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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Saddam Hung by al-Sadr's People; Americans Branded for War

Saddam's Death

A poor quality cellphone video reveals an awkward verbal confrontation in Saddam's last moments. Saddam's killers are heard saying "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" in reference to Radical Iman Muqtada al-Sadr.

Black-masked followers of al-Sadr somehow found their way into the Green Zone to carry out the election. The executioners were likely Shia sympathetic to the politically powerful al-Sadr, and seized on the opportunity to give the cleric credit for removing Saddam.

The stage was quite literally set to end Saddam's life in the most ignominious fashion possible. The video of the execution attests to an underlying barbarism; Saddam is mocked, his last few moments despoiled by the murderous crew of masked hang-throats.

The executioners' reference to al-Sadr appears quite intense. It's as of they wanted to demean Saddam by glorifying the Shia faith as represented in the politically powerful cleric.

In an inflammatory gesture, Saddam's death coincided with the beginning of Islam's holiest holiday. The reaction to Saddam's death was potentially far more volatile by virtue of its falling on the holy holiday of Eid.

There is no reason to believe the Iraqi government would have risked worsening the reaction. The Iraqis in control are incapable of controlling the media and security at the execution. Even worse, the handling of Saddam's execution may mean control of the government has gone over to al-Sadr and his fundamentalist faction.

Shia, who suffered disproportionally under Saddam's reign, are clearly less displeased with the timing of the execution.

The execution happened in the Green Zone. This is also an indicator that the security environment under Iraqi government control has been compromised. It's unclear when the Iraqis first gained custody of Saddam. Was Saddam's first contact with fellow Iraqis were those in masks?

U.S. officials clearly weren't willing to risk transferring Saddam over to Iraqi control, if we are to presume the Green Zone is controlled by the US military.

The US may have been wise not to give Saddam over to the Iraqis, judging from the lynching-type atmosphere and lack of order to the proceeding. Had a formal body of authority such as the Iraqi military been assigned control over the execution, it would have certainly been a more orderly dispensation of justice.

Muqtada al-Sadr prominence in the execution shows the scope of radical Islamic fundamentalist influence throughout the Iraq government. If the the system for enforcing justice has deteriorated, Shia must dominate the Courts, if not the Army and all branches of government. And mentioning Muqtada specifically brings into focus the extent of Sadr's power. Sunnis and perhaps evem more problematically, Kurds may be excluded from wielding true political capital.

If the Iraqi government has become so dominated by the Shia, Sunnis in the country are collectively vulnerable. With no political authority, Sunni are deprived their right to the fair administration of justice. Starved of justice, Sunnis are more likely to resolve their disputes with the ruling Shia through expressions of extreme violence.

Shia would argue that Saddam had his day in court but the execution hinted at more.
The executorial antics ritualize the passage of power hierarchy from Saddam and the Sunni to the Shia, personified by al-Sadr. The humiliation of Saddam serves as an exclamation point, clarifying the totality of authority now in the hands of the Shia.

In governing Iraq, the Shia now demand total submission from Sunni, just as Saddam had demanded utter submission to his will from the Shia during his reign. Saddam's humiliated passage was meant to symbolize the reassertion of authority, or the coming to power of Saddam's opposite.

Now of course Sunnis are more sympathetic to Saddam, being that the late dictator shared their faith. One Saudi paper, sympathetic to the dictator, quotes Afghan President Karzai, a Sunni:
"'We wish to say that Eid is a day of happiness and reconciliation. It is not a day for revenge,'' Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace after offering Eid prayers at Kabul's main mosque.'

Sunnis will turn the Saddam death episode into a rallying cry against the Americans on grounds that we infidels violated the holiday, despite the fact Saddam appears to have been hung by his fellow Iraqis, albeit in the Green Zone.

Using a Muslim holy day for an execution may be less of a problem to Saddam-hating Shia. Nonetheless, al-Sadr may not have been too pleased to gain "credit" for his role in bringing Saddam to justice. Perhaps in the twisted reasoning of al-Sadr's fanatical followers, Saddam's death might appear to be a gift to al-Sadr and the Shia from God, and the name branding of their most prominent cleric portend a change of political control over Iraqi not only to the Shia, but al-Sadr's Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI.

