Scorpions in a Bottle, Part I
Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
- George Santayana
Shoot first and inquire afterwards, and if you make mistakes, I will protect you.
- Hermann Goering
...let me give you a word of advice. ALWAYS bet on black.
- Wesley Snipes in "Passenger 57"
[This is the first part of a kinda sorta series, trying to explain any poor gibbering bastards still reading this blog after having put it into mothballs for most of a year, the various factions involved in the Iraq War. I talk about it so much, I practically obsess about it, so I may as well try to convey what little knowledge I have on the subject to, well, the two people I know who check this thing, anyway.]
Can you feel it? That telltale crackling of ozone, stinging your nostrils, setting the hairs on the back of your neck on edge. The peel of far-off thunder, crashing, then receding. It's coming. Press your ear to the ground, tap the jungle grapevine, and you may hear it. The rumble of massive hoofprints, of things enormous and unseen, trundling forward through the underbrush, uprooting trees, stomping huts flat, trammeling everything in their path with an almost admirable and thoroughly monotonous inexorability. It's our One Last Shot. Our Inestimable and Paramount Leader, George W. Bush, Unitary Executive and Commander-in-Chief, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and the Fishes of the Sea, has heard the voice of the electorate, of both parties in the United States Congress, and of his own Iraq Study Group, and decided that he knows better after all.
The Surge is on its way. Well. Such as it is. Bush has cried havoc and unleashed the dogs of war, except that most of the dogs are already out on the hunt, he's just decided to run them for twice as long without letting them rest. You keep the troops deployed for an extra-long tour, you send the ones home supposed to be recuperating back into the shit extra early, and, voila. Twenty-one and a half thousand troops, pulled from out of the ether, like magic. Sprung from dragon's teeth, sewn in the soil. Never mind that some of them are Going Over for their third or fourth tour, of course. Never mind that generals like John Abizaid (outgoing Commanding General, U. S. Central Command) and George Casey (outgoing Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq...detect a pattern) have previously counseled against sending more troops into theater at this time, saying that whatever window of opportunity may have existed for them to make a difference has long since closed. Never mind that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has questioned the need for more troops. Never mind that the so-called Surge, being marketed as some hitherto unprecedented level of commitment to The War on Terra, is really only going to bring us back to December 2005's troop levels. Never mind that Republican Congresspeople are lining up to throw the drowning President a cinder block and perhaps stave off their own inevitable irrelevancy for a term or two. Never mind that the American people themselves are overwhelmingly against this, 89 percent against in some polls, finally, finally, after a seeming eternity of crawling around in a darkened room, blindly jabbing an electrical plug in every direction in the hopes of finding a socket. It looks like people have finally found it. (Of course, some of us had the fucking foresight to keep a flashlight handy, but no need to be a poor winner...)
See, none of that, none of any of that, matters, in the end.
The Decider has decided.
But what, exactly, has he decided?
The conventional wisdom, often a contradiction in terms, has it that Bush is going to run out the clock, perhaps just out of sheer spite, solely to defy the advice from the Iraq Study Group. Maybe it rankled, having to have Dad's lawyers and golfing buddies take him aside and bail him out and fix his screw-ups. Again. Maybe it was too bitter a pill to swallow, and the loss of Congress, rather than chasten him, actually acted to liberate him, free him, let him finally be the Tough Guy Standing Alone that he's always known, deep down, that he was. This is one of Bush's problems. He actually equates low poll numbers and criticism from other Republicans with physical courage, with seeing combat, I think. He actually conflates unpopularity with valor. That's the kind of privilege he's enjoyed his whole life.
But is this really the whole story?
He can't withdraw (defeat, weakness), he can't tread water (low in the polls), he can't give Iraq any real numbers (none left without invoking the dreaded D-word), so this measly, tightfisted, ineffectual, pusillanimous pinprick of a Surge which will do two things: kill Americans faster, and put guns in the hands of pissed-off Iraqis faster. So...what's the logic to it? Beyond pigheaded, dry drunk stupidity, what the fuck is the point of it?
