Saturday, August 09, 2014
It's groundhog day
I don't have easy answers about the situation in Iraq and I honestly can't fathom those who say they do. I do know that all the hyperbole we're starting to hear about beheading babies and coming to America to kill us in our beds is something of which every sentient American should be skeptical. Maybe it's true this time but there's a price to be paid for crying wolf over and over and over again. Here's a good example:
Many of you will remember that none other PR giant Hill and Knowlton orchestrated one of the most amazing examples of prowar flackery ever documented:
... nothing quite compared to H&K's now infamous "baby atrocities" campaign. After convening a number of focus groups to try to figure out which buttons to press to make the public respond, H&K determined that presentations involving the mistreatment of infants, a tactic drawn straight from W.R. Hearst's playbook of the Spanish-American War, got the best reaction. So on October 10, 1990, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill at which H&K, in coordination with California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to safeguard against Iraqi reprisals, Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.) Weeping and shaking, the girl described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly, 312 infants were removed.
The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war, seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations as a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash the bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote margin.
Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed to reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, but also that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S. H&K had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's publisher John R. MacArthur's book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. Of the seven other witnesses who stepped up to the podium that day, five had been prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human rights organizations investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah had any connection to the hospital. Amnesty International, among those originally duped, eventually issued an embarrassing retraction.
I personally know people who were persuaded by that testimony. The horror of a terrible enemy killing babies is very powerful. Here's one from WWI:
Now don't get me wrong. ISIS is certainly a violent extremist group that is committing atrocities. They are very much like the Taliban were in Afghanistan back in the 1990s --- uncivilized religious fundamentalists who were armed with weapons left behind by the Russians after years of war which left the country in tatters.
Sound familiar? I thought so. Here's Max Fisher spelling it out for you:
The absurdity runs deep: America is using American military equipment to bomb other pieces of American military equipment halfway around the world. The reason the American military equipment got there in the first place was because, in 2003, the US had to use its military to rebuild the Iraqi army, which it just finished destroying with the American military. The American weapons the US gave the Iraqi army totally failed at making Iraq secure and have become tools of terror used by an offshoot of al-Qaeda to terrorize the Iraqis that the US supposedly liberated a decade ago. And so now the US has to use American weaponry to destroy the American weaponry it gave Iraqis to make Iraqis safer, in order to make Iraqis safer.The good news for American weapon$ manufacturer$ is that we're now going to be arming the Kurds with brand new weapons. Which we didn't do earlier because well ... the Kurds are just perennially fucked. Juan Cole relates this little bit of history:
It keeps going: the US is intervening on behalf of Iraqi Kurds, our ally, because their military has old Russian-made weapons, whereas ISIS, which is America's enemy, has higher-quality American weapons. "[Kurdish forces] are literally outgunned by an ISIS that is fighting with hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. military equipment seized from the Iraqi Army who abandoned it," Ali Khedery, a former American official in Iraq, told the New York Times.
More: One reason that ISIS has been so successful at conquering northern Iraq is that it has a huge base of operations in Syria, where it had exploited the civil war to overtake huge swathes of Syrian territory. One reason that ISIS was so successful in Syria is that the US refused to arm moderate Syrian rebels, for fear that the weapons would fall into ISIS's hands. So that made it easier for ISIS to overpower the under-funded moderate rebels, and now ISIS has seized, in Iraq, much better versions of the weapons that we were so worried they might acquire in Syria. So now we're bombing the guns that we didn't mean to give ISIS because we didn't give guns to their enemies because then ISIS might get guns.
It's not just ironic; it's a symbol of how disastrous the last 15 years of US Iraq policy have been, how circuitous and self-perpetuating the violence, that we are now bombing our own guns. Welcome to American grand strategy in the Middle East.
During the Gulf War in early 1991, then-president George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party.I'm going to be more generous here and say that both presidents were likely genuinely horrified by what they were seeing and felt they needed to help from a moral standpoint. After all, US policies had helped create the situation in both cases. The problem isn't our intentions, whatever they may be. It's our capability to make things better using these tactics. In the short run we might be able to help these refugees, and I fervently hope both the religious minorities and the Kurds find some safety as a result of these air strikes and humanitarian aid. But it's vitally important to recall that this horror stems from a series of long term strategic errors by the United States going back decades. Let's not pretend we are the heroes in this. And let's not pretend that we have the answers about how to fix it either.