The Iranians have made al-Sadr their proxy in Iraq, and Sadr's tenticles on the execution displays Iranian power in Iraq. Through the invasion and resentment generated by the ongoing occupation, Iran has gained in the Muslim world by positioning itself as defender of the faith; through tribal and ethnic commonalities it has extended its infuence over its neighbor Iraq.

Iran needs the US to justify its meddling in Iraqi affairs. The occupation yields a stream of propaganda to feed the mullahs and their cause of radical Islamic fundamentalism. The invasion also brought billions to Iran, money used to reconstruct damage in Lebanon from the war with Israel.

Khaleej Times Online quotes the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei:

"Making Sunnis and Shias suspicious of one another ... is the policy of the Americans in Iraq..."

The Iranians would say the execution was meant to divide Sunni and Shia in Iraq. In response, the US would undoubtedly cast blame for the present state of affairs in Iraq on Iran.

Neocons and Iran

On the 3rd, at about 11:20 AM EST, CNN offered time to Frank Gaffney, a prominent neocon. Gaffney appeared to hedge against the idea of a surge, which indicated that the war's supporters are careful not to make it appear as if more troops are needed to win.

Gaffney reiterated Iraq's sovereignity, which is more concept than an accurate depiction of Iraq today. If the government were really sovereign, it wouldn't need thousands of US troops. Secondly, if the country were independent, it would have been capable of handling Saddam's trial and execution without US involvement.

While Iraq may be capable of managing some aspects of governance, it's clear that the US does not want to entrust the nation with the more vital aspects of security. The ugly end of Saddam's life shows just how chaotic the clearly Shia-dominated government's way of doing things has become. The idea that Iraq can manage its own affairs is ludicrous, so neocons throw out the concept of sovereignity instead, as if it's viable even with the state of anarchy in Iraq today.

Gaffney did point out the "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" reference, labelling Sadr's people as the "Bad Guys." He apparently fails to realize the significance of Sadr's people conducting the execution, which means that Iraq government has been completely infiltrated by the "Bad Guys."

In his January 3rd interview, Gaffney claimed Iran had embarked upon a campaign of colonization. In some ways, he may in fact be right; Iran is the dominant player in Iraq, and is in position to influence Syria and Lebanon. By demonizing Iran in Mainstream Media, neocons hope to target Israel's chief enemy.

As far as neocon policy goals are concerned, a continuation of the war is an achievement in itself. Neocon players managed to make the case the war, then most--Perle, Wolfowitz--have subsequently faded, their goal acheived.

The goal has been destabilization of Israel's enemies. Project for a New American Century and David Wurmser's Clean Break have stated the need to take out Saddam as part of a larger plan to achieve Israeli hegemony over the Middle East. Part I--regime change in Iraq--has been successful, despite the clear inadequacy of our policy there going foward. Part II--destabilization of Iran--has yet to be launched, yet Gaffney and others leap at every chance to blame Iran for our problems in Iraq--problems their pro-war advocacy has essentially created with its absence of post-invasion planning.

Neo-cons have no problem continuing the war if ongoing destabilization to benefit Israel is their goal. Neocons appear to want the US to go to whatever length possible to implement Clean Break, and continue to divide the Middle East ostensibly for Israel's benefit. The costs to the US in lives and treasure is secondary to the security of the State of Israel, so the neocons believe.

Thoroughly infiltrated with neocon supporters, the Media played a prominent role in facilitating the war. By failing to scrutinize the fanciful neocon worldview, the Media has completely gone over to the concept that Iran is the threat to world peace.

As with Iraq, once started a war with Iran or its proxies would let loose a stream of unintended consequences. Again, as with Iraq, the actual progress of such a war would be secondary to the fact Iran would face a direct military confrontation with the United States. Again, while the prospect of a third war in the Middle East may be quite counterproductive for US foreign policy aims, as far as Israel is concerned, Clean Break would be successfully implemented. And the deeper the Americans got mired in the mess, the longer they would stay and the longer Israel would gain the benefit of a US military presence engaged against their arch-enemy Iran. So in this sense, the harder it is for the US to extricate itself, the longer the U.S. stays, and the better it is for the state of Israel.

