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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 9 June 2006
Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week
Topic: Perspective

Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week

At the end of the week, Friday, June 9, 2006, it was clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, much like Generalissimo Franco, was still dead, although much was happening, as noted here - a whole lot of intelligence was recovered in the operation and all day Friday our guys carried out some forty raid to keep the late man's network from regrouping in any way.

But the odd thing is that even after the two five-hundred pound bombs (actually one six-hundred and two pound bomb and one five-hundred fifty-tow pound thingm as noted here), Zarqawi initially survived the bombing and was alive when captured, although in bad shape, understandably -
A mortally wounded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still alive and mumbling after American airstrikes on his hideout and tried to get off a stretcher when he became aware of U.S. troops at the scene, a top military official said Friday.

"He mumbled something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a news conference.
The joke going around Friday was that he whispered one word - Rosebud. It's now an obscure joke, as no one remembers the movie. It's a Hollywood thing.

As for how this came about, there's more detail here with lots of links -
An Iraqi customs agent secretly working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror cell spilled the beans on the group after he was arrested, Jordanian officials tell ABC News. Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly was arrested by Jordanian intelligence forces last spring.

Officials say Karbouly confessed to his role in the terror cell and provided crucial information on the names of Zarqawi commanders and locations of their safe houses. Karbouly also admitted to his role in the kidnappings of two Moroccan embassy employees, four Iraqi National Guards and an Iraqi finance ministry official.

In a videotaped confession, Karbouly said he acted on direct orders from Zarqawi.
And the comment added there -
The US does not approve of torture, claims President Bush. Does anyone have any doubt that Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly, the Iraqi customs inspector who turned on Zaqarwi after being arrested and held for months by the Jordanian police, talked as a result of being subjected to torture? Connect the dots.

So now we use information gained from torture to murder our target. What makes us different from them?
Good question. But for Americans, results matter, not principles. Or results matter more, even if we talk about principles endlessly, and somewhat vacantly.

But the results could be mixed. Consider what Senator John McCain said on CNN's Larry King Live (video here), concerning the successful targeted assassination of Zarqawi -
KING: What difference will it make?

MCCAIN: I think that it will remove a very important propaganda tool, a person who has probably served as a real effective recruiter. But, Larry, I want to caution if I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks to show that his removal really didn't affect them but it does affect them. It's very important. And, I think it can give us some hope for progress, which I think we have to make and are making.
Was he encouraging al Qaeda to begin killing more people. No, he wasn't. He was just being logical.

And as for being logical, Jonathan Schwartz here suggests reading this from Nir Rosen, one of the few western journalists who has direct contact people in the Iraqi insurgency.

The key passage from Rosen is this -
So time to dispel some myths. Zarqawi did not really belong to al Qaeda. He would have been more shocked than anybody when Colin Powel spoke before the United Nations in the propaganda build up to the war and mentioned Zarqawi publicly for the first time, accusing him of being the link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi in fact did not get along with Bin Ladin when he met him years earlier. He found Bin Ladin and the Taliban insufficiently extreme and refused to join al Qaeda or ally himself with Bin Ladin, setting up his own base in western Afghanistan instead, from where he fled to the autonomous area of Kurdistan in Iraq, outside of Saddam's control, following the US attacks on Taliban controlled Afghanistan in late 2001. Zarqawi only went down into Iraq proper when the Americans liberated it for him. He had nothing to do with al Qaeda until December 2004, when he renamed his organization Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, or Al Qaeda in Iraq as it has become known.

Why did he do this? It was a great deal for him and Bin Ladin. Zarqawi needed the prestige associated with the Al Qaeda brand name in global jihadi circles... For Bin Ladin and his deputy Zawahiri it was also a great deal. Al Qaeda was defunct. Its leadership hiding in the Pakistani wilderness, completely cut off from the main front in today's jihad, Iraq. When Zarqawi assumed the al Qaeda brand name he gave a needed fillip to Bin Ladin who could now associate himself with the Iraqi jihad, where the enemy was being successfully killed every day, and where the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world were turned to, far more than Afghanistan.

