Well, there were those demonstrations over the weekend, against the war, and for the war - September 24th for the former and September 25th for the latter. The numbers? Here's the contrast:
So that's tens of thousands for the one and four hundred for the other (or two hundred according to this report. Marilyn from New Jersey was rightly frustrated, and this should be noted Reuters: "More than 100,000 protesters flooded Washington on Saturday ..."
Support for U.S. troops fighting abroad mixed with anger toward anti-war demonstrators at home as hundreds of people, far fewer than organizers had expected, rallied Sunday on the National Mall one day after tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq.
"No matter what your ideals are, our sons and daughters are fighting for our freedom," said Marilyn Faatz, who drove from New Jersey to attend the rally. "We are making a mockery out of this. And we need to stand united, but we are not."
About 400 people gathered near a stage, a large patchwork American flag serving as a backdrop. Amid banners and signs proclaiming support for U.S. troops, several speakers hailed the effort to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan and denounced those who protest it.
The exact numbers are unclear, but the contrast isn't. (And none of this counts the numbers protesting Saturday in London - estimated at 10,000 - and the few dozen in Rome with their banners and peace flags outside the US Embassy, and crowds of various sizes in a few other cities no patriotic American cares about.)
The argument Monday morning from the right was the mainstream media hyped the anti-war numbers and Saturday was a big failure of the progressive anti-war left. Hardly anyone showed up. The photographs are deceptive. Don't believe your eyes - maybe the angle was deceptive or something. Whatever.
All the major folks in the Democratic Party took a pass - which was just as well. It was a big "hurrah for our side" thing Saturday. It was a much smaller "hurrah for our side" thing Sunday from the other side. Mass demonstrations don't change anything. Each side gets to feel self-righteous and point at the other side and call them names.
And Monday, September 26, Cindy Sheehan gets herself arrested protesting outside the White House - apparently you can walk back and forth with a sign and say what you want, you're just not permitted to stop and sit down. The police picked her up and carted her off. The progressive anti-war left gets a "free speech" martyr? Over on the right, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board in his daily web review calls Sheehan a hate-harpy, while Matt Drudge runs a photo over her being lifted up by the police, a big grin on her face, and a policeman's hand way, way up her skirt - and Drudge explains that big grin with the headline "Cindy Sheehan Arrested at White House in Cunning Stunt" - implying she's a sexual exhibitionist who has a thing for being masturbated by hunky policemen in public while thousands watch, or this is the only sex this kind of woman will ever get, or whatever. (That's here, and if Matt takes if down, here.)
It's all very odd, and not to the point. Things are in a bad way in Iraq. No one marching in the streets back here, for this or against that, is doing anything that will change those things.
How bad has it become? Putting it in a few words, Robert Dreyfuss says this: ""Just when it didn't seem like Iraq could get any worse - it gets worse."
Think of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. It's the Iraq version:
So it's not just the Sunni folks being excluded and angry - the guys we are trusting to create this "New Iraq" are fighting each other? Seems so.
This time, it's the simmering battle between two Shiite paramilitary armies: the forces of the Badr Brigade, the 20,000-strong force controlled by the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Mahdi Army, the thousands-strong force that worships the fanatical Muqtada Al Sadr. The battle, which might flare into a Shiite-Shiite civil war in advance of the October 15 referendum on Iraq's divisive, rigged constitution, could put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
And as for that business with the Brits having problems in the south, in Basra, mentioned previously (see last weekend's Just Above Sunset here, about halfway down the page, and by Mike McCahill in his London column), well that's just more of the same mess:
James Walcott pointed to Dreyfuss in his column Systems Failure and there provides a link to something by the military historian Martin van Creveld titled Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did. Wolcott is not nice, as the military historian says this:
What it all means is that the relative stability that has been present in Basra and others towns in southern Iraq may be coming to an end. For the first time, there are insurgent attacks reported in Basra. And the British, who had responsibility for Basra, suddenly find themselves sitting atop a powder keg.
Since 2003, the Bush administration's one hope has been that it can contain the Sunni-led resistance by betting on the Kurdish-Shiite alliance. But if the Shiites shatter, it's curtains for the Anglo-American occupation. That is the other exit strategy: not the one in which U.S. forces declare victory and withdraw in orderly fashion, but the one in which we get our butts kicked out of Iraq forthwith.
But wait! There's more!
He who fights against the weak - and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed - and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if US troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters' skids.
