Category Archives: Iraq

Polk on Iran

William R. Polk

William R. Polk

William Polk has a guest piece at Informed Comment warning us about what is likely to happen if we carry down our current track to a war with Iran.  How many M.E. specialists, historians, soldiers, reporters–none of them alarmists or peace-niks–do we have to hear?  This is just what was happening in the run-up to the Iraq war, except the stakes are much, much higher (for us).  It is like we are stumbling along the edge of a precispise with only some aware of what we are doing and praying that we pull away from the edge.  But on we go.

The Killing Fields of Iraq

Via Juan Cole, we have this video report from the Guardain.  It is heart-breaking.

Fisk on Syria and Iran

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

Check out Fisk’s latest article describes the hilarious attempts by Sarkozy and others to detach Syria from Tehran.

Fisk concludes:

In other words, Syria kept its cool. When the US invaded Iraq, the world wondered if its tanks would turn left to Damascus or right to Tehran. In fact, they lie still in the Iraqi desert, where US generals still variously accuse Iran and Syria of encouraging the insurgency against them. If Washington wants to leave Iraq, it can call Damascus for help.

And the real cost? The US will have to restore full relations with Syria. It will have to continue talks with Iran. It will have to thank Iran for its “help” in Iraq – most of the Iraqi government, after all, was nurtured in the Islamic Republic during the Iran-Iraq war in which the US took Saddam’s side. It will have to accept Iran is not making a nuclear bomb. And it will have to prevent Israel staging a bombing spectacular on Iran which will destroy every hope of US mediation. It will also have to produce a just Middle East peace. McCain or Obama, please note.

And it Continues

Martin Rowsons take on Browns Iran abhorrence remarks

Sometimes a picture is really priceless.  The Iranians have repeatedly made clear that they have no intention of attacking Israel, that they anticipate Israel falling apart through its own internal contradictions.  there is not the slightest indication that the Iranians are preparing for any such military intervention or that they would ever be capable of it.  The real point of course is that it is a political attack, and the whole is part of the ‘cold war’ being fought between Iran and Israel, the USA and the industrial nations, a war that the Bush administration decided to fight, and the Israelis appear to be making sure that the Bush administration makes good its promises of taking out Iran after Iraq.

With such confusion and disingenuousness one can only presume that this is political manouevring to prepare for military should it come to that.  Should that come to pass the wealthy people that gave us this mess will not be the ones to pay the price: that will fall to the poor people.

I missed an article by Scott Ritter at TruthDig on the 14th on the consequences of such a war. Elsewhere Gershom Gorenberg picks apart Benny Morris’s Strangeglovian fantasies about Israel using its nuclear wepaons aresenal to settle up with Iran and Commander Huber surveys the inanity of the discorse on the Iraq war.

What is going on?

Reflecting on my previous article on our seeming determination to smash our economies on the rocks of Iran I thoght of the the Taijitu or yin-yang motif, which I think may summarize the situation.  My understanding is the the motif is intended to symbolise the cyclical waxing and waning of the yin and yang qualities in a given situation.  Notice that when dark yin or light yang are at their maximum, the other is present in the middle, and of course the dominating one must then give way.

This seems to me to symbolise where the industrial powers are today.  Their military-industrial dominance has been derived on the mastery of coal and then oil.  Dominating the oil lies at the heart of the industrial nation’s involvement in the region from the beginning of the oil era at the opening of the 20th century.  It drew the British into the region with their 1914 invasion of Iraq, the carving up of the Arab world after beraking up the Ottoman empire, the overthrowing of Mosadegh and so on.

Of course oil supplies are probably maxing out and can no longer feed the colossal displacement activity that we normally call economic growth.  The underlying source of our power is set to decline.  It is the impotence and frustration that comes from this realistation that may be driving some of the irrational and destructive behaviour.

Iran Insanity Update

I read an account by a member of the paratroop regiment serving in the Falklands conflict.  After the surrender of the Argentine forces some bored members of the regiment were play a game of cricket, with hand grenades and some improvised bat.  The batter would have to hit the grenades into the sea where they could safely explode.

This reminds me of the games that we are playing at the moment with Iran.  Maybe we are all bored and in need of some entertainment–not able to get the kick out of destroying other people’s countries we need to make the game a little more exciting.  Let us hope that we keep on hitting the grenades into the sea.