Yet in realpolitik terms, the Iraq war has actually strengthened Israel's enemies. The push to democracy--a key front in trying to sell the war to Americans--has in fact given radical Islamic fundamentalists a key device for legitimizing their takeover. In Lebanon, Hezbollah will win elections based on their increasing numbers. Cleared of more moderate sources of influence, Hezbollah can claim to represent all Lebanese in their struggle against Israeli aggression. Military action seems to engender more militarism and embolden radical anti-US and anti-Israeli factions.

Meanwhile in Gaza and West Bank, a Palestinian divide between Fatah and Hamas has opened up, with the Israelis even authorizing weapon shipments from Egypt to Fatah, to counterbalance Hamas' upper hand in the elections and the resulting Hamas government established there.

The policy of democratization benefits America's and Israel's enemies, if Israel and America do in fact share all the same enemies. Rather than negotiate with the democratically elected governments, the US and Israel chose to fawn divisiveness or at least not stop it. Where force of numbers can't take victory away from radical fundamentalists, the US and Israel have chosen the El Salvador option, ushering in a campaign of violence either directly or through proxies like Fatah. While destabilization and weak government may come from democratization, ultimately the newly democratized nations will enter the fundamentalist camp which will provide a stabilizing influence.

So dogmatic are the neocons that they appear incapable of changing the course of policy. Negotiations--an invaluable tool in resolving crises--have been rejected outright by those responsible for our foreign policy, despite pleas from the Iraq Studies Group. Just how bad will things in Iraq have to get before it's clear that our presence in not only not helping Israel co-exist with the Arabs, but actually threatening its security?

Apparently the neocons have failed to anticipate the reaction to their crusade. Fundamentalists have been emboldened and strengthened and there's no denying this is to Israel's detriment. Now for those eager for open-ended warfare, Iraq has been a success. There is undoubtedly a far-right constituency that gains by increasing the threat profile of certain pre-designated enemies. War is an end in itself to these extremists now dominating the Bush Administration.

Future Realities

Will the Sunnis submit? Iraq is well stocked with explosives, and radical Sunnis can sustain a campaign of violence indefinitely. The string of retributions brings revenge killings by Shia death squads, some of whom are also members of Iraq's police and military units.

Political solutions are urgently needed as an alternative to the use of more force, according to Sen. McCain and Republicans as well as the ISG findings. Sunni resistance can't be repressed by the use of force alone, at least in Sunni strongholds like Al-Anbar province, if the failure of the world's strongest military to pacify that region is any indicator of future results.

A surge option continues to be tossed in Washington circles like a hot potato. Mainstream media has been reticient to support or criticize the validity of an increase. Militarily, the buildup numbers are simply too low to make a major impact. In other words, adding N (or "end")-strength to the formula is insufficient to provide a difference of outcomes.

The formula for winning--if the definition of what could pass for success can be labelled "winning"--needs to be changed. Recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are meant to alter the formula, but the Administration appears locked in a internal battle of common sense versus pride.

Acknowledging inadequacies is one thing, admitting that a change of course is needed another thing. In my last post, I brought up a small inaccuracy in a Boston Globe article on foreign troops in the US military. The belief that Bush is modulating policy based on feedback and rational response is wholly mistaken. I suspect editorial influence may have infiltrated the Globe article, as the idea of a troop strain seems perfectly positioned to lead to the conclusion that more troops will be needed. This is rational cause and effect to editors sympathetic to a continuation of the war.

Yet the lack of troops reflects on the lack of popular acceptance for the war, just as declining readership may signal the public's decreased appetite for MSM bias in support of the war. Ultimately, recruitment efforts are the product of the public reaction to how we are fighting the war and its winnability. If the self-absorbed Media were capable of seeing its own ineffectiveness, it would realize the troop strength is low because Americans don't believe in the war. Even generals have hinted they don't believe more troops will help, which is an telling indicator of how they stand on a continuation of the war--at least for those willing to listen to them.

