Thursday, July 06, 2006

Two Stories Tell the Tale

Two Stories Tell the Tale
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 06 July 2006

Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a central front on that war.
- George W. Bush, statement from Baghdad, 6/13/06

Two different stories boiled over in the last few days, each of which tells us too many sorry things about where we are as a nation. North Korea flopped several missiles into the Sea of Japan, including one that could reportedly reach the West Coast of the United States, and a discharged American soldier has been accused of raping an Iraqi teenager and shooting her and three members of her family.

The missiles in North Korea are of fundamental importance to both American national security, and the security of the Pacific region. In an irony of global proportions, the rogue government of North Korea declared to the United States and the world that it possessed nuclear weapons on April 24, 2003. This was, of course, a little more than a month after the Bush administration initiated the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Three years later, we are still mired in the bloodbath of Iraq, having found no weapons of mass destruction and having failed to establish anything even remotely resembling a democracy. A nation that was no threat to US security was smashed to flinders, and has since bloomed into a real and growing national security threat.

The influential journal Foreign Affairs recently polled 100 leading foreign policy experts on the efficacy of the so-called "War on Terror," and 86 of them declared the thing to be a comprehensive failure. We are far less safe now, they reported, thanks largely to what we have done in Iraq. "When you strip away the politics, the experts, almost to a person, are very worried about the administration," said Joe Cirincione, vice-president of the Center for American Progress. "They think none of our front-line institutions is doing a good job and that Iraq has made the terror situation much worse."

That threat was outlined in a recent diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Baghdad that describes the daily situation on the streets of Iraq. According to the cable, neighborhoods are dominated by self-appointed "governments" who barricade streets to keep outsiders away. Ethnic cleansing is taking place on a daily basis in every province. Gas lines last all day, and electricity is unavailable for hours at a time. Iraqi civilians working for the embassy must hide their employment or face abduction and death. The notion that the Iraqi central government exercises any control whatsoever is dismissed as laughable.

Yet here is North Korea flinging missiles into the ether after having openly admitted to possessing nuclear weapons. The fact that these missiles failed is no salve, for that failure will be used by their engineers to diagnose and fix the problems that brought the missiles down. The Bush administration expended blood and treasure to crush a country that had no ability to harm us, and sat idly by while a genuine threat sharpened its claws. Worse, this administration even now touts Iraq as the "central front" of their failed terror war.

This is not to say that the administration should have attempted an invasion and occupation of North Korea instead of Iraq. China, Russia, Japan and Pacific Rim geopolitics in general make such an invasion somewhat sticky. More important, of course, are North Korea's conventional warfare capabilities. Any kind of invasion or attack would have been riddled with danger and the potential for broadening complications.

Maybe, just maybe, a decision to avoid the invasion and occupation of Iraq would not have weakened American prestige on the international stage. Maybe the Bush administration's decision to give the international community the back of its hands would have helped us negotiate with the teeth-grinders running North Korea. Maybe our ability to telegraph a threat, something central to any negotiating stance and specifically important when dealing with a rogue state, would be far superior today had we not denuded our armed forces and treasury by getting bogged down in a useless Iraqi excursion.

The story surrounding the rape and slaughter of the Iraqi teenager and her family is, perhaps, even more damaging and dangerous than the North Korean situation. According to reports, Steven D. Green and several other soldiers got boozed up before breaking into the home of a family in Mahmudiayh, some 20 miles outside Baghdad. They shot three family members to death with an AK-47, raped the young woman, and then killed her as well. Their blood-spattered clothes were later burned to dispose of evidence.

News reports of the incident describe Green has having a "personality disorder," which may have motivated his actions, but nothing is said of the other soldiers involved having similar disorders. They picked this young Iraqi woman out, raped her, and butchered her and her family. This is one of five incidents currently under investigation involving American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians, the most notorious being the massacre in Haditha of 24 Iraqis.

The soldiers we have deployed over there are beginning to snap. They are trapped in an environment with no clear enemy to fight, but where their comrades are killed every day. Their mission has nothing to do with democracy or weapons of mass destruction, and they know it. All too often, they are killed on patrols between northern Iraq and Baghdad while guarding the convoys that run to and from the petroleum facilities. They go home and are sent back, and go home and are sent back.

The strain is on every soldier over there, and some of them are going insane from the pressure. Those who do not explode in a frenzy of indiscriminate violence suffer nonetheless, and must now endure the moral stain brought upon them by those fellow soldiers for whom the pressure is too much. Many vow to get out of the service once their time is up. Experienced non-commissioned officers - the backbone of any effective military - are walking away in record numbers. The threat posed to the basic fabric of our armed forces by Iraq is manifest and growing.

Delineating gradations of "horrifying" becomes a subjective task after a time, because after a certain level of disgust is reached and then surpassed, everything melds into indiscriminate shades of darkness. We invaded Iraq under false premises, killed tens and tens of thousands of innocent civilians, lost more than two thousand soldiers in the effort, ravaged the infrastructure, destroyed the economy, stole the oil, shattered any semblance of social order, unleashed a slow-burning civil war, and have attempted to paint the whole thing over with a veneer of democracy.

Our ability to deal with international threats has suffered, and our soldiers in Iraq are showing undeniable signs of cracking. We have been whistling past the graveyard in North Korea, and making a graveyard out of Iraq, and the world is a far more dangerous place today because of it.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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