Many with a good knowledge of what is going on, and a good track record in finding things out, are saying that we are nat making any sense.  Nothing has changed since the Iraq fiasco.  But when the fireworks start this time we are all going to get seriously hurt.  Before we started destroying the Iraqi people and their country they were an industrialized country with cities, hospitals, schools, power grids, water treatment and so on.  We systematically wrecked that so it makes a good study of what could happen in the industrial world if we pull down all those systems.  They, and our economies, are all dependent on oil.

This is why the Iranians have no need for a strategic nuclear deterrent.  They just need control a single narrow shipping lane.  They have always been clear about this, and they have had plenty of time to prepare.

Nothing that we are doing makes any sense at all.  We accuse them of undermining the nuclear weapons proliferation agreements, but it is us that are destroying these agreements.  We accuse them of destabilising the middles east but it is us that are doing so.  We accuse them of supporting terrorism and yet we hear that the Bush administration has asked for $400m from Congress to terrorize Iran and Congress are playing along and considering authorizing a naval blockade of Iran.  And we continue to terrorize and kill people in the region in quite high numbers, far, far higher numbers than the paramilitary groups that we obsess over.

We are nuts.  I don’t know how it is going to play out and it is not worth losing sleep over.  Worrying is a mug’s game.  All I can do is call it as I see it.

For those that are interested, Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter have interviews (Hersh, Ritter) and articles (Hersh, Ritter) spelling out what is going on.  Gordon Prather’s articles on nuclear weapons proliferation are excellent, as are Gareth Porter’s on the wider issues.

Of Causation and History (Crooked Timber)

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here Crooked Timber) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]

I have completed Taleb’s The Black Swan and will say more about it later but I first want to take him to task on one of his opinions (one that he doesn’t really hold as it turns out). From page 171:

Popper’s insight concerns the limitations in forecasting historical events and the need to downgrade “soft” areas such as history and social science to a level slightly above aesthetics and entertainment, like butterfly or coin collecting. (Popper who received a classical Viennese education didn’t go quite so far; I do. I am from Amioun.) What we call the soft historical sciences are narrative dependent studies.

To confuse historicism and history is a horrible conflation, and no claims to rural roots should excuse this kind of boorishness. As Aristotle by way of Aquinas and Schumacher reminds us,

‘the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.'(*) ‘Slender’ knowledge is here put in opposition to ‘certain’ knowledge, and indicates uncertainty.

(*) Aquinas, Summa theologica, I, 1, 5 ad 1.

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M.E. Nuclear Follies: Hersh, Ritter, … and the Failed States Index

Jamal Dajani’s latest Mosaic Intelligence Report looks at what has been going on in Afghanistan. The outlook for victory in the ‘good war’ looks incredibly bleak.

Gordon Prather has an article arguing that the Bush administration legacy will be “the deliberate destruction of the existing international nuclear-weapons proliferation-prevention regime,” and Scott Horton has interviewed him on the subject. Prather shows a touching incredulity that nothing the Bush administration does in this area seems to make much sense.

Iraq has gone from second to fifth in the Foreign Policy Failed States Index, illustrating perfectly the success of the ‘surge’. William Pfaff has a truthdig article, The Illusion of Saving Nations from Themselves, reminding us of how we got here:

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Ye shall know them by their fruits (I am back!)

I hit quite a block after posting that acknowledgment of what a superior blogger Yglesias is. To what extent was it ego? I don’t know: it is difficult to be sure, but I suspect it was one of several factors.

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Robert Fisk has an article in the Indie about a Dutch press photographer putting on a photograph exhibition on Iraq based on images that Iraqis have captured with their mobile phones. The reason he is using Iraqi’s amateur collection is that Iraq is still too dangerous for anybody with any sense who has any option to be elsewhere.

The refugee statistics are so appalling that they have become almost mundane. Four million of Iraq’s 23 million people have fled their homes – until recently, at the rate of 60,000 a month – allegedly more than 1.2 million to Syria (a figure now challenged by at least one prominent NGO), 500,000 to Jordan, 200,000 to the Gulf, 70,000 to Egypt, 57,000 to Iran, up to 40,000 to Lebanon, 10,000 to Turkey. Sweden has accepted 9,000, Germany fewer – where an outrageous political debate has suggested that Christian refugees should have preference over Muslim Iraqis. With its usual magnanimity – especially for a country that set off this hell-disaster by its illegal invasion – George Bush’s America has, of course, accepted slightly more than 500.

