Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Turning Tide

I'm in bed today, suffocating under a bad 'flu. I had thought that I had escaped this season, but all the worst symptoms - sleeplessness, breathing problems, headaches, bodily weakness, seem to have hit me all at once.

Sullivan goes soggy, as we'd expect. I may be the most but thinking about the situation, I've long past the point where the I'm certain that the US is in control or even adequately responding to the situation.

Predictably enough, Sullivan has gone soggy, this time over the issue of torture.
Brutality and torture were unofficial policy, as they also have been at Guantanamo. "Everyone knows about it," an intelligence officer told Herrington. And Herrington was no hand-wringer. Herrington also noticed counter-productive sweeps of the general Iraqi population, over-crowding in detainee centers, the "disappearing" of prisoners and taking female relatives hostage to get suspects turned in. Do the Bush people really expect us to believe, after all we now know, that Abu Ghraib was a one-off event caused by a handful of underlings? The terrible truth is that it was anything but.
I've a suspicion that this issue may start dominating the headlines again soon, as the official investigations that have been published are digested.

The Economist often tries to encourage all in the Middle East to "have tea and discuss" rather than grapple with the combination of Alice in Wonderland and The Lord of the Flies that marks the region's politics. Their embedded correspondent with the US forces writes:
American marines and GIs frequently display contempt for Iraqis, civilian or official. Thus the 18-year-old Texan soldier in Mosul who, confronted by jeering schoolchildren, shot canisters of buckshot at them from his grenade-launcher. “It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it,” he explained. Or the marines in Ramadi who, on a search for insurgents, kicked in the doors of houses at random, in order to scream, in English, at trembling middle-aged women within: “Where's your black mask?” and “Bitch, where's the guns?” In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce.

According to army literature, American soldiers should deliver the following message before searching a house: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we must search your house to make sure you are safe from anti-Iraqi forces [AIF].” In fact, many Iraqis are probably more scared of American troops than of insurgents.

Whether or not the insurgency is fuelled by American clumsiness, it has deepened and spread almost every month since the occupation began. In mid-2003, Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, felt able to dismiss the insurgents as “a few dead-enders”. Shortly after, official estimates put their number at 5,000 men, including many foreign Islamic extremists. That figure has been revised to 20,000, including perhaps 2,000 foreigners, not counting the thousands of hostile fighters American and British troops have killed; these are the crudest of estimates.

With insurgents reported to be dispensing criminal justice and levying taxes, some American officers say they run a “parallel administration”. Last month in Mosul, insurgents are reported to have beheaded three professional kidnappers and to have manned road checkpoints dressed in stolen police uniforms. In Tal Afar, farther west, insurgents imposed a 25% cut in the price of meat.
Former National Security Advisors Brzezinski and Scowcroft talked over the state of American foreign policy recently at the New America Foundation, with the transcript available here. Neither man, is any kind of Susan Sarandon, Brzezinski in particular, who once sent back a nuclear war plan to the Pentagon complaining that he wanted to see tens of millions more dead among the ethnic Russians, whom he thought held the USSR together.

The National Interest, living up to their mission of providing foreign policy analysis complete with heavy-metal umlauts, also wrote recently on the various critiques of the Bush administration.