If we don't have enough troops to win, how can adding more help? The constituency that advocates that the war can still be won has no desire to alter the formula--believing it still workable--and simply wants more N. To defy the clearly illogical conclusion that no amount of troops will reach any change of outcome, war sympathizers point to the damage failure of Iraq policy to date has caused as an excuse for more, more troops, money, guns, bombs, etc. The corresponding rise in deaths--not only of them but of our boys too--that goes with an increase in these things is simply a secondary consequence of the policy: the price of doing business the neocon way.

Rather than confront the validity--some would say insanity--of the present policy, Bush and his war supporters assume the formula needs tweaking, rather than wholesale modification and possible abandonment.

At a certain point, something that is unsustainable will not be sustained. Politically, the burden of continuing to wage a war in Iraq has cost Bush and his Party dearly. As long as the reality of Iraq remains clear to voters, the negative political consequences of supporting the war in Iraq build. No amount of spin can polish the pile of extrement that Iraq has become.

The cost of the war relative to what we've gained continues to decrease. The only fiscal outcome is taking Iraqi oil. Perhaps to do that we need our troops on the ground. Yet the cost of garrisoning troops indefinitely could well exceed whatever oil we can take, especially if the enemy, knowing our scheme, blows up the pipelines, particular the one Israel and her friends would love to build to Haifa.

Whatever the cost militarily, it could well be the peripheral players whom we've empowered that will do the most damage to us long-term. As we saw with the Shah--instilled in a CIA-backed coup--and Saddam--supported with loan guarantees offered by Vice President H.W. Bush--, we may be creating an entirely new group of enemies for future Americans to contend with. In trying to make a politically acceptable solution to the violence, we may simply be appeasing future tyrants with whom we will have to do battle.

While the idea of future wars may excite the Pentagon, the prospect of achieving US foreign policy goals is grossly diminished by the use of force, which must be a final choice, not an elective one. There are still some whom may contend that our military should be our leading edge, and all emissaries of foreign lands subjugated themselves to our Empire. This didn't work for the Romans, and its unlikely the US empire will sustain itself on the institution of warfare.

Military force has its limits, and will ultimately disappoint the national pride. And its unknown just how many Vietnams that our nation's ego can be subjected to and recover, even with the ability of Hollywood directors and others to piece it back together again.

Sadr's Rise

The transferrance of governmental control to Sadr's bunch may eclipse the previous high-water mark of political power and influence held by fundamentalists in Iraq. In 2004 Sadr was popularized in Sadr City, the Baghdad Shia slum, for his part in resisting the efforts of the US military to forcibly pacify him and his numerous followers.

In May 2004 an agreement was reached to allow the firebrand cleric to share power; Sadr's bargaining chip was his capability to incite a full-blown rebellion not only in Sadr City but throughout Iraq.

Politically savvy, Sadr increased his profile by confronting the US, leading his Mahdi Army of radical youth and Shia paramilitaries with religious fervor. Sadr's rise to power has all the hallmarks of capitulation to the fundamentalists in exchange for their non-hostility.

The US has made similar clandestine deals with a host of tyrants and other undesirables over the decades, most which have been woefully under-represented in Westerm Media. In this long line of double-dealing, the US has spurned numerous worthy causes, and even seeded future enemies like the fundamentalists in Iran, who deposed a corrupt, US-backed Shah.

As popularized in the movie Black Hawk Down, a deal between the Somali warlord Aidid and the US led to the death of US soldiers or--in other terms--a revealing inside look into the worthlessness of their sacrifice. Deals like those with Aidid strike deep at the public's distrust with the immaculately feckless ability of American government to bargain with the enemy and compromise the more wholesome values of the American people.

It's simply easier for the public to believe that we lost a war than it is for us to assume the other side won it, or is winning it as is the case in Iraq now and quite possibly Afghanistan soon. The public's belief in the invulnerability of our military can be preserved from conflict to conflict, regardless of the outcome, through Hollywood magic and MSM spin.

Through movies and the public narrative spun by the MSM, the failure of previous military adventures to yield results is continually erased down the Memory Hole. Whatever the storyline, the fundamental reality that military force can't resolve the problems we face is ignored, and previous failures diminished. Buoyed by nationalism, the premise that we are the good guys and our forces endowed with unerring superiority overshadows painful lessons of past failures of force.

