I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Tough-Guy Warriors are Going Soft

When the U.S. needed a nice, compliant puppet to run Iraq once Paul Bremer stepped down as its ruler, it chose old CIA asset Iyad Allawi. Allawi was then promptly turned out of office once the Iraqis were able to choose their own government, in no small part due to Allawi's long-standing, close ties to the U.S. and to the CIA.

For that reason, Allawi's comments yesterday -- in which he said that the magnitude of human rights abuses in Iraq today is comparable to what they were under Saddam's regime -- are extremely serious, and cannot be snidely dismissed as some sort of anti-U.S. propaganda from someone who wants to sabotage our mission and make us look bad. Allawi is a U.S. ally and long-standing Saddam enemy who supported our invasion and occupation, and this is what he said about the state of things in Iraq:

Abuse of human rights in Iraq is as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse, former prime minister Iyad Allawi said in an interview published on Sunday.

"People are doing the same as (in) Saddam Hussein's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told British newspaper The Observer.

"People are remembering the days of Saddam," said Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and former Baathist who is standing in elections scheduled for Dec. 15. "These are the precise reasons why we fought Saddam Hussein and now we are seeing the same things.

"We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated," said Allawi in an apparent reference to the discovery of a bunker at the Shi'ite-run Interior Ministry where 170 men were held prisoner, beaten, half-starved and in some cases tortured.

"A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations."

Allawi said the Interior Ministry, which has tried to brush off the scandal over the bunker, was afflicted by a "disease".

If it is not cured, he said, it "will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government".

London's Observer similarly reported:

'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'

Someone needs to tell Allawi that he only thinks things are awful in Iraq because the MSM suppresses the stories about U.S. troops handing out sweets to Iraqi children and helping to clean the chalkboards in Kurdish schools. Then again, Allawi is in Iraq and it's doubtful that his view of what is going on there is a by-product of the MSM's propaganda. So maybe what he is saying is accurate and there is no good way to attack his motives or biases no matter how much we want to find a way to disbelieve his report because it contains bad news.

It may very well be the case that, if we stay long enough, spend enough money, and endure enough casualties, we will be able to create a relatively stable, decent Iraq, such that we can at least claim with a straight face that our invasion actually improved the Middle East by replacing a murderous, psychopathic dictator with a reasonably representative, human rights-respecting government in the heart of that region.

But as Allawi's report and so many others conclusively demonstrate, we are far, far away from that point. It is questionable whether we have made any progress at all towards reducing the levels of instability, violence and chaos in that country, and it is unquestionable that if we have made any such progress, it is a small fraction of what is necessary to leave with any confidence that those improvements will be substantial, let alone that they will endure once our 150,000 troops are gone.

Even if one disagrees with their desire for an ongoing military presence in Iraq, one can at least respect the intellectual honesty and principled stand of those pro-war advocates who acknowledge that we are far from ready to leave Iraq right now, and that achieving the original goals will require an ongoing, sustained commitment to a prolonged occupation. Having supported this war and subsequent invasion on the ground that U.S. national security will be improved if we create a stable, democratic government in Iraq, they commendably insist on staying and trying to "finish" what is so clearly an unfinished job, notwithstanding the fact that a prolonged occupation will subject Republicans to serious political difficulties, to put it mildly.

By depressing contrast, the increasingly populous group which supported this war but now wants to pretend that Iraq is ready for us to leave -- all because they want to minimize political damage to Republicans and to Bush -- are really acting reprehensibly. Here is the rationale of one of them, Don Surber, in his candid and illuminating post, entitled "We Won. Let's Go Home":

I listened carefully to the lengthy House debate on the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The idea failed 403-3. Such a withdrawal is a surrender.

But as a supporter of the war, I opined that we have won this war in part. We need to bring the troops home from the secured areas (End The Mission Creep: Bring Them Home). Every day, sites such as Argghhh! and Mudville Gazette say how swell things are going. My argument was in light of all these good-things-MSM-doesn't-report posts from all over, why are they still there? Building schools is not the job of the Army. The idea of trying to win the hearts and minds is ridiculous. We want them independent, not some sort of American protectorate. . . .

