Robert Fisk / The Independent & Greg Palast – 2006-12-09 08:37:48
The New Roman Empire Is Failling
Robert Fisk / Common Dreams/The Independent
(December 7, 2006) — The new Roman Empire is falling. That, in a phrase, is what James Baker’s Iraq Study Group report says. The legions cannot impose their rule on Mesopotamia.
Just as Crassus lost his legions’ banners in the deserts of Syria-Iraq, so too has George W. Bush. There is no Mark Antony to retrieve the honor of the Empire. The policy “is not working”. “Collapse” and “catastrophe” – words heard in the ancient Roman senate many a time — were embedded in the text of the Baker report. Et tu, James?
This is also the language of the Arab world, always waiting for the collapse of another empire, for the destruction of the safe Western world which has provided it with money, weapons, political support. First, the Arabs trusted the British Empire and Winston Churchill, and then they trusted the American Empire and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and all the other men who would give guns to the Israelis and billions to the Arabs – Nixon, Carter, Clinton, Bush…
And now they are told that the Americans are not winning the war; that they are losing. If you were an Arab, what would you do?
Be sure, they are not asking this question in Washington. The Middle East – supposedly so all-important in the “war on terror” (in itself, a myth) — doesn’t really matter in the White House. It is a district, a map, a region, every bit as amorphous as the “crescent of crisis” which the Clinton administration invented when it wanted to land its troops in Somalia. How to get out, how to save face, that’s the question. To hell with the people who live there: the Arabs, the Iraqis, the men, the women, and the children whom we kill — and whom the Iraqi resistance kill — every day.
Note how our “spokesmen” in Afghanistan now acknowledge the dead woman and children killed by NATO airstrikes, as if it is quite in order to slaughter these innocent civilian noncombatants because we are at war with the horrid Taliban.
Some of the same mindset has arrived in Baghdad, where “Coalition of the Willing” spokesmen also — from time to time — jump in front of the videotape evidence by accepting that they, too, kill women and children in their war against “terror.”
But it is the sentences of impotence that doom empires, ancient and postmodern. “The ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing.” There is a risk of a “slide towards chaos [sic] [that] could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe.”
But hasn’t that ALREADY happened? “Collapse” and “catastrophe” are daily present in Iraq. America’s ability “to influence events” has been absent for years. And let’s just re-read the following sentence: “Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency. Shiite [Shia] militi as, death squads, al-Qa’ida and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability.”
Come again? Where was this “widespread criminality,” this “sectarian conflict,” when Saddam Hussein, our favorite war criminal, was in power? What do the Iraqis think about this devolution into chaos? And how typical that the American media went immediately to hear Bush’s view of the Baker report — rather than the reaction of the Iraqis, those who are on the receiving end of our self-induced tragedy in Mesopotamia.
They will enjoy the idea that American troops should be “embedded” with Iraqi forces –not so long ago, it was the press that had to be “embedded” with the Americans! — as if the Romans were ready to place their legions amidst the Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths to ensure their loyalty.
What the Romans DID do, of course — and what the Americans would NEVER do — is offer their subjects Roman citizenship. Every tribe — in Gaul or Bythinia or Mesopotamia — who fell under Roman rule became a citizen of Rome. What could Washington have done with Iraq if it had offered American citizenship to every Iraqi? There would have been no insurrection, no violence, no collapse, no catastrophe, and no Baker report. But no. We wanted to give these people “democratic self-governance” and “free-market capitalism” as fruits of our civilization — not inclusion in the civilization itself. From this, they were banned.
And the result? The nations that we supposedly hated in the so-called “Axis of Evil” — Iran and Syria — are now expected to save us from ourselves. “Given the ability [sic] of Iran and Syria to influence events and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage [sic] them constructively.”
I love those words. Especially “engage.” Yes, the “influence of America” is diminishing. The influence of Syria and Iran is growing. That just about sums up the “war on terror.” Any word yet, I wonder, from Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara?
The Baker panel considered four options, all of which it rejected:
 Cut And Run — Baker believes rapid US withdrawal from Iraq would cause a humanitarian disaster, while al-Qa’ida would expand further.
 Stay The Course — Baker accepts that current US policy is not working. Nearly 100 Americans are dying every month. The US is spending $2 billion (£1bn) per week and has lost public support.
 Send In More Troops — Increases in US troop levels would not solve the cause of violence in Iraq. Violence would simply rekindle as soon as US forces moved.
 Regional Devolution — If the country broke up into three regions governed by the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, it would lead to ethnic cleansing and mass population moves.
 Responsible Transition — Baker outlines a preferred fifth option in which the number of US forces could be increased to shore up the Iraqi army while it takes over primary responsibility for combat operations. US troops would then decrease slowly.
