Rhetoric of Unreality
-- When late in the spring of 1940 people of southeastern England
flocked across the Channel in their pleasure craft and fishing
boats to evacuate soldiers trapped on Dunkirk beaches, euphoria
swept Britain. So Prime Minister Winston Churchill sternly told
the nation: ``We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance
the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.''
Or by curfews,
such as the one that cooled the furies that engulfed Iraq after
the bombing last week of a Shiite shrine. Wars are not won simply
by facing facts, but facing them is a necessary prerequisite.
in the latest iteration of a familiar speech (the enemy is ``brutal,''
``we're on the offensive,'' ``freedom is on the march'') that
should be retired, the president said, ``This is a moment of choosing
for the Iraqi people.'' Meaning what? Who is to choose, and by
what mechanism? Most Iraqis already ``chose'' -- meaning prefer
-- peace. But in 1917 there were only a few thousand Bolsheviks
among 150 million Russians -- and the Bolsheviks succeeded in
hijacking the country for seven decades.
voted in December for sectarian politics, an observer said Iraq
had conducted not an election but a census. Now America's heroic
ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, one of two indispensable men in
Iraq, has warned the Iraqi political class that unless the defense
and interior ministries are nonsectarian, meaning not run as instruments
of the Shiites, the U.S. will have to reconsider its support for
Iraq's military and police. But that threat is not credible: U.S.
strategy in Iraq by now involves little more than making the Iraqi
military and police competent. As the president said last week:
``Our strategy in Iraq is as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand
minister responded to Khalilzad's warning by accusing him of interfering
in Iraq's ``internal affairs.'' Think about that, and about the
distinction drawn by the U.S. official in Iraq who, evidently
looking on what he considers the bright side, told Eliot Cohen
of Johns Hopkins, ``This isn't a war. It's violent nation-building.''
years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or
in what sense, Iraq is a nation. And after two elections and a
referendum on the constitution, Iraq barely has a government.
A defining attribute of a government is that it has a monopoly
on the legitimate exercise of violence. That attribute is incompatible
with the existence of private militias of the sort that maraud
Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in The
Wall Street Journal, reports that Shiite militias ``have
broken up coed picnics, executed barbers (for the sin of shaving
beards) and liquor store owners, instituted their own courts,
and posted religious guards in front of girls' schools to ensure
Iranian-style dress.'' Iraq's other indispensable man, Grand Ayatollah
Ali Sistani, says that unless the government can protect religious
sites, ``the believers will.''
surges, if U.S. forces take the lead in suppressing it they delay
the day when Iraqi forces will be competent. If U.S. forces hold
back, they are blamed by an Iraqi population that is being infantilized
by displacing all responsibilities onto the American occupation.
New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan, writing with a Baghdad dateline,
says that only U.S. forces, which ``have become an essential part
of the landscape here -- their own tribe, in effect,'' can be
``an honest broker'' between warring factions, ``more peacekeeper
than belligerent.'' But he also reports:
U.S reconstruction aid running out, Iraq's infrastructure, never
fully restored to begin with, decays by the hour. ... The level
of corruption that pervades Iraq's ministerial orbit ... would
have made South Vietnam's kleptocrats blush. ... Corruption
has helped drive every public service measure -- electricity,
potable water, heating oil -- down below its prewar norm.''
of a student who, seeing insurgents preparing a mortar attack,
called a government emergency number. Fortunately for him, no
one answered. Later, friends warned him that callers' numbers
appear at the government's emergency office, and are sold to insurgents.
The student took Kaplan to see a wall adorned with a picture and
death announcement of a man whose call was answered.
all three components of the ``axis of evil'' -- Iraq, Iran, North
Korea -- more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined
in 2002, the country would welcome, and Iraq's political class
needs to hear, as a glimpse into the abyss, presidential words
as realistic as those Britain heard on June 4, 1940.
2006, Washington Post Writers Group