America has done what it set out to do: Stopped Saddam from developing more WMD, stopped Saddam's support of terrorism and stopped Saddam. Time to turn Iraq over to Iraqis.

Leave aside the obvious question of why Democratic calls for withdraw constitute "surrender" while GOP calls for the same thing do not. Beyond that, isn't it the case that by Surber's reasoning --that all we ever wanted to do in Iraq was get rid of Saddam -- we could have left Iraq two years ago when we drove Saddam from power and captured or killed the Baathist hierarchy. But there were no calls from the pro-war hawks then to withdraw. Even once we captured Saddam, we were continuously and stridently told that there was so much left for us to do in Iraq.

It is only now that the war has become so unpopular and there are looming mid-term elections are we suddenly hearing that there's nothing left for us to do in Iraq and it's fine if we leave before there is anything resembling a stable society and decent, self-sufficient government there.

This GOP version of the "situational hawk," as those position-shifting Senate Democrats have been derisively called, embodies the worst of both worlds: having insisted upon an invasion and occupation which entailed an expenditure of resources far greater than what was imagined and which has seen one rationale after the next evaporate, they now want to abandon their project and leave Iraq in shambles -- filled with sectarian war, Al Qaeda operatives, human rights abuses on a massive scale, and pervasive, unrelenting violence. Can anyone claim that an Iraq bubbling over with these problems is an improvement to U.S national security?

And there is a dirty little irony plaguing this group as well. They are the ones who have been swarming in attack mode on those unprincipled, cowardly Senate Democrats who originally supported the war when the war was politically popular but have now turned against the war now that public opinion has, too. We are told that these mind-changing Democrats are craven opportunists who care more about political advantage than they do about U.S national security, and that they are willing to surrender to terrorists if doing so can help their domestic political prospects.

And how, exactly, does that now-reviled group of spineless, politically-motivated Senate Democrats differ any from the previously zealous Iraq warriors who -- now that public opinion has turned so decisively against their war -- are hyping the transparent charade that Iraq is, in any sense, sufficiently improved to have made our invasion worthwhile, let alone ready for us to abandon it? Aren't they guilty of exactly the crimes of which they accuse these shifting, soul-less Senate Democrats -- namely, having supported a war when it was easy to do so but now wanting to prematurely withdraw because the political winds have shifted?

It seems as though the accusations which the pro-war Right has been so viciously launching against anti-war critics are starting to fit quite comfortably on them. If we leave Iraq now, haven't our troops died in vain? Don't we owe it to them to complete our mission and not cut and run in time for November, 2006? And won't our patently premature withdraw be seen as the exact type of surrender which we have been hearing is what emboldens terrorists and weakens our country? These previously chest-beating hawks, who are transforming into meek little doves right before our eyes, are willing to endure all of that just in order to protect some GOP Congressional candidates from having to defend an increasingly unpopular war?

If the only difference between anti-war Democrats and softening pro-war Republicans is that the former wants to leave and say the whole thing was a mistake, while the latter wants to leave and pretend that we won, that isn't much of a difference to crow about. And if all we did in Iraq was get rid of Saddam in order to replace him with a new dictator, one whose human rights abuses are comparable or, worse, who will be a reliable ally of the U.S.-hating Iranian mullahs, it's hard to imagine anyone claiming that this war has been worthwhile. Nothing will have been improved -- not U.S. national security, not our image around the world, and not the plight of the Iraqi people.

The propaganda pretending that "we won" will be loud and relentless if we do leave prematurely, but the reality of what is happening in Iraq is almost sure to render it ineffective. If we leave now, it will be clear to most everyone that we were driven out by a combination of the insurgency and growing domestic opposition to the occupation, and that we did not "win" anything. If we truly want to have a chance to "win" in Iraq in any meaningful sense, the 2006 elections cannot be a factor, let alone the driving factor, in determining when we leave.


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