Monday, February 19, 2007

Playing President

George Washington shakes hands with actor George Bush playing president, as the nation observes President's Day.
(Thanks to AP for the photo and Fox News for contributing to the caption).

"The Army You've Got"

The Washington Post this week highlights in disturbing detail how the Pentagon and this administration “supports” our troops and “thanks” them for their service—by treating their medical needs and the troops themselves as an irritating post-war expense.

Little wonder then that the Bush administration and its lackeys in the US military have similar contempt for their “coalition” partners and allies that they so often tout in their press releases and speeches.

Four years after two Air National Guard A-10 pilots strafed a clearly-marked patrol, killing one and injuring four British soldiers, the US finally released—only to the official government inquiry and the soldier’s families and NOT to the public—the cockpit video/audio recordings of the attack, and only after the footage had been leaked and published.
The US claimed “security” concerns in not releasing the tapes until now, an excuse of transparent breathtaking stupidity and arrogance they maintained for four years. And even now they refuse to let the pilots and the mission controller be interviewed or give written testimony to the UK inquiry.

The US was similarly uncooperative in another official inquiry into the shoot-down by a US Patriot missile battery of a returning British Tornado strike aircraft that killed the two-man crew, also very early in the Iraq war.

The Guardian is now reporting on yet another four-year old case of American obstruction and obfuscation regarding the actions of its troops against its allies.
US army officials are due in London this week to interview Corporal Jane McLaughlan, Staff Sergeant James Rogerson, Corporal Stephen Smith and their interpreter, Khalid Allahou, almost four years after all were seriously injured when their Land Rover was struck twice from behind by the US transporter. McLaughlan, who was driving, was unable to keep control and the Land Rover crashed off the road. All four passengers were thrown from the vehicle.
Although the initial British investigation managed to identify the American military unit and driver involved, the US authorities denied any record of the incident. Only after substantial pressure, said Doyle, did the Pentagon admit the existence of a three-page statement by the US National Guard convoy involved in the incident, which mentioned they 'had run some guys off the road'.
In the crash, McLaughlan, 35, sustained multiple skull fractures, brain damage and punctured internal organs. Rogerson, from Scotland, received head and spinal injuries and is understood to be due to leave the military this year as a result of his injuries. Allahou, who lives in Folkestone with a British wife and had volunteered as a translator for the British army, is also understood to have suffered long-term effects.
It seems the US just might actually own up to the incident (but not the cover-up of course) and possibly for the very first time pay compensation for just these three British soldiers injured through US military criminal incompetence.
But meanwhile US soldiers injured by the administrations policies are abandoned in the halls of Walter Reed or dumped at home without support. Bush is now proposing to reduce the budget of the VA even as its services are and will be more needed than ever.
The callous use and abuse of soldiers by Bush and his Pentagon cronies is criminal and sickening.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Camel's Back

NOTE: Apparently I have a couple of Polish readers and I just want to say hello to Grazyna!

According to Bush and most of the Republicans US troops must stay in Iraq in order to deliver the functioning publicly accountable government, social and legal equality, professional, meritocratic defense force, progressive economy, improve quality of life and stabilize the region.

Otherwise, they say, terrorists “emboldened” by the US withdrawal will have Iraq’s resources at their disposal to launch devastating attacks against American “interests”, foment Sunni-Shia conflict throughout the region, and threaten US allies and conduct major attacks against America itself.

Could the Republicans be right, for once? Would staying in Iraq prevent a region-wide conflagration and facilitate more and larger-scale attacks against the US?

Not likely.

The essential problem with the Republican argument is that it assumes that the political and religious dynamics in the Middle East are monolithic—which they demonstrably are not.
In all the Middle East conflicts and radical political shifts in power since WWII each country has pursued its own particular interests above anything else. Alliances and opposition have shifted according to rational need more than emotional desire.

The 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel involved respectively Egypt, Syria and Jordan, then just Egypt and Syria. No other Arab nations got involved in any relevant way.

