A Baghdadi Conundrum
On the same page one can view an image of Jay Leno smiling in a convertible with the headline “Life needs more laughter”. More laughter indeed!
Two parallel narratives of Iraq currently populate our mainstream media, each claiming to represent the truth, yet both mutually exclusive of one another. On the one hand the Obama Administration claims (and our newspapers echo) that the situation in Iraq has markedly improved. We are endlessly informed of the “remarkable turnaround” in Iraq – the quiet streets, the reduced violence, and the returning refugees. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary Gates has committed to withdrawing 15,000 troops by the end of the year, with all “combat brigades” to exit by 2011. Publicly, our administration has stated that Iraq has begun to “take care of itself” and that US troops are no longer needed. Privately, they admit that the real focus of our Mid-East adventures has shifted to Afghanistan and that the reason for the Iraqi drawdown is to provide infantry for an Afghani buildup (17,000 extra soldiers already deployed with more on the way).
The Times, The Post, and various other newspapers have lent credibility to the idea of Iraqi stability with endless human-interest pieces on the resurgence of civil life in Iraq, now that the guns have fallen silent. View, for instance, this delightful little story on the finer points of Iraqi fish-roasting. And, of course, the endless op-ed pieces which begin with the premise that “the surge has worked” and continue their arguments from there. Ross Douhat gives a memorable line in a recent Times article: “Plenty of war-skeptics are unconvinced that Iraq’s recent stabilization will deliver a happy outcome in the long run. But the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal, which is what the war’s critics have wanted all along — so why rock the boat?” It is important to note here the assumption of “recent stabilization” and the bald assertion that “the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal”, as if those were facts only the most staid contrarian would dispute. Later he speaks of the “current [Iraqi] consensus” in much the same tone.
And yet the actual dispatches coming from Iraq paint a far different picture. Every week we hear of a new string of bombings in Iraq, “apparently intended to inflame sectarian passions”, as the Times puts it. (Here is a list of all major attacks in Iraq this year.) I think it safe to say such “passions” have long since been inflamed. So on one hand we have the official line espoused by the Obama Administration that we’ve seen “real improvement” in Iraq and that “the surge worked”. On the other we have the bombs that are still going off with alarming frequency. Taken together they paint a rather confusing picture of Iraq in 2009.
The key to deciphering these cryptic reports – indeed, to deciphering nearly all US dealings in the Middle East – is oil, always oil. The violence in Iraq concerned us in 2005-2008 because the US-installed Maliki government was still unsure of itself and still a bit wary to make deals regarding oil. Well Maliki has since fallen nicely into place, the lucrative oil contracts have already been made, and most importantly, Maliki has shown resilience to the various forces attempting to depose him. He’s our man in Iraq, and he’s not going anywhere. So let the Iraqis carry on their bloody feud! Let them blow one another up! As long as our man is in power and the oil still flows into US hands, what does it matter?
Afghanistan, however, tells a different story. The oil there flows through the geopolitically vital, and now precariously placed, Central Asia Pipeline. The Karzai government has not shown a tenth of the resilience of Maliki, though he has surely made up for that in obedience. Clearly he needs help. And so we put a veneer over Iraq, ignoring the reality that nothing has been solved there, in order that we may draw soldiers out to help our friend in Afghanistan.
The contempt for life which the US government displays on a daily basis is nothing short of appalling. But even more insidious, if a bit less deadly, is its continuous contempt for the truth.