Even when the US mainstream media doesn't project lies, as in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, it misleads the general public by heavily publicizing an irrelevant spectacle like the Petraeus/Crocker show for Congress. This is hand-in-glove with the Americans shielding themselves off in a Baghdad "Green Zone" so they don't have to see the reality of the chaos around them. American government people have a tendency to hole up in compounds abroad, shielded from the horrors of actual indigenous life. This obsession promoted by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker with whether or not to continue the "surge" or whether the US armed effort in Iraq is "succeeding" distracts Americans from the truth, which is that Iraq is in chaos and the American forces are not changing that in any lasting way and are not likely to do so no matter how many months or years they remain in the country. Observers on the ground have found that the US armed presence in Iraq inflames the situation and hence cannot have a stabilizing effect, overall.
Discussions in Congress and the mainstream media rarely if ever clarify the situation in Iraq or recognize its effect on the rest of the Middle East. The dominant (and blinding) fantasy in Washington is simply the idea that what the US does in Iraq even continues to matter. Related fantasies are that the Baghdad government of Nouri Kamel al-Maliki matters; that "stability" can be achieved if the right US policy can be found. US policy cannot change Iraq now.
Even the phrase used to describe US involvement, "Iraq war," is a falsification. What war? It is an Iraq occupation
amidst sectarian- and ethnic-based civil war, not an Iraq war.
The shrewder area specialists tend to agree
that the whole surrounding region has been destabilized because sectarian Sunni, Shia and Kurdish elements are engaged in regional battles
for control in Iraq. This shock wave of destabilization is guaranteed to reverberate beyond Iraqi borders by the fact that Iran is Shia like the Iraqi majority, while the surrounding Arab states are Sunni, and each of the nearby countries has a stake in how things come out. Iraq itself, though a dangerously volatile region, is now a country only in name. It has no central government. Baghdad doesn't control the other regions. These are run by sectarian militias like chaotic "city-states." As independent journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent a lot of time in Iraq and recently has been studying the refugee situation, has simply said
, the US forces are now nothing but "another militia in Iraq," a "very powerful" one, but "maybe not the most powerful."
This is why what General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker says about the US "mission" in Iraq is quite irrelevant. Their testimony before Congress was, of course, a show put on to reinforce the "reality" President Bush creates for himself—one that is of a piece with "winning the war on terror." These are not wars and they cannot be won. The bright side: since these are not wars, they cannot be won,
but by the same token they have not been lost
either. Incidentally, the administration's ability to "stay the course" in Iraq was proven to be nonexistent in the first week of occupation, when chaos was allowed to reign. Instead of civil order, "stuff" "happened." The invasion was conducted based on Donald Rumsfeld's fantasy of "cakewalk" warfare.
Fantasy-based discussions in Washington don't acknowledge that the US Army and Marines can do no good by remaining deployed in the country. Obviously the situation is very dangerous and chaotic, but keeping 160,000 troops in Iraq—or 130,000, 100,000, or 60,000— can only make things worse by increasing the level of violence, raising the number of arms on the ground, and inflaming sectarian hostilities—hostilities to which the US has programmatically contributed: in fact, General Petraeus himself, as an expert on "counter-insurgency," has a personal history
of pitting Sunnis against Shia in Iraq. The US forces' cultivating of various tribal leaders and militias, arming them (though denying it) and supplying them with money (though not mentioning that), is, as one Iraqi observer quoted on 'Democracy Now" recently said, like keeping a pet crocodile in your house. It's still a crocodile and eventually it's going to grow up and bite you. (The Mujahideen in Afghanistan come to mind as a chastening analogy.)
In America, it goes without saying that the Bush administration, still a good candidate for worst US presidency ever and the most unpopular in three decades, has let the people down. But so has the Congress, even more painfully since last November when the new democratic majority raised hopes. Nine months later the democrats have yet to significantly alter Iraq policy any more than they have started to reverse the economic and social catastrophes over which the Bush administration has presided since its dubious inception.
It almost appears as if a collective stupidity rules in the US government—a cluelessness obviously led by the disastrous post-2000 administration (Clinton may not have been wise, and neither was he compassionate, but at least he was smart). In the public sphere, this cluelessness has been the tone set correspondingly by the mainstream media. And it prevails in Congress. Moreover, it doesn't seem as though the principal candidates for President are expounding wise strategies for getting out of Iraq and moving the country forward.
These are the domestic reasons why the damage done by the US and its allies in the Middle East, which could be catastrophic and systemic, is likely to persist without any worthwhile American solutions being provided for the years to come, even after the Bush administration is gone.
A new administration in Washington can, however, have many positive effects. It isn't hard to be better than the worst. A new administration that rejects the Bush unilateralism can reverse the US's terrible image abroad relatively quickly by restoring alliances, reasserting the country's integrity by respecting treaties again wherever possible, and supporting the UN as an international peacekeeper and troubleshooter. In the Middle East the best that the US could do is adopt the method Barak Obama somewhat naively endorsed: talking to people across barriers, sitting down with the interested parties in conflicts—even "enemies" like Syria and Iraq—and getting Israel to talk to them along with Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, among others. And recently two new candidates, Obama and Richardson, have endorsed complete and immediate US withdrawal from Iraq.
But for the nonce (not surprisingly, given the continuance of the lame duck administration, eager to distract attention from the débacle in Iraq and insure its place in "history"), the drumbeat for an attack on Iran continues. There aren't enough signs that the media has learned from the run-up to the Iraq invasion and is holding off from repeating threats and allegations. (What the President and his chief officers say is important, isn't it? No, actually, right now it isn't; but try convincing the media of that.) Like Afghanistan after 9/11 and like Iraq, Iran is a battlefield that was preordained, of course. Iran and Syria are not the keys to Iraq's state of civil war. The primary sources of that are domestic and Iraqi. They can fight each other just fine on their own. The idea that Iran is waging a "proxy war" in Iraq is nonsense. Iraq and Iran aren't really currently enemies either, any more than Afghanistan and Iran are. (The Iraq destabilization has been great for Iran, which is glad to see their Shia allies taking over.) Americans are being taught by sheer repetition another "lesson" that's not only untrue but a recipe for disaster: that Iran is a threat to the US and that attacking it will help stabilize Iraq. Needless to say quite the opposite is the case. The nuclear argument is absurd, especially since Israel is America's chief client state and is the major nuclear power in the region. Iran's nuclear threat to the US or the world is about as real as the Niger uranium story or Saddam's WMD's and links with September 11.
What can we suggest? Only that a new administration—as remote as possible both ideologically and tactically from the current one—would be of some help. But the American record for damage control is pretty bad these days. And behind both our creation of chaos and our inability to control it afterward is our habitual isolation as a nation from the reality of what's going on in other parts of the world. We can blame our leaders for that, but we can also blame the mainstream media. Ultimately we can blame ourselves as individuals for not studying languages, culture, and history—and for not listening enough to the dissident, independent voices out there telling us what is actually going on. The first step toward improving things is to separate fantasy from reality.