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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Wednesday | August 06, 2003

Beyond water and light in Iraq

By Steve Gilliard

Our problems in Iraq go far deeper than security, water and light.
Here's an example from today's Maureen Dowd column.

Mr. Wolfowitz has been tacitly campaigning for the jobs. He told Charlie Rose about his vice-regal trip to Iraq, where he said at last grateful Iraqis were thronging. "As we would drive by, little kids would run up to the road and give us a thumbs up sign," he said. (At least he thought it was the thumb.)

No. It was the thumb

Thumbs up:
With an outstretched fist, the thumb is extended straight up.

"Thumbs up" as a positive gesture quickly gained popularity in the U.S.A., especially as a visual signal in noisy environments. Pilots unable to shout "All's well!" or "Ready!" over the noise of their engines used it frequently. With a slight backwards tilt, this gesture is used for hitchhiking. However, in most of the Middle East and parts of Africa (notably Nigeria), this symbol can be obscene. It Japan, the thumb is considered the fifth digit; a raised thumb will order five of something!

This is only a sign of what we clearly do not understand in Iraq. Wolfowitz thought he was being greeted warmly when, in fact, little kids were giving him the Iraqi flipoff.

The CPA keeps talking about elections and Tom Friedman keeps talking about a transformed Middle East. But no one is thinking about the consequences of neo-con nation building.

First, no elected Iraqi government will allow US basing rights. That is what undid the Hashemites in 1958. That may be a fantasy in PNAC land, but unless we install a Sunni dictator with a 200,000 man army, the day the mullah or their chosen man swears on the Koran in the Presidential Palace, the US will be asked to leave.

Second, plans for a 40,000 man Army doesn't allow Iraq to defend itself against either the Turks or the Iranians. Saddam had a 600,000 man army at one point. Even in a reduced state, 40,000 men is not nearly enough to defend thousands of miles of Iraqi border. Even with paramilitary police, US planning seems arbitrary at best.

Third, any Iraqi goverment may well have to ask companies to rebid for any deals they made with the United States. Most will place Iraq at a clear regional disavantage.

Fourth, Iraq has to make some kind of regional security agreements with Iran and Turkey so they can rebuild their economy and they have to secure the northern border so the Kurds don't feel threatened by the Turks.

There seems to be no idea of how a new Iraq fits into a regional security and stability plan. They want to "hold elections" which may well be the final act before a civil war. Iraq doesn't have a government, at any level. Most of the Iraqi government's legacy was burnt to the ground as Rumsfeld shrugged. The reality is that US plans in Iraq may not encourage Palestinians to make peace, but instead may create a new home for Muslim revivalist thought. Not an Iran, but a place as dedicated to espousing the Palestinian issue as Saddam was, but without his corruption and misdirection.

Much of what Saddam faced was depicted by people like Ken Pollack as Saddam unique problems. They weren't and aren't. They are Iraqi regional problems. They cannot be wished away. Iraq needs an army which can confront Iran and Turkey and protect their watershed and pipelines. These needs don't change.

I fear that we have taken on a project we truly do not understand. The thumbs up thing is small, but indicates a sort of cultural and political blindness which may make things far worse in the long term, regardless of guerilla war or elections. I think talk of an extended stay in Iraq is wildly optimistic. We represent no party, no faction, much less a government. We cannot provide basic security for anyone, from contractors to Iraqi citizens.

When we find Iraqis to work with us, often at risk of their lives, we often leave them high and dry without adequate support or funding.

Stephen Claypole, who was a public affairs adviser to Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, said: "It's very typical of everything the Americans get involved in. They announce large budgets and the money is never released."

This may not matter to the PNAC crowd, who have never managed anything in their lives. But California is not the only place where people demand their government deliver. If the US cannot stand by its promises to make material improvements in Iraqi lives, they will find people who keep their word.

Posted August 06, 2003 02:49 AM


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