Foiling a war, failing a peace


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 05 Sep 2004

By Bunn Negara

A note of triumph pervades the Republican Party this week after a party convention had been conducted successfully as advertised.Now George W. Bush looks set to win another presidential term, this time by election, as a “peace president” following a stint as a war president

THE Republican Party convention itself was planned as meticulously as any al-Qaeda operation. The initial stages were set by party moderates as the human face of conservatism, followed by neo-conservative attack dogs savaging the enemy, topped off by a wizened, paternal Bush that would take these elements to a harmonious union. 

Besides these obvious displays of stage management, there had been a much-publicised scare just three weeks before. Terrorist targets were said to include the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup Center in Manhattan, frightening New Yorkers physically, psychologically and financially – but fitting nicely into conference plans. 

Then the conference itself portrayed Bush as a “strong president” best suited to lead the country in an age of terror. One problem, however, was that the information on an impending terrorist attack was four years old, some of it predating even Sept 11, 2001. 

This “latest” information came via Pakistan, following the arrest of two al-Qaeda suspects in early August. Although authorities in Islamabad were stingy on the details, such as the identities of the suspects and their intended targets, Republican publicists lost no time in spinning some specifics of the undated plans to portray New York as prone to an imminent terrorist attack. 

But government business, as opposed to party proceedings, could have benefited more from an honest assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that so vividly coloured the Republican Party convention – even if this would have compromised the gung-ho mood. 

The American author and former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter provided valuable information on these events in early July, but few in Washington took notice because his observations did not gel as nicely with conference preparations as some indeterminate four-year-old plans of captive suspects. 

Ritter discovered that the Iraqi insurgency had been planned by Saddam Hussein years in advance, that it was not necessarily Islamist or Ba’athist in nature, and that it was being directed by key Saddam loyalists. 

He also identified US occupation as the main rationale and target of the insurgency, observed that the interim government was doomed, found that Washington continued to misunderstand the situation, and said the insurgency would grow whether or not more troops were sent to Iraq. 

Naturally, little of this was compatible with the Republican Party’s triumph in New York. Likewise, the party’s mood of self-congratulation was incompatible with the realities in Iraq or in US leadership elsewhere, including the US. 

In case anyone may still be interested in security, such as security agencies between bouts of anxiety, introspection, politicking and just trying to survive, some of the main points on the subject are as follows. 

The continuing Iraqi insurgency is a chameleon-like phenomenon, which explains its seeming ebb and flow and frequent changes of form. This has camouflaged its true nature, while sowing confusion and misapprehension in Washington. 

Saddam’s savvy had foreseen the prospect of a US invasion and occupation, so he planned ahead for these contingencies. His decades-long rule also helped to build a widespread anti-occupation infrastructure more deeply set and much less visible than any defensive bunker. 

Besides a personality cult, Ba’athism, a populist socialism and Arab nationalism, Saddam had courted and co-opted Islamism, tribalism and a people’s struggle to prolong his rule. Since the 1990s, he experimented with whatever timely or opportune movement to help assure or extend his power. 

The recent government face-off with the Mehdi army in Najaf is only one of several serious cracks in a post-Saddam façade. At stake are the interim government’s integrity and the occupying forces’ credibility, both already compromised with other recent clashes in Fallujah and Ramadi. 

Each uprising boasts its own local flavour – in the setting, costumes, characters and language – and the US media pounce on these details as proof of identity for the specific group concerned.  

All this helps to hide the true face of the insurgency as a widespread and robust popular movement, a point lost on political incumbents anyway because it is politically inconvenient. 

Soon after the US invasion of March 20 last year, observers were surprised by the seeming lack of resistance by Saddam’s much-vaunted Republican Guard. These elite troops did not surrender or disintegrate; they merely merged into the background, regrouped, and morphed into post-war insurgents. 

As part of preparations for a people’s war, Saddam distributed millions of firearms in his regime’s final days. These grassroots holdouts have since comprised the popular uprisings – it was what Saddam meant when he warned of “unconventional means” to repel the invaders upon the eve of Baghdad’s fall. 

Where US policymakers took any notice at all, they took it to mean Iraqi retaliation by WMDs. But just as Saddam had used the thought of Iraqi WMDs as a deterrent against invasion, he used mass-based firearms as an actual means of resisting an occupation. 

It is often easier to pander to prevailing views and official doctrine than allow new or different thoughts to set in, especially in a US rushing from a war to an election. But if governments were more concerned with governing than politicking, more drastic changes are due in Washington than have been dreamt up by any panel of inquiry so far. 

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