The Road Less Traveled

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By Paul William Roberts

On Saturday, December 02, the Washington Post wrote:

“The emerging plan by the Iraq Study Group tries to find a middle road between President Bush's adamant refusal to leave Iraq until the job is done and Democratic demands to pull out U.S. troops. But in achieving unanimity among its Republican and Democratic members, the commission has outlined a strategy with its own political and military risks.”

The reason this road is less traveled is that it just doesn’t exist.

One expected more from James Baker and his expensive commission, but perhaps we will yet have cause to thank him. For the uselessness of the ISG underscores a deeper uselessness in American politics generally when it comes foreign policies in which the public (read “the media”) have developed a level of interest that already has, and will continue to cost votes. In managing to arrive at a “plan” upon which all its members could agree, the ISG has merely wasted paper – not to mention taxpayers’ money (a commodity more disposable than toilet paper in Washington). Like so much the long-suffering taxpayer finds himself and herself funding these days, this bi-partisan circle jerk can satisfy only the overpaid and bloated egos participating in the couple of long lunches that were surely all it took to assess the facts and then devise a course of action ignoring them. To the cash whores and corporate crooks whose fingers are always in the till and whose snouts rarely leave the Beltway trough, of course, this latest wasteful disgrace is just another drop of fecal matter in a septic tank the size of the Pacific Ocean.

It ought, however, to signify to the world that the US Government is no longer capable of running its own affairs. If the police were sent into East LA to arrest a few gang members yet succeeded only in sparking a full-scale three-way war which had entirely destroyed that part of town and was beginning to spill over into Beverly Hills, it is a good bet that after three years the mayor, or someone, would be able to conclude that the police had screwed up and should be replaced by some other force able to gain control over the situation. To expect common sense, let alone logic from politicians is, alas, more foolish than expecting compassion from sharks in a feeding frenzy. One wonders what it was that the Iraq Study Group studied, because it surely could not have been Iraq.

The truth that Iraq’s current state of appalling violence and hellish chaos is entirely the fault and responsibility of the US cannot be overstated. Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in early 2003, Washington has been as responsible for Iraq as it is for Louisiana or California. If 33 percent of Iraqi children now suffer from malnutrition, Washington is at fault. If 20 percent of Iraqis do not have access to potable water, Washington is at fault. If most of Baghdad can only rely on 8-12 hours of electricity per day, Washington is at fault. If the majority of Iraq’s schools and colleges have closed down because it is too dangerous for students to attend them, Washington is at fault. If 85 percent of Iraqis have been unemployed since the invasion began, Washington is at fault. If 1000 Iraqis die each week in the civil war that dare not speak its name, Washington is at fault. This list could be extended indefinitely, and it would all be Washington’s fault.

 Is this being unfair to the Bush administration or America? Am I merely – God forbid! – another anti-American bigot? No is the answer on both counts. I am simply stating facts of international law.

The Geneva Conventions – no matter what the war criminal Donald Rumsfeld thinks of them – govern all aspects of the behavior of modern nations engaged in war, and they state unequivocally that the invading army’s government assumes complete responsibility for the invaded country from the moment its incumbent regime collapses and thereafter, until a new regime is able to govern. Whether you regard the Iraqi government as legitimate and independent, or a quisling, no one disputes its inability to govern. Without raising the issue of changes made illegally by America to various aspects of Iraqi law relating to elections, the current regime in Baghdad cannot conduct even the most rudimentary form of governmental obligation, and indeed only remains in place through US support (read “troops”). Thus, legally, Washington is still the ultimate authority, the place where the buck stops.

