Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Infamy of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer

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It is difficult to under-rate the catastrophic incompetence and malignant arrogance shown by the US neocons in their wanton destruction of Iraq, and creation of its disastrous situation today.  Whilst we in Britain have once again been served up the self-righteous image of Tony Blair, telling us all that more war and more intervention is the only correct way to deal with Syria and Iraq today, we should at least console ourselves, once we’ve finished throwing whatever items lie to hand at the television set, with the knowledge that Blair, ignorant, deluded and narcissistically absorbed in the exercise of war as he was, did not in fact have any huge impact on the conduct of peace operations in Iraq once it had been invaded.  If any individuals merit the opprobrium of creating the anarchic mess that is currently ruining the lives of Iraqis, it is Donald Rumsfeld and his creature, Paul Bremer.

The manifold failings of the worst man to hold the office of American Secretary of defence are documented in many places elsewhere.  Suffice it to say here that this was the man who – in pure neo-con fashion – was the strongest advocate of a war against Iraq in the counsels of the Bush presidency, and the strongest advocate of doing so with minimum men on the ground.  Having scythed through Baghdad, Rumsfeld’s forces were then confronted with a horrendous security operation, and faced with the Secretary’s unyielding demand that this too be undertaken with the most underwhelming force possible.  Rumsfeld, indeed, even stopped one division from going to Baghdad at all, in the belief that it was an unnecessary expenditure. 

The man in the Pentagon thus hamstrung the very forces he had sent into Iraq right from the start.  There was worse to come, though, in the form of his sweeping aside of the cautious but politically aware team of American reconstructionists who were in Baghdad and headed by Jay Garner, in favour of the brash, arrogant and wholly unsuited Paul Bremer.  Bremer, a man of supreme egoism who likened himself to General MacArthur, insisted on complete authority to run Iraq.  It couldn’t have gone to a less qualified individual.  Bremer had no knowledge whatever of the Middle East – unlike Garner and his team, or the Iraqi originally slated to be a co-leader, Zalmay Khalilzad.  His foreign experience had been as a chief of staff to Henry Kissinger, and an ambassador to the Netherlands.  It was this lack of any prior involvement in Mid East affairs that endeared him to the ever cretinous Rumsfeld. 

Bremer arrived in May 2003 to an urgent need to establish some sort of authority in Baghdad.  His predecessors, Garner and Khalilzad, had been making some useful moves to incorporate previous Iraqi civil servants and military commanders into a new governing authority.  Bremer swept this aside, since he had arrived determined to stamp his authority on Baghdad by dismissing the whole of Saddam Hussein’s political and military structure.  His first order was thus to bar the top four levels of Saddam’s Baath Party from holding any government office.  As the CIA station chief in Baghdad noted, Bremer had just disenfranchised 30,000 people.

Bremer’s Order No 2 was even more catastrophic.  Despite the talks that had been going on between Garner and Khalilzad and potentially sympathetic Iraqi army commanders, Bremer’s order – drafted by former Clinton aide Walter Slocombe – removed the entire military structure that had existed under Saddam.  The reaction in Iraq was furious, with angry demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities; sixteen US soldiers were wounded by violent protests in Mosul, a matter of particular annoyance to General Petraeus whose forces had up to that point been making some headway in winning over the city’s population.  And if Order No 1 had sent 30,000 officials to unexpected unemployment, Order No 2 did the same for 300,000 well armed soldiers.  It is no surprise to discover that many of those soldiers formed the nucleus of the Islamic Army of Iraq and Syria that is causing so much grief today.

Bremer’s orders, confirmed by Rumsfeld, were ill considered and destructive, but even the logic on which they were based was flawed, not least because Bremer failed to make even the most cursory investigation of the country he had come to rule.  Had he done so, he would have discovered that the Iraqi army’s top ranks had far fewer Baathists than he had thought.  A mere half of the generals,  and only 8,000 of the 140,000 officers and NCO’s were committed Baath Party members.  The Iraqi officers who had been in discussions with Garner and Khalilzad knew this, but Bremer had dismissed their contribution out of hand.  He ended up pursuing de-Baathification of a military that hadn’t needed it. 