In the Kurdish north and in the Shiite South, hundreds of thousands heeded his call. But after the short war was over in March, Bush appears to have completely lost interest in the Kurds and Shiites who rose up and now were in danger of being massacred by the Baath army. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf told the Iraqi military it could not fly armed helicopter gunships (as a way of protecting Iraqi crowds that had demonstrated). The Iraqi officers said that they used the helicopter gunships as aerial ambulances, but that some were armed with rockets. Could they please fly the armed helicopters? Schwarzkopf said that he was too tired to argue, and said “OK.”
Of course, Saddam immediately had the helicopter gunships fire at crowds in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad.
The Kurds in the north, fearful that Saddam would roll takes against their villages, fled into the mountains. But there was no food in the mountains and if they stayed up there, they would starve to death.
George H. W. Bush may not have been very concerned about his bad faith in calling for people to rise up but then hanging them out to dry.
But the prospect of thousands of Kurds dying of hunger or thirst in the mountains on his watch upset him and it would have been a very bad political image. So he ordered a “no-fly zone” instituted over the Kurdish portions of northern Iraq. US planes flew hundreds of missions, making sure that Saddam’s tanks could not come after the Kurds.
Fast forward to today. Now it is the Yezidis, and small religious group, who have fled into the hills, from their area of Sinjar. They could, like the Kurds 23 years ago, starve and thirst to death up there.
Now it is the armored personnel carriers captured by the so-called “Islamic State” from the Iraqi army in Mosul that are rolling toward Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
So President Obama, like George H. W. Bush before him, was facing a public relations nightmare. And he responded in the same way, with a no-go zone over Kurdistan policed by US fighter jet pilots.
Now that Iraq is totally falling apart anyway, it looks like the US may stop deluding itself that we built a democracy instead of the Titanic and we'll start frantically trying to plug the holes before the whole thing sinks. Good luck with that.
I wish I had the answer as to what to do about Muslim extremism. These ISIS fanatics are dangerous, ruthless people. But so far, using American military might has changed very little in Afghanistan and destroyed the nation of Iraq. Not that American politicians are in any way chagrined by our poor record. Here's your Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein fired up and ready to go:
“I strongly support the president’s authorization for airstrikes against ISIL. This is not a typical terrorist organization—it is a terrorist army, operating with military expertise, advancing across Iraq and rapidly consolidating its position.She didn't mention the baby beheadings but I'm sure that's coming. In the meantime, hide your own children in the basement because they're coming to kill us all in our beds. We need to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.
“ISIL is capturing new Iraqi towns every day, is reported to be in control of Mosul Dam and is engaging in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that appears to be attempted genocide. I believe that once this group solidifies its hold on what it calls the Islamic State, its next target may be Baghdad.
“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard. We simply cannot allow this to happen.
“It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future. Inaction is no longer an option. I support actions by the administration to coordinate efforts with Iraq and other allies to use our military strength and targeting expertise to the fullest extent possible.”
It's groundhog day.
Update: I just heard Mike Huckabee on Fox demand that Obama cancel his vacation and personally deliver arms to the Kurds because we're fighting savages who are beheading babies.
It doesn't have to make sense.
Update II: Fascinating piece posted at Josh Marshal's place from someone who had studied ISIS. This is just a piece.
Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. TSV for ISIL is the belief that they will blow themselves up, they will capture and decapitate you and desecrate your body because they are invincible with what the Pakistanis call Jusbah E Jihad “Blood Lust for Jihad”. I have worked the Iraq mission since 1987 and lived in and out of Iraq since 2003. TSV was Saddam’s most effective tool and there is some innate characteristic of the Iraqis that immobilizes them when faced with a vicious, assuredly deadly foe who will do exactly as they have done to others – and they will unsuccessfully try to bargain their way out of death by capitulating. The Kurds are not immune to ISIL’s TSV -90% of which is propaganda seen on Facebook, Twitter and al-Arabiya. The Kurds have not fought a combat action of any size since 2003 and like the Iraqi Army it will take the Americans to give them the spine to get them to the first hurdle – they need a massive win to break the spell of ISIL’s TSV.
I don't know about "innate characteristics" of Iraqis. It seems to me that this stuff is effective on everyone --- including Americans, as illustrated above.
People on TV are working themselves up into a frenzy today presenting ISIS as a force so uniquely evil that they make Hitler look like Mr Rogers. And so it goes.
Read the whole thing. It proposes a specific American engagement, saying that it won't take much. ????
digby 8/09/2014 11:11:00 AM