Shortly after 9/11, LI interviewed Peter Galbraith for the Austin Statesman (which has recently endorsed Bush, in payback for a piece of legislation the Cox family dearly appreciated – the rollback of the inheritance tax).
Galbraith’s brother, James, the economist, lives in Austin. We later interviewed him in connection with another article. James, as an economist, gets tons of respect in this corner, but as an interviewee he sucks – surly, unclear, etc. In contrast, Peter was a joy to talk to.
Of the people who supported the war in Iraq, Peter was both the one we respected most and the one who has consistently operated to criticize the occupation from the standpoint of the original reasons he chose to support the invasion. In our opinion, due to his work with the Kurds in the late 80s and his witnessing of the afteraffects of Saddam’s mass murders, he has made a fatal unconscious jump from sympathy for the victim to apologist for Kurdistan. That has prevented him from confronting the reality of the history of Northern Iraq, which is not a tale of increasing freedom, but a tale of sporadic fighting between two warlord groups, interspersed with a subplot of increasing freedom.
If one can imagine an intelligent pro-war intellectual – a sort of Hitchens with brains – then it is Galbraith.
His recent survey, in the NYRB, of the landscape of occupation mistakes was, we think, the most devastating indictment of the occupation to be found outside the pages of … well, this site. For that reason, we strongly recommend his op ed piece in the Boston Globe, which concludes that the war has made Iraq better off, but then lets this last graf drop:
“It is my own country that is worse off -- 1,100 dead soldiers, billions added to the deficit, and the enmity of much of the world. Someone out there has nuclear bomb-making equipment, and they may not be well disposed toward the United States. Much of this could have been avoided with a competent postwar strategy.”
The article intros thusly:
“IN 2003 I went to tell Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz what I had seen in Baghdad in the days following Saddam Hussein's overthrow. For nearly an hour, I described the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion -- the unchecked looting of every public institution in Baghdad, the devastation of Iraq's cultural heritage, the anger of ordinary Iraqis who couldn't understand why the world's only superpower was letting this happen.”
Alas for Galbraith – he still doesn’t understand the chain of command in Iraq. He should have been talking to the head of Raytheon, which the Bush administration tapped to take care of minor things like looting. Ray Bonner’s article back on October 14, 03 about the Al Musaiyib dump and the wonderful pickings there obviously passed quickly into the unconsciousness that absorbs all news out-of-the-narrative from Iraq. In that article it was revealed that the Pentagon pump house gang, on top of the situation as usual, had sportingly decided not to deprive guerrillas of hand held missile launchers or such stuff for a certain period – a sort of hunting season. But they had signed a contract with Raytheon to start actually guarding the dumps in December. So from May to December, it was the Pentagon position that Iraqis, overwhelmed with joy at their liberation, were simply rifling the munitions dumps to decorate their living rooms.
“BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 13 - The two most recent suicide
bombings here and virtually every other attack on American
soldiers and Iraqis were carried out with explosives and
matériel taken from Saddam Hussein's former weapons dumps,
which are much larger than previously estimated and remain,
for the most part, unguarded by American troops, allied
officials said Monday.
The problem of uncounted and unguarded weapons sites is
considerably greater than has previously been stated, a
senior allied official said.
The American military now says that Iraq's army had nearly
one million tons of weapons and ammunition, which is half
again as much as the 650,000 tons that Gen. John P.
Abizaid, the senior American commander in the Persian Gulf
region, estimated only two weeks ago.
In separate interviews, the officials, civilian and
military and from different countries, expressed concern
about the potential of attackers with access to the weapons
dumps to nurture violence and insecurity.
There are not enough American soldiers here to do the job
of finding the weapons and securing them until they can be
destroyed, the officials said. A private American company,
Raytheon, has been awarded a contract to destroy the
weapons, but it will not begin work until December, one
In the let it bleed war, however, such things are insignificant. String out your soldiers, let them occupy a territory for an undetermined number of years, use the war to your political advantage but never wage it in any but a frivolous way, and there you have a foolproof (and foolmade) policy. At least, though, it doesn’t have to pass a Global Test.
Interestingly, the U.S., before it decided that looting at Al Musayyib was just good sport, had featured the plant as the big bad reason we had to go right into Iraq. It was a prominent part of Colin Powell’s slideshow for the UN. Many people have commented on the reasons for the increase in violence in Iraq from about last fall until now. LI has adduced a sort of social psychology of resentment of the occupiers to explain it. But who knows -- the more mundane reason might simply be that the guerrillas were stocking up on their weaponry, while the CPA watched and waited for Raytheon. This would be a very Tolstoyian reason -- the immediate contingencies of the material nexus of war, as Tolstoy observes in War and Peace, being of a much greater influence than the strategies of the generals.