At the end of a Memorial Day weekend during which Time magazine revealed that our “dead or alive” President was displaying the last pistol Saddam Hussein ever touched in a White House trophy room, farce and tragedy seemed to be in a race to the finish line in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere. (“‘He really liked showing it off,’ says a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. ‘He was really proud of it.’ The pistol’s new place of residence is in the small study next to the Oval Office where Bush takes select visitors after pointing out better-known White House pieces like the busts of Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower… The study — the one where Bill Clinton held some of his infamous trysts with White House intern Monica Lewinsky — has become a place where Bush keeps the memorabilia that hold special significance for him.”)
In the meantime, thanks to Judicial Watch, a “conservative watchdog group,” Time also reported on quite a different trophy — this one awarded via Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. A Pentagon email has surfaced indicating that the VP’s office “coordinated” a major no-bid “Restore Iraqi Oil” contract that went to — here’s a shock — Cheney’s former company Halliburton on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. (“The e-mail says [Pentagon hawk Douglas] Feith approved arrangements for the contract ‘contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP’s [Vice President’s] office.'”)
Outside the Beltway, in a version of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for syndrome, the “central front in the war on terrorism” (as our President likes to call it) has spread deeper yet into Saudi Arabia in another bloody incident of murder and hostage-taking by an al-Qaeda-linked group among the foreign oil workers who keep that precious energy source flowing from Saudi wellheads. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, UN diplomat Lakdar Brahimi, who arrived earlier in the month to form a new “transition” government of “technocrats,” has evidently put his reluctant seal of approval on the prime ministerial nominee of the Iraqi Governing Council — 18 out of 25 of whose members hold foreign passports — which might easily have been called the American Non-Governing Council.
The Americans, of course, insisted on Brahimi when the UN agreed to send a negotiator to Iraq and it seems he has come through in exactly the style the Bush administration expected. Dexter Filkins of the New York Times today used a word to describe his actions not normally seen in the Times –“folded.” (“Instead of fashioning the kind of savvy compromise for which he is known, Mr. Brahimi appears to have folded, acquiescing to the desires of the Americans, who were promoting Dr. Alawi.”) In what might well have been termed a coup d’état, if a state were anywhere in sight, the Governing Council with L. Paul Bremer’s backing simply trumped Brahimi by announcing that the new prime minister would be Ayad Allawi, a Shiite exile, Governing Council member, and head of the Iraqi Nationalist Accord (INA), made up in part of former Baathist military men and long backed by the CIA, the State Department, and British intelligence. Other than a failed military coup against Saddam, Allawi is best known for having handed Tony Blair a plum piece of prewar disinformation — that Saddam’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction could be deployed, battle ready, in 45 minutes. He was, in that sense, Blair’s Ahmed Chalabi.
Behind the scenes, the Bush administration’s new man in Baghdad, Bob Blackwill of the National Security Council, a supposed “realist” from the Elder Bush school of American diplomacy, seems to have engineered most of what’s happened, leaving whatever remained of the UN’s reputation in Iraq in shreds. To get the full impact of this you need to read the British press, not ours, where a typical headline announced “UN fury over Bush attempts to install PM”; Guardian reporters wrote bluntly, “Many observers now fear that yet another critical opportunity has been thrown away,” and Justin Huggler and Rupert Cornwell of the Independent spoke of Allawi’s nomination as the last of ten disastrous U-turns in American Iraqi policy, all geared to the November election. In certain British reports, you find the very word “sovereignty” in quotation marks (a simple reflection of Iraqi reality, but inconceivable in an American newspaper).
Of course, whoever runs this “government” will have little to run, since there is, in essence, no Iraqi military for the new government to try to control and L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Administration has already put any “transition administration” into a legislative and economic straightjacket, not to say stranglehold. All the latest round of maneuvering shows is that the Americans, even with the help of a sympathetic UN negotiator, have proved incapable of putting anything like an “Iraqi face” (as administration officials like to say) on the transition event. The only “face” they’re capable of displaying is an American one.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the seedlings planted by Bush administration occupation policy have begun to bear bitter fruit. The city of Falluja, where not so long ago our troops were ordered to kill or disarm all insurgents, has now reportedly become — shades of Taliban Afghanistan — a mini-“Islamic” state with whippings for selling liquor and hair-shavings for long-haired young men; while in the south, the rebel cleric Muktada al-Sadr, previously to be “killed or captured,” has evidently struck a deal to maintain his militia intact and his own existence as well — and still the fighting there and elsewhere goes on with yet more American deaths, more British casualties, more convoys of unidentified Western “civilians” ambushed, and further fighting near holy sites over the weekend. And — a sign of things to come? — the approximately 100 Iraqi policemen whom the Americans had just emplaced in the holy city of Najaf, after some sort of agreement was reportedly reached with Sadr, have, according to CNN, already deserted their posts and left the city.