Wolcott points to William S. Lind - the big man on Fourth Generation Warfare (is that what this is?) - and clicking over to Lind you'll find this:
Has anyone mentioned the nation seems more divided than it ever has been before? Has anyone mentioned no Democrat has dared to call Bush on all the crap, except for Howard Dean, and the media assures us he is quite mad? There is no opposition party, just Democrats afraid of offending the folks in the "red states" and being silent? Only large blocks of ordinary people are saying this war is madness and the folks in charge clueless. What up with that?
Fourth Generation war is asymmetrical, but it is asymmetrical on a much broader scale than simply the pitting of a conventional army against guerrillas. The larger asymmetry is political. Fourth Generation war pits a state, or alliance of states, against a shifting mass of opponents of wildly varying motives and goals. Among the problems that presents is that the state has no one to talk to about making peace. Who does Mr. Kissinger sit down with in Paris this time?
Nor does Fourth Generation war have as its objective the mind of the leader on the other side. Rather, what it does is pull its enemy apart on the moral level, fracturing his society.
Well, what with the war going badly, sold to us for one reason and the resold for this reason then that one, and with the destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf there with no plan in place before the storms and not much plan for recovery after the storms, and with the current scandals and resignations, and with poverty generally rising for four years, health insurance disappearing for more and more folks, the deficit ballooning - make your own list - who sees this government as legitimate? They're faking it, and making their friends and contributors rich, of course.
That is just what Fourth Generation opponents strive for, a systemic breakdown in their state adversary. The danger sign in America is not a hot national debate over the war in Iraq and its course, but precisely the absence of such a debate - which, as former Senator Gary Hart has pointed out, is largely due to a lack of courage on the part of the Democrats. Far from ensuring a united nation, what such a lack of debate and absence of alternatives makes probable is a bitter fracturing of the American body politic once the loss of the war becomes evident to the public. The public will feel itself betrayed, not merely by one political party, but by the whole political system.
The primum mobile of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. If the absence of a loyal opposition and alternative courses of action further delegitimizes the American state in the eye of the public, the forces of the Fourth Generation will have won a victory of far greater proportions than anything that could happen on the ground in Iraq. The Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan played a central role in the collapse of the Soviet state. Could the American defeat in Iraq have similar consequences here? The chance is far greater than Washington elites can imagine.
As for the big demonstration last Saturday, click on Wolcott and read his detailed day-after analysis: "I don't know what the answer is to the lack of adversarial energy against this accursed war, but what I do know is that yesterday's flea circus wasn't it."
But of course the administration line is that on October 15th they'll probably vote in this new constitution in Iraq - and we will have achieved our objective. That would be the new objective, not getting rid of the Iraqi nuclear weapons and other WMD, not punishing Saddam for the events of 9/11 - not any of the previous ones. It's the latest one - they get democracy and all the joys of free market capitalism and freedom of religion and rights for women, sort of.
Sunday the 25th, sounding kind of like an opposition party should, if we had one, the Washington Post ran an editorial saying this too was bullshit, although they didn't use the word. Saying what no one anywhere in the Democratic Party would EVER say, we get this:
But no one is "willing or able" do stop the juggernaut? No one has the balls to say the obvious - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
As Iraq moves toward a referendum on its new constitution just three weeks from now, many of its senior politicians readily concede that the charter is seriously flawed, and that its approval may worsen rather than alleviate the relentless violence. Leaders of neighboring Arab states and some Bush administration officials seem to share this view. Yet none of these officials or leaders has been willing or able to stop the political process from going forward.
... Faced with sinking domestic support, the Bush administration seems driven by an unwise zeal to produce visible results in Iraq - such as a ratified constitution - however problematic they may be. ... Yet, judging from what even supportive Iraqis are saying, the risk is very great that the constitutional process will either tip Iraq decisively toward civil war or produce a state far from the goal of a tolerant democracy for which nearly 2,000 Americans have given their lives.
Note the reasoning in the Post:
Yeah, well, we get some of the parties to meet the deadline, and thus get an independent state in the south aligned with Iran and ruled by the fundamentalist clergy, and an independent state in the north sure to worry Turkey (them Kurds!). And a bunch of ticked off Sunni Arabs blowing things up here and there.
The real problem is the absence of an agreement about Iraq's future between the majority Shiite and Kurd communities and the minority Sunnis, who ruled the country from the time of its establishment until the fall of Saddam Hussein. That disconnect is expressed in the overwhelming rejection by Sunni leaders of the constitutional draft.
... Though the details of implementation were postponed, the current draft would allow the Shiites, who already control the national government, to create their own ministate in southern Iraq, which very likely would be ruled by clerics and Islamic law and would closely ally itself with neighboring Iran. It would have its own armed forces and control Iraq's biggest oil fields. The Kurds would have their own ministate in northern Iraq and would probably take over the city of Kirkuk and its oil production. This radical form of "federalism" not only would be ruinous to the Sunni community, as well as the mixed population of Baghdad: It would be threatening and even destabilizing for all of Iraq's neighbors except Iran. It would produce an Iraq that the United States would have no interest in defending.
