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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Meanwhile, Iraq unravels even faster

Now that "our war" in Lebanon has come to an end, and there is no "shiny new terrorist plot to play with" (as one blogger put it by e-mail), the national media is starting to remember that we already have an ongoing war in a country called Iraq, and what is happening there is beyond tragic. Developments in Iraq could hardly be worse, as two extraordinarily grim articles this morning -- one from The New York Times and one from The Washington Post -- amply demonstrate.

The Times documents that, by almost every measure, violence in Iraq is increasing. Despite the media and Bush celebrations over the dramatized Bad Guy Killing last month, "the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." Thus:

“The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”

Put simply: "the new assessments by the military and the intelligence community provide evidence that violence in Iraq is at its highest level yet."

Beyond the still strengthening anti-U.S. insurgency, both Shiite-Sunni sectarian battles and, now, "clashes between rival Shiite Muslim militias" are growing increasingly common, reminding us, says the Post, of "how precariously the country teeters on the edge of civil war." Cities that were relatively free of violence, such as Basra and Karbala, are now plagued by it, and cities which have long been war zones, such as Baghdad and Mosul, are growing more anarchic and violent, as Sunni and Shiite sects fight not only with one other but also with themselves (and in some places with Kurds).

Making matters worse still, the power of lawless militias is rapidly increasing, and are directly controlled by high Shiite government officials and/or by what the Post calls "radicalized clerics." Put another way, for the billions of dollars and thousands of lives we have squandered (figures which increase every day), we have transformed Iraq into the ideal playground for both Iran and Al Qaeda-type groups to assert control, and we clearly have no way to reverse any of that, because the longer we stay, the worse it all gets.

With facts like these assembled, even the administration's staunchest supporters (at least those outside of the right-wing blogosphere, National Review and The Weekly Standard) are now -- at long last -- too ashamed to argue that all of this is the invention of an anti-U.S. media or that the bad news is exaggerated and is offset by unreported stories of painted schoolhouses and Marines handing out candy to children. Thus, admissions of failure are starting to emerge even from the administration's most loyal allies:

After General Abizaid’s testimony, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, said that if Iraq fell into civil war, the committee might need to examine whether the authorization provided by Congress for the use of American force in Iraq would still be valid. The comments by Senator Warner, a senior Republican who is a staunch supporter of the president, have reverberated loudly across Congress.

The administration continues publicly to paint happy faces on its Iraq project -- there is, after all, an election just three months away -- but they know their public statements about the war are false. From the Times article:

Yet some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraq’s democratically elected government might not survive.

“Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy,” said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

“Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect,” the expert said, “but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.”

Once the U.S. finally extricates itself from the Iraqi disaster, a comprehensive public accounting is critical. While much attention has been paid to the pre-war misinformation disseminated by the government and the media, the post-invasion deceit has been worse -- much worse. There was, at least, a reasonable question about whether Saddam had WMDs. Nobody knew the answer to that question for certain one way or the other prior to the war. But it has long been apparent that conditions in Iraq were deteriorating, that our occupation was achieving nothing constructive, that violence was spiraling out of control, and that our invasion had achieved the opposite of the goals we proclaimed to be pursuing.

But the political establishment -- the Bush administration, its followers, and our "serious" pundits alike -- were all so invested, so personally invested, in the invasion which they advocated and caused that they just all agreed to pretend that it was not happening. Pointing out the magnitude of the disaster we caused -- both to Iraq and, at least equally, to the U.S. -- was deemed inappropriate, distasteful, hyperbolic, and even subversive. As a result, and in stark contrast to the quick and open Israeli recognition that their war was going poorly, we continued to pursue a clearly misguided and destructive path because our political leaders and their media enablers were too weak and self-interested -- and, in many cases, still are -- to acknowledge reality.

The parties responsible for this ongoing deceit about the state of affairs in Iraq are too numerous to list. It obviously begins with the White House and their Congressional loyalists, but there are plenty of illustrative examples outside of those circles as well:

*Ralph Peters, in a March, 2006 New York Post column entitled "Dude, Where's my Civil War" that was cited and hailed by Bush supporters everywhere, wrote:

I'M trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared.

And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan. . . .

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

Instead of a civil war, something very different happened because of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. The fanatic attempt to stir up Sunni-vs.-Shia strife, and the subsequent spate of violent attacks, caused popular support for the U.S. presence to spike upward.

The rest of the column blames the media for exaggerated reports of violence in Iraq. As John Hinderaker put it: "One thing that distinguishes Peters from most reporters who comment on Iraq is that Peters actually knows what he's talking about."

* Glenn Reynolds pronounced as recently as April of this year "that the problem is political, not military, and that the biggest political problem is corruption" (emphasis added), and combined that claim with statements like this: "Turning Iraq into a dependable ally against Iran has always been part of the strategy, I think. I hope it works, and sooner rather than later."

* Joe Lieberman's December, 2005 Wall St. Journal Op-Ed:

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the last 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn. . . .

The leaders of America’s military and diplomatic forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey and Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, have a clear vision of our mission there. It is to create the environment in which Iraqi democracy, security, and prosperity can take hold and the Iraqis themselves can defend their political progress against those ten
thousand terrorists who would take it from them.

Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes we do.

There are no good options for Iraq. Simply withdrawing in the face of the horrendous mess we made is both reckless and dangerous, but staying is achieving nothing good. But the first and most important step is to recognize who it is who led us into this disaster and, through deceit and desperate irrationality, kept us there due to a refusal to acknowledge reality. And then we should stop listening to them immediately and completely.

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