Movies, Restorers of Hurt Pride

It's odd how far movies go in shaping American popular opinion. In many ways, fictionalized accounts in mass media like movies have replaced the role of public debate about politics, a subject American are terrified of confronting.

If a critical mass of viewership can be attained, a movie can actually affect political opinion. Channeled by right-wing radio, positions advocating the use of military force are espoused alongside misperceptions that our leaders were responsible for failing, not our troops. A lack of support is often blamed, as if not supporting our troops--a specter now faced by Democrats--were the source of inadequacy rather than the flawed premise for using force to resolve our problems.

Black Hawk Down points out the double-dealing position of our government with the Somali warlords, painting our leaders as willing to label them enemies while privately seeking terms with them. Danny Schecter's review is less fixated on this duplicity and more focused on the movie's nationalistic distortions.

In American movie myth, the betrayal of US troops by their leaders condemns them to a Vietnamesque-style state of winnless contradiction--unable to bring our true power to bear because of "Washington." Black Hawk Down reinforces this concept in the inability of US forces to find the real foe, then blames the inevitable consequences of our blind lashing out on short-sighted policymakers, not necessarily those who sent them in but those who sought to get them out by making deals.

Nowhere is this bitterness more apparent than the public sympathy to Prisoners of War-Missing in Action movement after Vietnam. A lomblasting of our leadership's role in the ending Vietnam fiasco--and presumably leaving MIAs over there--came out in Rambo:First Blood Part II (Summary.) In one scene, Rambo brings a US POW forward for extraction and the helicopter is ordered away by his superiors. The scene sufficiently enrages the audience that they gleefully anticipate Rambo's return, and the burst of vengeance he would wreak upon "Murdock," his commander.

Rambo's vengeance parallels the redemption of American pride lost in Vietnam. Rather than confront the fact our troops were sent in to die--or be taken prisoner--the American public blames its government for compromising, which at the time was the only method to end the madness. Look at the rationale for the swiftboating of John Kerry to see how deep this distrust of those who'd spoken out against the war runs. Those who ended Vietnam ended it in the only way wars can end: through negotiating with the enemy. Yet the right-side of the American electorate hates them for it. (This popular misperception may in fact color Bush's reaction to the idea we must negotiate with Syria and Iran.)

Movies like Black Hawk Down and Rambo appeal to the American sense of militaristic superiority, which is certainly the lynchpin of our fragile male ego injured by our withdrawal (not "defeat") from Vietnam.

Perhaps no concept is better ingratiated in Americans in the idea that we are the good guys. Rambo can do no harm, nor can our troops stranded in Mogadishu. All those who fight us are the bad guys.

The underlying vulgarity of our ruthlessness shines through in the lack of respect we give our enemies. The consequences of this racism and self-infatuation are quite often fatal to the colonial power, who tend to underestimate their foe.

The Vietnamese can't win; the storyline just doesn't allow it, so we cheat and blame our leaders for "selling us out." The real-life consequences of the use of force just don't meet Hollywood's expectations. Like some bully, our undeniably masculine collective conscious groans when we can't get what we want through using force. It's left to the wizards of Hollywood to put our shattered egos back together.

The recent death of President Ford provides an example of how eager the Mainstream Media is to rework the narrative. How readily the media revert to the image of a national pride damaged by Vietnam and Watergate reassembled by Ford's careful and considerate touch--"he was a Midwesterner"!

Posthumously, the Media can craft a nationalistic storyline amid the somberness of a State funeral. "We were down, but Ford brought us out of it," the story might go. Meanwhile, the real issue of the Big Lie, or the willingness of government to continue an unwinnable war, is ignored. The storyline consoles the suffering of those who had been sufficiently gullible to believe their government.

Entering office post-Watergate, Ford does retroactively appear to be a peace-maker while he in fact had done little to augment the Paris Peace Accords signed years before his Presidency. Yet the image of a "steadying influence" substantiates the "reconciliatory" role presently attributed to him.

