Jessica Mitford was quite a character. Probably beset known for her book on the funeral business, The American Way of Death (1963), she was a British aristocrat who spent many years in the American Communist Party. Her sister Unity Mitford was a good buddy of Adolf Hitler. Jessica's brother-in-law through her sister Diana was Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists. Ha! And you thought holiday dinners with your family get contentious! Jessica also wrote a memoir about her years in the Communist Party, called A Fine Old Conflict (1977). It's done with a light touch, which the title reflects. She said she sang the English version of the Internationale, which has a line, "'Tis the final conflict", and for years she thought that line was, "It's a fine old conflict."
I thought of that when I saw the TPM video linked below, showing the latest round of Iraq War triumphalism. We're more than half way done with the fifth year of this thing, with no end in sight. So it's acquired rhythms of its own that have become almost familiar. This is the end of the calendar year, so we hear various projections that the number of troops may be drawn down substantially next year. This has become almost as much an annual ritual as turkey for Thanksgiving.
The good news this time is that The Surge is succeeding. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina claims it's "the most successful counterinsurgency operation in military history." (Graham sees stunning progress in Iraq by Bruce Smith AP/The State 11/26/07.
Of course, in CheneyWorld, these things have meanings that are not easily apparent to the rest of us. Success means violence is down, you see. So we have to keep lots of troops there to keep the success going. But when violence goes up, that's also good news and a sign of success, because that shows that The Terrorists are desperate, and we have to keep lots of troops there to keep the success going.
It reminds me a lot of a boss I had that was known for his fascinating but quirky stories. This is a slightly sanitized version of a story he told me to illustrate how you have to go about dealing with staff attorneys:
Always remember, if you ask an attorney, "Can I steal money?", he'll say, "Yes, go ahead and do it, and we'll find a way to get you off".
But if you ask an attorney, "Can I steal money from this particular account?", he'll say, "Yes, go ahead and do it, and we'll find a way to get you off".
So, you see? It's all in how you ask the question!
Come to think of it, working with him probably was good training to understand some of today's bizarro Republican talk. He had lots of other good sayings like, "I'm caught between a hard rock." And, "Don't burn your bridges before you build them."
It was four years ago in December that we had the stunning success of capturing Saddam Hussein-Hitler. Bush's poll ratings spiked, loyal war fans talked about what a great victory it was, and every day in every way things were getting better and better in Iraq. Remember when Holy Joe Lieberman solemnly scolded Howard Dean for suggesting that Saddam's capture wouldn't make any difference in the insurgency? What kind of mangy hippie was Dean to even think such a thing?
Trent "ah'm for the white man!" Lott just announced his retirement from the Senate on Monday. So it's only appropriate to recall the sober advice that historic statesman was giving on the Iraq War in October 2003 to The Hill:
Honestly, it's a little tougher than I thought it was going to be," Lott said. In a sign of frustration, he offered an unorthodox military solution: "If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You're dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out."
That's the way real white men fight a war, you see. When "we just mow the whole place down", that shows them A-rab Muslim how much superior our white civilization and Christian religion is to their backward, violent habits and beliefs.
But outside the fog of white supremacy where Trent Lott's mind seems to dwell, even then there was an active antiwar movement, including soldiers and there families. Suzanne Goldenberg reported on the latter in Dissent on the home front: families of US soldiers in Iraq lead anti-war protestsGuardian 10/25/03. Of course, Republicans war lovers like Ole Trent were insisting even then that they were the only ones "supporting the troops". but Rush Limbaugh hadn't yet announced that antiwar members of the service were "phony soldiers".
Those were the good old days, when the war was still young. Paul Krugman commented in a column of 10/28/03 A Willful IgnoranceNew York Times):
According to The New York Times, President Bush was genuinely surprised to learn from moderate Islamic leaders that they had become deeply distrustful of American intentions. The report on the "perception gap" suggests that the leader of the war on terror has no idea how badly that war — which must, ultimately, be a war for hearts and minds — is going.
Mr. Bush's ignorance may reflect his lack of curiosity: "The best way to get the news," he says, "is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff." Two words: emperor, clothes.
Other things in Krugman's column bring back memories of the early days:
Yet that moral punctiliousness is curiously selective. Last year the Bush administration, in return for a military base in Uzbekistan, gave $500 million to a government that, according to the State Department, uses torture "as a routine investigation technique," and whose president has killed opponents with boiling water. The moral clarity police were notably quiet.
Why is aiding a brutal dictator O.K., while trying to understand why others don't trust us — and doing something to create that trust — isn't? Why won't the administration mollify Muslims by firing Lt. Gen. William Boykin, whose anti-Islamic remarks have created vast ill will, from his counterterrorism position? Why won't it give moderate Muslims a better argument against the radicals by opposing Ariel Sharon's settlement policy, when a majority of Israelis think that some settlements should be abandoned, and even Israeli military officers have become bitterly critical of Mr. Sharon?
Oh, those innocent times, when American involvement with torture was thought to mean giving money to dictators who do it.
And the Christian General Boykin? Who could forget him and his helpful reminder that we were gonna beat them there Muslims because our God is bigger than theirs.