Need I go on? At Arlington National Cemetery today, the President gave the second of his six speeches leading up to the June 30th transfer of next to nothing to next to no one in Iraq. Below, Chalmers Johnson, author of an indispensable book on the spread of American militarism, The Sorrows of Empire, asks the President a few modest questions, designed to bolster the four speeches still to come. Undoubtedly, we all have our questions for the President. I might, for instance, add a few of my own on the other war — you know, the first one we “won” in Afghanistan, a country again plunging off a cliff, while, despite all the promises to the Afghans, the Bush administration is riveted on the downhill slide in Iraq and reelection. Tom
Twelve questions for President Bush Meant to Help Strengthen His Remaining Speeches about Iraq
By Chalmers Johnson
1. Please tell us more about your notion of “full sovereignty” for Iraq. Will this be like our returning Okinawan sovereignty to Japan in 1972, when we retained exclusive control over the 38 military bases on the island and the deployment and behavior of American forces on them?
2. Please tell us: If we plan to return Iraq to the Iraqis, why is the U.S. currently building fourteen permanent bases there?
3. Presumably the American troops to be stationed on these bases will remain under the control of the Pentagon and beyond the legal reach of any “sovereign” Iraqi state. Such arrangements are usually covered by a “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) that we normally impose on the government in whose territory our bases are placed. Who will sign the SOFA on the Iraqi side? What are its terms? Will it be binding on the new government you hope the Iraqis will elect early next year?
4. The sovereignty discussion has been focused mainly on the question of who will control the actions of what troops — Iraqi or American — in the coming months. But American advisers will be stationed in every Iraqi “ministry”; the new government will evidently be capable neither of passing, nor abrogating laws or regulations laid down by the occupying power; and the economy, except for oil, will remain open to all foreign corporate investors. Please tell us if this really strikes you as “full sovereignty”?
5. You say that we will tear down Abu Ghraib prison if the Iraqis so wish. What if they wish to preserve it as a monument to our cruelty as well as Saddam Hussein’s?
6. Your administration has recently confirmed that while captured Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were not, in your eyes, covered by the Geneva Conventions, Iraqi prisoners and detainees were. The acts in Abu Ghraib prison contravened those conventions. We now know that teams of interrogation experts were sent by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commandant of our Guantánamo prison from Cuba to Abu Ghraib to teach Americans working there “better” interrogation techniques. If these contravened the Geneva Conventions, should General Miller be brought to trial for this? If General Miller acted at Guantánamo and elsewhere on the basis of guidelines and urgings from his superiors in the Pentagon and the military chain of command, should they face the same? Your views on this would be appreciated.
7. If it turns out to be true that some of the acts of torture in Abu Ghraib prison were, in fact, committed by members of the Israeli intelligence services, who were placed in the prison via our independent contractors, does this not further confuse American policy in the Middle East with that of Ariel Sharon’s Israel? Is this really a good idea?
8. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the war and occupation in Iraq by 130,000 U.S. troops now costs close to $5 billion per month, or $60 billion a year. So far the war has cost American taxpayers $186 billion in direct military expenses. You’ve asked for another $425 billion in defense appropriations for the 2005 Pentagon budget, plus another $75 billion for Iraq, $25 billion for the development of new generations of nuclear weapons, and untold billion for such things as military pensions and veterans’ health care. Not included in these figures are the multibillions in secret amounts spent on the CIA and other intelligence activities, not to speak of other Department of Defense “black budget” activities kept out of the appropriations process. Where is all this money going to come from? Why is our government putting all this money on the tab for future generations to deal with?
9. Speaking of military pensions and health care, would you please address the fact that something like 30% of the troops who participated in the first Gulf War are now seeking disability payments for illnesses contracted there — chiefly as a result of our use of depleted uranium shells. Would you please discuss some of these long-term dangers of modern warfare (even when our initial short-term casualties seem relatively modest)? How will our military hospitals be able to care for all the soldiers who are likely to develop cancer or give birth to children with birth defects as a result of the current war?
10. On June 1, 2002, in your West Point speech enunciating your new doctrine of preventive war, you said there were 60 countries that were potential targets for regime change. Would you please list those 60 countries for us, and are you still determined in a second term to proceed down this list?
11. If you are determined to start new wars, or if the Iraq war drags on and not enough soldiers re-enlist, will you reinstate the draft?
12. Why do you usually give your speeches to the American people before audiences of servicemen and women at military academies, on bases, and the like, where they have been ordered by their superiors to attend and to applaud? Why not give one of your speeches — especially if you’re going to propose reinstating the draft — at a large state college?
Chalmers Johnson is the author of The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic and of an earlier volume, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, among other works.
Copyright C2004 Chalmers Johnson
Additional dispatches from Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a web log of The Nation Institute.