Where have all the flowers gone?

I remember last spring when the US made its march into Baghdad. We were so invincible. It was made to so perfect. Gweilo Diaries put up one of the most beautiful posts, headlined “Victory!” with a photograph of an old Iraqi woman approaching the US troops, arms outstretched with beautiful flowers, looking at them as true liberators, as her saviors. (I’d link to it, but I can’t pinpoint it on Conrad’s site.) For a moment it all seemed so right. We were heroes. We had done the right thing. The feeling lasted what now seems like only a few minutes. Soon any hope I may have had for a quick resolution were shattered, my hopes, skeptical to begin with, all vanished.

It’s been hard going ever since, but I don’t think America was at all prepared for the horrors of the past seven days, which I think it’s safe to say constitute nothing less than a meltdown.

The atrocities in Fallujah were bad enough, but they were at least understandable; we always knew the Sunni triangle would be a major challenge. It was only more recently, early this week, that the scales fell from our eyes. The Shi’ites were the ones who were supposed to support us. To see them mobilize en masse against us, and in so doing murdering 12 US marines and many more Iraqis today alone — that crossed a line. Suddenly, the conversation shifted to a new plane, and the buzzwords of the day were Vietnam, quagmire, no way out, and hopeless.

Amazing, how far we have come from Bush’s Top Gun landing on the aircraft carrier, under the huge banner announcing, “Mission Accomplished.”

I’m not posting to tell of what I think the solutions are, how we can get out of it, what we should do next or what we should have done earlier. I’m posting to tell my friends in Asia how shocking it is to be in America right now, how different it is today than it was even three weeks ago when I arrived in New York.

Listening to the chorus of most (not all) Republicans, you’d think the horrors of the past week were mere blips, minor disruptions. The way they’re talking we can just pick up and go on June 30 and Iraq will be a fully functional democracy. Bremer insists we are in “complete control” in Iraq, and has no idea how surreal such a claim appears to us in the US, where scenes of butchered Americans and flaming cities and soaring death tolls tell a somewhat different story.

Certainly, we can win “control,” at least in military terms. But if the Iraqis despise us and see us as murderous occupiers, what hope is there of Bush’s grand vision that Iraq will follow in our footsteps, serving as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East that will inspire others to renounce terrorism and seek democracy for themselves? At the moment, that vision seems so unrealistic, so preposterous — so patently absurd. And Bremer is talking as though all is going according to plan.

I once believed Iraq and the world would be much better off without Saddam. I had huge doubts along the way, especially as Bush destroyed alliances, vilified those who questioned and displayed a smugness I never imagined the American people could find acceptable from their president. All things considered, it would have been better if we’d held off and focused more on the true threat of terrorism in places where al Qaeda thrives.

A spectacular mess, and one that is likely to plague us for years and years to come, courtesy of our “war-time president,” the most venal, unscrupulous, arrogant piece of shit ever to desecrate the White House.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

Richard, I’m glad to see you calling it like it is. The US is in deep shit over there and Georgie boy is in deeper and deeper all the time.

We owe the Iraqis something, but god knows what we can give them now. We leave now , they kill each other and hate US (perhaps enough to join the terrorist to get back at US) or WE stay and We kill the Iraqis and WE create more terrorists.

Of course I fault the Republicans who threw caution to the wind and beat the drums of war, the Demos who were too scared to think straight, the journalist, like that mendacious Robert Novak, the other lazy or prostituted ones who didn’t have the guts to question the “rush to war,” which had obvious signs all over that Bush was not being square with the American people and the broadcast journalist who were next to criminal in their support for Georgie’s war. I can’t help but think about our one other “great” military George (not Washington), the hero, who got slaughtered by another low-tech band of natives for his arrogance.

There is only one honorable thing for George Bush to do now, that is, tell the American people he will not run for the presidency, he will quit when his term is up. I would suggest he resign now, but then we would get that bastard Cheney.

April 6, 2004 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

The problem is not that the US is being seen as “murderous occupiers” it is that it has become viewed as too weak. Sadr does not represent the Shiites, he’s a grasping thug, but it is clear that US forebearance has emboldened him.

I’ve posted on the fact that it’s better to be feared than loved. Saddam ruled Iraq almost entirely uncahallenged by the Iraqis. Why? Because they loved him? HAH!

Because they were shit scared. The US could have done a lot more to impose order at the outset and make it clear that misbehavior would be severly dealt with. I’m not saying emulate Saddam, but the US has gone too far in the other direction.

What a mess. And it’s going to be a lot harder to restore order and put the fear of God into Iraqis, after having deomonstrated timidity and allowed unrest to get out of hand.

