James Glanz’s article about Basra sets, perhaps, a new record for propaganda from the NYT. To understand why the course of American foreign policy is beset by serial disasters like a car with a bad transmission problem, one has to understand that the info Americans get about foreign countries is saturated with a corporatist, conservative and essentially ignorant world view, as reporters with a free marketing, America-centric mindset meet subalterns with the same mindset. Like means like, the group groupthinks, and the kids outside dance around torched American tanks.
Glanz’s article centers on the fantasies of some of his informants – all of the upper class or working for them, all business people – about Southern Iraq. The most hilarious of the images he conjures up is Basra as another Singapore. Oh Singapore, where life has been totally sacrificed to the seven virtues of highly efficient people! It is the dead breath of the American dream in a small foreign place, and don’t you know, Timesmen just love it – as long as they can get away for the weekend, perhaps nobly freeing sex slaves in Thailand to the tune of Onward Christian soldiers, like Kristof.
What isn’t mentioned in Glanz’s article? Hmm, let’s start with the fact that the South is the stronghold not of a Singapore-ist faction, but of a theocratic faction. There were local elections in the South which somehow didn’t get into Glanz’s article. Pity, that. He has a nice dreamy sentence about an American friendly, free enterprising Southern Iraqi state: “Several different versions of a southern Iraqi republic have been proposed. One would include only the three or four southernmost provinces - Basra, Muthanna, Dhi Gar and Maysan” Funny, not mentioning that Sadr’s political party won the local election in Maysan, and came in second in Muthanna. Well, Sadr of course is one of those problematic characters outside the Narrative, and it is best to ignore him. Especially as he seems to have the weird idea that Americans have come to exploit Iraq instead of liberate it. How much nicer to find people who understand our way of life – so civilized! such dealmakers! Surely these are the kind of people an empire that runs on oil can rely on.
There’s a kind of rule of thumb, here. When the NYT announces something definite about Iraq – say, for instance, the announcements last year that the army had completely destroyed the insurgents in Samarra – one should expect a completely contradictory next announcement - as in, Battles in Samarra, ten dead in Samarra, etc., etc. Glanz’s article is an ill omen for poor Basra.