Don't Forget the Alamo II

Bremer’s De-De-Baathification Gambit
Legitimates Fallujah Rebels

By Greg Moses

Lakhdar Brahimi and US Generals led the way last week, both camps hinting that de-Baathification in Iraq was a policy too stridently enforced by US civilian command. And by week’s end, their remarks were answered by Paul Bremer, who, “with Iraqi resistance growing, especially in the Sunni Triangle region west of Baghdad,” invited tens of thousands of Sunni Iraqis back into his nation-building plans.

And so began the de-de-Baathification of Iraq. Or was it just the gambit of the week?

Speaking from Rome Tuesday, Brahimi said, in code that had Baath written all over it, “The large number of political prisoners in Iraq and the large number of office workers who have been fired more than once without any clear reason, are a big problem for the international community with regard to the peace process and their efforts to pacify the country.”

Speaking almost simultaneously from a palace overlooking the Tigris River, US Major General John Batiste said that some of the million members of the Iraqi ruling party should be allowed to return to work. “They would be schoolteachers. They would be engineers.”

Bremer’s concession to peacemakers and generals came at the precise time when the US needed to isolate political support for armed insurgents in Fallujah. On the eve of a US assault on the city, Bremer relented on his policy of mass punishment toward Iraqi teachers and bureaucrats who had once belonged to the ruling party.

In a Wednesday article, “Don’t Forget the Alamo,” I reported that Brahimi’s support for old Baathists in the Sunni Triangle might be a deal-breaker for Kurds and Shi’a leaders who have constituted the ruled majority for so long.

Brahimi is under pressure by the White House to bring everyone together by June 30, and his rehabilitation of Baathists brings some gravity to the emerging government that had been previously missing. Ahmed Chalabi, the returned expatriate, will now be dropped, according to various recent sources.

With the Fallujah militia threatening to unify anti-US rebellion among Sunnis, Bremer’s reversal seems to be doing only what will be considered necessary to minimize the political fallout of a full-scale US assault on that city.

Yet Bremer’s reversal sends another message, too. By abandoning his criminal policy toward the Baathists, Bremer’s action shows that Fallujah militia may deserve some respect for representing legitimate complaints against the policies of US occupation.

Bremer’s de-Baathification policy had been questionable from the start. He fired thousands of teachers at a time.

Like Al-Sadr’s rebels in the Shi’a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Fallujah militia seem to be saying things that the US authority needs to hear.

Rather than respect the rebels for bringing the civilian authority to its senses, President Bush persists in calling them, “a bunch of thugs and killers.”

Again, I say, don’t forget the Alamo. US forces can kill every rebel in several cities at once. But if those militia represent the heartfelt grievances of besieged Iraqis, then Iraqi history will be written like Texas history some day.

Peacemakers in Our Face

The Families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi

By Greg Moses

Call me a fat, Western pacifist, but I’m not in a hurry to choose between gunslingers this week. In view of the dust, fire, and death in Iraq, perhaps there are other choices.

For example, the families. One can simply say “the families” these days. Everyone knows who you are talking about; family members of 9/11 victims.

After the Presidential briefing memo was abruptly de-classified over the Easter/Passover weekend, family members explained how they cut the path to the memo by getting the commission appointed and getting questions asked.

Yet if everyone this week talks about the families, no one has learned how to treat them very well. There are abrupt introductions on television shows: meet the wives of men killed in the twin towers. Hello, thank you for being here.

There are “little notes” that commissioners sometimes read, when catering to the curiosities of the “little people.”

And there is the astonishment that paralyzes the war script when the “wives” or “ladies” are asked–“are you not now more right wing than you were before? Don’t you find yourself more in favor of giving up civil liberties and going after the bad guys with guns?”—-and when all three of the “wives” or “ladies” in response shake their heads no, and look at you. As if it’s true. Boys never do grow up. Now what do you say?

Not that all men are gunslingers. Three Grand Ayatollahs, for instance this week made a peace call to Najaf. Will we learn as much about their action as we learn about soldiers and generals? Not likely. Peacemaking is too quiet for commercial tv. We’d have to be drawn into a complex discussion of the relationships between Americans, Al-Sadr, and the Ayatollahs. We’d need real questions, a real desire to resolve.

Which brings us back to the families. They warn us that the Commission is not asking excellent questions. The families have demanded an investigation, but this is not quite the investigation they asked for. If the commission is not talking about the problem of 9/11 in a way that satisfies families of victims, then we can worry that more families of victims there will be.

