Heckuva job, fellas!
The monster called Iraq that the Bush administration has bequeathed humanity was created with a breath-sucking mix of high-tech ruthlessness, messianic ideology and sheer, FEMA-quality incompetence — and, it turns out, a little help from the Italian Mafia.
I hope what has happened these last four years — this abominable exercise in what neocon theorist Michael Ledeen called “creative destruction,” back in those heady days immediately after 9/11 when most of the American public was intoxicated with vengeance and nationalism — is a lesson we don’t forget. That’s our only hope: that we smell the racism and self-interest the next time a demagogue pushes war, and that we remember not just the horrors of this one but the irony. The Bush administration’s “war on terror” is a terrorist’s best friend.
Consider the boondoggle of the 190,000 missing weapons — rifles, pistols, machineguns, grenade launchers. They’re not really missing, of course. They’re all over the Middle East, in the hands of religious fanatics and run-of-the-mill criminals; and, of course, they’re mostly still in Iraq, where U.S.-distributed weapons guarantee that anyone with a grievance, including a grievance against American troops, can add bodies to the carnage. Our timetable for bringing democracy to Iraq may be lagging, but Ledeen’s “creative destruction” is in full flower.
As I write, the day’s headlines splash more blood on our consciences: “Four truck bombs exploded in two Iraqi villages in a Kurdish-speaking area near the Syrian border on Tuesday,” according to the Aug. 15 New York Times. “At least 200 people had been killed. . . . (An) Iraqi officer described the scene as apocalyptic: ‘It looks like a nuclear bomb hit the villages,’ he said.”
We struggle to extricate ourselves from this mess — that is to say, from awareness of and responsibility for the consequences of our pre-emptive war. We retreat back to the cliches that intoxicated us in the first place. “The reality is that you do not achieve peace through weakness and appeasement,” says Rudy Giuliani, the “mayor of 9/11.” Behold, the dead horse rises as he beats it! There are still listeners. There is still media coverage.
Weakness and appeasement, Rudy? Rhetoric aside, that’s the essence of the Bush administration’s game plan. Every “High Noon” move it has made, every act of faith-based violence, has made us weaker. For instance, we’ve bestowed arms on Iraq as though they were Bibles: something good for the Iraqi people in and of themselves.
“In a recent radio interview, (Gen. David) Petraeus — now the commander of all Coalition forces in Iraq — reminisced about helicopters ferrying weapons to Iraqi troops under fire at night in Najaf. Men were ‘kicking two battalions worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we could,’” Newsweek reported in its Aug. 20 issue. Jettisoning weapons into the night “militated against good bookkeeping,” the magazine explained — as though proper accounting of serial numbers on the AK-47s and Glocks we dumped into the fray would have prevented unauthorized use thereof.
In a shattered country like Iraq, where life is cheap, people are destitute and genocidal forces are on the loose, good bookkeeping is probably not going to prevent market capitalism from running its course. The black market in arms is thriving.
“The (U.S.-distributed) weapons are easy to find,” the New York Times reported from Baghdad at the end of last year, “resting among others in the semihidden street markets here, where weapons are sold in tea houses, the back rooms of grocery kiosks, cosmetics stores and rug shops, or from the trunks of cars. . . . ‘Every type of gun that the Americans give comes to the market,’” an Iraqi official said.
A Baghdad arms dealer told Times reporter C.J. Chivers: “In the south, if the Americans give the Iraqis weapons, the next day you can buy them here. The Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police — they all sell them right away.”
Creative destruction might look good on paper to the think-tank warriors who hawk it to the rest of us. But in reality, the Ledeen theory of human progress is nothing but a descent into degradation and barbarism, as exemplified by a story out of Rome that followed this week on the heels of the missing-armaments scandal.
Italian anti-Mafia investigators shadowing possible drug traffickers last year searched a suspect’s luggage as he boarded a flight to Libya and found, not narcotics but helmets, bullet-proof vests and a weapons catalogue. The investigation that followed led to the thwarting of a $40 million “black channel” deal between Italian arms merchants, a Bulgarian supplier and. . . the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
Welcome to the moral gutter. This is where the Bush vision has dumped us. Let’s remember how we got here.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column ator visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.