Zarqawi was not very important in the first place, and hardly represented the majority of the resistance or insurgency... It took the United States to make Zarqawi who he became. Intent on denying that there was a popular Iraqi resistance to the American project in Iraq, the Americans blamed every attack on Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, and for a while it seemed every car accident in Baghdad was Zarqawi's fault. The truth was that much of Iraq's Sunni population, alienated by the Americans who removed them from power and targeted them en masse during raids, supported and participated in the anti American resistance. Even many Shias claimed resistance. Muqtada Sadr, the most powerful and popular single individual leader in Iraq, led two "intifadas" against the Americans in the spring and summer of 2004, and his men still rest on their laurels, claiming they too took part in the Mukawama, or resistance. But by blaming Zarqawi for everything the Americans created the myth of Zarqawi and aspiring Jihadis throughout the Arab world ate it up and flocked to join his ranks or at least send money. Zarqawi was the one defying the Americans, something their own weak leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere, could not do, having sold out long ago. It was then comical when the Americans released the Zarqawi video out-takes and mocked him for fumbling with a machine gun. Having inflated his reputation they were now trying to deflate it. But it was too late.
This man, now dead, was an opportunist, and a master at marketing - in this case marketing of the nastiest sort. So was the tall Osama. And maybe so are we. Everyone gets spun, and many people die.

And the spin on whatever happened at Haditha continues. Twenty-four civilians dead, shot at close range, including women and very young children. But Clarice Feldman at The American Thinker (a somewhat pretentious name for an opinion site) offers Evidence Accumulates Of A Hoax In Haditha - people who don't like us just make things up. That got a lot of comment, as in this - the whole thing is just like the fake memos Dan Rather at CBS said were true, the ones that he said proved Bush wasn't really the heroic jet fighter pilot and war hero and all that. Whatever. The whole thing rests on the idea that you just cannot trust Iraqis, as they are unreasonably angry and wretchedly ungrateful and will say anything, even after all we did for them. You can't trust these people.

James Wolcott of Vanity Fair has a different odd take here -
Yesterday Bob Kerrey was on the Imus show, and in the midst of decrying the incident, he threw out a comment about how he wondered if we polled the people of Haditha, how many of them cheered the sight of the falling towers on 9/11. I'm not sure what that would accomplish or what it has to do with whatever happened vis a vis the Marines (I'm not even certain what the media penetration of Haditha was in 2001), but it seemed to be the sort of thinking-off-the-top-of-one's-head intended to put this incident back into a container.
Well, it is extraordinary spin. Can we go back in time and find out if on September 11, 2001, these people caught CNN or BBC World Service and were dancing in the dusty streets there in joy, and if they were, can we kill their children now? That's simultaneously wildly hypothetical and a bit cold. But Bob Kerrey was probably just trying to say the Marines of Kilo Company might have thought this could have been so, so you can understand them losing it. That's very weird, but it's one way out of the box.

There's a comprehensive review of the other current rationalizations here, even if so overwrought you have to wade through deep bogs of angry sarcasm to get to the main points - isolated incident, bad apples, lies by people who just don't like us and all the rest. The usual.

As for the "bad apple" theory, see Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times here -
It's a tempting theory, and not just for the Bush administration. It suggests a vast and reassuring divide between "us" (the virtuous majority, who would never, under any circumstances, commit coldblooded murder) and "them" (the sociopathic, bad-apple minority). It allows us to hold on to our belief in our collective goodness. If we can just toss the few rotten Americans out of the barrel quickly enough, the rot won't spread.

The problem with this theory is that it rests on a false assumption about the relationship between character and deeds. Yes, sociopaths exist, but ordinary, "good" people are also perfectly capable of committing atrocities.
That's followed by the expected, a review of the 1961 experiments by that Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram - almost anyone will inflict severe pain on others if authorized by an authority of some sort and everyone else is doing the same. Yeah, yeah. But she adds this -
But let's not let the Bush administration off the hook. It's the duty of the government that sends troops to war to create a context that enables and rewards compassion and courage rather than callousness and cruelty. This administration has done just the opposite.