“You don’t have to take away someone’s civil liberties in order to get people to talk to each other,” said one of the wives. She was referring to the people in the Executive Branch who conversed so privately and so poorly about threatened hijackings, and who then followed up with really bad, and loudly broadcast discussions about terrorism. Had the conversations been better, who knows where we might be today.

The families say also that key witnesses, whistle blowers, who make themselves and their stories known to the families, are not being called to testify.

As the problem of 9/11 is usually put, either you do nothing or you go to war. But the families argue that a change in conversation would have crucial effects. And they argue that even the conversation that would change the conversation is a conversation not allowed to take place. Not by the commission, not by the media.

President Bush, at his press conference, confirmed that he’s as single-minded as he ever was–“Mr. President, you say the same things over and over again”—but the President also brought with him news that the world’s most renowned peacekeeper, Lakhdar Brahimi, is negotiating on the President’s behalf. Apparently, even the gunslinger wants an end to dust
and death, but doesn’t quite know how to talk his way into it.

Along with news of Brahimi, the families, and the Ayatollahs, this awful week brings hope that highly informed conversations can actually find ways to give the gunslingers a rest.

Meanwhile, I am in no hurry to choose a gunslinger. Until we find the conversations that the families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi are looking for; relax, there will always be gunslingers to choose between.

History of the World Part III

A Guest Lecture

By Greg Moses

As you see from your readings this week, Alexander Cockburn demands a President who’s not some kind of war criminal. Manning Marable preaches one more eulogy for the death of civil rights. And Donald Trump entrepreneurs (yes, I’ll make that a verb) a television series that is huge, if not spectacular, for giving out one good job. Baghdad, are you ready for this?

Our briefing today centers around an image:

It’s the internet map of AOR CENTCOM, otherwise known as Central Command’s Area of responsibility. As you can see, there are 27 countries numbered under the headings of four regions and we’ll take them from the top of the list: Horn of Africa; South Asia; Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Northern Red Sea; and finally, Central Asia.

It could be Western Pennsylvania in 1680, or Texas in 1830, the Philippines in 1890, or Africa and South America in 1950. And let’s not forget Germany or Japan 1940. As you can see from the map here, we’re talking about the macro view.

Bush, Kerry, Nader. Imagine any of them posing for photos in front of a wall full of Presidential oil paintings. And stick with me here, I’m going to get to the point.

Here’s how it happens. Big business grabs up the money and power while millions sweat to make it happen. Then, at the end of the day, everyone is exhausted, but big business always has extra money to rent out great talents and hired guns who can go to work on the fortunes of tomorrow. During the 1990s, for example, you couldn’t get too rich too quick or drop too many bombs.

Now this surplus of power and money forms a capacity for which something has to be found to do. For instance, we could spend this power equalizing our citizenship and fulfilling the dream of civil rights at home. That would be like pure democracy. But no. In the end, and over someone’s dead body, the money always finds something else to do.

Please, you’re not going to make me write the numbers the board? Inequalities increase, elites consolidate power, and military spending exceeds every known contingency of self-defense. You can see on your syllabus that I recommend reading any almanac. Okay then, yes, I guess so. The numbers will definitely be on the final exam. So make sure you do the reading.

Effective business, ineffective civil rights. These are the twin, um, conditions that produce the crops of war criminals from which we, um, our Presidents choose. Am I making myself clear about this? Name me the Presidential campaign that was hard fought between human rights heroes? Well, think about it.

Everyone sweats, but only a few fortunes get made, and this is the only formula that anyone respects. You got another formula in mind, you keep it quiet, because we do have some work for would-be war criminals at home, too. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

So we have this fabulously powerful system that produces these gigantic concentrations of wealth and power, owing largely to the fact that the not all the people who sweat get their fair slice of the pie.

Affirmative action. Silliest thing you ever saw, yapping about fair shares at a pie gobbling contest. What does Marable say about reparations? Be sure you highlight that.

Which brings us back to the map on the wall. AOR CENTCOM. And why it is labeled Area of responsibility? What does Cockburn say about war drums and candidates for President? Well look at the size of that map. No President is going to be big enough to say no to that map. That’s why civil rights will starve another generation at home. And why inequalities will increase owing to surplus accumulations of value.

And why some of us prefer to go to bed with Socrates, who argued, “my poverty is my proof.” Yeah, tell that to the jury, Friedrich.