Well, I'm getting to that. Calm down.
Irbil, Iraq, is the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is still pretending to be part of Iraq even though they issue their own currency, stamps, and passports, train their own militia (the ruthless Peshmerga, more on them in a future installment) that's twice the size of al-Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi and could probably fuck up any New Iraqi Army unit sent after it, not that they could since Kurdistan refuses to allow any federal troops to set foot on Kurdish soil, but I digress...anywho. Last week, American soldiers raided an Iranian consulate in Irbil. The Peshmerga guarding the building very nearly lit the Americans up, which could have opened up the (inevitable, I think) third front of this two-front war, but miracles happen every so often and no shots were fired. The conventional wisdom being circulated by BushCo and the Weekly Standard is the Iranians detained weren't diplomats, but officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pasdaran (essentially, the Islamic Republic of Iran's equivalent of the Waffen-SS, a fanatical military formation outside of and rivalling Iran's Regular Armed Forces). The Pasdaran has elements, the Qods Force, that specializes in infiltrating neighboring countries to foment dissent and insurrection, shocking, I know. Last month, similar intelligence of Iranian activity was netted during a raid on the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI (or "Scary" as it's sometimes called) was sheltered by, funded by, administered by, trained by, and supplied by the only other country to have enjoyed the fruits of an Islamic Revolution, namely, Iran. So the notion that the ayatollahs of Tehran are still backing their Arabic pupils is not too fucking hard to grasp, now is it.
Now is it.
See, now there you're wrong, as usual. Keep quiet and pay attention. BushCo is putting it out that Iran is not actually supplying and training SCIRI, and their militia, the Badr Organization, even though they created it and want the same goals and like the same TV shows as them, even though they were meeting with SCIRI's leader, no. And they're also saying that Iran is not, definitely not, supplying and training the Peshmerga, even though during the Saddam Era they helped create it, train it, and goaded them on to fight the Iraqi military, no, of course not. These are what are known as "the O.J.s" of Iraq. It's fucking obvious that when you meet with someone you agree with, and have helped before, that you are still helping them. Not to our Dear Leader though. He peers through the fog of our certainties and sees nebulous and tantalizing possibilities. See, actually, Iran (oh, did I mention how much the hardcore neocons, Bush's last supporters, the base of the base of the base, really really please please want to overthrow Iran, too? See, Iraq was the wrong war, they all knew that, what they really wanted to do was go into Iran and "finish the job," stand tall, etc., and this time it would be a cakewalk, this war would pay for itself, ad nauseum...) is supporting Moqtada al-Sadr, you know, that cleric who hates Iran and constantly inveighs against any sign of respect or fealty which his Shia colleagues pay towards Tehran, that Moqtada al-Sadr. The al-Sadr who's desperately trying to outmaneuver Tehran's men in Baghdad. Yes, it's all a clever ruse, apparently. He really loves Iran to pieces. It doesn't make any sense, but it's convenient, since al-Sadr has been the loudest and most consistent voice calling for America to leave Iraq, and his militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi ("Army of the Mahdi"), has fought Coalition forces on and off since 2004. It's convenient, if you want to build a case, or, some might say, sell a story, that Iran is behind all of our troubles.
It makes no sense, but it does. It's what I call Movie Logic. When you watch a mystery, and they introduce a character that seems tangential and unnecessary to the Plot, the friendly neighbor, the girlfriend's roommate, the dentist, whatever, and the camera lingers on said person a trifle too long, gives them too much screentime, dialogue they don't need, well, the informed viewer wonders. Why do I care about this person, who the fuck is he, why am I listening to them yammer on. There are No Coincidences. Just puzzle pieces we haven't matched yet. Tuck it away and remember it later.
