Togetherness In Baghdad
A surreal facet of the Iraq fiasco is the lag between when a fact
becomes obvious and when the fiasco's architects acknowledge it.
*By George F. Will*
Nov. 6, 2006 issue - Many months ago it became obvious to all but the
most ideologically blinkered that America is losing the war launched to
deal with a chimeric problem (an arsenal of WMD) and to achieve a
delusory goal (a democracy that would inspire emulation, transforming
the region). Last week the president retired his mantra "stay the
course" because it does not do justice to the nimbleness and subtlety of
U.S. tactics for winning the war.
between when a fact becomes obvious and when the fiasco's architects
acknowledge that fact. Iraq's civil war has been raging for more than a
year; so has the Washington debate about whether it is what it is.
In a recent interview with Vice President Cheney, Time magazine asked,
"If you had to take back any one thing you'd said about Iraq, what would
it be?" Selecting from what one hopes is a /very /long list, Cheney
replied: "I thought that the elections that we went through in '05 would
have had a bigger impact on the level of violence than they have ... I
thought we were over the hump in terms of violence. I think that was
He /thinks/ so? Clearly, and weirdly, he implies that the elections had
/some/ positive impact on the level of violence. Worse, in the full
transcript of the interview posted online he said the big impact he
expected from the elections "hasn't happened yet." "Yet"? Doggedness can
be admirable, but this is clinical.
Anyway, what Cheney actually said /17 months ago/ was that the
insurgency was in its "last throes." That was much stronger than saying
we were "over the hump" regarding violence. Beware of people who
misquote themselves while purporting to display candor.
The latest plan to pacify Baghdad—announced in June, declared a failure
in October—was called Operation Together Forward. But U.S.-Iraqi
togetherness is a sometime thing. Last April, The Washington Post's
Jonathan Finer reported from Hawijah, Iraq, on a joint patrol to search
for roadside bombs. The Iraqis refused to ride in armored U.S. Humvees,
preferring pickup trucks because a cleric told them that anyone killed
in an "occupier vehicle" would not go to heaven. Eventually, after
threatening them with jail, U.S. Army Lt. Aaron Tapalman browbeat them
"About an hour later, the patrol came across a white bag on the roadside
that Tapalman suspected might contain a bomb. When he asked some Iraqi
soldiers to move it off the road, their commander balked, saying it
wasn't his job. 'It is your job to protect the people,' Tapalman said,
increasingly exasperated. 'I can go and move it myself, and you know
what? I will, but don't you think your people should see you doing that
kind of stuff? Someday we're not going to be here anymore.' The Iraqi
soldier declined again, apologetically, and drove away."
A mordant joke told during the Cold War concerned asking an Italian, a
Frenchman, an Englishman and a Russian to each describe his most
cherished dream. The Italian said, "I want my country to produce the
greatest artists." The Frenchman said, "I want my nation to produce the
greatest philosophers." The Englishman said, "I want my country to
produce the greatest parliamentarians." The Russian said, "I want my
neighbor's cow to die."
The joke was no laughing matter because it turned on this truth: A
history of brutalizing tyranny had stunted the Russians' aptitude for
collective aspirations. Which brings us back to Iraq, which Patrick J.
McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times covered for two years following the
2003 invasion. He recently returned. His Oct. 23 report ( "Into the
Abyss of Baghdad") begins:
"I keep seeing his face. He appears to be in his mid-20s, bespectacled,
slightly bearded, and somehow his smile conveys a sense of prosperity to
come. Perhaps he is set to marry, or enroll in graduate school, or
launch a business—all these flights of ambition seem possible. In the
next few images he is encased in plastic: His face is frozen in a
ghoulish grimace. Blackened lesions blemish his neck. 'Drill holes,'
says Col. Khaled Rasheed, an Iraqi commander who is showing me the set
Electric drills are the death squads' preferred instruments of torture.
"One evening I accompanied a three-Humvee convoy of MPs through largely
Shiite east Baghdad ... The objective that evening was to patrol with
Iraqi police, but the Iraqi lawmen are hesitant to be seen with
Americans, whom they regard as IED [improvised explosive device]
magnets. The joint patrol never worked out ... The next night, an
armor-piercing bomb hit the same squad, Gator 1-2. A sergeant with whom
I had ridden the previous evening lost a leg; the gunner and driver
suffered severe shrapnel wounds."