Well, sorry, I didn’t mean to let my personal feelings get in the way of objective analysis. I’ll be sure to put some Ayn Rand readings on the syllabus next fall. She was Russian, you know.

In the meantime, think about which of these 27 countries you’ll want to write on. It’s your area of responsibility, too.

Be sure to keep up with the readings: almanac, Cockburn, Marable, and Trump. And remember lite beer, fewer carbs, less filling. See you Thursday.

Tasking the Why

US out of Saudi Arabia

By Greg Moses

On April 20, I started collecting items from Google News that answered to the search term “peace.” On April 21, the daily winner of the peace-word search was the voice of Osama Bin Laden, speaking from the pages of Common Dreams.

Bin Laden as peacemaker of the day? The timing of this result was partly due to a six-day delay, as the text of Bin Laden’s peace offer migrated to Common Dreams from the Middle East Media Research Center.

In the transcript, which was translated from a widely-aired tape–aired widely, that is, everywhere but the US, where “national security” and “decency” prevail over editorial freedom–Bin Laden declares a unilateral cease fire over Europe for three months,
promising to extend the truce only if European soldiers leave the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

For Bin Laden, the attacks by Al Qaeda must be viewed as acts of retaliation and self-defense:

“As for those who lie to people and say that we hate freedom and kill for the sake of killing – reality proves that we are the speakers of truth and they lie, because the killing of the Russians took place only after their invasion of Afghanistan and Chechnya; the killing of the Europeans took place only after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan; the killing of the Americans in the Battle of New York took place only after their support for the Jews in Palestine and their invasion of the Arabian Peninsula; their killing in Somalia happened only after Operation Restore Hope. We restored [i.e. repelled] them without hope, by the grace of Allah.”

The invasion of the Arabian Peninsula is Bin Laden’s most frequently stated, and most frequently ignored, justification for his war-making against the US. The Council on Foreign Relations presents the question at its website, “Has bin Laden called for a U.S. withdrawal from Saudi Arabia?” and then replies tersely: “Yes, repeatedly.”

“US out of Saudi Arabia,” is the grievance that Bin Laden has been pressing all these years, even prior to the gruesome Black Hawk Down catastrophe in Somalia.

As the story is usually told, it was Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1990 who negotiated the setup of US military bases in Saudi Arabia, by promising that the troops would be withdrawn immediately after the First Gulf War. Much like Cheney in 1990, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today also promises that US troops will leave as soon as possible from Iraq.

In Saudi Arabia, of course, the military bases were not pulled out, and neither do many believe today that US strategists really intend to ever leave Iraq.

These are only a few of the facts that have not scratched the fenders of the 9/11 Commission lately telecasting live from Washington. Commissioners are eager to say that we should have gone to war earlier with Al Qaeda, but who has asked whether the agenda of Bin Laden’s war might have been otherwise addressed?

As far as the official brains of Washington are concerned, all we need to know is that Bin Laden has declared war on us. I have not seen these official voices of war and order ask why.

In all the “tasking” that was done or not done in behalf of “intelligence” prior to 9/11, no one at the Commission seems interested in asking, excuse me, who was tasking the why?

The most chilling defense for failing to task the why question would be that everyone in official Washington already knew very well what Bin Laden was upset by. And because they knew, they deliberately refused to go there.

After all, it is commonly asserted that covert US money helped train Bin Laden as mujahideen liberator, fighting infidels in Afghanistan, back when the infidels were Russians. So if official Washington asks not why Bin Laden is fighting, perhaps it is because he who semlt it, dealt it. The quieter we are about the why question, the less embarrassment we’ll feel.

It is racism–and cool pandering to racism–that analyzes Bin Laden’s army as dark, metaphysical demons of hate. Like any human army, they have their human motivations. And any opposing army’s commander-in-chief would do well to strategically understand his opponent and his opponent’s source of appeal.

US President George Bush panders to racism–and reveals one of his sources of appeal–when he stands on the world stage and casts the forces of darkness against the forces of light.

In the transcript of Bin Laden’s peace tape, a phantom of the Western imagination breathes his own air and stands at the center of his own history. Meanwhile, bodies pile up in Iraq today because the US imagination remains at war with a phantom that Bin Laden did not create.

The contraband Bin Laden peace tape that appears just now in a transcript of our common dreams is one more invitation for America to walk out of its own nightmare onto historical ground. Because it is the task that scares us most, the journey from phantom to history requires the only kind of courage that will get us into lasting peace.