TomGram / a project of the Nation Institute – 2004-06-02 09:14:35
Chalmers Johnson: Questions for the President
TomGram / a project of the Nation Institute
At the end of a Memorial Day weekend during which Time magazine revealed that our “dead or alive” President was displaying the last pistol Saddam Hussein ever touched in a White House trophy room, farce and tragedy seemed to be in a race to the finish line in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Time reported: “‘He really liked showing it off,’ says a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. ‘He was really proud of it.’ The pistol’s new place of residence is in the small study next to the Oval Office where Bush takes select visitors after pointing out better-known White House pieces like the busts of Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower… The study — the one where Bill Clinton held some of his infamous trysts with White House intern Monica Lewinsky — has become a place where Bush keeps the memorabilia that hold special significance for him.”
In the meantime, thanks to Judicial Watch, a “conservative watchdog group,” Time also reported on quite a different trophy — this one awarded via Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. A Pentagon email has surfaced indicating that the VP’s office “coordinated” a major no-bid “Restore Iraqi Oil” contract that went to — here’s a shock — Cheney’s former company Halliburton on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. (“The e-mail says [Pentagon hawk Douglas] Feith approved arrangements for the contract ‘contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP’s [Vice President’s] office.'”)
Outside the Beltway, in a version of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for syndrome, the “central front in the war on terrorism” (as our President likes to call it) has spread deeper yet into Saudi Arabia in another bloody incident of murder and hostage-taking by an al-Qaeda-linked group among the foreign oil workers who keep that precious energy source flowing from Saudi wellheads.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, UN diplomat Lakdar Brahimi, who arrived earlier in the month to form a new “transition” government of “technocrats,” has evidently put his reluctant seal of approval on the prime ministerial nominee of the Iraqi Governing Council — 18 out of 25 of whose members hold foreign passports — which might easily have been called the American Non-Governing Council.
The Americans, of course, insisted on Brahimi when the UN agreed to send a negotiator to Iraq and it seems he has come through in exactly the style the Bush administration expected. Dexter Filkins of the New York Times today used a word to describe his actions not normally seen in the Times –“folded.” (“Instead of fashioning the kind of savvy compromise for which he is known, Mr. Brahimi appears to have folded, acquiescing to the desires of the Americans, who were promoting Dr. Alawi.”) In what might well have been termed a coup d’état, if a state were anywhere in sight, the Governing Council with L. Paul Bremer’s backing simply trumped Brahimi by announcing that the new prime minister would be Ayad Allawi, a Shiite exile, Governing Council member, and head of the Iraqi Nationalist Accord (INA), made up in part of former Baathist military men !
and long backed by the CIA, the State Department, and British intelligence. Other than a failed military coup against Saddam, Allawi is best known for having handed Tony Blair a plum piece of prewar disinformation — that Saddam’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction could be deployed, battle ready, in 45 minutes. He was, in that sense, Blair’s Ahmed Chalabi.
Behind the scenes, the Bush administration’s new man in Baghdad, Bob Blackwill of the National Security Council, a supposed “realist” from the Elder Bush school of American diplomacy, seems to have engineered most of what’s happened, leaving whatever remained of the UN’s reputation in Iraq in shreds. To get the full impact of this you need to read the British press, not ours, where a typical headline announced “UN fury over Bush attempts to install PM”; Guardian reporters wrote bluntly, “Many observers now fear that yet another critical opportunity has been thrown away,” and Justin Huggler and Rupert Cornwell of the Independent spoke of Allawi’s nomination as the last of ten disastrous U-turns in American Iraqi policy, all geared to the November election. In certain British reports, you find the very word “sovereignty” in quotation marks (a simple reflection of Iraqi reality, but inconceivable in an American newspaper).
Of course, whoever runs this “government” will have little to run, since there is, in essence, no Iraqi military for the new government to try to control and L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Administration has already put any “transition administration” into a legislative and economic straightjacket, not to say stranglehold. All the latest round of maneuvering shows is that the Americans, even with the help of a sympathetic UN negotiator, have proved incapable of putting anything like an “Iraqi face” (as administration officials like to say) on the transition event. The only “face” they’re capable of displaying is an American one.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the seedlings planted by Bush administration occupation policy have begun to bear bitter fruit. The city of Falluja, where not so long ago our troops were ordered to kill or disarm all insurgents, has now reportedly become — shades of Taliban Afghanistan — a mini-“Islamic” state with whippings for selling liquor and hair-shavings for long-haired young men; while in the south, the rebel cleric Muktada al-Sadr, previously to be “killed or captured,” has evidently struck a deal to maintain his militia intact and his own existence as well — and still the fighting there and elsewhere goes on with yet more American deaths, more British casualties, more convoys of unidentified Western “civilians” ambushed, and further fighting near holy sites over the weekend. And — a sign of things to come? — the approximately 100 Iraqi policemen whom the !
Americans had just emplaced in the holy city of Najaf, after some sort of agreement was reportedly reached with Sadr, have, according to CNN, already deserted their posts and left the city.