Monday, May 29, 2006

Around, around again in Iraq

With al-Jaafari thrown to the curb, al-Maliki is hoped to be more effective in marshalling federal strength in Iraq. Could this be a turning point? But which way were we facing when we came in to Iraq, and in what direction will be heading when we straigten out again? If we trace our steps...

June 12, 2003 [Rice]: And despite the tragic events of the past few days, it is also a time of great hope. President Bush believes that the region is at a true turning point. He believes that the people of the Middle East have a real chance to build a future of peace and freedom and opportunity.

March 19, 2004 [Bush]: Today, as Iraqis join the free peoples of the world, we mark a turning point for the Middle East, and a crucial advance for human liberty.

June 18, 2004 [Bush]: A turning point will come in less than two weeks. On June the 30th, full sovereignty will be transferred to the interim government. The Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, an American embassy will open in the capital of a free Iraq.

Jan 29, 2005 [Bush]: Tomorrow the world will witness a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom, and a crucial advance in the war on terror. The Iraqi people will make their way to polling centers across their nation.

Jan 31, 2005 [McClellan]: The election is a victory for the Iraqi people. It's a significant step forward for freedom and it is a defeat for the terrorists and their ideology. It marks a turning point in Iraq's history and a great advance toward a brighter future for all Iraqis, one that stands in stark contrast to the brutality and oppression of the past.

March 8, 2005 [Bush]: People in the Middle East and commentators around the world are beginning to wonder whether recent elections may mark a turning point as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

June 22, 2005: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said international support pledged towards rebuilding Iraq marks a "turning point" for the country.

Nov 21, 2005: Senator Biden delivers a speech entitled "Turning the corner in Iraq."

Nov 28, 2005: But, by last week, Murtha had decided to come out of his corner in spectacular fashion. The result was a turning point—and a low point—in the war at home over the war in Iraq.

Dec 5, 2005: Fawaz A. Gerges, an expert on the insurgency movement in Iraq and on the jihad movement in the Muslim world, says the bombings at three Amman hotels last month have produced "a turning point in the Middle East."

Dec 12, 2005: There's still a lot of difficult work to be done in Iraq, but thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East, and the history of freedom.

Dec 17, 2005: "The last two weeks have been critically important and I believe may be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism," Lieberman told reporters after he and a bipartisan group of senators met with Bush and top administration officials on the war.

Dec 18, 2005 [Cheney]: And we had that election in January -- first free election in Iraq in decades -- and that we will be able to look back from the perspective of time, and see that 2005 was the turning point, was the watershed year, and that establishment of a legitimate government in Iraq, which is what that whole political process is about, means the end of the insurgency, ultimately.

Dec 26, 2006 [Kristol andKagan]: The Iraqi elections really could be a turning point.

April 26, 2006: "The turning point here is that Iraq now has its first permanent government, and that it is a government of national unity, and it gives Iraq a real chance to deal with the real vexing problems that it has faced," [Rice] added.

May 2, 2006: Mr Bush says the new government represents a turning point for the Iraqi people, although he concedes there will still be difficult days ahead.

May 22, 2006: President Bush on Monday hailed the formation of a new Iraqi government as a "turning point" that will allow U.S. forces to take an "increasingly supporting role" against insurgents as Washington and London look for ways to disengage from the war.

Take me back/to just before I was spinning/take me back/to just before I got dizzy...

I try to focus on the big stuff pertinent to the Iraq adventure, not the daily vicissitudes. For one, I'm not shrewd enough nor do I make the time to closely follow the political cycles inside the fractured country. But news of Shia militias undertaking mass executions of suspected Sunnis ("guilty" by way of being Sunni) reveals that Al Sistani's impressive sustained effort urging Shia to turn the other cheek has finally run out of steam. Years of low-level civil war loom ugly in the future of Iraq.

This, to a backdrop of sobering considerations: The population has an IQ around 87, the country's PPP is $3,400 (although this is a substantial jump from a couple of years ago when it was estimated to be $2,100), consanguineous marriage is ubiquitous, Islam and liberal democracy are antipodal (a good read--written in 1993 and attempting to repudiate scholars and academics arguing that fundamentalist Islam was the key to bringing the Muslim world into modernity (!) and tracing the errant predictions of Islam's liberalization over the last 150 years--and the analysis of the Algerian 'surprise' in the early nineties is eerily similar to the Hamas 'surprise' in Palestine last year, leaving one to wonder how Kramer supported the Iraq invasion in '02), and the Sunni minority was accustomed to minority rule for over two decades. I don't see how Iraq can handle the West's conception of freedom.

Let's draw down. Bush can put his hand over his heart and say we've given them a chance at freedom and all the other platitudes that might save America a little face. The allegation, if ultimately true (and the Defense Department hasn't denied it), that Marines carried out a fatal reprisal against some innocents in retaliation for the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, is going to be a PR nightmare worse than Abu Ghraib.

Instead of quixotically trying to reshape the Middle East, we need to remove ourselves from it. Pour the remainder of Iraq's $1 trillion-plus total price tag into alternative energy research (we'll destabilize Venezuela's Chavez while we're at it). Severely restrict immigration from the Middle East. Use Saddam's fall and the death of his sons as a reminder that assistance to international terrorist organizations, or even the perception of sympathy toward them or complicity in their actions, will lead to the rolling of heads and the annihilation of families. If we were off oil and the destabilization of the Middle East meant little to the strategic interests of the US, such threats would have more potency than the current sabre-rattling at Iran.


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