Actually, on the torture things, people who had actually been paying attention knew that something was rotten in CheneyLand on that score even at this time in 2003, even though the Abu Ghuraib scandal didn't blow until 2004. Americans working closely with the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan in 2001 had not necessarily shown a lot of concern for our allies massacring prisoners of war. The treatment of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh was also not exactly by the book, as those who paid attention to the case realized. But the whole Guantanamo Gulag was already set up. And the "enemy combatant" category had been created to evade the laws of war. The Cheney-Bush administration had made it clear they didn't intend to follow the Geneva Convention in their grand War Against Terrorism.
There was also a torture case in which Lt. Col. Allen B. West faced court-martial and eventually pleaded out to a fine and early retirement in late 2003 for torturing an Iraqi prisoner. The reaction among the Freeper crowd was a grim reminder that there was a definite core of authoritarian support among the public for torture. A letter-writer to Stars and Stripes hit on some basic principles that apply in such cases, that would have saved the US a lot of trouble if characters like Dick Cheney and Rummy had applied them (West went too far by Walter Irwin Stars and Stripes European/Mideast editions 12/04/03):
When Lt. Col. West interrogated a person allegedly involved in planning an attack, took that person outside the detention facility, placed a gun next to his head and pulled the trigger twice, he crossed the line. Lt. Col. West himself became a terrorist. Lt. Col. West may have had inside information about a possible attack, but he should have left it to the experts to obtain that information and put his troops on higher alert.
Taken as a whole, the actions of Lt. Col. West were along the same lines as the war criminals of Japan, Germany and Italy in World War II. Some were arrested, tried, convicted and even executed for their actions. They were guilty of murder, torture, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and stepping outside the rules of war. Lt. Col. West stepped across the line. He admits it and seems proud of it.
If an interrogator put a gun next to a suspect’s head and asked questions, the suspect would say something, regardless of whether it was true or not, just to save his life. Lt. Col. West obtained some information. But how was he to know if it was truthful or not? (my emphasis)
The torture issue was out there. There were no lack of warning signs. But the Republican controlled Congress, which meant they were loyal lackeys of the White House. So they did nothing.
The CIA had referred the outing of Valerie Plame to the Justice Department. The Establishment press steadfastly tried to ignore the story, because a big part of the story was the shameful complicity of the mainstream press in that Karl Rove political hit job, which could have (and may actually have) cost lives. But it would turn out to be one of our most important windows into the cynical scam by which Cheney and Bush got up their war with Iraq.
Other problems were also there for those who made some effort to dig out the news. Mercenary firms were placing a lot of people in Iraq, with uncertain prospects for their effects. Bumbling on the part of Jerry Bremer's CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) was already visible, though we had no idea of the level of political hackery, incompetence and corruption that was really going on. But tips of the iceberg were appearing. Serious deficiencies in the initial planning were no secret by then, having been documented by, among others, the Army itself in the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) After Action: Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
David Rieff described some of the problems already encountered in Blueprint for a MessNew York Times 11/02/03:
Historically, it is rare that a warm welcome is extended to an occupying military force for very long, unless, that is, the postwar goes very smoothly. And in Iraq, the postwar occupation has not gone smoothly.
I have made two trips to Iraq since the end of the war and interviewed dozens of sources in Iraq and in the United States who were involved in the planning and execution of the war and its aftermath. It is becoming painfully clear that the American plan (if it can even be dignified with the name) for dealing with postwar Iraq was flawed in its conception and ineptly carried out. At the very least, the bulk of the evidence suggests that what was probably bound to be a difficult aftermath to the war was made far more difficult by blinkered vision and overoptimistic assumptions on the part of the war's greatest partisans within the Bush administration. The lack of security and order on the ground in Iraq today is in large measure a result of decisions made and not made in Washington before the war started, and of the specific approaches toward coping with postwar Iraq undertaken by American civilian officials and military commanders in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Despite administration claims, it is simply not true that no one could have predicted the chaos that ensued after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In fact, many officials in the United States, both military and civilian, as well as many Iraqi exiles, predicted quite accurately the perilous state of things that exists in Iraq today. There was ample warning, both on the basis of the specifics of Iraq and the precedent of other postwar deployments -- in Panama, Kosovo and elsewhere -- that the situation in postwar Iraq was going to be difficult and might become unmanageable. What went wrong was not that no one could know or that no one spoke out. What went wrong is that the voices of Iraq experts, of the State Department almost in its entirety and, indeed, of important segments of the uniformed military were ignored. As much as the invasion of Iraq and the rout of Saddam Hussein and his army was a triumph of planning and implementation, the mess that is postwar Iraq is a failure of planning and implementation.
Things were seriously screwed up then, despite all the happy talk. And the notion of establishing a permanent American presence in Iraq or achieving some Second World War-style "unconditional surrender" in Iraq today is fantasy.
But the war goes. Are we going to be listening to Lindsey Graham making similar fool declarations in 2011? We will if the Republican Party has its way. Because they're clueless about how to bring this thing to a decent end, which has long since come to mean, "minimizing the disaster".