McCain Versus the Iraqis
By Lee Russ
Monday, January 28, 2008 at 07:51 PM
John McCain has expressed his opinion that he is not against the U.S. remaining in Iraq even for 100 years, noting that the real issue is casualties during our stay, not simply that we stay. And he sees plenty of reason for hope in the conditions in Iraq following our troop surge. That's fine for McCain distant view from the presidential race here in America (and the view does not seem to have hurt him too much among the Republican primary voters). But how do Iraqis feel about these things?First, a sample of McCain's feelings about Iraq, from the 1/28 edition of Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: ...if you're the nominee, saying the war was a good idea, it was worth the price, and we're going to stay forever or 100 years, you even suggested.Very abstract, very "big picture" and, of course, viewed completely from the viewpoint of America and Americans. Which is probably why McCain's view is unlikely to be the view of many, if any, Iraqis.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that a winning formula in a presidential election?
SEN. McCAIN: Tim, let, let me just point out that I understand the frustration and the sorrow of the American people over the sacrifice that has been made. It was badly mishandled for nearly four years. On this program I severely criticized the so-called Rumsfeld strategy. Republicans criticized me at that time. And I advocated the new strategy under General Petraeus. And I think if we can show Americans success and continued success that they will support it. And, and there's no doubt--there's no doubt that this war has been mishandled.
And some people talk about the impatience of the American people. I'm proud, frankly, of the patience. But on the issue of how long we stay there, I think that's a false argument. The point is is how many Americans are going to be harmed there? We've got--right next door in Kuwait, we have military bases. We have bases in South Korea and Japan and Germany and Bosnia. We have troops there. It's not a matter of American troop presence, it's a matter of American casualties. And I believe that by next November, I can show the American people significant more progress, significant withdrawals as dictated by the conditions on the ground and General Petraeus' opinion because--and I also have to explain to them, and maybe do a better job, of the consequences of failure, the consequences of setting a timetable, so al-Qaeda would then be able to tell the world that they defeated the United States of America. I agree with General Petraeus when he says that Iraq is the central battleground in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. We have to succeed there. It's long, hard and tough. And thanks for letting me give a long answer. I apologize for that.
MR. RUSSERT: Looking back, do you think the war was a war of choice or a war of necessity?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that it was a--that's an excellent question because I think if we had succeeded and done the right--implemented the right strategy, we would all be glad that Saddam Hussein, who had used weapons of mass destruction in the past and was seeking to acquire them, as we know then. But the mishandling of the war was really what has skewed everybody's opinion, and I understand that. I mean, it just--I used to call it whack-a-mole when we didn't have enough troops there and they'd pop up in one place and then another. I believe the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein gone. I think that we're going to pay a heavy price in the future when we face other threats because of the failures we experienced in Iraq, and I think we're going to be in a very dangerous world for a long time.
MR. RUSSERT: But absent weapons of mass destruction...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...how can it be described as a war of necessity?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, he was--he had acquired those weapons in the past. It's clear that he was trying to acquire them. The sanctions were breaking down. There was a huge multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal in the U.N., as you know. He has practiced the worst kinds of brutality, as you can imagine. I think the world and Iraq will be better off if we're able to succeed. If we fail, obviously then--well, then we have enormous other challenges there and in the region, in my view, because I think you're going to have genocide and chaos, and, unfortunately, I'm afraid we'll be back in the region.
I obviously don't claim to know what "Iraqis", all 20+ million of them, think about this. But there is a recent piece by Dahr Jamail, independent journalist and author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. In the piece, Jamail reprints snips of correspondence with several ordinary Iraqis on the general subject of life for them under the current conditions, and their views of America and Americans. Some excerpts:
Americans may argue among themselves about just how much "success" or "progress" there really is in post-surge Iraq, but it is almost invariably an argument in which Iraqis are but stick figures -- or dead bodies. Of late, I have been asking Iraqis I know by email what they make of the American version (or versions) of the unseemly reality that is their country, that they live and suffer with. What does it mean to become a "secondary issue" for your occupier?One hundred years. Who would have thought that in the current world, in the 21st century, a man who may well be the Republican nominee for president, thinks that a 100 year war, or a 100 year occupation, or a 100 year "military support operation" is a possibility, let alone a good idea?
