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Sunday, July 26, 2009

THE VIEW FROM NEW YORK

Blunderbuss followup to the invasion of Iraq


NEW YORK — The New York Times editorial on June 30, "The First Deadline," showed America's egocentrism at its worst. Dealing entirely with a single subject — the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraqi cities, with 130,000 soldiers still remaining in the country — the lengthy commentary showed the blind hubris the United States often displays on the world stage. The declamation would have been comical were it not for the fact that the matter had to do with the slaughtering of thousands upon thousands of people.

The editorial simply rated George W. Bush's cowboy invasion of Iraq as "an unnecessary war," as if it were a board game. It then, amazingly, went on to devote the rest of the large space to scolding Iraqis and their neighboring countries for their shortcomings.

Thus the editorial blamed the Iraqi Army for not being ready to take over for the invading troops — the American troops — that bludgeoned into the country and tore apart its society. The Iraqi military is "plagued by corruption, discipline problems, equipment shortages and security breaches," the complaint went, even as the commentary congratulated Americans for giving incompetent Iraqis "military training programs" that get "good marks" from "most analysts." Why the U.S. military is training another country's military is the question never asked.

The editorial then cautioned the Kurds on their "ambition." Here at least it admitted it was "often with Washington's blessing" that the Kurds carried out their military and territorial expansion." One result has been the creation of "the most dangerous" situation in "the oil-rich, multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk."

Yet the U.S. must apply pressure on "Baghdad and the Kurds," the editorial advised, "not to stake out extreme positions." Note the willful demarcation of the two groups. Is not Baghdad itself a multi-ethnic city shattered into fragments by America's own ambition? Why is the presumption that the U.S. must always be the destroyer and preserver?

Even with "an estimated four million refugees" that Bush's blunderbuss war has created, the New York Times editorial barely suggested that the responsibility lies squarely with the U.S. The help must be both "international and American" — in that order. The only thing America must pay greater attention to, the editorial indicated, is those Iraqis "who risked their lives to work with the Americans." Otherwise, it's not America's sole responsibility. Ah, yes, the United Kingdom is also responsible, I admit, but what can you expect from America's poodle?

Then, the Times told the Iraqis to come up with "competent, inclusive government." What cheek! Whatever happened to the Biblical injunction: "first cast out the beam out of thine own eye?" It may be the kind of high-handed "advice" the self-regarding media entity of a country that can readily destroy another country is prone to proffer, but the daring still boggles the mind. Is the U.S. government competent?

Was it evidence of competency to allow a feckless boy king to declare "war on terrorism" — the term, by the way, the editorial still uses — and make a mess of two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and endanger a third, Pakistan?

What about allowing its treasury secretary, its central bank chairman, and a free-market die hard in Congress to promote financial shenanigans to multiply until they brought down the global economy?

Will the U.S. government be competent enough to devise some way to rectify the exorbitant health care system? What about global warming?

When it comes to inclusiveness, is it not precisely inclusiveness that renders the democracy that America arrogantly promotes often unworkable, except when the president declares to take his country to war? I am constantly amazed how so many Americans are eager to bomb another country — say, for the moment, Iran.

In summing up, the Times editorial committed the ultimate brazenness. Complaining that Iraq's neighbors aren't doing enough to help the country, it accused Iran and Syria, among others, of having "meddled constantly — driving up the violence and backing off only when it looked as if the war could spin out of control." Surely the Times was talking about the U.S.

The editorial's main aim was to assert America's "strong strategic interest" in the region, of course. It offered no apologies to Iraq, let alone Afghanistan, "the real front." Naturally, it did not give nary a hint on the possibility of taking George W. Bush to the International Criminal Court for war crimes. So, it was not the "unnecessary war" itself that the New York Times had objected to, but the man who started it, Bush.

Several days later the Times confounded the matter by printing an article with the headline, "A Treasured Bush Memento, Once the Property of a Foe, May Be Put on Display" (July 6, 2009). The article, by Don Van Natta Jr., reported, with what could only be described as "fond respect," on the likely disposition of Bush's most coveted of the 40,000 gifts he and his wife received while they occupied the White House: the 9 mm Glock 18C that once belonged to Saddam Hussein. The gun represents "the pinnacle moment of the Iraq war" for Bush, Van Natta said.

If there was any saving grace to this article, it was the quote from Rice University professor of history Douglas Brinkley. Bush's attitude toward the captured gun "represents this Texas notion of the white hats taking out the black hats and keeping the trophy," Brinkley said. "It's a True West magazine kind of pulp western mentality."

There were different accounts of the manner of Hussein's capture, suggesting that it may not have been the generally accepted one that put him in the Hollywood-style self-humiliation of an evil man, but never mind.

The feckless former president will go on believing whatever he wants to, with The New York Times' encouragement.

Translator and essayist Hiroaki Sato is at work on a biography of Yukio Mishima.


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