The only way for Iraq to avoid catastrophe is a political accord among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, one that can be based only on the preservation of Iraq as a federal but unified state in which resources and political power are fairly shared and human rights protected. The Bush administration, and Iraqi leaders themselves, ought to be focused on striking that national compromise rather than on prematurely enshrining pieces of paper or adhering to deadlines that were set arbitrarily 18 months ago.
A newspaper can point out this is madness. No politician can - because Karl Rove will come "get you" - and your family, and your dog Toto too.
So should we get out of Iraq, or what? In the discussion of the hypothetical "Worst of All Time" contest last weekend (here) that didn't exactly come up, but what did come up was Bill Montgomery's discussion of this story - about the vastly popular website where folks trade amateur, homemade hard pornography for photos sent by our guys in Iraq of the maimed and tortured and dead bodies of the locals over there. That was mentioned in passing, but it's why Montgomery thinks it's time to leave Iraq, as he explains in Heart of Darkness.
This is followed by a discussion of who is saying what about the details of what we can do as we stay, all the arguments for finding "a path out of the swamp" to make things at least a little better. But then we get this:
I didn't go to the big anti-war demo in Washington today - and not just because I have the normal responsibilities of a middle-aged parent with a house, a mortgage, a dog and a backyard that badly needs mowing. I could have evaded all of those things. I decided not to go because up I've been deeply conflicted about the morality of supporting a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
That is, up until now.
I opposed the invasion of Iraq - from the moment, in the summer of 2002, when it became obvious Bush had made up his mind to overthrow Saddam's regime. It didn't take a degree in Middle Eastern studies to understand what a Pandora's box of sectarian conflict and strategic instability Shrub was about to open, and you didn't need to be a pacifist to see that the moral and legal case for war was deficient to the point of criminality.
It's also been clear - since about, oh, four days after the fall of Baghdad - that the Cheney administration didn't have (still doesn't have) any coherent strategy for stabilizing, pacifying or reconstructing Iraq, other than to pour money down Halliburton's gullet. And while the campaign to export "democracy" to Iraq was sincere (at least on the part of many of those who participated) it was always doomed, as much by the deficiencies of democracy here in America as by the cultural and historical tragedies of Iraq.
So I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, an apologist for the war, much less for the administration or - for that matter - the American people, who followed their leaders into an aggressive war with barely a peep of protest. I'm also not some born-again hawk, who's suddenly discovered that the war was a noble cause after all, now that it's opened the floodgates of Iraq to the kind of fanatical terrorists the ever clueless American public thought we were going to fight in the first place.
The truth is, I don't give a tinker's damn about the war on terrorism any more - not when it's set next to the agony the war in Iraq is inflicting on the people of Iraq. The American people chose this war, and whether it was out of ignorance, fear, or a blind, hysterical patriotism is really beside the point. In a democracy (even one as puerile and corrupt as ours) people get the kind of government they deserve. And so the American people deserve the consequences of failure in Iraq - whether it's another 2,000 dead soldiers, or $10 a gallon gas, or the transformation of the Sunni Triangle into the world's biggest terrorist training camp. We've earned them all, the hard way.
So if the only risk was that withdrawal would make America less secure - say by exposing the precious U.S. homeland to blowback from an Al Qaeda revival in Iraq or the collapse of the House of Saud - I guess I'd be down in Washington yelling bring the troops home now, and to hell with the consequences. America has no right to use Iraq as the bait in Field Marshal von Rumsfeld's "flypaper" strategy.
(There is, of course, a cold-blooded strategic argument to be made for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, in which case the military justification for continuing the war is as questionable as the moral one. In that sense, I'm actually giving the hawks the benefit of the doubt.)
For me, the overriding moral question for me is this: Would a U.S. withdrawal make things better or worse for the Iraqi people? My personal opinion is that having started the war, and uncorked the bottle of religious fanaticism and communal savagery, America is morally obliged to do whatever it can to minimize the suffering and death its actions have caused - and will continue to cause for years to come.
To do otherwise would be ? treating the Iraqis like a small boy who mixes a bunch of red ants and blacks together to watch them fight, then gets bored with the whole thing and flushes them all down the toilet.
We get out because of what we're turning into?