Ultimately the failure in Vietnam needs to be attributed to military and geopolitical considerations, not the failure to stick it out as Vietnam is framed today by the right-leaning and nationalistic Media. By dumbing down the popular response to the Vietnam tragedy, the inherent unwinnability of Vietnam is buried under a morass of blame not on the politician responsible but for the politicization of the way the war was fought.

Black Hawk Down exemplifies a crisis of top-down leadership and the absence of direction, paralleling the Vietnam experience. Rambo validates the American viewer's displeasure with the failure of US military force to win, for the good guys need to win in the end and the movie--or in this case national narrative--must not have a sour ending.

In both movies, comic book-like icons smash out at the bad guys, overcoming whatever feelings of inadequacy over the ability of force to work lingering in the viewer. Fantastical or not, such a victory restores popular belief in the infallibility of the US military, or at least its fearless tenacity. The good guys are back in control; past failures of belief are forgiven, and at the end of the movie people know who to blame.

Ultimately, Hollywood storylines oversimplify war. The Mass Media dumb-down undermines any reconsideration over the use of force, or the inadequacy of war as a method of policy. The public are therefore made consumers of myth. It then takes the launching of a war to shatter the image of US military infallibility. The painful process of seeing our troops die and seeing little come of it shatters the national pride, which is left to the Fords and Rambos to rebuild.

Media Complicity

Squeezed in before the end of the year, Saddam's death went with little fanfare in the Western media. The deeper story is clearly that generated by the video taken by the cellphone. The connotations of an Iranian-backed cleric stealing the spotlight from the Americans will undoubtedly be buried. The rise of Iranian control over Iraq casts a shadow of doubt on claims of progess in Iraq, and even denies the premise even that future progress can be made, at least without helping Iran. Losing troops to Iraqi insurgents is one thing; to accept that the invasion, occupation, and casualties have facilitated an Iranian takeover is heresy.

Always more than willing to accomodate neocon perspectives, the Media must knowingly participate in the fanciful notion that our presence in Iraq continues to serve the national interest. Editors are clearly sympathetic to the needs of Israel, and the Israeli right appears to have firmly established the idea that war with Iraq and and Iran benefit Isreal's security.

The Media's subservience to the neocons continues to be an invaluable propaganda tool. In the doctrine of deterrence (or the "age of terror") simply establishing the perception of a threat is enough to make it real. The Pentagon has embraced a doctrine of total warfare which seeks to dominate not only the battlefield, but the public opinion as well, being that dissent is a tool that seeks to end warfare and is therefore a threat to the machinery of war. Orwellian, the War on Terror derives its authority on fear, and fear can be described as the possibility of things going wrong or a threat materializing.

I've made past references to the power of public perception in our mass media society. Brands are established. Commercial brands are programmed into our subconscious to affect our purchasing decisions. When nations brand, nationalism transcends our individuality and make us who we collectively are, rather than affect what we buy.

In our movies and Mainstream Media we are led to believe we are the best, that our intentions our manifestly good, and that our side may not always win, but we are the "good guys." Anything that contradicts these nationalistic myths is considered inherently flawed, if not seditious.

This conversions is not altogether unlike a child learning that there's no tooth fairy, or Santa Claus. So deeply held is our belief in the nationalistic myth that we turn hostile to any evidence, no matter how real or clear, that contradicts the idea that our cause is just and our nation endowed with superiority over others.

Perhaps as a nation we are still in the maturation process. After all, we are a young nation. If we look to Europe, clearly a place where people are aware of their national identities, we see people who've escaped a bloody past by respecting each others' differences. The Europeans have mostly revoked the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy. Mock the New Europe though we might, it's clear the American cocktail of nationalism and militarism forces us to endure a cycle of unwinnable wars, whose flawed results have become increasingly clear.

The war cycle has shrunk alongside the American public's tolerance for casualties. It appears that the US populace needs to be dazzled but ever-greater catalyzing events, like 9/11, to become warlike. Five years after that event, enthusiasm has diminished, so our war tolerance may be far lower than thought. Unless the US plans to launch a series of high-profile attacks against itself, the war mongers face an uphill battle as our nation matures and grows wise to the flawed premise of US military superiority.



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