This collection of pictures is therefore an indictment of us, as well as of the courage of Iraqis. The madness is summed up in an email message sent to Van Kesteren by a Baghdad Iraqi. “This summer,” he wrote, “a workman wanted to quench his thirst by putting ice in his tea. A car pulled up, the driver stepped out and began to beat and kick the man, cursing him as an unbeliever. ‘What do you think you’re doing? Did the Prophet Mohamed put ice in his water?’

The man being attacked was furious and asked his assailant: ‘Do you think the Prophet Mohamed drove a car?'”

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The SOFA Fiasco


On the supposition that finetuning the provisions that Iraqis find obnoxious to their sovereignty will bring them or their government around, Bush remains optimistic about the outcome.

President Bush said Saturday he is confident the United States can reach a long-term security agreement with Iraq, one that will not establish permanent U.S. bases there.

“If I were a betting man, we’ll reach an agreement with the Iraqis,” Bush told a news conference in Paris.

Bush has been wrong about virtually everything having to do with Iraq. He overplayed his hand one too many times, and SOFA is done for.

Trita Parsi’s Treacherous Alliance

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here Trita Parsi) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]

Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of
Israel, Iran and the United States

by Trita Parsi (2007)

This is one of the best books I have read. I read it over six months ago yet it seems as clear as if I had read it yesterday and still feel excited about what Trita Parsi has achieved with this book, demonstrating that while the evolution of the relationship between Israel and Iran has had a deeply ideological face, underneath this façade geopolitical factors have been the real drivers and the real causes of their gradual transition from allies to enmity. Again, their current enmity is not founded in the Iranian revolution at the end of the 1970s but the termination of the cold war and the defeat of Iraq in the first Persian Gulf war in the 1990s. Parsi bases his analysis on 130 interviews of senior officials in charge of the foreign policy of the three countries covering the period from the decline of the Shah to the 2006 Lebanon war.

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Powell’s Chief of Staff Spills the Beans

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here RealNews) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]

Paul Jay provides a typically incisive three-part interview with Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell 2002-5. In the first part Wilkerson explains that the 2003 strategic bargain offered by Iran was turned down by Cheney on the grounds that such negotiations would legitimise the Iranian regime. This is quite timely as I am in the middle of a discussion on the merits of this Neoconservative approach to foreign policy with Hey Skipper on the Obama’s Realist Iran Policy article. As Wilkerson makes clear the issue is one of Neoconservative policy, not conservative policy, or Republican policy, or even Bush administration policy (the Bush State Department under Powell wasn’t Neoconservative). If any episode illustrates the total folly of the Bush/McCain approach then this story does, Wilkerson underlining in the second and third interviews the horrible stupidity of it all and why he won’t be voting for McCain in the election (but he is waiting for more details from Obama).

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Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh on Iran (’06)

Earlier my MP3 overran a music track onto this discussion between Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in October 2006. I had heard it before and thought I would let it go for a few minutes before switching to something else but let it run out to the end it was so compulsive. It owuld have been even better if they had found a pro to chair the discussion but it was still reasonably tight under the circumstances. If you get a chance, check it out.

100 Years

Marc Ambinder still doesn’t understand why John McCain should be held accountable for his ‘100 years’ remark:

The differences between McCain and Obama are clear enough; Obama wants a bare-bones U.S. presence in Iraq, and McCain is willing to tolerate a much larger one; Obama believes that the presence of U.S. troops exacerbates the tension and gives Iraqis a crutch to delay political reconcilliation. McCain does not. One would think that those differences are a sufficient basis upon which to launch a political attack.

If I tell my parents that I really don’t want to burn the family home down yet keep playing with matches, and proclaiming that I will keep on playing with them, what are my parent supposed to think? Of course I don’t want to burn the house down, but obviously it isn’t a very high priority, and anyway, whatever my professed intentions, my actions are going to lead to these consequences anyway.

For people that oppose the war, the occupation of Iraq is a neo-colonial operation and a continuation of the war and the fact that John McCain can’t see this is of great significance.  It would be incompetent and irresponsible of any anti-war candidate to gloss over and ignore McCain’s remarks and his continued defence of them; this issue should be attacked until it is properly understood, the kid of confused thinking it betrays being responsible for the current Iraq disaster.

It is really no wonder that Obama supporters take issue with Marc Ambinder’s professed neutrality.