As for me, I've largely kept silent on the issue - in part because I've been so conflicted about it, and in part because (I'm trying to be honest here) I've been reluctant to buck the overwhelming anti-war, pro-withdrawal sentiment on my side of the political fence, or give even the slightest aid and comfort to the war hawks on the other side.
It's not that anyone should give a shit about what I think, but I've had enough experience with being selectively misquoted by right-wing bloggers to know how even a carefully worded argument against immediate withdrawal might be played - i.e. "lefty blogger admits Bush was right all along."
Still, I haven't felt right about avoiding the issue. So I've been promising myself for a while now that I would break cover and at least admit that I'm not sure withdrawing from Iraq is the morally right thing to do, and have deep doubts about the arguments in favor of it.
But something happened on my way to a confession: I came across the Nation article on nonwthatsfuckedup.com
, which meant I had to take a good, hard look at the psychopathic side of the American spirit, and consider its implications not just for the war on terrorism and the occupation of Iraq, but its role in the emergence of an authentically fascist movement in American politics, one which feeds on violence and the glorification of violence, and which has found an audience not just in the U.S. military (where I think - or at least hope - it's still a relatively small fringe) but in the culture as a whole.
... Suffice it to say that my visit to nowthatsfuckedup.com was a reminder of the genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet. It left me with the conviction - or at least an intuitive premonition - that an open-ended war in Iraq (or in the broader Islamic world) will bring nothing but misery and death to them, and creeping (or galloping) authoritarianism to us.
We have to get out - not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from falling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent.
... There was a time when I would have argued that the American people couldn't stomach that kind of butchery - not for long anyway - even if their political leaders were willing to inflict it. But now I'm not so sure. As a nation, we may be so desensitized to violence, and so inured to mechanized carnage on a grand scale, that we're psychologically capable of tolerating genocidal warfare against any one who can successfully be labeled as a "terrorist." Or at least, a sizable enough fraction of the American public may be willing to tolerate it, or applaud it, to make the costs politically bearable.
I don't know this for a fact, but after a stroll through nowthatsfuckedup.com, or reading the genocidal lunacy routinely on display at Little Green Footballs or freerepublic.com - or your average redneck watering hole for that matter - I can't rule it out.
Which means I should have gone to Washington today after all. Because we really do need to get the troops out of Iraq - before hell is
Digby over at Hullabaloo adds more:
So how did this happen?
... I have seen no evidence that the military hierarchy has instituted a policy of posting gory pictures on sex sites of Iraqis whom we've liberated from their lives. It's possible, I suppose, but this looks to be a matter of individuals entertaining themselves. As I wrote before, I know that taking pictures of battlefield dead has been around since Matthew Brady - and it has served the purpose of documenting the horrors of war for all to see. But this melding of sexual porn and bloody war gore is the sign of something sadistic and perverted (and yes, fascistic.)
There is one stomach-churning picture that shows a horrible mangled stump where a foot should be, presumably blown up in a land mine or something like it - and the naked crotch of the woman whose stump is being displayed. It's called "Nice puss/Bad foot." It's possible that the picture is photo-shopped, but regardless of the veracity of the picture itself, it's obvious that any man who gets an erection from that pic is a man who should not be carrying a gun.
These guys are allowing their ids to run wild and I don't think there is any excuse for it. They know the difference between right and wrong. They are not under orders to post these pictures nor can there be any thought that it helps the war effort by scaring the "Hajis" or giving these soldiers a forum in which to "release" their "steam." It's pure titillation - "warporn" in the most literal sense and it speaks to something seriously wrong with the military culture that says on the one hand that we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and on the other that these people's dead and mangled bodies are strangely sexually stimulating.
Note that there is no discussion as to whether these Iraqis are "Baathists" "bitter-enders," "terrorists," "insurgents" - or the "good" Iraqis who we liberated from the sick, depraved Saddam. One of the pictures is simply entitled "Die Haji Die." It is assumed that any dead Iraqi is a terrorist - and that, as we know, is impossible.
None of this is to say that the systematic sexual torture regime we've seen in both Iraq and Guantanamo is just the result of a barrel of bad apples. Clearly, the military have taken the simple-minded lessons of "The Arab Mind" to heart and believe that if they sexually humiliate the "Hajis" they'll crumple. (Big strong American men, meanwhile, wouldn't be affected whatsoever by being forced to simulate anal sex with other men or being jeered at while wearing ladies underwear.) I think it's pretty clear that the highest reaches of the government signed off on a whole lot of questionable kinky stuff in the mistaken idea that Arabs are different from you and me. And it would appear that some of the soldiers have predictably taken this to heart.
And even if you are to set aside the kinky sexual nature of the War On Terror, I can't actually understand how anyone would think that even the total abdication of the Geneva Conventions allows for a cook to break a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat because he needed to relieve some stress. ...
