Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NYT: Riding the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk

For the first time since the 1970s (1976) puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki visited Ramadi. Being on the lam for the 80s, 90s and the start of this decade possibly prevented earlier trips to the region of al Anbar Province but he, no doubt, has many fun tales to share about life in in Syria and Iran during that period. Whisked out of the Green Zone and to Ramadi in a helicopter, flanked by an army of bodyguards, he no doubt felt a little like Paul Bremer and may have even wondered if someday, as they've named the embankment walls surrounding the Green Zone "Bremer walls," he might also leave a mark on Iraq?

Kirk Semple's "Iraq Premier Meets Leaders in Area Torn by Insurgency" (New York Times) picks up the story with this news about the advance team of bodyguards:

They frisked each member of the Iraqi Army honor guard that stood in formation at the edge of the heliport on an American military base and inspected the soldiers' Kalashnikov rifles to ensure that each was empty of bullets.

It's one of the few details of any journalistic note in Semple's article. For instance, reading the article, you're left to wonder yourself why the puppet decided to venture out of the Green Zone? Sudarsan Raghavan's "Maliki, Petraeus Visit Insurgent Hotbed in Iraq" (Washington Post) tells you what Semple can't or won't, David H. Petraeus made al-Maliki go. The top military commander in Iraq (no need to say US, the top everything in Iraq remains the US, the puppet government has no say) told him he had to go and so, after nine months as prime minister, al-Maliki decided he had to go . . . visit a military base in al Anbar Province. Where there is the protection of the US bases, the puppet can move -- not freely, but he can move.

Whisked out of the Green Zone by helicopter to a US controlled military base in the province, al-Maliki stuck around for a whopping five hour visit. After the Iraqi army was patted down and searched, of course. It's all pretty pathetic, including the attempt at marketing.

Which includes testimonials in Semple's article. Take this one:

"It's a pretty historic moment," Brig. Gen. John R. Allen of the Marines, the deputy commander of the American-led forces in Anbar, said of the meeting as he waited on the tarmac at the heavily fortified Camp Blue Diamond, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. "This is an opportunity for a true connection between the central government in Baghdad and a province that has been struggling for years, not only with a counterinsurgency battle but also with the building of governance."

Thank goodness there was an American around to offer us his historic perspective on Iraq. Apparently an Iraqi wasn't available. But we're so lucky to have an American to translate for us (or at least Semple) what we're all supposed to be witnessing. But Semple offers you another perspective as well:

"I think this is healthy," an American military adviser said, sotto voce, as a sheik launched into a harangue about the inadequacies of the provincial government. The adviser's eyebrows leapt upward theatrically. "Democracy!" he concluded.

Ooooh, are you impressed? Do you have goose bumps? No? Well that's because there are only so many waves of Operation Happy Talk that a criminal administration should be allowed to use before the press calls them out on it. Semple can't or won't. He just writes his friendly, little copy as though observations, thought and analysis can only be arrived at when fed to him. An Iraqi opinion is not heard from until the last paragraph of the cute little fable:

"Maliki has promised us things before, but I haven't seen anything," said Sheik Turki Afat al-Duleimi, a member of the Anbar Salvation Council from Ramadi. His face hardened. "We'll see."

Yes, we will see, though probably not in the New York Times and for any who doubt that, note that Semple also pens this shortly before the above paragraph:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American military commander in Iraq, arrived from a day of touring Ramadi and chatted with the sheiks. The officials posed on the steps of the palace for a group photograph, then General Petraeus and Mr. Maliki boarded a Black Hawk and flew away.

Oh, they flew off together? How cute. But what Semple forgets to inform readers is not just that Petraeus had to pressure al-Maliki into making the trip, he also had to accompany him on the helicopter ride to Ramadi. It may be the biggest piece of Operation Happy Talk today. Yesterday's? The created quotes from unnamed Iraqis in al-Maliki's cabinet were very cute. The best may have been the unnamed Iraqi who referred to Sabrine as a "broad" because, of course, that is just the term of choice in Iraqi venacular -- no help shaping talking points from the US military on that word choice! Look next for Petraues to be referred to as a "gum shoe" or possibly a "good time Charlie."

Kimberly notes Eric Ruder's "The rise of the antiwar soldier" (Socialist Worker):

In early 2005, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, head of the Army Reserve, made headlines with a memo that lashed out at Pentagon authorities who denied his repeated requests to revamp what he called the "dysfunctional" policies for mobilizing reserves. Helmly warned that the Army Reserve "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."
Two years later, the pressures turning the Army Reserve into a "broken force" have not only grown, but they have spread to the rest of the military.
There's the depletion of equipment and supplies--the broken-down Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and helicopters worn down by heavy use in Iraq's harsh climate.
There's the low morale--and ambivalence about the mission--among troops. One public opinion poll of soldiers in January 2006 found that only 23 percent support Bush’s view that the U.S. should stay in Iraq "as long as necessary."
But just as important as the morale of troops is the "morale" of the U.S. population as a whole. That's because every military reflects the society it grows out of, giving a magnified expression to all of that society's positive and negative features.
With the U.S. population turning against the war--a record number now say the war wasn't worth fighting, and for the first time, a majority supports setting a deadline for withdrawal--it's no wonder that soldiers are, too.
Since the start of the war four years ago, more than 20,000 soldiers have gone AWOL--absent without official leave--though accurate numbers are hard to come by, as the military is loathe to acknowledge that defections from its ranks have a mass character.
Not every one of the troops who walks away from the military is against the war, or even against being deployed. There are many reasons to go AWOL--unwillingness to leave a family member in need, weariness of military life or the offer of a better job.
For most of those who go AWOL in anonymity and without expressing any misgivings about the mission, the punishment is generally light--an other-than-honorable discharge that may mean diminished benefits.
"I think there probably are a lot of soldiers who left because they don't want to participate in the war in Iraq," Kelly Dougherty, executive director of
Iraq Veterans Against the War, explained in an interview.
"The reason that only a handful have come out publicly is that it's really hard to put yourself in that position. If you come forward, you are exposing yourself to criticism and more extreme punishment from the military. One friend told me that he went AWOL because he didn’t want to go to war in Iraq, and when he later turned himself in, he didn't tell anyone that he felt that way."
The military makes it as difficult as possible for a service member who goes public with their decision not to deploy.
Consider the case of Spc.
Agustin Aguayo. Kelly recently returned from Aguayo's March 6 court martial in Germany.
For years, Aguayo sought conscientious objector status and a discharge from the military, saying his views had evolved to the point where he could no longer participate in war in good conscience. "The way that the military is handling these cases--and the prosecutor in Agustín's case even said this--the main motivation for punishing these people is to send a message to other soldiers that they shouldn’t refuse to go to Iraq," explains Kelly.
Aguayo was found guilty at the court-martial and sentenced to eight months' confinement, ordered to forfeit all pay, reduced in rank to a private, and given a bad-conduct discharge--a similar sentence to other soldiers who refused deployment. Aguayo had already spent six months in confinement prior to his trial, so he'll be free in about two months.
In the words of Camilo Mejía, who served nine months' confinement for being the first soldier to go public with his decision to refuse to deploy to Iraq for a second tour, "Behind these bars, I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience."
The relatively high-profile cases of soldiers like Aguayo, Camilo Mejía, Pablo Paredes, Lt.
Ehren Watada and Mark Wilkerson provide the most visible expression of antiwar protest in the ranks. But they are only one kind of threat that soldiers can pose to the military machine.

The e-mail address for this site is

agustin aguayo