• Otter Views: Middle East Fracturing

    Two horrific photos and an infuriating opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal reminded me that it might be a long time coming, but history eventually trumps propaganda.

    The photos included a front page shocker showing black-masked Islamic militants executing captured Iraqi security forces. Faces in the dirt and arms outflung, the barefoot Iraqi troops lie in a shallow ditch opposite a line of jihadists aiming AK-47s.

    The photo could have been faked, but the accompanying report sug- gested otherwise. It cited government estimates that “hundreds” of Iraqi soldiers and Air Force cadets had been rounded up and shot to death as Sunni militants stormed toward Baghdad early this week.

    Equally unsettling was a photo from Herat in Afghanistan, where the final round of presidential voting took place Saturday. Five sorrowful men sit on a hospital bed with their heavily bandaged left hands upraised. Because they had participated in the election, the men were reportedly captured by the Taliban and had their purple-stained first fingers severed.

    In the past decade, the U.S. has squandered a trillion dollars and countless lives in a doomed campaign to foster Western-style democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was the vision of the self-styled “neo- conservatives” who used the 9-11 attack to justify invading and occupying both countries. When doubts arose about Iraq’s participation in 9-11, the neo-cons orchestrated a “weapons of mass destruction” propaganda campaign that stampeded the U.S. and its allies into war.

    The propaganda worked so well it continued for years. In hindsight, the signature expressions of the neo-con era seem insultingly false, brazen and arrogant, but a war-hungry U.S. media and public lapped them up at the time.

    Remember “the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud”? How about “Shock and Awe” and “Mission Accomplished”? Recall the 52-card deck of Saddam Hussein associates? And “yellow cake uranium” from Niger? The swift eviction of Taliban fighters from Afghanistan? The “de- Baathification” campaign that would enshrine democracy in Iraq?

    Thankfully, most neo-cons who uttered and promoted these shame- ful canards have kept a low profile, as well they should. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet and their ilk were heroes after 9-11, but history will not remember them kindly. The less heard from them, the better.

    One neo-con still manning the ramparts is L. Paul Bremer, who penned an opinion piece in the same issue of the Wall Street Journal that carried Monday’s brutal Iraq and Afghanistan photos. While not as widely known as other architects of America’s post-9/11 war policy, Bremer administered perhaps its most disastrous single element.

    This was the foolhardy “de-Baathification” of Iraq’s military and civil service undertaken in the year following “mission accomplished.” As the U.S. special envoy to Iraq, the inexperienced Bremer rashly ignored more seasoned and prudent advisors familiar with Iraqi culture. In a matter of months, he enacted policies that stripped Iraq’s most prominent Sunni Muslims of their jobs, pride and future prospects.

    As much as anything, Bremer’s inept and high-handed mismanagement of post-invasion Iraqi governance lit the fuse for Sunni-Shiite (and U.S. military) bloodletting to come. Thus, it was particularly galling to read Bremer shedding crocodile tears for “those families who lost loved ones there. They gave so much. It is all at risk.”

    Not surprisingly, Bremer blames the Obama administration’s military drawdown for fomenting the current crisis in Iraq. And in true neo-con war hawk fashion, Bremer declares: “It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of ‘no boots on the ground.’”

    Continues Bremer: “The crisis in Iraq is a flashing warning light about the dangers of a reductionist national security policy that sends a signal of weakness to friends and enemies abroad. The most immediate crisis is in Mesopotamia. But we can be sure that the Taliban in Afghanistan are watching closely to see if the withdrawal of American forces comes to mean American indifference.”

    Incredible. A dozen years after plunging America and its allies into two long, bloody, ruinous Mid-East occupations, one neo-con is still beating the drums for war. Get over it, L. Paul. We’ve seen that movie, it ends very badly, and your people produced it.

    In their defense, Bremer’s neo-cons and the subsequent Obama administration are not alone in misreading the byzantine religious, ethnic and tribal tectonics of the Middle East. Now out in paperback, Scott Anderson’s 2013 best seller “Lawrence in Arabia” shows how profoundly Britain, Russia, Germany, Turkey, France and the U.S. underestimated the chaos their Mid East machinations would unleash.

    That was 100 years ago. One hundred years from now, the “incantation” history will likely remember about our disastrous meddling in the region will not be anything L. Paul Bremer had to say. Rather, it will be Colin Powell’s prophetic Pottery Barn admonition: “You break it, you own it.” What’s happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan might not have been preventable, but it was foreseeable. Instead, we let propaganda trump history, and that only works in the short run. In the long run, we broke it.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 20, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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