Monday, January 10, 2005

Send in the Death Squads, or When Iraq Became Officially Wheels-Off

I am not going to debate the intrinsic morality of death squads versus other tactics of war, since the difference between taking someone out with a bullet to (the back of) the head and dropping a smart bomb into their living room is largely aesthetic in nature (and in fact, there is an argument to be made that a targeted death squad is more humane than airdropped ordnance because it cuts down on collateral damage), but let's examine for the moment why this is a Really Bad Idea in ways that have nothing to do with rules of warfare, and why this signals a startling (but probably long overdue) sense of desperation on the part of Bush's military brain trust (I wasn't even trying to be funny when I typed that phrase!).

First, while the difference between bombs and death squads may be "aesthetic," aesthetics COUNT in this situation, because, as I noted below, we are waging a war of ideas along with a war of bullets. Not to be too glib, but are Americans really death squad kind of people? When we are framing the case for why we are better than the maniacal movement we are fighting-- and of course, we ARE better, the point is making that case to people inclined to believe otherwise-- are the phrases "death squad" and "assassination teams" really ones you want on our side of the equation? These issues of perception are not trivial.

Second, death squads, once established, tend to get out of hand, and cannot be easily turned off when no longer wanted. When we pulled this trick in Central America, some of our boys killed some nuns. Those bitches may have had it coming, but let's just say "kill the nuns" is a non-starter when it comes to inspirational slogans. When we leave Iraq, rogue smart bombs will not still be falling out of the sky killing folks. The same cannot be said for the highly trained murderers we leave behind. If the Iraqi insurgency has taught us (or reminded us, rather) anything, it is that armed and trained young men tend to seek violent employment for themselves even after the people who armed them and trained them go away. We may have silently given up on the hope of real democracy in Iraq, but I think it is too soon to get comfortable with the "total batshit kill or be killed craziness" model of post-U.S. Iraq. Let's at least not contribute to the nightmare of gang violence that will almost inevitably follow our pullback.

As to why this signals a new desperation in the administration, I think you have to step back and look at what the White House and DOD line on the insurgency has been from the beginning, and realize how far we have come to get to this pass. First, in the Spring of '03 (way back when we might have actually put enough troops on the ground to keep all this from happening, but, alas, did not) it was just remnants of the Iraqi military we were mopping up...then it was a handful of "dead-enders" and foreign jihadis, and then ...it was, oh, five to ten thousand militants...and then (the latest numbers) have the insurgency anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000 (the latter number according to officials in the Iraqi "government"). None of the numbers mean anything in terms of expressing actual reality (since no one has any idea how many militants there are, including the militants themselves), but the increasing numbers (and tacit or direct endorsement of the numbers by the White House) evidence the dawning realization on the part of the Bush team that there is something really bad happening over there, and it ain't just a bunch of naysayers in the Mainstream Media. Add to all that the increasing gnashing of teeth on the part of conservatives and military-types (which has to be even louder and more concerned in private circles in DC), and you have a picture of a crisis of faith in this administration's competence to wage war amongst the White House's (and the Iraq war's) most ardent supporters. The conservative, pro-war dudes down at Stratfor (an Austin-based security and intelligence consulting firm) released a paper recently basically saying that the war is lost (as far as establishing a stable, democratic-ish country) and we should pull back, let chaos reign, and replenish our strength to get ready for other threats and opportunities-- like, you know, North Korea and Iran, the two prongs of the Axis of Evil that actually have WMD's or are trying damn hard to get them. They blame this on Rumsfeld and his policies, which by extension is an indictment of Bush. The cynic might say it would have been nice if all these conservatives had debated these issues BEFORE the masses went and signed Bush up for another four-year hitch, but I am just such a cynic and would not be so stupid as to expect people like that to lose an election over something as trivial as the gross incompetence of their candidate. Also, it's not like Kerry presented such a smashing alternative, so here we are. And "here," as any soldier in World War Two could have told you, is Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

So, basically, the government takes your money and then spends it on ways of convincing you to do things it wants you to do. Which is a questionable use of your cash at best-- can't we just agree in advance to whatever bullshit law they want to pass and then keep the dough? Let's cut out the middle man at least-- but when the money is spent in secret to pay professional talking heads who are supposedly expressing independent opinions, it starts getting downright creepy. Like in this case, for example, where the Bushies secretly paid one of their house pundits to get all giggly about No Child Left Behind. But you know, the guy was okay doing it because he "believed" in what he was saying...didn't believe in it so much that he would talk it up without compensation, but hell, a man has got to make a living, right?

This also reminds me again just how deftly the Bush crowd has turned the liberal "diversity" nonsense on its head. Look, it's a black man supporting the administration! We got a black Secretary of State! We nominated a Hispanic attorney general! You don't like them? What are you, RACIST or something? More on that later, and how the Democrats are truly their own worst enemies on this and so many other issues...