Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tomgram: Appy on Vietnam and Iraq, the Heartland Experience, by Tom Engelhardt

Tomgram: Appy on Vietnam and Iraq, the Heartland Experience

On the April day in 2003 when American troops first entered Baghdad, historian Marilyn Young suggested that Operation Iraqi Freedom was "Vietnam on crack cocaine." She wrote presciently at the time:

"In less then two weeks a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds."

That language -- and the Vietnam template that goes with it -- has never left us. Only this week Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Chuck Hagel, who served in Vietnam, publicly attacked the administration's Iraq policy for "destabilizing" the Middle East and suggested that the President's constant "stay-the-course" refrain was "not a policy." He added, "We are locked into a bogged-down problem not... dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."

Put another way, Young's statement might now be amended to read: "Iraq is what history looks like once the Bush administration took the equivalent of crack cocaine"; "the United States is now Vietnam on a bad LSD trip."

After all, in Iraq, to put events in a bizarre nutshell, the squabbling government leadership just presented (kind of) on deadline a new "constitution" that has blank passages in it and then insisted on taking an extra three days, not allowed for in the present interim constitution, for further "debate." All this despite the intense pressure U.S. "super-ambassador" Zalmay Khalilzad put on the negotiators to make it on time to the deadline, another of the Bush administration's much needed "turning points." (Imagine, a representative of the French king half-running our constitutional convention!) At his Informed Comment blog, Juan Cole has already referred to this as a coup d'état, though the New York Times more politely terms it a "le! gal sleight of hand." ("The rule of law," writes Cole, "is no longer operating in Iraq, and no pretence of constitutional procedure is being striven for. In essence, the prime minister and president have made a sort of coup, simply disregarding the interim constitution. Given the acquiescence of parliament and the absence of a supreme court [which should have been appointed by now but was not, also unconstitutionally], there is no check or balance that could question the writ of the executive.")

More important yet, the politicians involved -- many of them exiles, some of them with few roots in Iraq, the Sunnis among them with limited roots in the insurgent Sunni community (and in any case largely cut out of the bargaining process between Kurdish and Shiite politicians) -- are fighting for a retrograde-sounding constitution (religiously based and without a significant emphasis on women's rights) inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. It is a constitution aimed at creating an almost impossibly starved central government guaranteed to control little.

Meanwhile, outside the Green Zone, amid a brewing stewpot of internecine killing and incipient civil war, vast parts of the country have simply passed beyond Baghdad's rule, and significant parts of central Iraq seemingly beyond any rule at all. The Kurdish areas in the north have long been autonomous with their own armed militia. In the largely Sunni areas of central Iraq, chaos is the rule, but whole towns like Haditha are now "insurgent citadels," run, as Falluja was less than a year ago, as little retro-Islamic statelets. (Grim as this may be, such statelets can offer -- as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan did after two decades of civil war and chaos -- order of a harsh kind that ensures personal safety for most inhabitants. This is no small thing when conditions are desperate enough.) The Shiite south, on the other hand, has largely fallen under the control of Islamic parties and their armed militias, all allied to one degree or another with the neighboring Iranian fundamentalist regime. In the north and the south, security is increasingly in the hands of local parties, not the central government, or even the occupying forces.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

**For previous dispatches by Tom Engelhardt, please go to:

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