The outlines of Bush’s “New Way Forward” or “Great Leap Forward” or “Long Walk Off a Short Pier” in Iraq is now fairly clear. It has three general thrusts: a large increase in troop numbers; a direct assault on the forces of Motqada al-Sadr; and, if possible, an expansion of the war beyond Iraq’s borders through a military strike on Iran.
The troop increase is now certain (if indeed it had ever been in doubt). In the past few days, with the nation distracted by the Christmas holidays (and by the ever-phony and genuinely idiotic “Christmas Wars” eating up media airtime), the Bush Faction has carried out a quiet coup — or perhaps a counterrevolutionary purge — in the military ranks. Top generals who openly opposed increasing the U.S. occupation force in Iraq have either announced their retirements or else have been compelled to crawl and eat their words in public recantations. (This moral cowardice is even more remarkable when you consider how weak, stupid — and deeply unpopular — is the “commander-in-chief” who has somehow overawed these stalwart soldiers. One can only imagine that some sort of blackmail must be involved.)
The generals were the last possible obstacle to the war’s precipitous escalation; the national Democrats have already signaled their willingness to countenance a “surge” (the Orwellian propaganda term that has been adopted wholesale by the corporate media to describe the vast expansion of the war). Even those Democrats who have appeared to speak out against it have, almost invariably, couched their objections in weasel-wording terms devoid of any actual oppositional content. “I won’t support a surge unless it’s part of an overall plan to bring our troops home sooner,” is the standard formulation, although the “boldest” among them will sometimes tack on a specific date: “bring our troops home by 2008″ or some such. But of course, any escalation of the war will be presented precisely as a strategy to bring the conflict to a speedier end; thus most Democrats will latch onto that spin and — grudgingly or enthusiastically — go along. In any case, it’s certain that the Congressional Democrats will not put up a concerted, united effort against an escalation.
And so in the coming weeks, we will see anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 more troops sent to Iraq — despite the overwhelming public sentiment against such a policy: only 11 percent of Americans support the idea of escalation, as a new CNN poll reports. This is an astounding level of public opposition to any government policy; I can’t recall anything like it in almost 40 years of observing American politics and studying American history. The fact that the Bush Regime is willing to undertake an action that 89 percent of the American people oppose — and what’s more, an action that is guaranteed to cost the lives of many Americans and many billions from the public treasury — is a glaring indication of how completely anti-democratic the Bush Faction is, and how utterly dysfunctional the U.S. political system has become.
So the “surge” will come. It will be used to support an all-out assault on the militia of Iraqi nationalist cleric Motqada al-Sadr. A brief attempt by the Bush Faction to isolate Sadr politically — by creating a bloc of so-called “moderates” in alliance with the death squad leaders of the violent extremist Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — has, as usual, failed miserably. And it has foundered on the same stone that has wrecked most of the Administration’s political boats in Iraq: the refusal of the leading Shiite cleric in the country, the Iranian-born Ayatollah Sistani, to cooperate with American wishes. Sistani refused to bless any attempt to ease out Sadr and thus split the Shiite alliance.
His refusal is one of those “clarifying moments” that the Bushists like to speak about in their degraded political jargon. What they mean by that is any action that minimizes the possibility of a non-violent solution to a political problem that is preventing them from getting whatever they want. They love to be thwarted diplomatically — which is why all their diplomatic efforts are so lame-brained, half-hearted, and transparently geared toward ultimate failure; they want to leave open at all times an excuse for military action, which is the only way of “projecting power” that these primitives understand. (Yet they and their sycophants endlessly repeat the racist trope that it is the Arabs who “only understand force.” Here, as in so much else — such as their constant condemnations of “terrorist violence” by these state terrorists who have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people — we see the principle of projection at work, on a massive and sinister scale.)
Sistani’s refusal gives the Bushists the “justification” they have craved for launching the attack on Sadr’s forces. In the past months, we have seen them slowly and methodically build up Sadr as the new embodiment of all evil in Iraq. Get rid of Sadr, and the milk and honey (and oil leases) will flow at last in the beleaguered land. We have of course heard this storyline before; in fact, it is the only storyline we ever hear. Get rid of Zarqawi, and the insurgency will die; conquer Fallujah and the insurgency will die; capture Saddam and the insurgency will die; kill Uday and the insurgency will die. If Sadr is killed or captured, there will no doubt be another embodiment of all evil in Iraq coming down the PR pike in short order. (Perhaps Sistani himself will eventually be fitted for the horns.)
Sadr is no sweetheart, of course; he is entirely representative of the violent, obscurant, religious extremism that Bush has empowered throughout most of Iraq with his war of aggression. Yet he is also supported by millions of Iraqis for whom his organization provides many of the social support function and basic human needs that the Bush-installed government cannot provide. He has an army of tens of thousands, which can no doubt be overcome militarily, eventually, but only in a Pyrrhic victory that will leave even more of Iraq a moonscape of ruin and raging hatred.
An assault on Sadr could also trigger Shiite uprisings across the Middle East. But here we must realize that this is not a black mark against the plan in the Bush Faction’s eyes. For it seems clear that an expansion of the war is very much part of the “New Way Forward.” Indeed, many of the most rabid neocons have long talked openly of their hopes for a Shiite uprising in Saudi Arabia that would split the kingdom and — in their fantastical dreams — give the US direct control over the Saudi oil fields, that now lie primarily in Shiite regions. (Yes, these stunted intellects actually believe that grateful Saudi Shiites will turn over the world’s richest oilfields to their American “benefactors.”)
