Mailing It In

There’s one thing you can count on when it comes to journalism about the war. If a journalist is all doom and gloom then he has either (a) not been here (b) has been here but is filing his dispatch from the lobby of the Palestine Hotel or (c) has been here, did leave Baghdad but only gone to the “Sunni triangle.” When journalists take option “a” they’re hypocrites and cowards. When journalists choose option “b” they are intellectually lazy. When journalists opt for option “c” they’re usually in the service of an ideology. Only reporters who actually come here and look under more than one rock are worthy of any respect.
Witness the latest product (via Best of the Web) of one Tariq Ali from the Guardian. There is so much wrong with the piece my guess is Mr. Ali took option “b” above. The headline of the piece gives it away up front.
Resistance is the first step towards Iraqi independence
It’s always dangerous to use history as a guide to viewing the present. History provides perspective. It doesn’t provide a parallel. At best, it is a distorted lens through which to view the present. Most journalists make this mistake with regularity, some historians do too. Good historians never do.

So what exactly is wrong with this piece? Let’s start near the beginning.
Then, as now, the occupying power described all such activities as “terrorist”. Then, as now, prisoners were taken and tortured, houses that harboured them or their relatives were destroyed, and repression was multiplied. In the end, the French had to withdraw.
Talk about “projection!” Who is torturing prisoners??? Us? Too funny. What a card! Tariq should come out to Abu Ghraib prison. (I can call you Tariq, can’t I?) I’ll guide the tour myself. Better yet, he could contact those journalists from the London-based bureau chiefs of various Arab media who were here about a week and a half ago. Ask them if prisoners in Abu Ghraib are being tortured. They certainly talked to enough prisoners to make an assessment of who’s better off and under whom.
But also make sure you talk to the bureau chief who, after a tour outlining what Saddam’s folks did to people in Abu Ghraib, had to leave in mid-tour and wait outside. He couldn’t take the reality of it anymore. It was a little overwhelming.
Let me just regale you with a short tale.
There is a gallows in Abu Ghraib (bet you’re against capital punishment, aren’t ya, Tariq? But not when Saddam does it, of course.) Saddam used to use it pretty routinely. The gallows is basically a set of heavy metal doors over a hole in the floor. When they swing open they make a rather ominous din that reverberates through the prison. Which had the salutary effect (from Saddam’s viewpoint) of reinforcing in the rest of the prison population the fact that Saddam had just offed another “enemy of the state.”
But see, usually before a prisoner got to see the gallows, he was tortured for a good long while and often was emaciated. This presents a problem. How does one execute a prisoner by hanging, when the prisoner doesn’t weigh enough to cause the rope to break his neck?
No problem, that’s where the Saddam Fedayeen come in. For those prisoners who were not sufficiently meaty to enable their own deaths, a member of the Fedayeen (no doubt a volunteer) would jump on the legs of the victim as he hung there. That usually did the trick. But if it didn’t then no problem, Saddam had a small room at the bottom of the gallows chute where he’d gas them to finish them off.
So Tariq really has some chutzpah (I know I shouldn’t use the Hebrew, I’m sure it offends him, but it’s so damn effective) to assert that we torture anyone when Saddam left his evidence lying all around. If you think we are doing that Tariq, please produce some evidence. Meanwhile, you might want to look at the stack of records Saddam left lying all about. It’s taking us a while to catalogue everything Saddam did to his people. He was a very good record-keeper.
But then again, when you’re sitting in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, you don’t see these things. Don’t believe me? Go talk to the American Military Police officer currently in charge of Abu Ghraib prison. He’ll be happy to show you around. He’ll also be happy to point out the sensitivity of the American version of corrections. He’ll point out how the MPs had a wall built to muffle the sound of that door, which they open on occasion, as they show various press and non-governmental organizations around the prison.
It seems the sound of it still sends a chill through the prison population to this day.
Of course, Tariq, you’d actually have to be here for that tour.
Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein.
I must be one of the few who can deny that. Oh well, at least I am in privileged company. It seems my thinking runs along the lines of those who actually lived under Saddam and think they have a better deal now.
There is no reconstruction.
No reconstruction? Really? That must be news to Bechtel. All that money paid to them and they don’t have to produce a thing for it! Where do I get on the gravy train? It also must be news to USAID, Mercy Corps, and all the U.S. division commanders making things happen out there with CERP funding and soldier and local Iraqi labor.
