Saturday, January 20, 2007

Untruth and Iraq

Rather belatedly, some comments on the Baker/Hamilton report. So, it does not recommend "staying the course", but neither does it recommend "cutting and running". We are not winning in Iraq, but neither are we losing (*), nor is it inevitable that we lose.

The report and the remarks of Robert Gates, Defense Secretary designate, at his Senate confirmation hearing provided the French commentators ample occasion to elaborate on their familiar theme. But in fact they had been at it for weeks before. Bernard Guetta talks about "... désastre irakien ... chaos ...le président iranien, invitant les présidents syrien et irakien à venir s’entretenir avec lui, ce week-end...  Le rendez-vous de ce week-end est un camouflet [snub] de première grandeur pour les États-Unis. " (21 Nov 2006, 'Le sommet de Téhéran')

By the way, when Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish President of Iraq, criticized the report, the BBC correspondent described this as "an extraordinary outburst" and suddenly the office of President had become "largely ceremonial".

According to Guetta again, with his "it has, but...", Tony Blair shows how hard it is to quarrel about  'ce mot si justifié de « désastre »', but refuses to recognize that 'sa décision d’intervenir en Irak aux côtés des Etats-Unis était, en elle-même, un désastre'. (20 novembre 2006, 'Blair et le « désastre » irakien')

On the memo, written by national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, which said that while Mr. Maliki seemed to have good intentions when talking with Americans, “the reality on the streets suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what’s going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient” to transform his good intentions into actions.(NYT, 'Iraq’s Premier Abruptly Skips a Bush Session', 30 Nov), Dominique Bromberger commented "Muni de ce mémo, [George] W [Bush] prend l'avion pour Amman, mais, quand il y arrive hier soir, Maliki n'est pas au rendez-vous. Et c'est seulement ce matin que le chef du gouvernement irakien accepte de le rencontrer." ('George Bush', 30 Nov) But you really needed to have heard the sneering tone in which that was said. The piece ends with a typical whinge about the powerlessness of Europe: "L'unique superpuissance navigue dans une tempête qu'elle a elle-même provoquée. L'équipage tente d'alerter le capitaine mais celui-ci ne veut rien entendre. Et nous, nous n'y pouvons rien.

Baker/Hamilton's call for a direct dialogue with Iran and Syria, and for direct involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict is for Bromberger "la condamnation définitive de la politique pensée par les néoconservateurs et mise en œuvre par George Walker Bush." ('George W Bush et le plan Baker', 6 Dec)

En offrant l’Irak aux chiites et, par là même à l’Iran, l’intervention américaine a totalement bouleversé le Proche-Orient. (Bernard Guetta, 'Contre l’Iran, l’alliance israélo-arabe', 15 Dec) There is, though, an inescapable fact: those Shi'a, to whom the country have been given, are the majority of the people of Iraq.

There was one remark of Guetta's which I think was particularly, if unintentionally, revealing: 'Il se passe ce qui devait se passer, ce que les plus clairvoyants avaient vu et que les aveugles, Tony Blair et Georges Bush, n’avaient pas voulu voir malgré les mises en garde de tant de pays dont la France et l’Allemagne.' ('Blair et le « désastre » irakien') If the neo-conservatives were too optimistic, thinking that because the "cause was right", everything would go well after the invasion of Iraq, without the need for planning or the hard work of rebuilding a post-Saddam state, then surely the converse is also true: the way that people like the French commentators describe everything in Iraq as being as bad as possible - not that things are not bad enough as it is - to assert that there is no hope of the situation improving, is because of their compulsion to prove that they were right - "that which was bound to happen is happening".
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More of the same on 6 Dec 2006 on 'l'invité d'Inter' ('Tournant de la politique étrangère américaine?'), from Robert Malley - former adviser to Bill Clinton and now the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director: 'tellement la situation an Irak est désastreuse... il ne faut plus considérer ce gouvernement Irakien comme le représentant légitime du consensus Irakien, mais comme une des parties [sic] au conflit...'

Kind of enough to put you off the ICG. Unfortunately, Rob Malley did not hang around to take questions from listeners. This was left to François Heisbourg (conseiller spécial de la Fondation pour la recherche scientifique): 'Robert Gates fait partie [..] de la génération de Bush père, ce qu'on appelle parfois aux États-Unis les adultes (chuckle from interviewer), par opposition aux enfants dont [..] l'actuel président américain et donc un début de retour a une vision une peu plus réaliste des choses.'

Bernard Guetta highlights the call for «des discussions directes avec et entre Israël, le Liban, la Syrie et ceux des Palestiniens qui acceptent le droit à l’existence d’Israël » 7 décembre 2006, Une bombe nommée Baker ('direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria') But there's the rub: the Hamas government does not accept Israel’s right to exist (though maybe some formula of words can be found).

