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Thursday, January 16, 2014

more warhawk shit in the new yorker

Jon Lee Anderson  has a reputation  as one of the finest foreign correspondents in the US. He thoroughly trashed that reputation during the Iraq war, and yet, astonishingly, he is regularly published in the New Yorker as an “expert” on what is happening in Iraq. The recent and wholly predictable eruption ofviolence by the Sunnis against Malaki’s government is subject to one of thisthumbsuckers on the  New Yorker site thisweek, and it is typically dreadful. Mark Danner, in 2006, wrote something simple and essential about the American  image of what was happening in Iraq. After retailing the story of a state department official who assured  him that the people of Falluja would turn out in surprising numbers to vote for the Iraq constitution, who seemed wholly convinced of his own story and who proved wholly wrong, the dime dropped for Danner:
“You know, though you spend your endless, frustrating days speaking to Iraqis, lobbying them, arguing with them, that in a country torn by a brutal and complicated war those Iraqis perforce are drawn from a small and special subset of the population: Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives by meeting with and talking to Americans. Which is to say, very often, Iraqis who depend on the Americans not only for their livelihoods but for their survival. You know that the information these Iraqis draw on is similarly limited, and that what they convey is itself selected, to a greater or lesser extent, to please their interlocutor. But though you know that much of your information comes from a thin, inherently biased slice of Iraqi politics and Iraqi life, hundreds of conversations during those grueling twenty-hour days eventually lead you to think, must lead you to think, that you are coming to understand what’s happening in this immensely complicated, violent place. You come to believe you know. And so often, even about the largest things, you do not know.
Before  we get to Anderson’s post about al qaeda in Falluja in 2014, let’s go back to the way he  "explained" the insurgency in 2004, while Falluja was being devastated by the Americans. In an interview with Amy Davidson published on the New Yorker website he said:

"In a sense, the Iraqi insurgency began in advance of the arrival of American troops in Baghdad on April 9, 2003. Arab jihadis from other countries—volunteer would-be martyrs, mostly religious Muslims—had been flowing into the country, at the instigation of Saddam’s government, in the weeks before the invasion. The idea was that they would carry out suicide operations as part of Saddam’s strategy to hold the capital and to weaken the Americans, as what Saddam imagined would be a siege of Baghdad began."

This is, of course, almost pure Cheneyism, a desperate attempt to save an ill-motivated war of aggresion by sprinkling it with the terrorist-bogeyman fairy dust. In fact, Anderson has evidence for no such thing.  The discredited link between Saddam and al qaeda is replayed here as propaganda to divert the attention of the American public from the fact that the Iraqis did not feel "liberated" by the Americans.

Flash forward ten years and you will see that Anderson is still a great believer in what Danner correctly labeled the “imaginary war”. That is the war which Americans fantasized, and sought collaborators among Iraqis to validate their fantasies. (Danner made this point in 2005, while I made the same point on my blog in 2003, before the war started.
Anderson anchors his piece to a quote from his 2005 interview with the American ambassador to Iraq. He then asks if, in terms of the Ambassador’s remark – that the thought of a violent Sunni-Shiite war made him shudder – we should now be taking stock. Taking stock? Where was the stocktaking in 2005? The two "battles" of Fallujah were in many ways the most inhumane thing the Americans did in a long and criminal war. Not only did they practically raze the city in Grozny-esque fashion, but they forced 200000 to flee it without providing a tent or a cot. Of course, this isn’t how Anderson remembers his famous battles – rather, in his current post, he has the audacity to provide casualty counts solely on the Americans killed in Falluja. In other words, Anderson still does not understand the most basic thing about the war in Iraq – that it was about the Iraqis. Maybe, in the stocktaking mood in 2005, could have asked the American ambassador how a former Ba'athist torturer, Allawi, got dubbed our De Gaulle in "liberated" Iraq - after the sad failure of our other de Gaulle, Chalabi, to, well, gain traction.
Well, there are endless stocktaking questions that Anderson is ten years late in asking. And he still doesn’t understand why. Myself, I don’t understand why David Remnick’s foreign correspondents in the Middle East have been taken from the same tired hawks who were wrong about Iraq: George Packer, Dexter Filkins, George Packer. Danner once wrote for the New Yorker. Maybe they should put all the Iraq news in his account.  

Or perhaps me. Danner’s revelatory moment that made him realize that the American image of the war in Iraq was very different from the war in Iraq came in 2005. But I knew this even before the war started. The debate about the war in the press at the time was unbelievable, in as much as the part of the belligerants were defending the upcoming war in terms that had nothing to do with the war that Bush was proposing and that the Americans were supposed to enact. I picked on Hitchens at lot at the time, since he was the worst of the pro-war polemicists. In February23, 2003, I wrote on my Limited Inc blog:
“One of the oddities of the upcoming war (may Popeye avert it!) is that those opposing it are accused of having no "solution" to the situation in Iraq. Usually this accusation is made by supporters of the war, like Salman Rushdie , who support an entirely different war than the one justified by Bush and Blair. LI thinks it is fair to assume that Bush and Blair will not invite Rushdie, or Hitchens, or any of the rest of them, into their counsels of war when the invasion begins. So arguing about the Rushdie/Hitchens war is a pointless exercise: that war is neither contemplated nor likely to be fought.

However, the idea that we, who speak no Arabic, or Kurnamji, who have no stake in Iraq, and who have no sense of the fabric of the culture, come up with "solutions" to how Iraq should be governed is... curious. It is one of those problems that remind me of why, in spite of my overall disagreement with Hayek, I am sympathetic to some of his grander themes. Hayek's objection to centrally planned economies was that planning diverges from reality at just that key point where reality is lived -- because that is the point of accident, of emergence, of unexpected outcomes, of intangible knowledge, of everything that falls in the domain of acquaintance, as William James puts it, rather than propositional knowledge.”

It turned out that I wasn’t wholly right to dismiss the imaginary war, because this is how the American establishment not only justified itself before the public, but also how, in one part of their mind, they actually thought. Like all monsters, they became terminally prey to doublethought.


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