Friday | April 04, 2003
Scenes From the Burma Railway
Ever see The Bridge On the River Kwai? Alec Guiness, sans light saber, plays a British officer in a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Railway. His men have been turned into slave laborers building the title of the movie, and Guiness, in the classic stiff-upper-lip tradition, is trying his best to keep them alive.
Guiness figures that if he can get his men to focus on the task at hand – building the bridge – they’ll continue to act like soldiers, instead of just wasting away and dying. Cooperation is made easier by the fact that the camp commandant is a relatively decent guy. He doesn’t want his prisoners to die – he just wants them to work.
The problem, of course, is that Guiness is building a bridge for the enemy. He finally realizes this in the climatic scene of the movie, after he’s actually helped the Japanese find an allied commando team that’s been sent to blow up the bridge. “Oh my God,” he says. “What have I done?”
One of these days, I suspect, Tony Blair is going to have an Alec Guiness moment. But for now he’s still working on the neocons' bridge, hoping for the best and trying to keep up his team’s morale.
In an interview with the BBC’s Arabic language channel yesterday, Blair insisted the US would not invade Syria and Iran, once the conquest of Iraq is complete.
Well, what Blair actually said was "I know of absolutely no plan to do that.” Blair has spent a lot of time trying to build a diplomatic bridge to the Syrian government. He even visited the country last year. So, if Camp Commandant Bush really were going to do something so drastic as invade Syria, he would surely tell his closest prisoner, I mean ally, right?
During question time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Blair also insisted a subjugated Iraq will not be turned into an American colony – a sort of kinder, gentler Reich Protectorate. "As soon as possible, Iraq should not be run either by the coalition or by the UN - it should be run by Iraqis,” Blair said.
But on the other side of the Atlantic – the power side – the Washington Post offered this picture of Gen. Jay Gardner’s occupation government, currently cooling its heels at the Kuwait City Hilton:
Garner's team is made up almost exclusively of Americans, many of them former or current officials. Aides come from the Pentagon, the State Department and other departments and agencies, including Treasury, Justice, the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Army Corps of Engineers. The only non-Americans are a handful of British and Australian diplomats, and a small group of Iraqi exiles.
But don’t worry, Tony. These guys know what they’re doing:
One participant in a recent planning session questioned whether the group fully recognizes the complexity and chaos that officials are likely to encounter in a postwar Iraq. “The presentation was full of charts and reporting lines and discussions about whether there should be a dotted line or a straight line," he said. "It was like a Boston Consulting Group presentation to IBM. It was so different than what the situation really is in Iraq. That is going to be a big, big shock to them."
Hey, it worked for Enron, didn’t it?
Then there’s the delicate issue of oil – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with this war, but which still need to be handled by the occupation government. Bush assures us the coalition only has the best interests of the Iraqi people at heart. So of course, it won’t just hand the country’s oil wealth over to the big oil companies, right Mr. Blair?
Good thing we know that. Because if we didn't, this New York Times story might give us a different idea:
A former chief executive of the Shell Oil Company appears to be the leading contender to oversee Iraqi oil production after the fall of Saddam Hussein, industry experts who spoke to the Bush administration said yesterday.
And speaking of oil, Mr. Blair also might want to think about this item from Ha'aretz, the Israeli paper:
National Infrastructures Minister Joseph Paritzky has requested an assessment of the condition of the old oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa, with an eye toward renewing the flow of oil in the event of friendly post-war regime in Iraq.
There’s just one hitch. The pipeline runs right through the middle of Syria. So before it can be restarted, the current Syrian government will have to agree – or, be replaced by a government that takes a more . . . favorable . . . view of the Jewish state.
At the end of The Bridge On the River Kwai, after the Alec Guiness character has his final epiphany, he falls on the detonator and blows up the bridge. So the question is posed: When Blair finally has his awakening (“Oh my God. What have I done?”), will he blow up the Coalition – and his spot at the commandant’s table -- to try to stop the next war?
Because if Tony Blair thinks this is the neocons’ last territorial demand in the Middle East, then I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell him.