In response [to that question], Professor S. Abdul Majeed Hassan, an Iraqi university faculty member wrote me the following:
"The year of 2007 was the bloodiest among the occupation years, and no matter how successful the situation looks to Mr. Bush, reality is totally different. What kind of normal life are he and the media referring to where four and a half million highly educated Iraqis are still dislocated or still being forcefully driven out of their homes for being anti-occupation? How can the people live a normal life in a cage of concrete walls [she is referring to concrete walls being erected by the Americans around entire Baghdad neighborhoods], guarded by their kidnappers, killers, and occupation forces? What kind of normal life can you live where tens of your relatives and your beloved ones are either missing or in jail and you don't even know if they are still alive or, after being tortured, have been thrown unidentified in the dumpsters?
"What kind of normal life can you live when you have to bid farewell to your family each time you go out to buy bread because you don't know if you are going to see them again? What is a normal life to Mr. Bush? If we're lucky, we get a few hours of electricity a day, barely enough drinking water, no health care, no jobs to feed our kids…
"Little teenage girls are given away in marriage because their families can't protect them from militias and troops during raids. Women cannot move unescorted anymore. What kind of educations are our children getting at universities where 60% of the prominent faculty members have been driven out of their jobs -- killed or forced to leave the country by government militias? Is it normal that areas [on the outskirts of Baghdad] like Saidiya and Arab Jubour are bombed because the occupation forces are afraid to enter the areas for fear of the resistance? It is always easier to control ghost cities. It becomes very peaceful without the people."
[Maki al-Nazzal, an Iraqi political analyst from Fallujah says] Bush and his heroes, [head of the Coalition Provisional Authority L. Paul] Bremer, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and now Petraeus always lied to their people and the world about Iraq. U.S. soldiers are getting killed on a daily basis and so are Iraqi army and police officers. Infrastructure is destroyed. In a country that used to feed much of the Arab world, starvation is now the norm. It is ironic that Iraq was not half as bad during the 12 years of sanctions. Our liberation has pushed us into a state of unprecedented corruption.
Al-Nazzal is realistic:
"Petraeus wants us to celebrate the return [to Baghdad] of 50,000 Iraqis who were starving in Syria, when five million remain in exile and internally displaced. What he conveniently forgets to mention is that those who returned found their houses either destroyed or occupied by others. He also wants to be praised for handing over the nation's security to militias he allowed to form rather than to academics and technocrats. Iraq has no medicines in its hospitals, no electricity, no potable water, no real security, and no well-guarded borders. Nevertheless, some people say they are happy for what is going on in Iraq!"
Tahir, on the other hand, has a warning: "It seems that all U.S. politicians and the majority of Americans think the way [Sen.] McCain does. But they should not think Iraq is Japan or South Korea."
Mahri'i agrees: "Such leaders will write the final page of history for their country. If Americans keep electing such adventurers, then I can see the end of their country approaching fast."
Professor Hassan states what is clearly on the minds of many Iraqis as the occupation grinds on and the American presidential race revs up, though she may be more charitable than many of her compatriots:
"Most Americans figured out the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq and the terrible consequences of that war for them, currently and in the future. The American people I know are kind, considerate, and understanding. I am sure they will do what it will take to end this occupation. They know by now that this is not a war of the American people; it is the oil companies' war, so why should they sacrifice their young men and women for oil companies' greed?"
If nothing else, how would this war by another name be funded? Are we to be assured yet again that the oil revenues will do the job? And, most importantly of all, has John McCain spoken to anybody other than usual suspects--US military and self-serving Iraqi big shots--in reaching his odd conclusion that it's probably okay for Iraq to occupy the US, by means of the US occupation of Iraq, through an entire century?
Lo & behold, the day after posting this, I find the following linked to WTW's News item listing, from ZNET:
The Pentagon has recently released optimistic figures about violence in Iraq. What they neglect to say is that while overall violence has declined there in the last few months, civilian deaths at U.S. hands increased approximately 70 percent in 2007 over the prior year. Non-combatant death at U.S. hands grew in Afghanistan by a similar percentage. This surge in non-combatant death directly caused by the U.S. accompanies the surge in U.S. led operations in both countries. Understandably, resentment of the U.S. has also increased in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And those figures don't count the civilians killed in the "crossfire" of firefights between the US and insurgents.
One Hundred Years. Equal to one hundred reasons that McCain cannot win the presidency, no matter how much he believes in "good government."