Digby doesn't but the "few bad apples" argument, it would seem. Well, it has become less and less plausible, hasn't it?
The fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said, "we're taking the gloves off" certainly created an environment in which the rule of law seemed to have been completely tossed aside. This country went temporarily insane after 9/11. I guess the military hierarchy lost its bearings too, which I find surprising since the highest levels of the officer corps are steeped in the lessons of Vietnam and presumably understood that this was likely the road to perdition.
The lies and misdirection conflating Al Qaeda with Saddam probably contributed more than anything to the horrors that many Iraqis faced at our hands during the first year or so of the occupation. Many soldiers surely internalized the idea that they were wreaking revenge for 9/11. In this, the buck goes all the way to the top and comes to a screeching halt on the desk of the heroic Commander Codpiece. Bush and his boys should have to answer for that, but I suppose it will be left to history to sort it out.
What about the counter argument from Rush Limbaugh here: "I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"
What about the argument that we "didn't start this shit. These Arab people killed three thousand of our people. Fair is fair - the argument of the conservative apologists, the columnists and bloggers.
Yeah, I worry about my nephew in Baghdad, for many reasons.
Only we did start this shit, didn't we?
This is why the warmongers who type themselves into a frenzy supporting this war should have the balls to go over and fight it. Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinert and Paul Ghouley should have to stand there and ask themselves these questions - confront the nightmares that are going to curse these soldiers for the rest of their lives as they try to reconcile what they saw and did.
It's a nice, pretty abstract concept - fighting tyranny and terrorism for the red, white and blue. But in reality it's standing in a doorway watching a psychopathic cook break a prisoners leg with a baseball bat because he's is feeling stressed. It's hearing innocent people screaming because they have had chemicals dripped into their eyes and on their skin so they'll "glow in the dark" and amuse the soldiers. It's having your humanity and your decency challenged every single day and not knowing if you will meet all the tests of bravery, conscience and loyalty that are required in a war that is being fought for vague and inscrutable reasons.
Jonah believes that we are liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian dictator. Does he then agree that it's part of the mission to ogle an Iraqi woman's privates while he gloats that her foot was blown off? Does he know what he would do if confronted with sadists who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi? That "they started this shit?"
The chickenhawks can claim that it is perfectly acceptable to support a war that they have no intention of fighting. But they cannot claim that it is just fine to support a war in which our troops have behaved in an immoral and indecent fashion, which the military has covered up and which was implicitly condoned by the highest reaches of our government. If they supported this they should have to share in the trials of conscience that afflict these poor bastards from the 82nd Airborne who came forward (and the ones who did not.) They should have to share in the visions of blood and gore that we see on that sick porn site and they should have to live with what has been done in their name.
If you support this country's loss of honor you should have to get down in the mud and grovel with all those who've lost their struggle to maintain their humanity while fighting a war that has no end, that doesn't know who it's fighting, that sees sex and violence intertwined in a sick and twisted way - and that celebrates random, wanton killing of the people we are allegedly fighting for. The chickenhawks in this war, of all wars, are the ones who should have to suffer alongside those who lost their souls killing and beating and torturing for a cause that didn't exist.
Back in late August, here, you'd find a detail discussion of a item from Juan Cole, The University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies, explaining how we could put the fat out the fie, so to speak. That's here - a ten part plan for staying a bit longer in Iraq and fixing things.
Sunday the 25th he changed his mind. See Why We Have to Get the Troops Out of Iraq.The issue is not the rights and wrongs of the war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no nuclear program, and the mushroom clouds with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice menaced us were figments of their fevered imaginations, no more substantial than the hateful internal voices that afflict schizophrenics.
But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.
The issue is not the lack of operational cooperation between the secular, socialist, Arab nationalist Baath Party of Iraq and the religious fanatics of al-Qaeda. There was no such operational involvement. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah were captured before the Iraq War, and told their American interrogators that al-Qaeda had refused to cooperate with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration deliberately hid this crucial information from the American people, and puzzled US intelligence officials who knew about it were astounded to see Cheney and others continually go on television and assert that Saddam and Bin Laden were in cahoots in the build-up to the war.
But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.
That US soldiers are dying in Iraq, with the number approaching 2,000, is a tragedy. But it is not in and of itself a reason to get the troops out of Iraq. We lost some 1700 at Guam alone in World War II. The question is whether a war is worth fighting, not its human toll, since a much worse human toll may result from giving up the fight (if the US could have launched D-Day in 1940, the Holocaust might never have happened).
So that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.