by Tom Engelhardt
"Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any 'hostile acts' they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation. Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word - 'Good' - and went back to work."
That is from David Sanger's piece in today's New York Times, which also includes the following chilling quote from "a senior administration official who played a crucial role in putting the strategy together": "Iraq is not just about Iraq."...)
War, postwar, and future war all are merging in this moment as the Pentagon, which essentially has become the foreign policy arm of our new imperial government, attempts to push aside the State Department (and the CIA) to set up the unilateralist occupation of Japan... sorry, Germany... sorry, Iraq that the neocons have all been planning for and dreaming about for a decade. Jane Perlez of the Times tells us today that "the Americans are scouring the region for armor-plated vans" for the diplomats and retired generals of the "interim" occupation government to use once they are in Iraq (a defense against bouquets undoubtedly). They are also being "given lessons on what to do in Baghdad if they were taken hostage." The new occupation government, still the object of fierce bureaucratic warfare in Washington, is reportedly to be moved into Umm Qasr sometime this week, a town long declared "liberated" and under "coalition" control.
But in a piece in the British Independent, Patrick Nicholson, a Catholic relief worker, indicates that even in the Shia south, where anti-Saddam sentiment was sky high, the "real war" looks quite different from the one seen on American television:
"I have recently returned from Angola where I witnessed haunting scenes of poverty but I never expected to see the same levels of misery in Iraq, a country floating on oil.
I visited Umm Qasr as part of a Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod) emergency response team, and had been led to believe it was a town under control, where the needs of the people were being met. The town is not under control. It's like the Wild West, and even the most serious humanitarian concern, water, is not being adequately administered.
There is a lot of anger toward Westerners in Umm Qasr, triggered by bitter disappointment at their 'liberation'. They feel they have been given false expectations and are scared by the breakdown in social order in the town. I saw no obvious Allied presence and the normal structures of schools, government and police has disappeared. But the people are hopeful for a future without Saddam Hussein. However bad the situation today, they told me, it was better than under Saddam's regime."
This is a small snapshot of the land now to be occupied. A more panoramic view, offered us by Warren Vieth of the Los Angeles Times, is hardly more reassuring when it comes to a nation in rubble with "a debt load bigger than that of Argentina, a cash flow crunch rivaling those of Third World countries, a mountain of unresolved compensation claims, a shaky currency, high unemployment, galloping inflation and a crumbling infrastructure expected to sustain more damage before the shooting stops.... Bathsheba Crocker, director of the Post-War Reconstruction Project... said Iraq's oil money is not the panacea many Bush officials seem to think it is."
Now, mainly with the help of the British press, let's consider the occupation to come ... to the extent that it's now imaginable. For all the wartime talk in the media and the administration about the "coalition of the willing," this will clearly be a unilateralist occupation of the most extreme sort, few Iraqis, less Brits (except for "a small contingent of British soldiers" Jane Perlez tells us, meant to provide the officials of the new government with in-country security), no Spaniards, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Italians, or Micronesians, nor, as far as I can tell, other representatives of the "coalition." And certainly not - Condi Rice made this more than clear yesterday - those weasels at the UN, which at best is expected to pony up some money and some humble humanitarian assistance. And, oh yes, I almost forgot this one entirely, no Arabs from the various "allied" governments in the Gulf region, and for the time being, few Iraqis, exile or otherwise. As presently imagined, it's the sort of occupation of hubris that quite naturally follows from the dreams of the men who run the Earth's hyperpower with their stated "foreign policy" of disarming the world by force and striking where they want at will.
The centrist economists and analysts quoted in Vieth's piece are calling for a new Marshall plan, but the man the British Observer tells us has already been dubbed "Wolfowitz of Arabia" is insisting to Congress that Iraqi oil revenues will cover most of the reconstruction costs (which they won't). Perhaps that's because a postwar occupation of the kind Wolfowitz and his boss Donald Rumsfeld envision seems to ensure that Iraq will never be "reconstructed." Certainly, the American people aren't about to pay for it, nor is this government about to make them. And by the time the administration accepts that this part of the "burden" of empire is really work only suited to "mad dogs and Englishmen," it may be far too late.
Already, according to The Observer, many humanitarian relief groups have refused to work under such an occupation. (Only the fundamentalist Christian relief organizations, already waiting in Kuwait, are eager to enter Iraq under the wing of the interim government, to spread the good word.) As for the occupation regime itself, as the British press has reported, it is to be run by Jay Garner, a retired general who is the president of a company involved in the making of the Patriot missile. The information ministry is, if the Pentagon has anything to say about it, to be run by former CIA director James Woolsey. What a relief, 50 years after the fall of Iran's Mossadegh, the CIA can finally be openly involved in setting up governments in the Middle East. Woolsey, of course, believes that we are already in World War IV, while the future "viceroy" of Baghdad, former ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, is, according to The Observer, well known for her "fervent hostility to a politically organised Muslim world."
For more on Woolsey, check out David Corn's weblog on The Nation online, which lays out the former CIA chief's incestuous relationship with one faction of the Iraqi exile community. And Jim Lobe, in an upcoming Nation piece, offers the following advice:
"If you want to figure out whether the administration of President George W. Bush intends a crusade -- and a unilateral one, if necessary -- to ''remake the Middle East'' in the wake of Washington's presumed military victory in Iraq, watch what happens with R. James Woolsey... If he soon pops up in Baghdad, you can bet that the 'clash of civilisations' is imminent, if it hasn't begun already."
As the Observer piece concludes, "One senior former diplomat in Baghdad and elsewhere in the region told The Observer: 'There are no serious Arabists left in the government now; only those who have been telling the White House what it wants to hear. The dragons have taken over'."
All of these prospective occupation figures -- including Douglas Feith, the third man at the Pentagon and evidently the list-maker for the Pentagon's Iraq regime -- either sit on the Defense Policy Board (until recently led by Richard Perle) and/or are close to Wolfowitz and/or Rumsfeld. Though this 'interim' government will have to report to Gen. Tommy Franks (and so to Rumsfeld), what we are seeing here is not simply military rule of a conquered Iraq, but military-industrial rule, as Ed Vulliamy and Oliver Morgan indicate in another Observer piece.
Just my curiosity perhaps, but why do we have to go to the British press to get all the connections of the men and women who are in the running to run this occupation -- and the interests behind them? Compare the Observer piece, for instance, with the fuzzier piece in The Washington Post by Karen DeYoung and Dan Morgan, or the Perlez offering in The New York Times mentioned earlier. At least the Post gives us a sense of how secretive this process has been. General Garner has not even been made available to Congress for questioning. -- Tom Engelhardt.