/Crocker Road Show

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations committee held hearings about the political future of Iraq that didn't grab the headlines they deserved. Independent journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent a considerable amount of time in the real Iraq, spoke the truth that was obviously missing from the Petraeus/Crocker road show on Tuesday:

Today Iraq does not exist. It has no government. It is like Somalia, different fiefdoms controlled by warlords and their militias. I have spent most of the last five years since April 2003 in Iraq, with Iraqis, focusing on their militias, mosques and other true centers of power. Events in the Green Zone or International Zone were never important, because power was in the street since April 2003.

Rosen also reported on one result of the surge that is sorely missing from the public conversation as well:

Many Americans are also unaware that a foreign military occupation is a systematic imposition of violence and terror on an entire people. American soldiers are not their as peacekeepers or policemen, they are not there to “help” the Iraqi people. At least 24,000 Iraqis still languish in American-run prisons. At least 900 of these are juveniles, some of whom are forced to go through a brainwashing program called the “House of Wisdom,” where American officers are arrogant enough to lecture Muslims about Islam. The Americans are supposed to hand over Iraqi prisoners to Iraqi authorities, since it’s theoretically a sovereign country, but international human rights officials are loath to press the issue because conditions in Iraqi prisons are at least as bad as they were under Saddam. One US officer told me that six years is a life sentence in an Iraqi prison today, because that is your estimated life span there.

In the women’s prison in Kadhmiya prisoners are routinely raped. Conditions in Iraqi prisons got much worse during the surge because the Iraqi system could not cope with the massive influx. Those prisoners whom the Americans hand over to the Iraqis may be the lucky ones, but even those Iraqis in American detention do not know why they are being held, and they are not visited by defense lawyers. The Americans can hold Iraqis indefinitely, so they don’t even have to be tried by Iraqi courts. A fraction are tried in courts where Americans also testify. But we have yet to see a trial where the accused is convincingly found guilty and there is valid evidence that is properly examined, with no coerced confessions. Lawyers don’t see their clients before trials, and there are no witnesses. Iraqi judges are prepared to convict on very little evidence. But even if Iraqi courts find Iraqi prisoners innocent, the Americans sometimes continue to hold them after acquittal. These are called “on hold” cases, and there are currently about 500 of them. And the Americans continue to arrest all men of military age when looking for suspects, to break into homes and traumatize sleeping families at night, and to bombs heavily populated areas, killing civilians routinely.

And, when Joe Biden arrogantly mocked Rosen's testimony, he gave this response:

BIDEN: Based on what you’ve said, there’s really no hope — we really should get the hell out of there right now. I mean, there’s nothing to do. Nothing.

ROSEN: As a journalist, I’m uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. And I don’t think that we’re there for the interest of the Iraqi people. I don’t think that’s ever been a motivation. […]

BIDEN: [If we withdraw], the good news is we wouldn’t be imperialists in Iraq, from your perspective.

ROSEN: Only elsewhere in the region. (laughter). … There’s no positive scenario in Iraq these days. Not every situation has a solution.

Well, the last thing an imperialistic empire wants to hear is that it can't, somehow, "win" a war - that "success", which no one can adequately describe from Bush on down, just is not something the US can control. Certainly not with its current policies.

While Petraeus and Crocker were testifying on Tuesday, Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to end his ceasefire - a real symbol of just how little control the US military really has in Iraq. And as Petraeus had to admit that al-Maliki's Iraqi government styled surge in Basra last week was premature, resulting in US forces having to join in to prop up the ISF (in the face of some 1,000 Iraqi desertions during the battle), he continually referred to the Iranian threat while neglecting to mention that it was actually an Iranian official who brokered the ceasefire. That part of the story doesn't fit in well with painting Iran as the enemy.

Last week, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) embarrassed herself when the panel mentioned that al-Maliki has been treating members of the ISF as his personal militia. She was quite visibly shocked. On Tuesday, she was obsessed with shared kisses between al-Maliki and Ahmadinejad:

At one point, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) expressed outrage that Iraqi leaders gave Iranian President Ahmadinejad the literal red-carpet treatment when he visited Baghdad in early March. Crocker responded, “Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously an extremely important issue for us, but it’s very much, I think, a mixed bag.” He also reminded the Senate committee that Iraqi Shiites “died by the tens, by the hundred of thousands defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy… ”

That hardly appeased Boxer. “I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing, but actually kissed him on the cheek. He got a red carpet treatment and we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free. It is irritating is my point.”

Crocker quickly noted that Vice President Dick Cheney, who visited Iraq later in March, “also had a very warm reception.”

“Did he get kissed?” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden interjected.

“I believe he did get kissed,” Crocker answered.

There were chuckles in the audience.

That exchange shows the two faces of the Democratic party - one that supposedly espouses diplomacy with countries deemed to be "hostile" while expressing outrage when it actually happens. Perhaps Boxer is unaware of the finer cultural aspects of the region where men often greet each other with kisses. I understand Boxer's frustration but perhaps she would have been wiser to spend what little time she had asking questions pushing for a concrete plan - something that General (we'll "pause and assess") Petraeus and Ryan (I'm only allowed to push neocon talking points) Crocker failed to offer.

And the two Democrats running for the presidential nomination don't have much more to offer since their withdrawal strategies mirror what Petraeus offered: relying on the conditions on the ground - a wait and see approach that offers no end in sight. When pressed on what those favourable "conditions" might be that would signal some sort of way out, neither Petraeus nor Crocker could offer anything definitive. Well, of course not, because once again no one really wants to define what "success" is. It's a moving target.

So, around and around we go.

The bottom line is that the Democrats are hamstrung. Bush knows it. al-Maliki knows it. Petraeus knows it. Crocker knows it. Rice knows it. Cheney knows it. And, finally, the Democrats know it. They gave up whatever chance they had to exercise their oversight when they refused to impeach Bush. Feigning outrage over kisses at this juncture is pointless political theatre.

Petraeus is following the tyrannical commander-in-chief's so-called "vision" (whatever that is) while Crocker knows he'll be fired if he veers anywhere off the accepted script.

The real conversation about what's happening in Iraq and what the future holds happened during last week's hearings. This week is a pure propaganda show which will be followed by...nothing, as usual.

As Adil E Shamoo writes:

The Iraqi people are sick and tired of five years of death and destruction with no end in sight. They are also tired of the rampant corruption in their government and its security forces. Iraqis are suffering like no other nation in the Middle East. Four million refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, and many more wounded: this is the American legacy in Iraq. When will American moral outrage be so deafening that our leaders have no choice but to leave Iraq and admit our awful mistake? And so we enter our sixth year of war, bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq under American domination.

The war is over. The only reasonable thing to do is to give the Iraqis their country back. But rationality is AWOL in Washington and the American public has moved on to domestic concerns, so the horrors - which Bush and McCain call "normal" - will continue.

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