Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Learning Curve(ball)

From King of Zembla, here's a link to Eliot Weinberger's VERY comprehensive compendium entitled What I Learned Abut Iraq in 2005, as published in the London Review of Books. Although I highly recommend it, it's a long read. Maybe print out a copy for reference--one nice thing is that you can read a few paragraphs, take a break and/or pick up either at the same place or elsewhere. Here's a series of excerpts:

In 2005 I heard that Coalition forces were camped in the ruins of Babylon. I heard that bulldozers had dug trenches through the site and cleared areas for helicopter landing pads and parking lots, that thousands of sandbags had been filled with dirt and archaeological fragments, that a 2600-year-old brick pavement had been crushed by tanks, and that the moulded bricks of dragons had been gouged out from the Ishtar Gate by soldiers collecting souvenirs. I heard that the ruins of the Sumerian cities of Umma, Umm al-Akareb, Larsa and Tello were completely destroyed and were now landscapes of craters.

I saw a headline in the Los Angeles Times that read: ‘After Levelling City, US Tries to Build Trust.’

I heard that Iraq was now ranked with Haiti and Senegal as one of the poorest nations on earth. I heard the United Nations Human Rights Commission report that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had doubled since the war began. I heard that only 5 per cent of the money Congress had allocated for reconstruction had actually been spent. I heard that in Fallujah people were living in tents pitched on the ruins of their houses.

I heard that this year’s budget included $105 billion for the War on Terror, which would bring the total to $300 billion. I heard that Halliburton was estimating that its bill for providing services to US troops in Iraq would exceed $10 billion. I heard that the family of an American soldier killed in Iraq receives $12,000.

I heard that 50,000 US soldiers in Iraq did not have body armour, because the army’s equipment manager had placed it at the same priority level as socks. I heard that soldiers were buying their own flak jackets with steel ‘trauma’ plates, Camelbak water pouches, ballistic goggles, knee and elbow pads, drop pouches to hold ammunition magazines, and load-bearing vests. I heard they were rigging their vehicles with pieces of scrap metal as protection against roadside bombs, since the production of armoured Humvees had fallen more than a year behind schedule and the few available armoured vehicles were mainly reserved for officers and visiting dignitaries.

I heard that the private security firm Custer Battles had been paid $15 million to provide security for civilian flights at Baghdad airport at a time when no planes were flying. I heard that US forces were still unable to secure the two-mile highway from the airport to the Green Zone.

I heard the President, at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, compare the War on Terror to World War Two. I heard him quote the words of Captain Randy Stone, a marine in Iraq: ‘I know we will win because I see it in the eyes of the marines every morning. In their eyes is the sparkle of victory.’ In a long speech, I heard him briefly mention Hurricane Katrina, which had struck a few days before and which, at the time, was believed to have killed tens of thousands. I heard him say: ‘I urge everyone in the affected areas to continue to follow instructions from state and local authorities.’

I heard that the emergency response to the hurricane had been hampered because 35 per cent of the Louisiana National Guard and 40 per cent of the Mississippi National Guard, as well as much of their equipment and vehicles, were in Iraq. Approximately 5000 Guards and troops were eventually deployed; in 1992, following Hurricane Andrew in Florida, George Bush Sr had sent in 36,000 troops. I heard that the Guardsmen in Iraq were denied emergency two-week leave to help or find their families. I heard they were told by their commanders that there were too few US troops in Iraq to spare them.

A few weeks after the hurricane, I heard the President say: ‘You know, something we – I’ve been thinking a lot about how America has responded, and it’s clear to me that Americans value human life, and value every person as important. And that stands in stark contrast, by the way, to the terrorists we have to deal with. You see, we look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break. They’re the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it. We’re in a war against these people. It’s a War on Terror.’

I heard a White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, say: ‘The President knows one of his most important responsibilities is to comfort the families of the fallen.’ I heard Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey had been killed in Iraq, describe her meeting with the President.