But beyond those fond wishes, there is the more pressing matter of Iran. Once again under the cover of Christmas, the Bush Faction has taken a series of steps in the past few days to increase the pressure on Tehran exponentially. They have wrung an entirely toothless and pointless “sanctions” measure out the UN Security Council that will have no effect whatsoever on Iran’s nuclear program — but will act as an international slap in the face that the Bushists hope will goad the Iranians into some drastic action. In like manner, the Pentagon has sent more ships to the Persian Gulf, to float menacingly off Iran’s coast — again, in hopes of provoking some sort of incident from Tehran.
A Christmas Eve story in the New York Times makes this strategy of provocation even more explicit. It is a very curious piece whose only real news value is in what it tells us from between the lines. The Times reports that:
The American military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration called senior military officials, who were seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, according to senior Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad and Washington….
It was unclear what kind of evidence American officials possessed that the Iranians were planning attacks, and the officials would not identify those being held. One official said that u201Ca lot of materialu201D was seized in the raid, but would not say if it included arms or documents that pointed to planning for attacks. Much of the material was still being examined, the official said.
Nonetheless, the two raids, in central Baghdad, have deeply upset Iraqi government officials, who have been making strenuous efforts to engage Iran on matters of security. At least two of the Iranians were in this country on an invitation extended by Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, during a visit to Tehran earlier this month. It was particularly awkward for the Iraqis that one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, who traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President Bush.
[Yes, but death-squadder Hakim was a prime mover in the "moderate coalition" gambit; now that Sistani has killed that initiative, there's no need to mollycoddle Hakim. He can be roughed up like all the rest of the darkies.]
…American and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of interfering in this country’s internal affairs [the irony here is way beyond comment — CF], but have rarely produced evidence. The administration presented last week’s arrests as a potential confirmation of the link…The United States is now holding, apparently for the first time, Iranians who it suspects of planning attacks. One senior administration official said, u201CThis is going to be a tense but clarifying moment.”
And here we’re back to the “clarifying moment” to be banked as an excuse for a military strike on Iran when necessary. Bush is here using the same strategy that he suggested to Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq invasion: “Let’s paint some US planes in UN colors, fly ‘em over Iraq and see if Saddam will shoot ‘em down.” This, Bush suggested, would give the two self-proclaimed Christian statesman the “smoking gun” they needed to launch their long-planned invasion. The two Christianists were at that time in the midst of a months-long intensive bombing campaign against Iraq — yes, before the war — which was also designed, in part, to provoke a “clarifying moment” out of Saddam. As we know, Saddam refused to take the bait — and they had to launch the aggression without even a shred of sham legality.
What the Bush Faction is clearly hoping for with this latest series of provocations against Iran is that Tehran will be so unnerved by Bush’s he-man muscles that they will lash out in some fashion. (Preferably by killing Americans somewhere; that would be the best-case scenario to Bush and Cheney. They thrive on the “clarification” that dead Americans gives them.) Here again we have a case of mental lightweights in the throes of projection. The Bushists lash out in knee-jerk fashion when they feel put upon or provoked, even if the lashing is not in their best interests; therefore they ignorantly assume that everyone else does too. This mindset is also part of the background to the impending assault on Sadr. His Mahdi Army launched two separate uprisings against the U.S. occupation in 2004, yet not only is he still walking free, he has become the keystone of the Bush-backed Iraqi government; without his support, the present government will fall. His very presence is a standing reproach to Bush, it insults his ever-shaky manhood. And so, even though a military assault on Sadr will plunge Iraq even deeper into hell — and probably increase the risk of terrorist attacks on Americans from angry Shiite radicals — Bush will go ahead with the policy anyway. That’s not the only reason for the strategy, of course (although it is murderously stupid from every angle); but it’s certainly a factor in the thinking of the “Decider” as the “New Way Forward” is finalized.
But Iran’s leaders — the real leaders, not the herky-jerky blusterer now serving as the nation’s president, who has, Bush-like, just been slapped down by his own electorate in local elections — are not as stupid as Bush and his minions. They are not likely to give Bush an excuse to attack their country and kill hundreds or thousands of their people. So in the end, if Bush wants to strike Iran, he will have to do so unilaterally, with either the flimsiest of pretexts or with cooked intelligence, as in the Iraq invasion (or — why not be bipartisan? — with outright lies about an Iranian attack, la the “Gulf of Tonkin incident”).
And so there we have Bush’s “Great Leap Forward.” The first two prongs of this strategy seem guaranteed: there will be an escalation of the war and an attack on Sadr. The third thrust — expanding the war beyond Iraq — seems increasingly likely, but perhaps, at the moment, more of an option to be held in reserve, to be brought out when the first two elements inevitably begin to fail and there is, finally, nothing left for them to do but shoot the moon and see what happens.
Yes, they are that stupid. Yes, they are that criminally reckless. And no, they don’t care how many American soldiers will be slaughtered in the process — not to mention (which they never do) the countless Iraqi and Iranian — and American — civilians who will be killed in direct assaults and the inevitable, generations-long blowback.
It looks like 2007 will be one of those — what’s the word? — clarifying moments, all right.
Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.