There is mass unemployment. Daily life is a misery, and the occupiers and their puppets cannot provide even the basic amenities of life. The US doesn’t even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks, and so south Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and “friendly” companies are given precedence.
Hmmm, again, must be news to the Iraqis who clean out my “barracks” everyday. Must also be news to the Iraqis who clean out the CPA headquarters on a daily basis. Must also be news to our Iraqi translators and contractors too. I’m quite sure it’s news to those small businessmen who are reinvigorating the Iraqi economy. But then again, if you never leave the Palestine Hotel you have a better view of what’s actually going on in the streets of Baghdad on any given day. I guess the disinterested (and uninterested) distance provides “perspective.”
By the way, the Pakistanis and Filippinos who are here are actually working the dining facilities. Including this business at Baghdad airport. They’re doing that because the food service aspect of this operation had to be ready to go on short order, we couldn’t wait to get “in country” and then start vetting and hiring locals. These folks had to be ready to go the minute they set up shop.
Please, Tariq, don’t let a logical explanation stand where hysteria will do.
Mass unemployment. Yeah, jobs are scarce here, but we’re doing the best we can. Bechtel is subcontrcting at least half of all work to local contractors.
Oh, Tariq? Make sure you don’t mention that under Saddam there was a 50+% unemployment rate. We wouldn’t want to confuse the reader with something as uncomfortable as actual facts. See, that would allow them to evaluate information on their own and compare the current status of things. We simply cannot allow a reader to reach a conclusion without viewing things through a Tariq Ali colored filter. Can we?
Even under the best circumstances, an occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony capitalism, the new cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.
Wait! Didn’t you just say that there was no reconstruction? Then how did Bechtel and Halliburton get here? I mean, isn’t that what crony capitalism is all about?
It didn’t take a lot of paragraphs to hit the meme of the eeeeeeeeeeevil corporation, did it? OK, “C+” for the effort but an “F” on originality. At least we know we’re dealing with a Marxist now. So everything before and after this paragraph should be viewed in that light.
The Marxist view of history and life in general is concerned primarily with the “disposessed” and the struggle against capitalism (read: corporations). Given the experience with Marxism everywhere it’s been tried, the Marxist view of history could just as accurately be described as the struggle against job creation and providing the average citizen a livelihood.
If Tariq doesn’t like that definition of Marxism then he’s ignoring both history and the corpus of Marxist literature that proves otherwise. (Hey, they make you actually READ this stuff in college. Imagine!)
Tariq, did I mention that the Arab world is quickly running out of options when it comes to types of government?
It is the combination of all this that fuels the resistance and encourages many young men to fight. Few are prepared to betray those who are fighting. This is crucially important, because without the tacit support of the population, a sustained resistance is virtually impossible.
Wow, major league disconnect from reality. I really wish I could release statistics on how the tips off the street have skyrocketed. I wish I could point out how many attacks have been broken up specifically BECAUSE the average Iraqi is willing to “betray” those who would rather impose their own kind of dictatorship.
So let’s just instead say Tariq is clueless. Let’s just say that PLENTY of people are willing to “betray” those who are fighting. You know why? Because the average Iraqi in the street knows those who are doing the fighting didn’t come here to bring jobs, fix water treatment plants, pave roads, provide 2.2 million vaccinations, refurbish schools, conduct elections, provide backup power generation capability to hospitals, conduct maintenance on power plants that haven’t seen preventitive maintenance in 10 years, provide training in democratic principles and try to get the economy up and running.
The average Iraqi in the street knows those who are fighting are fighting for no other reason than to regain the goodies Saddam always made sure they had, or just for the simple joy of killing an American or being a martyr. (Boy, are they going to be disappointed.)
Those who are fighting are in a desperate race against time. They hope to inspire enough fear and create a sense of hopelessness before the average Iraqi at the very lowest levels of society wakes up one morning and says to himself, “Hey, the power hasn’t gone off at all in 3 weeks. Even Saddam couldn’t do that.”
