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The Big Disconnect

Max Elbaum
Date Published: 
November 01, 2007

The promised September assessment of where things stand in Iraq is around the corner. So right on cue George Bush declared (August 22) that “a free Iraq” is within reach. The same day Iraq’s Electricity Minister told reporters that “armed groups”—not the Iraqi government—control the switching stations that channel power throughout Iraq’s energy grid. A new report from Bush’s own Intelligence apparatus declared that prospects for the Iraqi government to unite the country were somewhere between bleak and gloomy. Bush’s dreamland “free Iraq” is part of the President’s “support for freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.” Most Arabs and Muslims, though, see that kind of support as “the kiss of death,” according to Turki al-Rasheed, a prominent (and largely pro-US) Saudi reformer. “The minute you are counted on or backed by the Americans, kiss it goodbye, you will never win,” al-Rasheed told the New York Times (August 10). The Times went on to report that “The paradox of American policy in the Middle East—promoting democracy on the assumption it will bring countries closer to the West—is that almost everywhere there are free elections, the American-backed side tends to lose.” It’s Alice-in-Wonderland come to life. Bush’s imaginings (and the imperial interests they are conjured up to defend) vs. the real world and most of the people in it. And on the second anniversary of Katrina, it’s impossible to speak of administration disconnects without flagging Bush’s one-time promise to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. When race, racism and class inequities are concerned—as with war and peace—there’s Bushworld and then there is the real world. Bush blasted Bush goes on to say that Iraq is the “central battlefront” in a war on terror that is making the world safer. But last week Foreign Policy magazine published an update in its “terrorism index,” a survey of security experts (80% of whom have served in government, including more than half in the Executive Branch and 32% in the military). Nearly all—92%—said the war in Iraq negatively affects US national security. Even 84% of the experts who described themselves as “conservative” held that view. Bush says we’re making progress in Iraq and anyone who differs is “undermining the troops.” That whopper was busted in public by several of “the troops” themselves. In an extraordinary Op-Ed in the New York Times (August 19) six members of the 82nd Airborne who are still in Iraq wrote: “What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so… [Iraqis] will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are—an army of occupation—and force our withdrawal.” Another huge disconnect is that most of the US army of occupation is not even counted in official (and media) reports about the US deployment. Over and over it’s repeated that about 160,000 troops are in Iraq. But Jeremy Scahill (author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army—now high on the best-seller lists) reports: “With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the US occupation through the use of private war companies. There are now almost 200,000 private ‘contractors’ deployed in Iraq. This means that US military forces in Iraq are now outsized by a coalition of billing corporations whose actions go largely unmonitored and whose crimes are virtually unpunished”. Despite all this firepower Washington goes from failure to failure in Iraq. So Bush offers a scapegoat: Iran is to supposedly blame for instability in Iraq and trouble all across the Middle East. This desperate excuse is exposed by the leading figures in Bush’s own client regimes. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid an official visit to Iran in mid-August, “held hands” with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and called for cooperation between the two countries. The same week President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan—standing next to George Bush in Washington—described Iran as “a helper and a solution” for his country. Not just Bush Bush isn’t the only US leader who offers disconnects either. Not one of the three “top-tier” Democratic presidential candidates actually means “end the war” when they say “end the war.” The (pro-Democratic) New York Times tells the tale (August 12):

    “Even as they call for an end to the war and pledge to bring the troops home, the Democratic presidential candidates are setting out positions that could leave the US engaged in Iraq for years. John Edwards would keep troops in the region to intervene in an Iraqi genocide and be prepared for military action if violence spills into other countries. Hillary Clinton would leave residual forces to fight terrorism and to stabilize the Kurdish region in the north. And Barack Obama would leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis.”

And then there is the bipartisan blank check for Israel. The US signed a deal on August 16 to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next decade (up 25% from current aid) in what officials called “a long-term investment in peace.” Meanwhile newspapers in Israel itself are exposing just what kind of “peace” Israel has practiced until now and has planned for the future. An editorial in the mainstream daily Haaretz this month admitted that last year’s war in Lebanon wasn’t started by Hezbollah but was “a war initiated by Israel.” A report by the Israeli army, leaked to the Israeli media, reported that cluster bombs were fired into Lebanese population centers at the direct order of the head of the Army Northern Command in gross violation of international law. To add to all the Israeli human rights violations, Human Rights Watch in September charged that most of the over 900 Lebanese civilian casualties came from “indiscriminate Israeli air strikes.” On the Palestine front, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak proudly says that any talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are “meaningless” and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land will continue...and continue, and continue... Closing the disconnect Another disconnect is the gap between widespread popular opposition to the Iraq war and the relatively small scale of ongoing grassroots antiwar activism. The latest polls show the US public more disapproving than ever of Bush’s Iraq policy. A majority even says that the forthcoming military assessment of the situation will try to make it sound better than it actually is. CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said the poll indicates “that anyone associated with the Bush administration may be a less than credible messenger for the message that there is progress being made in Iraq.” Yet millions who oppose continuing the war have not (yet) moved from opinion to action. In large part this is a consequence of underlying circumstances: popular constituencies (which in the 1960s were on the offensive led by the Black freedom movement) have been battered by 30 years of right-wing rollback; and the complicated circumstances in Iraq—sectarian warfare intersecting with anti-occupation resistance—have made many who oppose the war still fearful of the effect of a US withdrawal. There are no magic bullets for overcoming these obstacles. The need is for consistent, tenacious education and protest, for making links between peace and social justice struggles, for combining moral urgency with a long haul strategic perspective. This fall a host of activities provide focal points for chipping away at the popular action disconnect, among them the Iraq Moratorium beginning September 21 ( and the regional protests being planned by United for Peace and Justice on October 27. The Bush administration is vulnerable, the policy-making elite is divided and anxious. There’s no predicting what that extra little bit of pressure will be that causes their Alice-in-Wonderland Iraq policy to come tumbling all the way down. Originally posted in War Times/Tiempo de Guerras (, Washington’s Wars and Occupations: Month in Review #28 on August 30, 2007.