Iran is interfering in Iraq. They do have pawns there. They're the al-Dawa Party and SCIRI, and they're the Kurds they sheltered during the Long Night of Baathism. It's obvious. But these are all the factions that tell us to our faces how much they love us, they're so grateful, American Number One, we love George Bush. And besides, who in Tulsa or Sioux City or Des Moines has ever heard of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, or the Badr Organization. Who the fuck even knows what a Kurd is. And here we have this perfectly good, respectable villain sitting right over here in Sadr City, East Baghdad, sent straight down from Central Casting, this murderer, this demagogue, al-Sadr, not overly educated, owing everything he's attained in his whole life to the name and accomplishments of his father (sound familiar?), going on day and night about throwing the Americans out...yes, he hates the Iranians too, but, and I'm just saying, what if...what...if...we said he didn't.
I said it.
And it's not even as direct as that, no conversation like that was ever spoken, no conscious decision to muddy the waters and distort the facts was ever made. It didn't have to be. The interested parties have agreed to accept the lie, en masse, without anyone saying it aloud. To speak it aloud would break the spell, perhaps.
Why do I mention all of this?
Because of the 21,500-strong Surge, all but 4000 are going to Baghdad. Mostly, it seems, East Baghdad, the slums called Sadr City. The Shia part of Baghdad. The stronghold of al-Sadr. I'd say that almost all combat deaths we're suffering are being inflicted by Sunni insurgents, but, that's old news, that's yesterdays news, Osama who. It would be exceedingly difficult, even with the slug-brained American public, to sell them on Iran backing them. (Though they're trying that too.) But al-Sadr, he's a Shia. And he's fought us before. He loathes the Iranians, but two out of three ain't bad. He'll do. We can leapfrog from Sadr City to Tehran, hopefully.
Home for Christmas.
With what troops? you scoff. You're really being paranoid now. Oh, maybe, maybe. Of course, it is a little strange that we've deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf now (the John C. Stennis and the Dwight D. Eisenhower), though. Maybe al-Qaeda has finally finished building that carrier interceptor fighter/bomber squadron out of cactus spines and camel hides. You never know. I'm sure than Bush hasn't let himself be duped into a fucking jackass play like trying to neutralize Iran's probably non-existent nuclear weapons program and thus commence an all-out Middle Eastern War. He's been great so far so I'm sure the thought never occurred to him.
Where does Congress stand on the Surge, then? How do you feel about Cleveland? Still too close? How about hopping on an ice floe and paddling to the goddamned Arctic Circle? Actually, Bush does have some extremely tepid support in Congress. The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who looks remarkably lifelike if you dim the lights, has enthused that Bush's plan might not totally be the worst idea ever and possibly has a chance of not failing cataclysmically. At the press conference held to gift the President with this mealy-mouthed "solidarity," McConnell turned to his fellow Republican Senators for support. They found something very interesting to stare at on the other side of the room. One developed a slight cough. A cricket was heard. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott informed the press corps that he had no responsibilities here whatsoever.
The loudest voice supporting Bush has been The Senate's own Ol' Dirty Bastard, the Rising Phoenix himself, Joltin' John McCain. Of course, he was bleating on in 2005 that more troops weren't needed. And two months ago, when it looked like Bush was going to have to cave in to, you know, reality (ha! right), McCain was saying we needed, oh...about 20,000 more troops in Iraq. This is the right-wing tack on the war: the War was great, it was a fabulous idea - we love the War! - if only Bush/Rumsfeld/the generals/everyone who isn't me, hadn't fucked it all up. This was the McCain Doctrine. Then, Bush, maybe just to stick it to Johnny, said, hey, let's do that, more troops, good idea, glad I thought of it. Now McCain is saying, 20,000 troops is obviously not enough, we need twice that at least. Obviously. And when it crashes and burns, just remember, I said we needed more troops, and it's not my fault. Republicans may have lost Congress, but McCain still seems to be the ranking minority member of the Select Subcommittee on Covering Your Own Ass and Selling Your Soul to Get the Nomination This Time.
