Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Petraeus's Ponzi Scheme

Petraeus's Ponzi Scheme

By Tom Engelhardt

The Nation April 7, 2008


They came, they saw, they deserted.

That, in short form, is the story of the recent Iraqi

government 'offensive' in Basra (and Baghdad ). It took

a few days, but the headlines on stories out of Iraq

('Can Iraq 's Soldiers Fight?') now tell a grim tale and

the information in them is worse yet. Stephen Farrell

and James Glanz of the New York Times estimate that at

least 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, or more than

4% of the force sent into Basra , 'abandoned their

posts' during the fighting, including 'dozens of

officers' and 'at least two senior field commanders.'

Other pieces offer even more devastating numbers. For

instance, Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londono of the

Washington Post suggest that 30% of government troops

had 'abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was

reached.' Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times offers

50% as an estimate for police desertions in the midst

of battle in Baghdad 's vast Sadr City slum, a

stronghold of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

In other words, after years of intensive training by

American advisors and an investment of $22 billion

dollars, US military spokesmen are once again left

trying to put the best face on a strategic disaster

(from which they were rescued thanks to negotiations

between Muqtada al-Sadr and advisors to Prime Minister

Nouri al-Maliki, brokered in Iran by General Qassem

Suleimani, a man on the U.S. Treasury Department's

terrorist watch list). Think irony. 'From what we

understand,' goes the lame American explanation, 'the

bulk of these [deserters] were from fairly fresh troops

who had only just gotten out of basic training and were

probably pushed into the fight too soon.'

This week, with surge commander General David Petraeus

back from Baghdad 's ever redder, ever more dangerous

'Green Zone,' here are a few realities to keep in mind

as he testifies before Congress:

1. The situation in Iraq is getting worse: Don't

believe anyone who says otherwise. The surge-ified,

'less violent' Iraq the general has presided over so

confidently is, in fact, a chaotic, violent tinderbox

of city states, proliferating militias armed to the

teeth, competing regions armed to the teeth, and

competing religious factions armed to the teeth. Worse

yet, under Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the

U.S. has been the great proliferator. It has armed and

funded close to 100,000 Sunnis organized into militias

reportedly intent on someday destroying 'the Iranians'

(i.e. the Maliki government). It has also supported

Shiite militias (aka the Iraqi army). In Basra , it took

sides in a churning Shiite civil war. As Nir Rosen

summed matters up in a typically brilliant piece in the

Nation, Baghdad today is but a set of 'fiefdoms run by

warlords and militiamen,' a pattern the rest of the

country emulates. 'The Bush administration,' he adds,

'and the U.S. military have stopped talking of Iraq as

a grand project of nation-building, and the U.S. media

have dutifully done the same.' Meanwhile, in the little

noticed north, an Arab/Kurdish civil war over the oil-

rich city of Kirkuk , and possibly Mosul as well, is

brewing. This, reports Pepe Escobar of Asia Times,

could be explosive. Think nightmare.

2. The Bush administration has no learning curve. Its

top officials are unable to absorb the realities of

Iraq (or the region) and so, like the generals of World

War I, simply send their soldiers surging 'over the

top' again and again, with minor changes in tactics, to

the same dismal end. Time.com's Tony Karon, at his

Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, caught this phenomenon

strikingly, writing that Maliki's failed offensive

'shared the fate of pretty much every similar

initiative by the Bush Administration and its allies

and proxies since the onset of the `war on terror."

3. The 'success' of the surge was always an expensive

illusion, essentially a Ponzi scheme, for which payment

will someday come due. To buy time for its war at home,

the Bush administration put out IOUs in Iraq to be paid

in future chaos and violence. It now hopes to slip out

of office before these fully come due.

4. A second hidden surge, not likely to be discussed in

the hearings this week, is now under way. U.S. air

reinforcements, sent into Iraq over the last year, are

increasingly being brought to bear. There will be hell

to pay for this, too, in the future.

5. A reasonably undertaken but speedy total withdrawal

from Iraq is the only way out of this morass (and, at

this late date, it won't be pretty); yet such a

proposal isn't even on the table in Washington . In

fact, as McClatchy's Warren Strobel and Nancy Youssef

report, disaster in Basra has 'silenced talk at the

Pentagon of further U.S. troop withdrawals any time soon.'

Since April 2003, each administration misstep in Iraq

has only led to worse missteps. Unfortunately, little

of this will be apparent in this week's shadowboxing

among Washington 's 'best and brightest,' who will again

plunge into a 'debate' filled with coded words,

peppered with absurd fantasies, and rife with American

symbolism that only an expert like professor of

religion Ira Chernus is likely to decipher. 'It's

time,' he writes, while considering the upcoming

Petraeus testimony, 'to insist that war should be seen

not through the lens of myth and symbol, but as the

brutal, self-defeating reality it is.'

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's

Tomdispatch.com ('a regular antidote to the mainstream

media'), is the co-founder of the American Empire

Project and, most recently, the author of Mission

Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American

Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first

collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His book, The End

of Victory Culture ( University of Massachusetts Press),

has just been thoroughly updated in a newly issued

edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-

burn sequel in Iraq .

Copyright (c) 2008 The Nation

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