Thursday, May 11, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (5/11/06)


Civil war? What civil war? We Americans have the happy faculty of seeing the bright side of everything. This quality is only exceeded by our willingness to allow public officials to con us with misinformation. Immediately after former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi pronounced that his country was engaged in a civil war, administration talking heads fanned out across the networks to deny this on talk shows and portray our occupation of Iraq as a fabulous success story. In the face of growing sectarian and ethnic violence, the President continues to insist that Iraq is not in the throes of a civil war.

The public knows differently--and has said so in polls that have caused George W. Bush's numbers to plummet. Mounting evidence reveals that the administration began a preemptive war against Iraq without a coherent plan for the postwar occupation or the security and rebuilding of that benighted country. Nor did it prepare for the protection and preservation of Iraq's infrastructure or for sealing off its borders. And it totally ignored three decades of British experience dating from the 1920s and the country's bitter history of longstanding tribal, ethnic and religious tensions.

Mr. Allawi knows whereof he speaks. An ex-Baathist and a longtime CIA and administration favorite, he was literally installed by Washington as prime minister. "We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," he observed. "If this is not a civil war, then God knows what civil war is." In a BBC interview, he declared that Iraq is rapidly moving toward what he called "the point of no return." Predicting eventual dismemberment, he warned, "It will not only fall apart but sectarianism will spread throughout the region, and even Europe and the United States will not be spared the violence that results."

Just as the U.S. has no plan for extricating itself from the Iraq mess, it apparently has no yardstick to determine whether a civil war exists there. One widely accepted definition holds that it's a civil war if at least one thousand are dead (with at least one hundred on each side) from internal hostilities in which one side tries violently to change the state or its policies. The Brookings Institution in Washington estimates that between 12,000 and 20,000 Iraqis have been killed violently since major combat operations ended on April 30, 2003.

Administration leaders have said that it is imperative that Iraqis form an operating government immediately, forgetting that it took the fledgling United States five years to ratify an imperfect Articles of Confederation. According to informed intelligence experts, the Iraqi central government is pitted against an insurgent force distributed in some 50 distinct cells, ranging from secular Arab nationalists to hard-line Islamic fundamentalists. Numbering some 20,000 to 30,000 part-time guerrillas now, including many former Baathist army officers and disaffected young Arab nationalists, they strike with impunity in seven of Iraq's eighteen provinces. Urban centers like Ramadi and Samarra and even Baghdad, whose six million inhabitants constitute a quarter of Iraq's population, give the appearance of being under the control of security forces by day, By night, they are in the tight grip of shadowy guerrilla armies roaming at will.

Provincial governors, council members, police chiefs, intelligence officers and elected officials have been routinely killed or have resigned in fear when family members have been kidnapped. Tit-for-tat bombing of Sunni and Shiite mosques culminated on February 22 of this year in the bombing of the gold-domed al-Askari shrine, one of Shiism's holiest sites. By any definition, it's a civil war.

Imagine a United States in which Roman Catholics and Protestants, two major branches of the Christian religion, are fighting. In one part of the country, an ethnic group, say Swedes in Minnesota, is bent on expelling members of the other two groups who were forcibly settled there. In metropolitan areas all across the country, ethnic and religious cleansing is taking place. Majority groups are attacking minority groups, causing them to retreat from mixed neighborhoods where they have lived in comparative peace for centuries. Imagine an America torn by violence, instability and chaos. Death strikes anywhere and at any time. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York has been bombed, resulting in retaliation and destruction of Protestant churches. In urban areas, fanatical suicide bombers turn churches and supermarkets into death traps. Devastated public services--water, sewage and electricity--are sporadic and unreliable. Everyday life has an improvised, unreal and tentative quality. The only constants are the sounds of ambulance sirens and of exploding bombs improvised from munitions looted from National Guard armories.

In the above scenario, for Catholics, Protestants, Swedes, read Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and you have an approximation of Iraq today. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has announced that if Iraq collapses into civil war, the U.S. won't get drawn into it. Iraqi forces of questionable competence and doubtful loyalty will have to deal with it while American troops sit it out. A civil war patently has been underway in Iraq for a long time, yet Washington is reluctant to characterize the continuing carnage as civil war.

More than three years into this unpopular war, our undermanned occupation forces--some in their third, morale-breaking tour of duty--are being systematically picked off and killed or maimed in a war of attrition costing us $60 billion a year. Escape from this impasse can only come when we recognize the futility of trying to reshape the world in our image under the cloak of an endless "war on terror." Meanwhile, we allowed Osama bin Laden, the villain we should have been be seeking all along, to remain secure in the mountain fastnesses of Pakistan and plot new 9/11 attacks and issue taped messages to his emboldened followers.

The sooner we awaken to the truth and plan an exit strategy, the closer we will come to devising a rational Middle East policy--one that takes into account the grim realities of that part of the world. The supreme irony is that had we not meddled with the hopeless stew of tribes, religions and cultures that is Iraq, we would not now be paying astronomical prices for gasoline. What goes around comes around.

Whose minding the store? In a May 16, 2005, resolution, Croton's village board proposed to honor all veterans by changing the name of Gateway Plaza, the village-owned station parking area, to Veterans Plaza, with individual interior roads to be given the names of individual veterans who have not yet been honored. A new street sign has been erected at the intersection of the road leading to the station parking lot and Croton Point Avenue. It reads "Veteran's Plaza," a grammatically possessive usage that denominates the area as dedicated to a single unnamed veteran.

Croton has already shown that it knows better. A grammatically correct sign can be seen at the so-called "five corners" where Cleveland Drive, Old Post Road South and Radnor Avenue intersect. It properly reads "Veterans Corners." Omitting the apostrophe before or after the final letter of Veterans takes it out of the realm of the possessive and makes it what grammarians call an attributive usage. Examples of the latter are Teachers Union or Carpenters Union.

Name dropping. Although the name of Mary, Jesus' mother, is mentioned 19 times in the Bible, it is mentioned 34 times in the Koran.

Will somebody please get Condi a dictionary? She doesn't know the difference between strategy and tactics. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Bush national security advisor and one of the architects of the unpopular Iraq war, told a forum in Blackburn, England, "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I am sure." The military's definition of a tactical mission is "a specific movement against an enemy target," and U.S. troops have not lost a single tactical engagement on the ground in Iraq. Many mistakes have indeed been made--mind-boggling whoppers--but these have all been at the strategic and political level.

Nuclear testing. The number of persons in the public eye who continue to mispronounce the word "nuclear" is astonishing. Nobody should be allowed to run for public office or even to speak in public if they pronounce nuclear as NEW-KEW-LAH instead of NEW-KLEE-ARE.


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