When I left Baghdad three years ago, it seemed as if the anarchy and violence could get no worse. Since then, however, it has done nothing but worsen. My Iraqi friends still living there are now, for the first time, requesting their names not be cited in any quotation I may use from blogs or e-mails. For the first time, also, they are asking for help. They are truly scared. Up to this point, there were worrying moments, tragic incidents, frightening episodes, but I do not recall any of them admitting fear. These are not Westerners, who drop in and out of Iraq, generally never leaving the Green Zone, usually moving anywhere in heavily armed convoys, leaving when their nerves get too frayed. These are the people who do most of the real reporting for the Westerners, and do it mainly without recognition, for a fraction of what foreign correspondents earn, and without body armor, let alone the US Army to protect them. Every time they leave their homes – which are not of course in the Green Zone – there is a reasonable chance they will not return. A trip to the market, a visit to the mosque, any activity, every day has been potentially lethal for the last 40 months. They have all lost family and loved ones. They have all seen dozens of people killed right before their eyes, shot, blown up, crushed by armored vehicles, burned alive. Most have lost everything they ever had, except loved ones – and some have even lost those. They have all learned to fear everyone — Americans, Sunnis, Shia, neighbors, and often friends too. They have watched as the city they all loved fiercely disintegrated into stinking rat-infested rubble and they came to realize that a city is in fact its people not its buildings. Throughout all this, often without reason, they hoped. They hoped the future would be better. They hoped they would one day resume their lives. They hoped the nightmare would end.

For these people were once scholars, engineers, systems analysts, lovers, mothers or fathers. These people once had lives. Now they are “Iraqis”, another term for the denizens of hell, the most wretched of the wretched. But for the first time in three years I do not hear hope any more. Those who dismissed the possibility of civil war by pointing out how many Sunnis were married to Shia – “I am going to wage war on my wife?” – are now telling me that Shia and Sunni clergy are declaring such marriages annulled, invalid, reprehensible, and families, or friends, or tribes are forcibly separating couples.

 They all seem to feel the Apocalypse is coming, or rather will finally arrive quite soon. “What you have seen so far will be nothing in comparison,” said one friend. “The Tigris will become a river of blood.” Another told me Shia mobs had already been reported killing Sunni babies, swinging them by the ankles and dashing their skulls against walls. “They are animals,” he said. “Once they smell blood they lose their minds.” This was always the Sunni view of Iraqi Shia, whose pilgrimage to Karbala – long banned under Saddam – with its gory and downright disturbing orgy of self-mutilation, and its scenes of hysteria and mass-hypnosis around the tomb of Hussein, had so profoundly horrified them as they watched it live on television in 2003. “They are crazy…they are animals…” – these were and are common remarks. Few ever wondered if the Shia were like this because they had been treated like animals for so long under the Sunni oppression. It is now pointless to bring up such ancient history. No matter how they behaved to each other, recent grievances supersede everything. It is far too late for apologies. The Four Horsemen, and their fifteen million foot soldiers, are on the move. It is no coincidence that the only Iraqis I know in Iraq are Sunni or Christians. They were the artistic and academic elites, and every other elite. Now they are scared, they are pleading for help. Just reading their recent e-mails scares me.

The truly frightening thing is that the United States is supposed to be in charge of this particular moronic inferno, and, as we should have noticed by now, the convocation of thieves, clowns and dunces in Washington can barely control their own bowel movements, and couldn’t even respond adequately to a flood in New Orleans, so they can no more fulfill US responsibilities in Iraq than they could bale out the Atlantic with a sieve.

I have for some time been trying to interest governments and organizations in the plight of Iraq’s Christian community. You would think we would be more aware of this million-strong minority, wouldn’t you? If the Sunnis don’t have much resembling a future worth being alive in, Iraqi Christians have less than that. Rightly, they felt until recently that their claim on Iraqi turf was secure, dating back 800 years earlier than any Islamic claim. But they also remember the far greater antiquity of Baghdad’s once huge Jewish community, which today numbers about zero. Saddam celebrated his ascent to power by decorating Firdos Square with Jews hanging from piano wire – and made sure the corpses were left there for many malodorous weeks too. Long enough for the Chosen People to realize they’d been chosen again. As far as I know, none thought it worthwhile to point out for Saddam that the Jewish community dated back at least 2,500 years, nor that everyone’s patriarch, Abraham, was Iraqi, from Ur. Most moved West to the Promised Land.