There is a final indication – and perhaps an appropriate one – of Paul Bremer’s mendacious ignorance of Iraq and Arab culture.  He and Slocombe had devised a scheme to replace the Iraqi military with a ‘New Iraqi Corps’.  NIC, when pronounced in Arabic, sounds very much like “fuck”.  It is a fitting commentary on a man who has retired into a peaceful life of painting and lecturing in the bucolic countryside of Vermont while the reverberations of his ill-thought out and gung-ho policies continue to condemn thousands of Iraqis to death, torture, or – often at best – a wretched existence carved out in the midst of slaughter.  Truly, war criminals come in many different types.

The book “Cobra II” by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor (chapter 24) provides much of the narrative detail referred to above.
This article by Michael Jansen on “The Gulf Today” website provides an excellent analysis of the results of George W Bush on today’s insurgency.

There's a World Cup - and what else is happening in the world?

According to the Economist's report on the tournament in last week's print edition, half of humanity will watch some part of the World Cup.  Yes, around three and a half billion people on the planet will tune in to watch 22 men run, feint and dive after a ball; many will tune in several times.  Which, of course, still leaves three and a half billion or so who won't including, it seems, the bulk of the populations of the globe's three most populated countries - China, India and the United States.

World Cup fever in England has been slightly suppressed by the relatively modest expectations fans have of England's eventual performance, and their 2-1 loss to Italy will have done nothing to uplift those, even if one assumes she was always going to be outclassed by Italy anyway.  Brazil, however, has offered a far more interesting picture in the run-up to the competition she is hosting.  World Cup fever in the football mad nation has been severely tempered by high levels of anger and opposition to the government's expenditure of so much money on the contest, the continuing levels of vast inequality in the country at large, and not helped either by the wretched corruption of Sepp Blatter's organising FIFA.  Blatter is surely a figure from a cartoonist's mind, so ridiculous and out of touch is he now.  A sort of blinkered, hugely corrupt, madly delusional Mr Magoo type character, he could yet win a fifth term as FIFA president and then preside, I guess, over the immense nonsense that is the staging of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Outside of the World Cup, a competition designed to bring us all together but which, in reality, simply exacerbates our divisions, the world seems to have entered a yet more dangerous and unpredictable phase, even though President Obama can see some case for suggesting that the world is less violent than it has ever been, taken as a whole.

Iraq dominates global news as the insurgent group ISIS seeks to dismember that unhappy nation, and shows some signs of success in so doing.  This chapter of the Middle East story still has a long way to go, combining as it does the Syrian civil war with the ambitions of Iran to be the regional superpower, and you get the impression sometimes that, for all the weaponry and technology at his disposal, the American president may just be a bit-part player in this unfolding scenario, as much by choice incidentally as by circumstance.

The tragedy of the Syrian civil war continues on its murderous course, despite the macabre election victory of President Assad the other week, and though the Assad regime seems to be gaining the upper hand, that is still a far cry from being able to bring any sort of resolution to the crisis.  Especially with ISIS on its roll in neighbouring Iraq (and ISIS stands, of course, for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - or the Levant).

Pakistan - whose prime minister Nawaz Sharif unprecedentedly attended the swearing in of Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi recently - suffered a terrorist attack at Karachi airport, but is now striking back, having announced a bomb drop on North Waziristan, the presumed home of the Taliban, which Pakistani authorities say killed some 50 Taliban fighters.

Brazil may be trying to reconcile the joys of hosting the World Cup with the undercurrent of protest, but its fellow South American mega state, Columbia, is itself in the final days of a presidential election which will determine how it approaches its ongoing problem with FARC guerrillas.  Incumbent president Juan Santos has been engaging in peace negotiations with FARC which he says could soon bear fruit.  His opponent, Oscar Zuluaga (backed by popular former president Uribe) says a hard line is the only way to deal with FARC.  Colombia decides which way it wants to go on Sunday.

Israel is gripped by the news of three teenagers who have been allegedly kidnapped in the West Bank, and although no group has claimed any responsibility, prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, in his customarily emollient way, has pointed the finger squarely at the Hamas group, about to enter government in the Palestinian state alongside Mahmoud Abbas.  The teenagers - whose fate is dominating Israeli news - went missing in Israeli controlled territory however.

Meanwhile, is President Obama in the closing stages of an unsuccessful presidency?  Breitbart commentator Mike Flynn thinks so, as he considers the dipping of the president's personal ratings in the latest polls.  Maybe Obama was oppressed from the word go by the enormous weight of expectation that greeted his election; maybe a man who inherited both an unpopular war and a deep recession, and had a far-reaching liberal healthcare reform to pursue, was always going to have a difficult job maintaining any sort of high level of popularity.

