Monday, April 12, 2004

Hoo-Ah Comin' Down
We're still trying to sort out the meaning of Condi Rice's 9/11 testimony and the Presidential Daily Briefing at the heart of it. From reading the headlines, you learn that the PDB either showed that Bush knew Al Qaeda might try attacks with airplanes on American soil, or he didn't. Where a news source comes down in its headlines often has to do with its politics. So much for the nonpartisan nature of the 9/11 commission.

Even though I have always believed that the Bush Administration will stop at nothing to advance its agenda and hang onto power, I have been reluctant to claim flat-out that it had foreknowledge of the specific attacks we suffered on 9/11 and intentionally did nothing to stop them. Instead, I have come down on the side of people who think they screwed up in an impeachable way and then took advantage of events with shameful ruthlessness, but not with those who think Bush deliberately let the attacks happen for political purposes. But I also have to admit that when evidence pointing to the possibility of the latter is laid out in front of me, I wonder. David Ray Griffin, a philosopher of religion at Claremont, is out with a book called The New Pearl Harbor, in which he argues the administration indeed gave Al Qaeda an unobstructed shot at the World Trade Center. Is his case persuasive? You be the judge.

Despite the dramatic hearings of the 9/11 commission, we've remained focused on Fallujah for over a week now--quite an accomplishment in our short-attention-span society. (My guess is that the major media will soon start jonesing for something shiny and loud they can focus on instead--like something new in the Lacey Peterson case.) But those of us not easily distracted by the toy department are still watching events in Iraq carefully, trying to understand what's happened so far, and to predict what's next.

One commentator last week remarked that the mutilation of American dead in Fallujah had put our military in full "hoo-ah" mode--"hoo-ah" being not only an all-purpose military exclamation, but also, as Kevin Baker wrote in Harper's last October, shorthand for the military's all-consuming sense of its own power and righteousness. (Baker's essay, "We're in the Army Now," isn't available online, but it's worth going to the library to find.) Thus the normally conservative American commanders became uncharacteristically bloodthirsty, as their British counterparts quickly noted. "The US troops view things in very simplistic terms," one British officer told The Telegraph. "It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them." What's newsworthy in this is that commanders have apparently adopted this attitude, where previously it was more common among the soldiers on the line.

There are lots of different estimates as to how many Iraqis have been killed in and around Fallujah--I've seen figures ranging from 600 to 2,500. The U.S. has famously claimed not to be keeping track of enemy and civilian casualties in Iraq, but an American general inadvertently revealed recently that we do in fact have a record, and that we have paid compensation to the families of some 1,900 Iraqi civilian dead since the war began. Of course, asking questions about things like civilian deaths in Iraq is impertinent. The inimitable Robert Fisk wrote over the weekend that "just shut up" is still one of the administration's preferred responses to criticism of anything it does militarily.

In his piece, Fisk also notes an amazing linguistic coincidence. You probably heard that the U.S. declared a brief cease-fire in Fallujah on Friday--what the commanders called "a unilateral suspension of hostilities"--which seemed rather odd to me, given our full "hoo-ah" mode and all. Fisk notes that the Israeli army uses precisely the same phrase now and then--in his words, "when they were taking casualties or the number of civilians killed was becoming too shameful to sustain." Parallels between Israeli operations against Palestinians and American operations against Iraqis are growing, and there's another.

The administration is maintaining publicly that the resistance in Iraq is still the fault of a small number of bitter-enders who haven't gotten the message that they're finished. But the Big Thinkers who got us into this mess in the first place have another theory, according to journalist Jim Lobe--the increasing resistance is Iran's fault. There's little doubt in my mind that if things had gone according to plan in Iraq over the last year, we'd be kicking Iran's ass right now. If the Iraq quagmire has a redeeming feature, keeping the neocons from running any further amok with armies might be it.

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