And there you have it: the Baker report’s fifth option is “Iraqification.” Meanwhile, the Iraqis themselves say overwhelmingly in polls that the Anglo-American military presence is inflaming the violence rather than reducing it, that a timetable for withdrawal would be a useful signal that we really are going to pull out, and that Iraqi factions need to conciliate and address their own problems.
Robert Fisk is an internationally-respected British journalist.
The Baker Boys: Stay Half the Course
Iraq Study Group or Saudi Protection League?
by Greg Palast
(December 7, 2006) — They’re kidding, right?
James Baker III and the seven dwarfs of the “Iraq Study Group” have come up with some simply brilliant recommendations. Not.
Baker’s Two Big Ideas are:
• 1. Stay half the course. Keeping 140,000 troops in Iraq is a disaster getting more disastrous. The Baker Boys’ idea: cut the disaster in half — leave 70,000 troops there.
But here’s where dumb gets dumber: the Bakerites want to “embed” US forces in Iraqi Army units. Question one, Mr. Baker: What Iraqi Army? This so-called “army” is a rough confederation of Shia death squads. We can tell our troops to get “embedded” with them, but the Americans won’t get much sleep.
• 2. “Engage” Iran. This is a good one. How can we get engaged when George Bush hasn’t even asked them out for a date? What will induce the shy mullahs of Iran to accept our engagement proposal? Answer: The Bomb.
Let me explain. To get the Iranians to end their subsidizing the Mahdi Army and other Shia cut-throats, the Baker bunch suggest we let the permanent members of the UN Security Council — plus, Germany — decide the issue of Iran’s nukes. Attaching Germany is the signal. These signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agree that Iran should be allowed a “peaceful” nuclear power program.
More… Now, I am absolutely wary of neo-con nuts who want to blow Iran to Kingdom-come over its nuclear ambitions. But that doesn’t mean we should kid ourselves. Iran has zero need of “peaceful” nuclear-generated electricity. It has the second-largest untapped reserve of natural gas on the planet, a clean, safe, cheap source of power. There’s only one reason for a “nuclear” program, and it’s not to light Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bedside lamp.
Here’s the problem with Baker’s weird combo of embedding our boys with Iraq’s scary army while sucking up to the Iranians: it won’t work. The mayhem will continue, with Americans in the middle, because the Baker brigade dares not mention two words: “Saudi” and “Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room (camel in the tent?) that can’t be acknowledged — and the reason Baker is so desperately anxious to sell America on keeping half our soldiers in harm’s way.
James III wants to seduce or bully Iran into stopping their funding of the murderous Shia militias. But the Shias only shifted into mass killing mode in response to the murder spree by Sunni “insurgents.”
Where do the Sunnis get their money for mayhem? According to a seething memo by the National Security Agency (November 8, 2006), the Saudis control the, “public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads.” Nice.
Baker wants us to bribe or blackmail Iran into stopping one side in Iraq’s uncivil war, the Shia. Yet we close our eyes to the Saudis acting as a piggy bank for the other side, the Sunni berserkers. (The House of Saud follows Wahabi Islam, a harsh, fundamentalist sect of Sunnism.)
Why is Baker, ordinarily such a tough guy, so coy with the Saudis? Baker Botts, the law firm he founded, became a wealthy powerhouse by representing Saudi Arabia. But don’t worry, the Iraq Study Group is balanced by Democrats including Vernon Jordan of the law firm of Akin, Gump which represents … Saudi royals.
Of course, the connections between Baker, the Bush Family and the Saudis go way beyond a few legal bills. (See, “The Best Little Legal Whorehouse in Texas” from my book Armed Madhouse.
Baker is more than aware that, two weeks ago, Dick Cheney dropped his Thanksgiving turkey to fly to Riyadh at the demand of the Saudis for a dressing down by King Abdullah. The Saudis have made it clear that they will crank up their payments to warriors in Iraq to protect their Sunni brothers if America pulls out our troops.
King Abdullah’s wish is Cheney’s command — and Baker’s too. The Saudis want 70,000 US troops baby-sitting the Shia killers in Iraq’s Army — and so we will stay.
What gives King Abdullah the power to ghost-write the Iraq Study Group recommendations? It’s not because the Saudis sell us broccoli.
And therein lies the danger. Behind the fratricidal fracas in Iraq is something even more dangerous than bullets in Baghdad: a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia to control Iraq’s place in OPEC, the oil cartel. What is painted by Baker’s Iraq Study Group as an ancient local clash between Shia and Sunni over the Kingdom of God, is, in fact, a remote control proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom of Oil.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Armed Madhouse” which includes Palast’s investigation, conducted for Harper’s Magazine, of the secret role of James Baker III and Saudi Arabia in the forming of US plans for Iraq’s oil.
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