So, there's a World Cup on.  But as that white ball gets kicked around half a dozen stadiums in the fetid heat of a Brazilian summer, the world continues to turn in a rather less happy manner.




Tony Blair and Iraq

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's fightback on Iraq is clear.  The actions of his government, in joining the USA's war on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, are absolutely not responsible for the current unrest there.  Instead, it is the failure of the present British and American governments to have engaged in Syria - to counter terrorism hard - that has led to the current ISIS insurgency in Iraq's northern cities.

It is easy to understand why Mr. Blair has felt the need to hit the news sites again.  Every time a problem occurs in Iraq, or in that immediate Middle East region, the analysis must inevitably turn back to the 2003 war.  Should it have been fought?  Would it have been better to leave Saddam Hussein in power?  Was it responsible for spreading such instability across the region that the murderous problems afflicting it now are the consequence.  No wonder Mr. Blair doesn't like what he calls a "re-running" of the 2003 war.

One of Mr. Blair's key points is that even if Saddam Hussein had been left in power by the West, under his and George Bush's leadership, we would still be looking at insurgency today.  Saddam Hussein, he points out, had been responsible for two wars in the region before he was toppled, and the Syrian civil war points up what happens when you allow a dictator to stay in power in all his repressive glory.

So is Tony Blair right? Is the constant harking back to his deeply unpopular war a misnomer?

What we can never know is how the political shape of the Middle East would have differed if there had been no western invasion of Iraq.  It has, without doubt, cast its shadow across the entire development of that region since 2003, and there is every reason for believing that much of that development has been far more malign than it would have been without the invasion.

The removal of Hussein plunged Iraq into a chaos from which it has still not emerged.  It unleashed a nightmare array of sectarian and divisive forces that have been impossible to control.  Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador in Iraq from 1997 to 2003, notes that even at the time it was clear to see what the result of removing a dictator such as Hussein would be, especially with no clear game plan for his succession in sight.  Saddam's removal was exacerbated by the malign incompetence of the administration of Iraq by US official Paul Bremer in the aftermath of victory.  He dismantled the Baathist state, and dismissed all of the Baathist soldiers and policeman who manned it, leaving a power vacuum that no replacement could possibly fill.  The fracturing of Iraq is indeed the direct consequence of both the war fought by Britain and the US and the "peace" which they imposed.

The destruction of Iraq, and the condemnation of multitudes of Iraqi citizens to death, poverty, injury and constant danger, is the most obvious consequence of Saddam's forced removal.  While Tony Blair is right to note Saddam's dismal record as a dictator and his previous war record, he fails to note how the Iraqi dictator had been significantly weakened by the first Gulf War, how the Kurdish regimes had been protected by no-fly zones and allowed to develop a quasi-autonomy free from Saddam, and how a weakened Saddam in fact meant a far more tolerable situation than anything which followed from the war.  There are likely to be few Iraqis today who would consider the strife of present-day Iraq to be somehow preferable to the dictator's rule.

Mr. Blair's war, however, had consequences well beyond the abysmal dismemberment of Iraq.  By creating a power vacuum at the heart of the Middle East he provided a training ground for all manner of extremist forces to gather and pursue their goals; the war itself had indeed caused the unleashing of such forces, of which ISIS has emerged as the most successful.  By destabilising the region, Mr. Blair's war provided the template for the wretched development of the briefly hopeful looking Arab Spring of 2011.  Many of the dangerous and fanatic elements who have moved in on Libya and Syria since then, have been able to do so because Iraq first offered the chance to group their forces together, and gave them a training ground and a call to arms that powered their genesis.

It is also Mr. Blair's war which has ensured that, when a threat really has emerged - as it has in Syria and Libya - the West no longer has the will to get engaged.  The war-weariness which caused the British House of Commons and the American Congress to vote decisively against involvement has seriously hamstrung any western attempts to defend moderates against extremists.  Mr. Blair is calling for involvement in Syria, but he and Mr. Bush are the reason why we cannot be involved. 

Mr. Blair bemoans the fate of Iraq and Syria today, and the unwillingness of the West to involve itself.  His unwillingness to re-run the war of 2003 must surely be due to the fact that, every time you consider it, you cannot escape the reality that nothing is more responsible than that ill-considered,  ill-advised, ill-planned and ill-executed war for creating the dire situation in the Middle East which continues to elude any positive resolution.