Sunday, May 16, 2004

Deja Vu

How could Rummy and his minions mistake this bunch of Iraqi schleppers for guys that could knock down skyscrapers with nothing more than box-cutters and religious zealotry?

I posed this question yesterday after reading Sy Hersh's New Yorker article detailing the transposition by the Pentagon of a covert program of high-duress interrogation techniques from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons. How could the Pentagon justify using interrogation techniques designed for hardened terrorists against Iraqis only vaguely suspected of association with an amorphous popular insurgency? I'm sure my wingnut friends will take issue with my characterization of the Iraqi detainees, but what else are we to make of the fact that 70% to 90% of Iraqis detained have already been released? What are we to make of the multiplying accounts of Iraqis detained without charges, physically abused during interrogations, and then released without any explanation as to why they were initially detained or ultimately released? And what of Hersh's CIA source, who described the Iraqi detainees as "cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets"?

I have two theories as to how and why everyday Iraqis arrested for suspicious behavior at Baghdad checkpoints were accorded the same treatment as Al Qaeda operatives and Afghani nationals captured in the Khyber pass with AK-47s slung over their shoulders. Let me start with the more charitable of the two theories. It's late, so you'll get the abridged version.

Let's grant the Deserter, Dick and Donny the benefit of a doubt and ascribe to them sincere motives - they genuinely perceived a monolithic threat in the form of radical Islam. They choose an altogether peripheral front in this contest against radical Islam - Iraq - as the place to make their stand. They encounter a level of resistance and popular opposition that stuns them because radical Islam would seem such an abstraction to the vast majority of the indigen.

It begins to slowly dawn on them that notwithstanding an empathy between radical Islam and the popular resistance in Iraq, the real motivator for the insurgency is plain old nationalism. No matter, they've already publicly identified the war as one against radical Islam, and in fact radical Islam has begun providing a measure of support to the insurgency in materiel and manpower. It's now plain that the cost of battling the insurgency far exceeds any strategic value that may reasonably have been imputed to Iraq, but being a superpower and having invested so much in the venture, the credibility of our power is now at stake, and this credibility becomes the strategic asset that justifies the fight. Not only that, but the domestic political consequences of "defeat", real or perceived, would be catastrophic.

But the insurgency is so diffuse and mutable that it's impossible to directly and effectively confront it, and so the objective becomes to disrupt it at the roots. And this is where the brutal interrogations, fueled by desperation among the political types back home, enters the picture. Yes, they may be simple, everyday Iraqis, but they are in the final analysis the source of the insurgency's power. They know who the hardcore insurgents are, and they can provide valuable intelligence that will permit us to accomplish that which we cannot accomplish by conventional military means. The intelligence is everything.

Does this sound at all familiar? Substitute "communism" for "radical Islam" in the preceding paragraph. Substitute "strategic bombing" for "interrogation" in the preceding paragraph. And yes, substitute Vietnam for Iraq. Now read it again and see if it sounds familiar.

That's the charitable theory. The less charitable theory simply states that the same guy who shook hands with Saddam and brokered the sale to Saddam of U.S. chemical weapons in the '80s now sits in the Pentagon. The less charitable theory merely notes that the same guy who was Secretary of Defense in Gulf War I and urged Bush pere to let Saddam fly his choppers in violation of the cease-fire in order to facilitate a brutal suppression of the shiite uprising in southern Iraq now sits at the right hand of the Deserter, a hearbeat away from the Presidency.

The less charitable theory posits that the Deserter, Dick and Donny didn't give a crap about freedom and democracy in Iraq and never did, and this whole war was really about U.S. and Israeli hegemony in the mideast, 14 U.S. military bases in Iraq, an oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa, and a "clean break" by Israel from negotiations with the Palestinians based on territorial concessions for peace.

Take your pick - theory number one or theory number two. Either way, the criminally reckless and arrogant bastards in the Oval and at Five Sides have to go.


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