Here are some things I've read lately that have made me upset, but in a good way. The first one is a weblog entry by Ms. Kristina Almquist which was quite good and thought-provoking. She talks about how Saddam Hussein has joined the "Dead or Alive" Club, along with Bin Laden. After all this hype about how evil Saddam is, what a threat he is to world stability, the imperative to bring him to justice for his war crimes, suddenly it's no big deal that no one knows where he is. Or where anyone in his cabinet is. Maybe Saddam has been killed in a blast, maybe he's fled to Syria, maybe one of his doubles has been there all along. No one knows, because no one seems to care about what has happened to all the dangerous thugs in power, or gathering any evidence of war crimes and government torture that Iraq has been liberated from. No big deal.
Robert Fisk has an article about the war in Iraq which made me upset, but in a good way. I don't always like Mr. Fisk's work, particularly his article about being beaten by a mob in Afghanistan. Here, he raises the question of what exactly is happening in Iraq. It seems like it shouldn't be this rare to see someone asking questions about the war, actually following up on a story.
Here's what Mr. Fisk has to say, in the Independent, about lawlessness in Baghdad, a recent Hot Topic in Zembla. "Yesterday I found myself at the Ministry of Oil, assiduously guarded by US troops, some of whom were holding clothes over their mouths because of the clouds of smoke swirling down on them from the neighbouring Ministry of Agricultural Irrigation. Hard to believe, isn't it, that they were unaware that someone was setting fire to the next building?"
"Something is terribly wrong when US soldiers are ordered simply to watch vast ministries being burnt by mobs and do nothing about it."
Kristina makes a reference to Tupac Shakur also being dead/alive in her piece. Coincidentally, I had written the first sentence of a newsflash about how Saddam's mother was going to put out an album of Saddam's unreleased raps. I got about halfway through it, but I started to feel too serious and mad about it to makes jokes about "Ambitions as a Dictatah" or "Keep Yo Head Up (Underneath Yo Veil)". It is a sad day in Zembla when our principal export, sarcasm, feels useless.
Is it too much to ask that the government has some kind of accountability for its statements, its plans, its actions? Now, certainly, I do not buy the official line that neither the midterm elections or the availability of huge oil reserves were the reason for the invasion of Iraq. But, let's say one were to swallow the official line and justification for the invasion of Iraq - disarming Iraq, removing Saddam from power. Have any weapons of mass destruction been found? None. Saddam is out of power, but no one has any idea what happened to him, or anyone in the regime, really.
Here's an article on weapons inspections. The US military hasn't found anything, and they don't even appear to be looking very hard. Could they at least pretend to look? There's something a little respectable about a tenacious lie ("The hatch just blew"), but when liars don't even attempt to make their falsehoods believable, or consistent, it's insulting.
Remember how the invasion of Afghanistan was supposed to capture Bin Laden? No one caught him. Mullah Omar? No one caught him. Remember the guy sending all that anthrax through the mail? No one caught him.
From the above article:
"If no weapons of mass destruction are found, the war in Iraq will mark the second failed military mission since the Sept. 11 tragedy. The first was the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly to destroy the Al Qaeda network and capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda is resurgent in southern Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar remain at large."
If you call in sick at work so you can go snowboarding, don't come back to work the next morning with a sunburn. If you're cutting school with a fake illness, don't get on TV catching a foul ball barehanded. If you're pretending to volunteer at a radio station to cover up your extramarital affair, bring home some audio tapes occasionally. And if you're shooting missiles, dropping megaton bombs, and killing entire civilian families in the course of your illegal war, you better find some goddamn weapons of mass destruction.
Finally, this is a Pentagon briefing from yesterday, April 16. "Clarke" is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, and "McChrystal" is Army Major General Stanley McChrystal. I don't think this needs any commentary.
Q: There have been instances in Mosul now for two days running where
civilians have been shot, apparently by U.S. troops. Can you explain
what's been going on there? And has this been an instance of a lack of
fire discipline on the part of the troops and maybe an example of the
kinds of problems we're going to be facing, you know, as they
stabilize the country?
McChrystal: I've seen the reports and the articles about the
incidents. I'm not prepared to judge on either side whether it's a
lack of fire discipline or whether it was caused -- what was the
cause. I will say it highlights the complexity of the situation.
In the first case, which I'm more familiar with, clearly there was a
crowd; at some point there were shots, initially warning shots, and
then lethal shots fired by both sides, or at least effective fire
fired by both sides. And it shows the incredible complexity of dealing
in a situation where we have service people trying to bring stability
to an area and having elements of whatever party or group trying to
Q: "Do you know whether there have been any steps taken to tighten up
-- or at least to -- you know, any additional instructions given to
the Marines so that this kind of an incident is minimized in the
Clarke: Well, let me jump in here, and you can finish up. Again,
people look at one incident. If you look at the last few weeks, the
extraordinary care, the great caution, to protect civilians that U.S.
and coalition forces have employed has been extraordinary; day after
day, example after example of going to great lengths to spare civilian
lives. So I think that's the appropriate way to look at this.
This is an incident. They're still looking into the details.
Q: Just to follow up on this question about the care taken to minimize civilian casualties; we're getting reports that some unexploded cluster bomb munitions have been showing up in and around Baghdad. And human rights groups have been complaining that the use of these weapons, particularly in populated areas, presents an indiscriminate risk to civilians.
Can you just respond to that? First of all, have cluster bombs been
used in populated areas, and does that present a risk to civilians
that perhaps should be looked at?
McChrystal: Sir, I don't know. I cannot categorically state whether or
not they've been used. It is my understanding that they have not been
used in any populated areas. But clearly, I'd have to get more
information to know that. I will tell you that the care which was
taken in targeting throughout this campaign, the right munition for
the right target, has been unprecedented. And so in every case, I will
tell you, scrutiny and care in every phase of it was the governing
Q: For you and General McChrystal. You've said repeatedly, and we've
seen the video, throughout this war that the United States has tried
to target the precision-guided munitions as best as possible. Is the
U.S. military keeping track of Iraqi civilian casualties that may have
occurred as a consequence of any mistakes or other incidents? And can
you tell us when we'll know what kind of metrics you have to compare
the success rate in terms of accuracy of this campaign versus Kosovo
and other ones before that?
McChrystal: We keep track of the effectiveness of our munitions. We
will certainly not at this point try to track specific number of enemy
soldiers killed or unintended civilian casualties. Over time, as we
gather data, we'll gather it both for a humanitarian sense, and then
also for how can we do it better. It goes right to the "lessons
learned" issue: how can we improve our effectiveness so that next time
we can do it even more rapidly and with as little collateral damage
and unintended negative consequence as possible.