LI has just listened to the lovely propaganda minute on NPR in which various voices tell us how thankful they are to live in the land of freedom and tinkerbell, the good old U.S.A. Oddly, there was no expression of thanks that one didn’t live in a city that freedom and tinkerbell had resolved to have disgorge its women and children and retain its young men in order to slaughter the latter, bomb its buildings into rubble, and leave behind a desert of disease, stray sniper fire, and chaos.
LI has been pondering the strategy in Iraq the last couple of days. Blowing up Fallujah, breaking into Baghdad’s most famous mosque and shooting randomly, clamping down in Mosul – what this amounts to, we think, is the American response to the dilemma it faces in the elections.
The dilemma is this: given the state of opinion imperfectly revealed by even those polls conducted by biased American agencies, Allawi is not the most popular Iraqi politician. In fact, Sadr could easily give him a run for his money. Other Iraqi figures who have no fame in the U.S., but who register positively with the Iraqi public, are more popular than Allawi. Having failed to create a united confederacy of parties to present to the voters at election time (peculiarly, the U.S., in its role as occupier-democratizer, wanted to make sure that the elections were pre-rigged, and offered no choice whatsoever to the voter), the U.S. does face the slight problem that an unacceptable choice might actually take the prize in the election. That is, some party or personage representing a slightly anti-occupation bent might displace Allawi. Although it is unclear whether that is possible – this is an election for a transitional congress, not for the executive branch of the government. Still, that is the kind of embarrassment that the Americans would prefer to avoid.
So the task is: make Allawi popular in the next two months. How to do this? Taking a page from Milosevic’s book, the U.S. has evidently decided to take a wager on stirring up such ethnic/religious hatred as would inflate Allawi’s support. In the early stages of the occupation, there was a struggle in the Bush administration between those, mainly at the State department, who distrusted the Shi’ites, fearing Iraq’s becoming an Iran style theocracy, and those, mainly among the Pentagon Pump House gang, who urged the desuetude of this fear. The reality of the war against the occupiers has shifted the terms of the struggle, adjusting U.S. strategy not only to a pro-Shi’ite stance, but one that uses the revanchist tendency among the Shi’a, who have vivid memories of past oppression, to invigorate the flagging popularity of the American puppet government. They are doing this by associating Allawi with gross and powerful violence against the Sunnis. It was notable that Sadr himself did not protest, with his usual spirit, the razing of Fallujah. The Americans are favored here by the jihadist element in the war, with its face of comic book evil, Zarqawi. Zarqawi, from all that one gathers about him, is a trailer trash version of Osama bin. Al Qaeda has operated in Pakistan as, among other things, an on call death squad to effect anti-Shi’ite pograms. Zarqawi’s associates have the same program. Thus, there is a perfect demonic synergy between the horrors dreamt of by Zarqawi’s people and the horrors perpetrated by the Americans.
Still, it is not even the silence that greeted the displacement of 200,000 Iraqis by the Americans that is the strangest part of the recent episodes in the war. That honor goes to the raid on the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad. While the Mosque had been raided before, to raid it while Fallujah was being destroyed and to raid it in the manner reported could only amount to a provocation intended to send people out into the street. The better to shoot them down, my dear. These tactics have been so refined during the twentieth century among innumerable petty authoritarian states unti they have a dreary predictability. Resistance is many things -- a romance, a neurosis, a political program, a desperation -- but it is, under certain specific circumstances, a real opportunity for an uncertain governing power. The sudden crackdown on Sunni imams for committing “treason” by urging resistance to the Allawi government that is the real sign of the times in Iraq.
Allawi, with American assistance, is creating the usual authoritarian matrix: singling out some minority enemy, using that enemy to enforce censorship, using the recess from scrutiny produced by that censorship to imprison, torture and kill, and, finally, using the fear that emanates from that to reinforce his image as an impenetrable force. Also sprach Saddam, of whom Allawi is a dutiful pupil. As the election approaches, the conditions in which a free election has meaning are nullified one by one, ultimately to the gain of the current leadership. This, we think, is the ultimate meaning of the sudden American appetite for largescale violence in Iraq. It is a strategy that has worked in the past. We will see if it erodes the support of anti-occupation forces in Iraq in the next two months. We think Sadr, for one, definitely miscalculated by maintaining an unwonted silence in the midst of the latest round of violence. He, of all political figures, has the most to lose if Allawi identifies himself with a revanchist Shi’ite politics.
ps - This analysis of this Thanksgiving post is shored up by two items today: one is a post on Juan Cole’s site. The other is this WP story.
The upshot is this. One justification for the occupation that ran like a light fever through the apologies of the belligeranti was that Iraq needed a supervisory force to keep from slipping into civil war. Now that supervisory force are encouraging civil war. I mean, who would have thought that an insufficient force sent by an imperialist power into an oil rich region divided between different ethnic and religious groups would secure its fragile hegemony by using divide and conquer tactics? Such things are only done by nations, but as we know from the virtuous Mr. Blair, the coalition represents morality itself.
It is the intellectual misery of oppression to operate with a predictably few kinds of forms. It is the intellectual task of its apologists to disguise this fact, year in and year out.