Our troops were sent to fight an unnecessary war, without adequate resources or training for the challenges they faced. At the same time, senior members of the administration made clear their disdain for the Geneva Convention's rules on war and for the principles and traditions of the military. Belated and halfhearted investigations into earlier abuses sent the message that brutality would be winked at - unless the media noticed, in which case a few bad apples would be ceremoniously ejected from the barrel, while higher-ups would go unpunished.
Yep, so it seems.

Wolcott recommends William S. Lind on the same matter here -
The investigations of Marines for possible murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November and, more recently, in Hamdaniyah, seem set to follow the usual course. If anyone is found guilty, it will be privates and sergeants. The press will reassure us that the problem was just a few "bad apples," that higher-ups had no knowledge of what was going on, and that "99.9 percent" of our troops in Iraq are doing a splendid job of upholding, indeed enforcing, human rights. It's called the "Abu Ghraib precedent."
But there is a counterargument -
The fact that senior Marine and Army leaders don't seem to know what is going on in cases like this is a sad comment on them. Far from being exceptional incidents caused by a few bad soldiers or Marines, mistreatment of civilians by the forces of an occupying power are a central element of Fourth Generation war. They are one of the main reasons why occupiers tend to lose. Haditha, Hamdaniyah, and the uncountable number of incidents where U.S. troops abused Iraqi civilians less severely than by killing them are a direct product of war waged by the strong against the weak.

... Every firefight we win in Iraq or Afghanistan does little for our pride, because we are so much stronger than the people we are defeating. Every time we get hit successfully by a weaker enemy, we feel like chumps, and cannot look ourselves in the mirror (again, with IED attacks this happens quite often). Whenever we use our superior strength against Iraqi civilians, which is to say every time we drive down an Iraqi street, we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. Eventually, we come to look at ourselves with contempt and see ourselves as monsters. One way to justify being a monster is to behave like one, which makes the problem worse still. The resulting downward spiral, which every army in this kind of war has gotten caught in, leads to indiscipline, demoralization, and disintegration of larger units as fire teams and squads simply go feral.
That a quite different psychological view of things. What does happen to the strong around the weak? Strength doesn't ennoble anyone. It only diminishes them. Very Zen.

So what do we do here?

Well, we get rid of people like Abu al-Zarqawi, but see John Robb at Global Guerrillas here -
Zarqawi is best categorized as violence capitalist, very similar to bin Laden, that supported and incubated guerrilla entrepreneurs of the new open source warfare model. In this role he was instigator of violence and not the leader of a vast hierarchical insurgency.

... He expanded the target set for the insurgency, changed tactics when they proved disadvantageous (ie. beheadings were stopped and he ceded Iraqis control of the jihadi effort), and expanded the plausible promise of the insurgency to include sectarian war.

His main failure was that he didn't fully appreciate the value of systems disruption. His only attack on a systems target (the Basra terminal) was a failure. He also proved unable to give up operational roles in favor of becoming a strategic communicator (which ultimately led to his death).

... If we put Zarqawi within a historical context, he was able to do what Che hoped to do with a focused insurgency... In essence, he proved that within a modern context (open source warfare and systems disruption), it is possible to seed the collapse of a state.
We shall see if the seeds of this odd sort of capitalism grow. He's dead. Now we have to deal with the franchisees.

And still we apply maximum force. What else can we do? We are strong. We have the firepower. We do the John Wayne thing - few words, big gun, take no crap from anyone.

On the other hand, as the president patterns his own behavior on John Wayne, or so it has been said, it should be remembered the Duke once said this - "I've always followed my father's advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble."

The third part is the problem, that "bring 'em on" stuff. Someone should have paid more attention at the movies.

But someone didn't pay enough attention to another famous line from Wayne - "Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much." Guys, it was advice on acting, not on conducting the nation's business here and abroad.

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 22:55 PDT home

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