Following up the last post — Dan Froomkin writes today,
President Bush’s exclusive focus on suicide bombers — “suiciders,” in his parlance — when asked about violence in Iraq yesterday once again suggests that he lacks a realistic sense of the current state of chaos in that country.
“That’s the — but that’s one of the main — that’s the main weapon of the enemy, the capacity to destroy innocent life with a suicider,” Bush said yesterday in a brief public appearance with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Suicide bombings in Iraq do sometimes result in dramatic death tolls. And their aftereffects tend to show up more often in television footage than, say, the carnage wrought by secretive death squads.
But they’re hardly the main weapon afflicting either U.S. soldiers or civilians in Iraq today.
As anyone who monitors the situation in Iraq knows, a vastly greater threat to the 133,000 U.S. troops currently stationed there is posed by improvised explosive devices left along roadsides and elsewhere — and, to a lesser degree, by gunfire and mortar fire from armed insurgents trying very much to stay alive.
And as far as Iraqi civilians are concerned, the primary security threat these days comes from paramilitary forces committing widespread sectarian murder, unimpeded by anyone in authority.
Don’t miss “Armed Groups Propel Iraq Toward Chaos” by Dexter Filkins in the New York Times, discussed in the last post below.
Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but ask people with first-hand experience in Iraq, and they’ll most likely tell you that Bush’s emphasis on suicide bombings is at best way out of date, and at worst an example of his utter cluelessness.
Was Bush being accidentally or intentionally ignorant? It’s hard to know for sure.
Froomkin provides the transcript of yesterday’s remarks —
The question came from ABC News’s Martha Raddatz.
“Q The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, and they have been unable to bring down the violence in any substantial way in several of the provinces. So how can you expect the Iraqis to do that?
“PRESIDENT BUSH: If one were to measure progress on the number of suiciders, if that’s your definition of success, I think it gives — I think it will — I think it obscures the steady, incremental march toward democracy we’re seeing. In other words, it’s very difficult — you can have the most powerful army of the world — ask the Israelis what it’s like to try to stop suiciders — it is a difficult task to stop suicide bombers. That’s the — but that’s one of the main — that’s the main weapon of the enemy, the capacity to destroy innocent life with a suicider.
“And so I view progress as, is there a political process going forward that’s convincing disaffected Sunnis, for example, to participate? Is there a unity government that says it’s best for all of us to work together to achieve a common objective which is democracy? Are we able to meet the needs of the 12 million people that defied the car bombers? To me, that’s success. Trying to stop suiciders — which we’re doing a pretty good job of on occasion — is difficult to do. And what the Iraqis are going to have to eventually do is convince those who are conducting suiciders who are not inspired by al Qaeda, for example, to realize there’s a peaceful tomorrow. And those who are being inspired by al Qaeda, we’re just going to have to stay on the hunt and bring al Qaeda to justice. And our Army can do that, and is doing that right now.”
Froomkin also points to “how Bush sets up a false straw-man argument in his response, between either measuring success by suicide bombing or by the ‘march to democracy.'”
Eric Alterman’s column today is a great accompaniment to Froomkin.
Former military man and present-day historian Andrew Bacevich on the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz attitude toward 9/11, here.
Yes, it was a disaster. Yes, it was terrible. But by God, this was a disaster that could be turned to enormous advantage. Here lay the chance to remove constraints on the exercise of American military power, enabling the Bush administration to shore up, expand, and perpetuate U.S. global hegemony. Toward that end, senior officials concocted this notion of a Global War on Terror, really a cover story for an effort to pacify and transform the broader Middle East, a gargantuan project which is doomed to fail. Committing the United States to that project presumed a radical redistribution of power within Washington. The hawks had to cut off at the knees institutions or people uncomfortable with the unconstrained exercise of American power. And who was that? Well, that was the CIA. That was the State Department, especially the State Department of Secretary Colin Powell. That was the Congress.
Meanwhile, Gregory D. Foster, professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University. wrote a brilliant op-ed in The Baltimore Sun a few weeks back [link broken]. Here are some excerpts:
Even as Long War rhetoric artfully circumvents such politically discomfiting terminology as “insurgency,” its underlying message should be clear: We dutiful subjects should be quietly patient and not expect too much (if anything) too soon (if at all) from our rulers as they prosecute their unilaterally proclaimed war without end against ubiquitous evil.
The intent of the message is to dull our senses, to dampen our expectations, to thereby deaden the critical, dissenting forces of democracy that produce political turbulence and impede autocratic license. Being warned here amounts to being disarmed – intellectually and civically.
President Bush; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace; the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid; and the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review, among other authoritative purveyors of received wisdom, all warn us that we’re embroiled in – and destined to be further subjected to – what is to be known as a Long War.
It would be one thing if such semantic legerdemain reflected revelatory strategic insight or a more sophisticated appreciation of the intrinsic nature of postmodern conflicts and enemies. But that is not the case. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the cynical view that America’s senior military leaders are willfully playing public relations handmaiden to their political overlords at the expense of a naive, trusting citizenry.
Meanwhile, Juan Cole explains how the armed groups from the Dexter Filkins article got their guns:
The BBC reports that the US gave a contract to a small private firm to import weapons for the Iraqi security forces. It brought in massive amounts of weapons from Bosnia. But the procurement process was complex and involved– you guessed it– subcontractors, and the weapons are hard to trace. It is very likely that a lot ended up in the hands of the guerrillas. What irony. A mania for the private sector has helped turn Iraq into Bosnian using Bosnian weapons. In this Iraq scandal, everywhere you dig you find bodies.
Professor Cole also says that the Sunni 16th Brigade in Dawra, which per Dexter Filkins became a pro-guerrilla death squad, “was a legacy of the Allawi government appointed by Paul Bremer and the UN, which had some serious neo-Baathist facsists in the security positions.” As explained in the last post, the 16th Brigade — a 1,000-man force set up by Iraqâ€™s Ministry of Defense — became a death squad for the insurgents. They were executing people who cooperated with the same government that set up the brigade.
Remember — as they stand up, we’ll stand down. (We’re bleeped.)