The Iraqi maquis….
I love the use of the term “maquis.” Its very use conjures the image of heroic fighters against a totalitarian nightmare bent on their subjugation. Unfortunately for Tariq, the analogy in Iraq fails because what we actually have here are terrorists battling against the imposition of clean water, education for women and electricity that runs 24/7.
I can almost hear the “Internationale” playing in the background. NOT. But then again, I should expect this because it was Marxists who perfected the re-writing of history to airbrush unpleasant facts from the consciousness of mankind, wasn’t it, Tariq?
Most important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.
Disaster? Hell, unlike Tariq, I’m actually in Iraq and when I look around I don’t see a disaster. I see progress. That’s it! Tariq, like those heroic “resistance” fighters is actually against progress. No, no no, it simply wouldn’t do to have clean water when there is dysentery to be had. Checking my watch, I see it’s now time to return to the 7th century and the rule of a glorious caliphate.
Yeah, right.
So, ummm, Tariq, who’s your source at the Pentagon who said that Iran and Syria were next? No one? Hey, don’t let facts interrupt a ripping good yarn. Please, continue.
One of the more comical sights in recent months was Paul Wolfowitz on one of his many visits informing a press conference in Baghdad that the “main problem was that there were too many foreigners in Iraq”. Most Iraqis see the occupation armies as the real “foreign terrorists”.
You would think that if your only sources of news were newspapers with datelines in Fallujah, read over coffee in your hotel. But again, that’s a disconnect from reality.
The great poets of Iraq – Saadi Youssef and Mudhaffar al-Nawab – once brutally persecuted by Saddam, but still in exile, are the consciences of their nation. Their angry poems denouncing the occupation and heaping scorn on the jackals – or quislings – help to sustain the spirit of resistance and renewal.
Yeah, and this proves my point about literally mailing it in. Both Youssef and al-Nawab could finally come back and not only write in their homeland, from their homeland (not persecuted for a change). Hell, they could also become a part of the solution here in Iraq. But why would you want to do that when you’ve become so accustomed to tea and scones with clotted cream? I mean, do you know how hard it is to get a decent pint of ale in Baghdad? Geeesh. Come home? Why?
Ask yourself this question.
Why were they in exile in the first place?
Now ask another one.
Has the reason they were in exile since been removed?
Yeah, just checking.
Youssef writes: I’ll spit in the jackals’ faces/ I’ll spit on their lists/ I’ll declare that we are the people of Iraq/ We are the ancestral trees of this land.
…and I’ll do it from a comfortable flat in London.
And Nawwab: And never trust a freedom fighter/ Who turns up with no arms/ Believe me, I got burnt in that crematorium/ Truth is, you’re only as big as your cannons/ While those who wave knives and forks/ Simply have eyes for their stomachs.
Hey Mudhaffar, I noticed you survived that “creamatorium.” Go talk to the relatives of some who didn’t. Then, to borrow a line loathed from my days of taking essay exams in college — “compare and contrast.”
In other words, the resistance is predominantly Iraqi – though I would not be surprised if other Arabs are crossing the borders to help. If there are Poles and Ukrainians in Baghdad and Najaf, why should Arabs not help each other? The key fact of the resistance is that it is decentralised – the classic first stage of guerrilla warfare against an occupying army.
I’m sorry, had to take a minute there to laugh my ass off. I’m better now. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. Wow. Actually, the key fact of the resistance is not that it’s “decentralised”, the key fact is that it’s fragmented and lacks direction. Which, I suppose is a kind of decentralization. But not in the way Tariq meant it. You could point to an increase in attacks and say it implies central direction and I’d counter that it was predictable given that it ran concurrently with Ramadan.
Somehow, I think the guy on the ground trumps the guy phoning it in. But that’s just me, giving myself more credit than Tariq thinks I deserve.
Yesterday’s downing of a US Chinook helicopter follows that same pattern. Whether these groups will move to the second stage and establish an Iraqi National Liberation Front remains to be seen.
Someone has been reading too much Fidel and Che.
As for the UN acting as an “honest broker”, forget it – especially in Iraq, where it is part of the problem.
For once we agree. Even a leftist knows the UN is totally ineffective. Hell, in order to even give the pretense of effectiveness the UN would have to be, oh, I don’t know…here. Which they’re not in any big way.
Ever notice how lefties love the UN when it’s a thorn in the side of Uncle Sam? Ever notice how they loathe the UN when it’s not a thorn in the side of Uncle Sam? Seeing the pattern there?
