A Chorus and an Alibi
No nationally prominent widely circulated periodical -- absolutely none -- has nailed the Bush administration's criminal misadventures and grotesque incompetence in waging war against Iraq so early or so absolutely right, and in such factual depth, as The New Yorker Magazine. Largely due, I imagine, to the editorial directorship of Hendrick Herzberg, its "Talk of the Town" weekly column and in-depth articles by more than a dozen superb journalists -- all of which remain archived for on-line reading -- the magazine has been a mainmast of reason to which we could lash ourselves while so many other Americans, lazy journalists among them, were being seduced by neocon Sirens.
More times than they will admit, several of the better reporters for daily newspapers and wire services rather obviously have taken cues for their own story ideas from the ground-breaking reporting and analysis of Seymour Hersh and other New Yorker contributors. I can do no better, too, than borrow heavily from the most recent on-line New Yorker issue which has a pointed "Talk of the Town" comment by Phillip Gourevitch that puts the Falluja fighting in its proper context:
Falluja appears emblematic of the larger American venture in Iraq, where military superiority has yet to purchase political order. Much of the city was reduced to rubble, and the fighting was not finished when the General claimed victory: even as Iraqi corpse collectors and American reconstruction assessors went to work, marines kept killing and getting killed while trying to mop up neighborhoods that they thought they’d mopped up the day before. “I am here,” a defiant insurgent leader told the Washington Post. “You can see me.” Indeed, his comrades were suddenly to be seen all over Iraq. As Falluja fell, the insurgents struck in Baghdad and Baiji and Balad and Baquba and Buhritz and Hawija and Hit and Iskandariyah and Mosul and Qaim and Ramadi and Samarra and Tall Afar and Tikrit. * * * [T]here never was a serious plan for after the invasion, since planning would have involved a realistic assessment of risks—the sort of cautionary vision that Colin Powell’s State Department represented within the Administration, and which Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon brushed aside. Rumsfeld believed that Iraq’s old order of tyranny could be dismantled and replaced by democracy on the cheap and on the fly, with just half the number of troops that top military commanders recommended. Rumsfeld was wrong—the experiment has resulted in disaster. In this respect, too, the battle for Falluja is a microcosm of the over-all Iraqi predicament: as an attempt to compensate for the ceding of the city to the insurgents last April, it is less a measure of progress than a corrective to past blunders.The immediate point of Gourevitch's latest article is not that January elections in Iraq almost certainly cannot go forward as scheduled, as some are now reporting. It is that precisely because of what Bush's cabinet reshuffling signals, it just won't matter.
When Falluja is seen in the broader context of Bush's deep character flaws and his failure to learn from past mistakes, there is little ground for hoping things will improve in Iraq. Indeed, the likelihood is no matter how long, or how many of, our troops stay in Iraq the end result will be failure so long as Bush remains in office.
For six months, the war was placed on hold while George W. Bush campaigned for a second term. He won, even though most Americans, including leaders in his own party, believe that he has mishandled Iraq. Bush... might have taken his election as an opportunity to approach Iraq with a fresh hand. Instead, he has chosen to pretend that his failed policies now enjoy a popular mandate, and, while the fighting raged in Falluja, he retooled his Cabinet to consolidate power in the hands of the advisers -- Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzales, Stephen Hadley, and Rumsfeld -- most intimately associated with the war’s most ill-conceived strategies. Instead of a Cabinet, Bush now has a chorus, and, in lieu of a policy, he has an alibi: Iraq is a sovereign state again, and America is there only to support the interim President, Iyad Allawi. (According to this conceit, Bush -- who accused John Kerry of scheming to subject American military actions to international approval -- did not send the Marines into Falluja; he merely allowed them to fight there on Allawi’s orders.)I respect and admire the patriotic dedication of our soldiers, as well as the unqualified support their loved ones offer them. But we should also pine for them because the terrible sacrifices they are prepared to make, and the tregedy many will suffer, are all in vain as long as we have a president who seeks a "chorus" of yes-men instead of a cabinet and phony "alibis" instead of sound policies.
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[T]he trouble in Iraq is not an indigenous incapacity for freedom and self-rule. The trouble is with the way that Bush imagined he could impose those blessings [of freedom and democracy] on such a vexed country -- as if simply to be invaded by America is a form of salvation. "First we blow up your house, then we pay you to rebuild it," a colonel in Falluja told the Times, while Marine intelligence officers warned that the devastation of the city makes it fertile ground for a reinvigorated insurgency. In Falluja, as in Iraq as a whole, the challenge is to maintain sufficient control to be able to repair the damage that military victory has inflicted. Judging from the Administration’s record, that will be the hard part.