The 1975-1985 Lebanese Civil-War ostensibly pitted Christians against Muslims (the majority, but of many sects). The Sunni Syrians got involved for strategic reasons. The Palestinians in Lebanon goaded Israel into the fight. But all the other Arab nations in practical terms steered clear of the conflict.

In 1979 the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Shia rule began. The Shia population in Suadi Arabia was not inspired to overthrow the ruling family.

Also in 1979 Saddam Hussein became the president of Iraq. Iran did not then rush to the aid of its Shia brethren who were already being discriminated against.

The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was started by Hussein over control of waterway and not because of religious differences (Hussein favoring Sunnis of course). Egypt and Syria, having both Sunni leadership and Sunni public majorities and being political active, did not rush to the aid of Iraq as it struggled against the Iranians. Saudi Arabia, Sunni-ruled but with a Shia public majority, stayed out of the conflict.
Incidentally when Israel bombed Hussein’s Osirak Nuclear reactor in 1980 (finishing the job the Iranians had begun) no major action was taken by other Arab nations against Israel.

The Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s was defeated by the CIA arming and training Afghanis with 50% of the costs secretly provided by the Saudis. No other Arab nations provided any significant aid to their Muslim Afghani brothers fighting against the godless Communists.

In the 1991 Gulf War Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was either opposed by other Arab nations or garnered only mild and obtuse rhetorical support from some.

The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Bin Laden was overwhelmingly supported by Middle Eastern governments and significantly supported by the “Arab street” despite some cheering for the 9-11 attacks.

The 2003 US invasion of Iraq was not very well supported but it wasn’t that strenuously objected-to either as Hussein was quite the irritant and not much of a champion of Arab causes (certainly not religious ones). The subsequent occupation however is widely condemned but nonetheless there has once again been no significant action by Arab governments against the US.

The 2006 Israel-Lebanon War (it was NOT a “conflict”) only elicited rhetorical condemnations but again no action by Arab governments.

In all these conflicts and wars Middle Eastern nations have overall maintained a status quo in their governments and their societies. The Iranian revolution was not driven just by religion but more by social politics. The Lebanese civil war was driven by politics as well.
Religion is a tool of politics, something that allows politicians to exploit mass emotions for a particular cause and to conveniently identify supporters and opponents of a cause.

All the strife in the Middle East (or anywhere else for that matter) is a result of politics not religion. Does anyone really think that the average professional Iraqi or Iranian or Saudi really gives a damn about establishing a Caliphate or making the whole world Muslim? Does anyone really think the average Arab farmer or cook or shepherd or nomad give a damn about such ambitions? Did the average Briton demand an Empire that covered one quarter of the globe? Of course not!
The majority, anywhere and everywhere, has far more limited ambitions—to be able to get by at least and maybe enjoy life at best. That’s it. For the majority religion is personal—if it weren’t then everyone would be busy trying to convert everyone else to their faith or killing the faithless, or else refusing to interact at all.

So I really don’t see religious strife encompassing the Middle East should the US depart Iraq. And as to leaving national resources for terrorists to exploit—what exactly would be left? First of all the Iraqi’s would have to sort themselves out before they could exploit anything—there’s a few years right there. Other Arab nations have demonstrated their caution often enough so they aren’t likely to rush in to the mess—add another few years of cuatious low-key involvement .

Those with the ambition to attack the US and western interests will continue to do so with limited resources and limited support. How effective they might be has little to do with the Middle East and far more to do with US and western actions and reactions.

For six years the Republicans have painted everyone and every issue with the broadest brush possible and they are doing so again in their prognostications regarding a US withdrawal from Iraq. Not only is there no reason to believe them this time around, there is no reason to believe them according to historical and present evidence.

Leaving Iraq will mean leaving a bloody mess, one that will continue in that country. It’s a horrible choice but no worse than the choices that have been made thus far. But it’s not going escalate enmity towards the US (most Iraqis want the US to leave) and it’s not going to create any more terrorists than it already has.

The Republican policies have increased global terrorism not diminished it and it is not withdrawal but escalation on their part that would fulfill their dire scenario.
If Bush decides on even a limited strike against Iran under the guise of his "war on terror", that might well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.