Leaving aside its previous record (as the administrator of the killer sanctions, and the backer of weekly Anglo-American bombing raids for 12 years)…
Nope, Saddam had nothing to do with that. No, siree. The savior of mankind, the United Nations, dictates how Saddam should work and play well with others and then he doesn’t. So, the UN imposes sanctions and its our fault that Iraq is a shambles. Some one help me, I’m not getting the logical connection there.
The only norm recognised by the security council is brute force, and today there is only one power with the capacity to deploy it. That is why, for many in the southern hemisphere and elsewhere, the UN is the US.
Yeah, and thank God for that. No other nation in history has had this much power and abused it less. Try actually reading some history, Tariq.
The Arab east is today the venue of a dual occupation: the US-Israeli occupation of Palestine and Iraq.
Oh, oh! I thought the whole The-Jews-and-the-Zionist-Imperialist-Military-Industrial-Complex-Did-It meme would occur much earlier in this piece. It must have taken incredible discipline to hold off for this long. But no article by an Arab in a leftist newspaper in London would be complete unless it finally got around pandering to the audience. Ya gotta throw the tigers some red meat once in a while to keep ’em calm. People might come to the show to hear the new cuts from the album, but they like to hear the “greatest hits” when they are there too.
If initially the Palestinians were demoralised by the fall of Baghdad, the emergence of a resistance movement has encouraged them.
See this, this, this, and then this to find out why their tennuous grasp at reality will disappoint them again and again and again.
This old colonial notion that the Arabs are lost without a headman is being contested in Gaza and Baghdad.And were Saddam to drop dead tomorrow, the resistance would increase rather than die down.
Yeah, right. You mean like it did after Uday and Qusay took a dirt nap? Hell, there were celebrations in the streets. Sure, Tariq. Listen, that whole “Arabs need a strongman” stereotype is there for a reason. Historians didn’t make it up out of whole cloth because it wasn’t a recurring theme in Arab history. Again, try actually reading some. Or read some written by anyone other than Edward Said. You don’t have to take any more orders from him Tariq, he’s dead now.
Oh wait, now that Iraqis actually have a chance to show, no thanks to folks like you, they don’t need a strongman at the top, maybe we’ll actually break that cycle, huh Tariq?
Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out.
Wow, this nut job thinks we want to stay. Are you on crack? Do you think we’re here just to pick up some oriental rugs along with the leishmaniasis? I want to go home. (They let soldiers use flush toilets there you know.) There isn’t one soldier in Iraq who doesn’t want to go home. But there are also damn few soldiers here who don’t think this is the most important thing they’ve ever done in their lives. There are few soldiers here who, when asked, will not confirm that this is their moment in history. This is their time to make a difference. (Well, unless they’re in the National Guard.)
Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq’s people regain control of their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their country.
Here is the crowning irony in Tariq’s piece to which he is utterly oblivious. But we can ask the audience here and they might actually make the connection…
Class? Who is actually providing the means for the Iraqi people to “regain control of their own destiny”
(a) Coalition soldiers who will be here until the Iraqis conduct a fair and open election,
(b) Former regime loyalists, the 100,000 career criminals Saddam freed, Ansar-al-Islam, the occasional deranged nut job, Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi foreign fighters and assorted other Islamic fundamentalists who all long for a return to the glory days of Saddam getting his ass kicked by the U.S. military.
One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice, a formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by the Empire.
More irony. Hey, Tariq, why would we resent democracy and social justice? I mean, if the eeeeeeeeeevil corporations are behind all this then being the good little rapacious capitalists that we are, we would actually appreciate a democracy — as a market for our goods. In turn the “social justice” aspect of that utopia would gurantee the rise of a sclerotic nanny state which would then inhibit economic growth and suppress productivity, which in turn means we’d be able to enjoy goods like L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer canvas shirts at cut rate prices since a “living wage” in those countries will be peanuts by our standards.
Again, class? Does anyone have an answer? Tariq is at a loss.
Meanwhile, Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud and of which British and US citizens should be envious: an opposition.
For a time. But don’t worry. Troops on the street are bringing a better life to Iraq — one dead terrorist at a time.