I heard her say: ‘He first got there, he walked in and said: “So who are we honouring here?” He didn’t even know Casey’s name, he didn’t, nobody could have whispered to him: “Mr President, this is the Sheehan family, their son Casey was killed in Iraq.” We thought that was pretty disrespectful to not even know Casey’s name, and to walk in and say: “So who are we honourin’ here?” Like: “Let’s get on with it, let’s get somebody honoured here.” So anyway, he went up to my oldest daughter, I keep calling her my oldest daughter but she’s actually my oldest child now, and he said: “So who are you to the loved one?” And Carly goes: “Casey was my brother.” And George Bush says: “I wish I could bring your loved one back, to fill the hole in your heart.” And Carly said: “Yeah, so do we.” And Bush said: “I’m sure you do.” And he gave her a dirty look and turned away from her.’

As the President moved to his ranch for a six-week summer vacation, Cindy Sheehan camped out at the entrance, demanding another meeting, which the President refused. I heard him say: ‘I think it’s important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But I think it’s also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life. I think the people want the President to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy. And part of my being is to be outside exercising.’

I heard that privately he had said: ‘I’m not meeting again with that goddamned bitch. She can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.’

I heard that 1100 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in one month, many with hands bound and a bullet in the head. I heard that between 10 and 20 per cent were too disfigured to be identified. I heard that in the Saddam era the number was normally around 200. I heard that doctors were ordered not to perform post-mortems on bodies brought in by US troops.

I heard the President, still on vacation at his ranch, say: ‘A time of war is a time of sacrifice.’ I heard a reporter ask him if he planned to do any fishing, and I heard the President reply: ‘I don’t know yet. I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’m kind of hanging loose, as they say.’

In 2003, Dick Cheney had said: ‘Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush’s vice-president, I’ve severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven’t had, now, for over three years.’ I heard that he was still receiving deferred compensation and owned more than 433,000 stock options. Those options were worth $241,498 in 2004. In 2005 they were worth more than $8 million. Along with its $10 billion no-bid contracts in Iraq, Halliburton was hired to expand the prison at Guantanamo and was among the first to receive a no-bid contract for Hurricane Katrina relief.

I heard that the average monthly war coverage on the ABC, NBC and CBS evening newscasts, combined, had gone from 388 minutes in 2003, to 274 in 2004, to 166 in 2005.

I heard that 2110 US troops had died in Iraq and more than 15,881 had been wounded. Ninety-four per cent of those deaths had come after the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, the first two sentences of which were: ‘Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.’ I heard there were now an average of a hundred insurgent attacks a day and an average of three American soldiers dying, the highest violence and casualty rates since the war began.

I heard that the President, in response to the increasing criticism, was going to reveal a new strategy for Iraq. On 30 November 2005, the administration issued a 35-page report: ‘National Strategy for Victory in Iraq’. On a page headed ‘Our Strategy Is Working’, I read that, on the ‘Economic Track’, ‘Our Restore, Reform, Build strategy is achieving results’; on the ‘Political Track’, ‘Our Isolate, Engage and Build strategy is working’; and on the ‘Security Track’, ‘Our Clear, Hold and Build strategy is working.’ General goals would be achieved in the ‘short’, ‘medium’ or ‘long’ term. The report ended with ‘The Eight Strategic Pillars’ (‘Strategic Pillar One: Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralise the Insurgency; Strategic Pillar Two: Transition Iraq to Security Self-Reliance’), like the Five Pillars of Islam or Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I heard that the ‘Strategy’ contained few specific details because it was the ‘public version of a classified document’. Then I heard that there was no classified document.

That same day, I heard the President address the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. I heard him say: ‘We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory.’ I heard him say: ‘To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief.’ In a front of a huge sign that read plan for victory, he stood at a podium bearing a huge sign that read plan for victory. I wondered whether ‘plan’ was a verb.

No comments:

Post a Comment