There have always been malcontents railing against Bush's Iraq notions, notably Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, another decorated Vietnam vet who seems to call bullshit when he sees it. But lately Bush is losing his hardcore followers too. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a man so pro-life he opposes abortion even in rape or incest, and who has compared the progressive and tolerant socialist nations of Scandinavia to a homosexualized Nazi Germany, has said we shouldn't send more troops over. As Kansas goes, so goes the Red Nation. They are falling away from him one by one, swamping the liferafts as Captain Bush stands on the poop deck and insists that the ship isn't sinking at all, it's just waves. The Democrats, for their part, are being strangely timid. They seem delighted that the game is up, but, even with the deer in their sights they can't bring themselves to pull the trigger and terminate the war by defunding it, or revoking their 2002 authorization of the use of force. It's within their power but they're reluctant. Maybe they can't fully believe they're back in the driver's seat, that it was a fluke, that all it will take is one liberal bill or media gaffe and everything will crumble. They're a little afraid of the spotlight so they're hiding in the center. Well, there are a handful of fighters. John Murtha and Charlie Rangel in the House. Ted Kennedy in the Senate. But for the most part, they seem content to go after their minimum wage and their prescription pill reform and ethics reform, which are all quite important matters, don't get me wrong. But like McCain, the Dems are happy to let Bush hang himself. They'll make noise about the folly of sending more troops, maybe vote on a nonbinding meaningless resolution, and quietly back away and let it all fall on Bush. Oh, and on the poor fuckers who are going to die, or lose limbs, in order to prove a political point. But who cares about them anyway, right, they asked for this. So the war will grind on. And on. And on.
Finally, a word should be said about the "Independent Democrat," Joe Lieberman, Bush's favorite Democrat, Mr. Bipartisan himself. One word will suffice, I think. Preferably a four-letter one. Okay. Moving on.
After being shaken up by the November loss, the neocons have circled the wagons ever closer around the White House. Their poster boy, Donald Rumsfeld, was immediately thrown under the train, prompting the neos to say that they'd never liked him anyway. But Cheney seems to have been quietly brought back into the Inner Circle. Rice, that total fucking incompetent, is going to go down with the ship because her loyalty is her only strength to Bush, it sure isn't her ability as a diplomat. John Bolton has been jettisoned (good riddance). Wolfowitz and Feith are long gone. The government neocons were always hamstrung by their need to once in a while appear reasonable and high-minded. The private sector neos are under no such burden. People like William Kristol, the Propagandist-in-Chief of the Weekly Standard, which is so stridently right-wing it makes the Wall Street Journal look like Pravda; Fred Kagan, resident intellectual thug at the American Enterprise Institute, who helped goad Bush into doubling down and giving it One Last Shot this week; arch-Zionist crypto-fascists (hey, cool word!) like Daniel Pipes and Michael Ledeen, who blithely endorse carpet bombing Iran to get those hypothetical nukes and even coyly suggest that a nuclear first strike on them wouldn't be entirely a bad thing....most of the asylum has been retaken by the staff, but the ones still on the loose are the worst of the bunch, the real fucking crazies. People who want to turn the Middle East into one gigantic oil derrick and let the few remaining Arabs work it for them, people who want to see a Greater Israel from the Suez to the Straits of Hormuz and from Turkey to Yemen, people who rant about the necessity to stop proliferation and then talk about tactical nuclear strikes as if they were discussing what to have for dinner. These are the people that Bush is taking into the Fuhrerbunker with him. And make no mistake, that's where he's going. And he's not going to come out. Not until the Russians storm the perimeter, anyway.
...if you've made it this far, what the hell is wrong with you. This was way too goddamned long. Go get some fresh air.
Coming soon: Part II - The Iraqi Council of Representatives. That should be interesting. For me, anyway, who cares about the rest of you people. Get your own blog.