One reason the Iraqis don’t believe that the U.S. is going away any time soon is because of an almost breathtaking sight the miserable inhabitants of Baghdad see every day.
In the near distance there is a forest of cranes, part of what The Times of London says is the only American construction job on time and on budget in Iraq. The newspaper reported that “residents deprived of air-conditioning and running water” are furious as they watch the massive U.S. embassy rising in the city—a building that they say is bigger than anything Saddam Hussein built.
The embassy, surrounded by 15-foot thick walls, covers 104 acres and includes its own water and sewage system, its own electrical generation plant, 21 buildings and enough room for 8,000 people to work.
If the report is correct, the project, costing more than half a billion dollars, is being built by a Kuwaiti contractor without employing a single Iraqi. We can only guess at how many thousands of troops will be needed to keep the place safe.
Who can say how that squares with Presidential declarations about the U.S. not tarrying in Mesopotamia, and more recent ones claiming that once the killing slows down to a dull roar, we’re outta there. Maybe President Bush doesn’t know that he is shortly to be the proprietor of a palace that is literally larger than Vatican City. Are we crazy or what?
In the sticky morass which is Iraq, no one can tell which statements are lies, which are ignorance, which are misinformation, which are bigotry, which are religious fanaticism, which are propaganda, which are oil-related and which are simon-pure insanity. The public here in the United States gets only fragments of news. The journalists, even the credulous rah-rah-by-jingo types, cannot be faulted, since they take their lives in their hands when they venture out from their bunkers to attempt to cover a story.
(Readers of Juan Cole’s authoritative Informed Comment blog get a daily tally of deaths, murders and atrocities not available to TV viewers and ordinary newspaper readers. The simple numbers tell the story of a large and growing bloodbath.)
How believable is the official story of the three detainees or prisoners of war or captives in Guantánamo simultaneously committing suicide? They were incommunicado in solitary confinement, and yet they arranged to do away with themselves at the same time by the same means. Huh? We are asked to accept as truthful an account in which the three each hide behind laundry they had drying in their respective six-by-eight-foot cells so their guards couldn’t see them dangling from their homemade nooses. Let’s not go so far as to cry out “Give me a break!”—but this plot line does bear looking into.
The parents of at least one of the alleged suicides doubts the story, which, if their doubts are borne out, may mean that their guards were so indifferent they didn’t keep watch, or that they saw what the three were doing and didn’t interfere, or that they killed them. In this situation, so rife with ill will and suspicion, a third-party autopsy is called for, but instead the government is going to do another investigation of itself. The Pentagon has even kicked journalists covering the story off the base.
Why would the guards have murdered three of the prisoners? From what we have been told about the dead men, they do not seem to have been the “high-value” types that the C.I.A. would want murdered. Maybe the guards just went crackers. Or maybe the men did kill themselves as described. Being a guard at Guantánamo must be almost as painfully soul-destroying as being a prisoner.
Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the boss of the Guantánamo mess, was quick to offer his opinion about the three dead men: “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed …. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”
In every war in the 20th century fought by Americans, our top people said that the other side had no regard for their own lives, i.e., that they were fanatical semi-humans without normal human feelings. From the bloody Huns of World War I through the Japanese kamikazes to the drugged Chi-Coms on the Yalu River, our enemies have been a subspecies and, we can presume, they have had pretty much the same picture of us. Certainly, that is the picture one gets from the translations of the occasional fulminations released on the world by Osama bin Laden. As for “asymmetrical warfare,” that’s the admiral’s way of saying the other side doesn’t fight fair, as if anybody ever did. But, hey, it’s the Islamo-fascists vs. the Christo-imperialists.
Lest a person think that Admiral Harris is a lone deviate in his opinions, this from Colleen P. Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, if you can imagine such a title: “Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good P.R. move …. It does sound like this is part of a strategy in that they don’t value their own lives, and they certainly don’t value ours; and they use suicide bombings as a tactic.”
Crazy, demented animals, they have been brainwashed out of any sense of self-preservation. Die for Allah? Yes, maybe. Die for P.R.? I don’t think so. Much the same was said of Native Americans way back when they were called Indians and the only good one was a dead one.
If Ms. Graffy and her co-workers in Washington stoke animosities against the Islamic sub-persons who “don’t value their own lives,” what must be the state of American emotions in Iraq? These sub-people, these self-killers, want to take us with them, and we can’t seem to stop them. Unlike Ms. Graffy, who eats in nice restaurants, is highly paid, lives a comfortable, safe life and doubtless has convinced herself that she is “serving” her country by doing so, many of the troops in Iraq are on the ragged edge.
Hence Haditha. In many wars, soldiers suddenly lose it and kill a bunch of the other side’s civilians and, from all we read, not a few of our soldiers have long since lost the capacity—if anybody ever had it—of telling good Iraqis from bad ones. The Haditha Marines were on their third tour of duty because there are no fresh replacements, and apparently they went postal. It is surprising that more don’t—or perhaps they already have. Indeed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has said that such rampages are not rare.
A story is going about that some of the Haditha Marines were drunk and/or high on drugs when they killed those people. Overused, increasingly exhausted, with no replacements available and no reinforcements backing them up, the danger exists that part of the American expeditionary force is disintegrating. Obviously, decomposition has taken hold in a few platoons. Is it spreading? If the Pentagon knows—and in an organization crammed with yes-men, it may not—it will not be holding any press conferences on the subject.
Nor should it. But if discipline and good order at the platoon and company level drops below a certain point, the whole force will be in jeopardy. Discussions about exit strategies will become academic. We’ll have to get our people out of there as fast as we can and as best we can. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that our people will be making a dash for safety down the same Kuwait-Baghdad highway on which Saddam Hussein’s army was destroyed by the U.S. in 1991.
Yet even if this worst case comes true, the whole force will not disintegrate. There will still be reliable formations which can be used to man the colossal defensive fortifications protecting the new embassy, where the thousands of government workers, their contractors and body servants can live à la Americaine while conferring the blessing of freedom and self-rule on bleeding Iraq.