Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/1339/1/102/

Friedman’s Loose Talk About Iraq: PA's Thomas Riggins Responds to NY Times Op-ed piece on Iraq [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Thomas Friedman’s op-ed piece (“Let’s Talk About Iraq”) in The New York Times (6-15-05) is a perfect example of the gobbledy gook that the corporate media spews forth about the situation in Iraq. It is pretty obvious that Friedman, the Times’ so called expert on foreign affairs, hasn’t a clue as to what is going on over in the middle east-- and neither does anyone else who relies on the Times for his or her information.

I will take him up on his invitation. Indeed, lets talk about Iraq. Let’s talk about Friedman’s article. His first sentence sets the tone: “Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” This was a remarkable election only because of the media’s wishful thinking. In the first place no election can be considered valid if it is held under the power of an occupying army. Secondly, it was marked by block voting – often thousands of people went off to vote the way some religious leader or other told them to vote. But Friedman is at least right about Iraq’s being in a pit of deepening violence.

He says the reason Iraq is in the fix it is because 1) conservatives just follow Bush uncritically [he is correct about this, it points out the worthlessness of the conservative pundits and their meaningless talking points in the media] and 2) the liberals don’t concern themselves because they think the war was wrong [it must have been wrong since ALL the reasons given for it turned out to be lies] AND they don’t want Bush to succeed [succeed at what? I’ll get back to this.] This leaves the “whole burden” of Iraq to the military.

All of this distresses Friedman. He wants to go gung-ho and win the war: “This is no time to give up – this is still winnable....” But we need a correct strategy. What is the main problem in Iraq? Not enough troops, according to Friedman. This is Rumsfeld’s fault, abetted by Bush. And where would these troops come from? Since we were basically going it alone, with an assist from the British pussy cat, we would have had to deploy our regular forces away from bases that we think it is important to keep at the ready OR have called even greater numbers of the reserves – no good with the election coming up – the number of dead might have been double.

He admits that “we are training Iraqi soldiers.... but I don’t think this is the key.” He appears to be right. The Iraqis won’t be viable as a force for years to come, by the Pentagon’s own estimates – plus they desert to the insurgents when they are not busy advancing to the rear. They have a problem with training. But this doesn’t bother Friedman. He asks, “Who is training the insurgent-fascists?” “Fascists?” Is this the best he can come up with. All the information available indicates that the insurgency is made up several streams-- religious fundamentalists, al-Qaeda types, former government cadre both civil and military, and genuine patriots who resent their country being taken over by a foreign power. To lump them all together as “fascists” precludes having any understanding of what is happening in Iraq.

So, Friedman doesn’t know what is going on. Need more proof. Think about this. After asking who is training the “fascists’ he answers “Nobody.” Nevertheless they are “doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces.” Therefore he concludes, “Training is overrated in my book.” [Don’t read this book!]The surrogate Iraqi troops don’t really need training – they need esprit de corps.

All that is needed is “motivated officers and soldiers.” Evidently “free elections,” “democracy,” the end of Saddam, etc., are not sufficiently motivating for the puppet troops. What will motivate them? Only “an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions.” So the new government now in power is not that and doesn’t motivate the troops.

The Kurds are ok, the Sunni’s have to get with the program, and Friedman laments, “No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.” Hamid Karzai! He can’t leave Kabul, or even walk around it without a phalanx of American guards. “His” army is beholden to the old warlords and poppy growers and his main constituency is American television audiences.

Friedman now turns to “strategy” He thinks “we” win if we get “a self-sustaining, united, democratizing Iraq.” To do this he wants to “double the American boots on the ground” and have the Iraqi government, the US and UN make the political life more inclusive. He blames Bush and Rumsfeld for not doing this. We “are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.”

Bravo! Mr. Friedman. But you give Bush and Rumsfeld too little credit. They are not fools. Perhaps what is happening in Iraq is exactly going to plan. Since no one who reads history (especially American history) believes the US cares one whit about Iraqi democracy, or terrorism, or any of the nonsense the administration puts forth to justify its invasion of Iraq, there must be another reason we invaded. Could controlling Iraq’s oil have been a motive? I don’t want to seem cynical and doubting or anything. It is just a suggestion. Maybe He told Bush to free the people. But if it is oil that is at the root of all this, then the present situation in Iraq is just fine. We can’t leave. We will have to stay for years and years. A weak, fragmented government will always remain dependent upon us.

We would like to tame, not eliminate the insurgents. Tame them enough to allow us to get that oil out of the ground and leave us with military bases throughout the country so we can actually have effective control of the whole Middle East.

I think everything is going to plan. But you know what happens to the best-laid plans. Just as in Vietnam, the Iraqi people will eventually drive us out and dump the puppet government. It is usually futile to try and dominate and rule another people. I think Iraq is a case in point. So we should NOT double the boots on the ground. We should get our troops out of there as soon as possible. We will have to build a center left progressive people’s coalition to win back the government from the ultra-right and then work towards making those economic changes which are needed to eliminate corporate control of our country and its foreign policy. Maybe Mr. Friedman should be talking about that.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.

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