This is not about destroying the influence of the neo-conservatives, and has not been for the last two years. If you don't like the expression "staying the course", you may find what John McCain says, "we must prevail", a more acceptable format. It is not certain that we will prevail, though the consequences of not doing so would be highly negative. And it is not entirely in 'our' hands, but we should do everything in our power to support the Iraqis, in the hope that some sort of government representative of the majority can be sustained. 

As for engagement with Iran, some softening of US rhetoric on 'regime change' would indeed be welcome. But Iran, for example, could be offered support for joining the WTO and aircraft parts how often their 'planes crash), but what they really (this is no trivial thing, when you considerseem to want is a nuclear programme that would come dangerously close to providing the capability of building a weapon. And here, not only the EU, but also Russia and China, agree that this would not be a good thing. The only dispute is what action should be taken to prevent it.

Similarly, it may be possible to talk to Syria about some things, but what they may really want is to regain control in Lebanon.

Further, although agreement between Israel and the Palestinians may be a good thing in itself, it is hard to see that even if peace were achieved there, it would solve Iraq's problems overnight.
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I had a quick skim through the report itself: one passage I noted was the same one that Gregory Djerejian (whose father Edward had a hand in the report) highlighted with various bolds, italics and underlining: 
A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals. (my emphasis)
As always, understatement is so much more effective than screaming.

* I did actually write this before the American president used a similar phrase - "the US was neither winning nor losing" (interview with The Washington Post, 19 Dec).

Postscript: I heard a programme on Radio France Inter at 7:15 on Saturday (9 Dec 2006). This is not a time I normally listen to French radio, but what I heard was so appalling that I tracked down the MP3 download on its website. The programme was called 'Contradictoires' and was mediated by Pierre Weill. Ironically, it was billed as "2 personnalités, 2 points de vue opposés sur le fait d’actualité de la semaine".  But the two, Claude Cabanes from the Communist paper, l'Humanité and Pierre Rousselin of the more conservative Le Figaro, said more or less the same thing! It starts with Cabanes saying that there does not seem to be sign of a change in direction (along the lines indicated by Baker/Hamilton), since the US military had just launched attacks on insurgents and "the English" had also carried out a big operation in Basra (which seems to have gone pretty well, by most accounts). 

As for the rest, I will content myself with transcribing, largely without comment, in the original, the language that was once widely thought of as facilitating clarity of thought:
PW: le plan Baker … vise à sortir les États-Unis du bourbier Irakien...
CC: ...il permet au peuple Américain de regarder le vérité en face ... cette guerre est un désastre absolu après avoir été déclaré sur un mensonge ... en 2003 ce sont les autres qui avaient raison et pas l'Amérique. ...
PR: c'est un virage a 180 degrés que propose James Baker... [Pour les Démocrates] il ne faut pas non plus que cela devienne une débâcle politique nationale...
PW: le rapport Baker dit, il faut négocier avec la Syrie et L'Iran: c'est vraiment une humiliation pour Bush...
CC: je lis tous les jours, il faut aider les États-Unis à sortir du bourbier, mais je n'ai pas du tout envie d'aider George Bush à quoi que ce soit franchement. Par contre, j'ai envie d'aider le peuple Irakien à se libérer d'une armée d'occupation étrangère…. Il faut que l'Amérique répare les dégâts : elle a détruit une nation ... l'Amérique a voulu du pétrole, elle vole du pétrole. … Il va falloir que l'Amérique rende le pétrole qu'elle a volé aux Irakiens.
PR: …il n'y a pas beaucoup de pétrole qui sorte d’Irak.... Il faut … que les États-Unis trouvent un moyen de sortir du bourbier Irakien...

PW: comment rendre ce départ des troupes américains possible sans livrer l’Irak au chaos...
CC: … peut-être la constitution d’une nouvelle force militaire qui ne soit pas suspecte… avec par exemple des Allemands, des Français, des Chinois... on voit bien que il y a maintenant une résistance qui s’organise contre la domination américaine dans le monde : on l’a vue en Amérique latine avec l’élection de Chavez…
PR: …je ne suis pas loin de partager cet idée-là, mais en nuançant dans la mesure où il faut faire la différence entre George Bush et un certain entourage de néoconservateurs qui sont sur le déclin et qui ont souffert un défaite sanglante en Irak.
CC: oui!
 PW : Saddam Hussein, il doit avoir le sourire au fond de sa prison…?
CC: …c’est un tyran qui aurait mérité un vrai procès … au lieu de cette caricature de tribunal, tribunal des vainqueurs, quoi...
I will pass quickly over the bits about the US stealing Iraq's oil - even the BBC does not give much space to people expressing that sort of view these days. The most hilarious suggestion concerns the formation of an international force that would be more acceptable to the Iraqis. It would be nice if the French, Germans and so on would get involved. But I wouldn't hold your breath. 

Note: so, I've finally finished this post, over a month late. Up-to-dateness is not something to be expected from this weblog,  but we hope to provide a quality service. 

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