  1. Al Maviva

    Resistance is the first step to independence?
    Well, I guess that’s true, in the same sense that collecting protection money, pimpin’ ho’s and running a numbers racket is the first step to financial freedom.
    You know, the more you see the Islamofascists in action, and the more you see the folks on the left who hug them, the more you understand Colonel Kurtz’s “kill them all… kill them all.” We aren’t up against rational opponents here, we’re up against lunatics who (a) think 1980’s vintage Beirut was heavenly; or in the case of the lefties, (b) think Beirut was the best thing ever and it should be praised because it embarassed Reagan and anybody who held to silly bourgeois notions like laws and “civilization”.
    I’m not saying Kurtz was right, but the reflex to say “kill them all” is there, and I’m not sure it’s the Heart of Darkness. Rather I think it’s some deeply ingrained survival instinct that recognizes nihilistic trends, and repulsed by them, fights against nihilism (and the inevitable deaths it brings) in the strongest possible fashion. Yeah, maybe it’s not pretty or civilized, but perhaps the desire to utterly destroy those who support trends that amount to societal suicide is just the strongest expression of the “fight” reflex of the “fight/flight” reaction to danger.
    Back in the day, the common enemies of man were starvation, weather, and the chaos of war. We are facing an enemy in Islamofascism that thinks that numbers one and three are valid tools by which to govern. That should tell you something about our enemies, and it should also stand as a commentary in the half-hearted way we are pursuing and sometimes appeasing them.

  2. Major Sean Bannion

    Al…I love you man.
    When I get to DC can we go to Bardo’s and get wrecked? I’m gonna need a drink after this place.
    You know for a group of people (the jihadis, not the Iraqis) who want to create heaven on earth via high explosives, they sure haven’t come up with any serious ideas in the last 400 years. Hell, they couldn’t even invent high explosives.
    But man, they can write some poetry.
    Headin’ out to bed. I want to be in my flak vest and asleep before tonight’s mortar attack comes in.

  3. Al Maviva

    God bless, Major Sean.
    When you get back to the D.C. area, we’ll get blitzed anywhere you want to get blitzed. I’ve never been to Bardos, but I’ll try anything at least once if it involves booze. I’m partial to the Brickskellar, The Big Hunt, Franklin’s Brewpub in Hyattsville, The Four Ps, Madame’s Organ and The Bottom Line on Eye Street… but I understand serviceable malt beverages are available at other locations as well.

  4. gcotharn

    Tell it Major! Must have felt good to get that off you chest. Your stuff is really informative. Thanks for all of it.

  5. John Anderson

    “Most important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.”
    As you say, the only “disaster” was to the Ghengis Khan- / Stalin- styled regime. And if it is so bad that this was removed, why does he imply it is also bad that other removals have been delayed? Shouldn’t that make him happy? Self-contradiction in a single sentence: nice writing style, if still not quite up to the challenge of being the most recent person since Quisling to add his name to the language, Fisk.
    Keep the news and analysis coming. Perhaps bloggers are not responsible for the changes in mainstream media that have slowly gained ground since mid-September, but then maybe you are. Squeaky wheels… A Republican comes back from Iraq saying bloggers are right about things being better than the news is saying, a group of Dems goes over and when they return say the same, press associations say no but apologise because their readers are too stupid to know reporting only daily problems does not mean there is no good news (??!!??), more travelling congresscritters say the news is unbalanced, and we start hearing some of the background stuff we hadn’t before. Like the electricity outages in Baghdad are more prevalent in Baghdad than under Saddam because he would steal it from other areas to keep his capitol lit, but the coalition routes from Baghdad to get some electricity flowing elsewhere: a change from just “reporting” that electricity in Baghdad is only six hours a day instead of twenty-four and people are upset.

  6. Sean

    Mighty strong post Major,
    Keep up the good work over there and keep us informed from the ground side. How long are you supposed to be in country?