I used to imagine that American Jews, and possibly even Christians, would have sentimental reasons to safeguard sites like Babylon and Ur. US tank treads and souvenir-hunting marines have obliterated the former; a couple of crunchy battles took care of the latter. The Walt Disney people will have to give Iraq back a few heritage sites for the tourists one day. Auschwitz doesn’t get that many visitors, though, so no one should expect an invasion even if, or when Mesopotamia is fit to receive visitors with passports and visas again.

While Jews are exceptionally good about helping other Jews in trouble, Christians don’t even seem to grasp the concept involved. I’m not sure why, but I will spare the specific Christian subdivisions I approached in Canada the embarrassment of naming them. After explaining to the bureaucrats of Jesus that Iraq’s Christians will almost certainly be slaughtered – indeed, are being slaughtered, as we speak – and that all churches and many governments need to be lobbied immediately to participate in a mass-evacuation, I found myself faced with, no, not exactly a clamoring for more details, facts, specifics. In fact, the two largest bodies had but one question – the same one: what made me think Iraqi Christians were needier than those in Rwanda?

I imagine it has been through such cunning masterpieces of sophistry as this that Christians have managed to get through two thousand years without being especially Christian in their deeds. They ought to be further shamed by finding out that the most enthusiastic response to my plea came from, no, not the Mormons, nor the Scientologists, but from CSIS, the kinder, gentler Canadian answer to the CIA. With CSIS, too, I felt I could cite more practical issues. Such as the fact that Iraq’s Christians are mainly all highly educated upper middle class professionals — an Immigration Minister’s wet dream, in fact. It would scarcely be a hardship at all for Canada to take in all million of them. They would be helping the rest of us bear the burden of the planet’s highest taxation in no time, and from the higher income level. The country would actually be better off, but we could still pretend to other nations to have made a superhuman sacrifice. We could probably milk the guilty for several billion to help us “resettle” our refugees too. I thought the scheme had much to be said for it — not least the saving of a million lives. It was even child’s play ensuring no Islamist psycho-bombers stowed away among the Christians: they all speak Athurian, the ancient Aramaic-rooted tongue that is still used for their liturgy. No Muslim speaks Athurian. Besides, Iraqi Christians can spot a Muslim at a thousand paces.

But, although it is one government body that actually isn’t a waste of tax-dollars, CSIS still has to deal with a Himalayan range of bureaucracies all dedicated to the fine art of doing nothing expensively, and all the good will on earth would barely hollow out a cave let alone undermine these. The Grand Evacuation is presumably stuffed beneath a foothill of turpitude somewhere by now.

And my friends in Baghdad — Sunni and Christian — are scared and asking for help, because the blood-dimmed tide is rising around them, and they know the killing will be cruel, long and on a scale not seen since the Nazi death camps.

We can see plainly that the US Government is incapable of repairing the damage for which it is entirely responsible. Assigning blame will not help those in desperate need of help, either. We know our own governments are similarly useless, too, besides being habitually unused to carrying out  any wishes of the people they do not even like to think of themselves as serving. And we know, or ought to know, that such a situation is deeply, gravely wrong. We, as representatives of the world’s people, must either take this current crisis in hand or sit back and watch no one help as Iraq turns into a whirlpool of blood that will leave the desert orange for centuries to come, and pronounce judgment over our selfish inaction as we too face the hour of reckoning, when every soul knows precisely what it has done and what it has left undone.

I suggest that all those who have lost faith in governments, over this and every other issue in which their uselessness has been the only principal successfully put forth and firmly adhered to, demand immediate action to halt the bloodshed in Iraq and evacuate Iraqi Christians wishing to leave. If our demands are ignored, we must in all conscience cease paying taxes to these imposters who have usurped the position of public servants and refused to serve the public. It would be morally wrong to continue financing such imposters, thus we should cease immediately. If millions could be persuaded to follow the dictates of conscience in such a manner, throwing us all in jail would be impossible. Taking back our countries and our world would also become a very real possibility. That is all it would take, my friends. Who among us has the courage to fling the first stone?

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