George Monbiot and Our Guilty Taboo

I am generally wary of empty, vain gestures and am well aware of the trap so it was with great interest that I read about George Monbiot’s attempt at a citizen’s arrest on John Bolton. My first thought was how is this going to work and that no way would I have the bottle to attempt it. I agree with Monbiot that the Iraq war is a vast war crime, the worst and most distressing aspect of it beyond the fact of the millions of lives smashed and countries destabilised being the normalisation of the crime.

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Liberal Posturing on the Media? (And the Real Deal)

I am really not sure what to make of all of the outrage that is orbiting around the blogosphere over the McClellan book tour (e.g., Kagro X@Kos and Huffington).  In this MSNBC interview McClellan seemed to make perfect sense though he clearly has some explaining to do.

There does seem to be an element of posturing that makes me suspicious.

Meanwhile some people are trying to work out what is happening with the next war.  Commander Huber has another excellent article at the Pen and Sword, dissecting the contours of the media packaging of the next war (or possibly not).

Sistani Updates

Juan Cole has an update on Sistani’s situation. Apparently a trader asked the cleric whether he is allowed to sell food to the occupying forces and was told:

Selling foodstuffs to the Occupying Powers is not permitted.

The Huffington Post has caught on.

Why I agree with Cole and Yglesias

Robert Duquette took issue with my previous in a comment.

I think Yglesias has it exactly wrong. It isn’t the threat of troops staying in Iraq that is feeding turmoil, but the threat of troops leaving. Sistani may be posturing because he senses an Obama victory in the US election, and a hasty withdrawal. That will leave a power vacuum, and an open door opportunity for Iran to fill that vacuum.

Does Yglesias want a stable Iraq or does he just want the US to wash its hands of the situation?

There are a few interesting points here. Firstly where we disagree: I think it is highly unlikely that Sistani is posturing in anticipation of an Obama administration because (a) he is very conservative and unlikely to encourage people to start attacking the US in anticipation of the US leaving and (b) Cole is as knowledgeable as anyone about the situation and is saying that something quite different is going on. I think Sistani really, really doesn’t want to get into a fight with the US but after years of avoiding it is being forced by events and everything I have read about about him points to this.

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Iraq: the next phase?

Juan Cole reports that Grand Ayatollah Sistani may be about to withdraw his support of the Anglo-US occupation and back those opposing the Americans. Needless to say this could ruin Petraeus’s entire day, and Crocker’s and their bosses, etc. Sistani being as inscrutable as ever Cole makes some shrewd guesses as nto what may have precipitated it. Some are quite predictable, such as the usual tensions between occupier and occupied–the commander’s wishing to look after the men in their charge at the expense of Iraqi citizens in deciding whether to call down that air-strike, but Cole speculates that this Iranian may not be too happy about assisting to keep the rear quiet and provide a serviceable platform for the decider and Vader to use the long arm of the USAF to put those pesky Persians in their place.

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Guns, Food, Trust

[I have put this article in the Jane Austen category so that those familiar with Jane Austen’s writings may like to think about the relationship between a people’s trust in their government government according to Confucius, and a person’s standing in the community—their character—according to Austen, and how integrity is critical to both (and my apologies if this sounds like something that belongs in a college essay paper).]

Tzu-kung asked about government. The Master said, ‘Give them enough food, give them enough arms, and the common people will have trust in you.’ Tzu-kung said, ‘If one had to give up one of these three, which should one give up first?’ ‘Give up arms.’ Tzu-kung said, ‘If one had to give up one of the remaining two, which should one give up first?’ ‘Give up food. Death has always been with us since the beginning of time, but when there is no trust, the common people will have nothing to stand on.’

— Lun Yu (Analects of Confucius) VII.7

Following on from my screed against Jacqui Smith I see that George Monbiot has written an eviscerating column in the Guardian asking why any liberal would rally in defense of the New Labour government—This government has been the most rightwing since the second world war (or Nothing Left to Fight For on Monbiot’s website). In many ways he is right. After the war a social-democratic consensus emerged that started to break up in the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher, but she was always restrained by the fact that nobody trusted her with (for example) the health service. Blair and Brown are truly Thatcher’s children (John Gray saw this clearly) and just couldn’t see beyond the market to any coherent idea of society—for them it didn’t need to be said but was self-evidently true, that there was no such things as society. Rowan Williams’s stunning 2002 Dimbleby Lecture perfectly understood the problem—what a wonderful gift to the government in return for his appointment, and how it was squandered.

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