April 7, 2004 @ 12:12 am | Comment


Even though this Sadr does not represent the Shiites, undiscriminated use of military force by the Allies may just make it a reality.

The Vietnamese were not exactly all fans of the vietcongs, but still they eventually supported them to get the French, and then the American out of their country.

It is so easy for them to get new support each time a bullet loses its way and ends up in the body of the civilian.

And if ever the US loses the support of mainstream Shiites, it will just have to pack, and pack quickly.

A local leader can use force to scare its people into submission, it is an entirely other affair for an occupying foreign force.

Only Nato/UN could try now to sort this out. The US military has lost its legitimacy there.

April 7, 2004 @ 2:05 am | Comment

I agree with what the commentors have said about Al-Sadr, but not about other things.
A more ‘tough’ approach would have just made the situation we have now come a bit sooner, perhaps with a the coalition being more in control. A much better way of dealing with the situation would have been to follow Sistani’s lead and do direct elections earlier this year. While the elections would not be perfect, they are far better than the mess Iraq is currently facing.

April 7, 2004 @ 2:25 am | Comment

I really enjoy your writing.
Thank you for sharing a compassionate and reasonable voice. You are not alone in your concerns.

April 7, 2004 @ 9:49 am | Comment

richard, that’s exactly how i think about the americans. they are always eager to play the world police but can never leave without harsh feelings by people they are supposed to be saving. quite ironic i think.

April 7, 2004 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

The End of an illusion…

Now, the war experts estimate that about 500,000 soldiers would be necessary to pacify the whole country if the population became hostile. The US don’t have them, and nobody will volunteer to lend them their troops in a situation like that. They will p…

April 7, 2004 @ 12:23 pm | Comment

Thanks guys; when even Conrad says it’s a mess, we know we’re in trouble. Is he right to say we should have been tougher? I can’t say. What I can say is that the mess was born and is flourishing under the watch of George W. Bush and his henchmen, and at this very instant I am watching it grow worse and worse. I agree with him that Sadr is nothing but a thug, but look at how many are following his cue. The Communists at the time of the Tzar’s downfall were a small group, but through thuggish tactics and sheer ruthlessness they took control. Thugs can be very, very dangerous when they have no fear and are willing to take enormous risks, no matter how small a minority they are. Look at what a handful of terrorists just did in Spain — they turned an entire developed nation on its head!

April 7, 2004 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

I haven’t heard anyone else say it to date, but it’s something I’ve thought from the outset. It should have been obvious from the start that the natural allies of the Americans (and the new administration) are the Sunnis, not the Shi’ites. Both sides have been making a major mistake … the occupying forces have been treating the Sunnis like enemies because they were the main side supporting Hussein (not all of them of course) … and the Shi’ites as some kind of ally because they were largely opposed to Hussein. The Sunnis for their part have reacted with anger to the loss of their strongman.

But that was the old reality. Hussein is gone. In the new reality, the sooner these two sides kiss and make up and realise that the best way to further both their interests is going to be to work hand in glove, the better it is going to be for Iraq. The Shi’ites were never going to be a force for stability, and recent events have just proven this.

From a moral point of view, it may stick in the throat, and no one likes to talk about it … but a lot of the people responsible for German and Japanese recovery were people who had worked actively for the evil regimes WWII had removed. The Sunnis are considerably more secular and ideologically a lot more likely to support the kind of state USA wants to create in Iraq.

As for the Shi’ites … in that respect I think they were a lost cause from the start. They’ve been suppressed for far too long, and they need a period of time to go nuts in their new found freedom. I think the best thing to do would be to grant them virtual independence (no matter how unpopular it would be in the middle-east) and let them stew in their own juices. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think there’s any way to ‘solve’ the problem other than to let it work through it’s natural course.

April 7, 2004 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

Li En, you are setting an awfully high order! I have no problems with attempting to reach out to the Sunnis, but look at what’s going on in Fallujah. This is a task the most seasoned diplomat would dread.

Likewise, isn’t the hope that Sunni and Shiite “kiss and make” up akin to asking the same of Israelis and Palestinians? These are deep-rooted animosities that are not going away soon. If ever. (Hate to say that, but again, look at Israel.)

The Shiites are a majority. If they are, as you say, a lost cause, isn’t our invasion a lost cause as well? After all, if we are steadfastly opposed by the majority of Iraqis, what hope is there?

April 7, 2004 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

As much as it is important to realize that Bush might of been a bit overzealous in overhyping the WMDs (and possibly even had Iraq on the agenda prior to 9/11), the resolve now that we’re in must not not waver.

I’ve watched a lot of people start to waver in their Iraq commitment following the Fallujah battles, but it’s important to remember that they don’t speak for the majority; as someone mentioned above, Al-Sadr is a thug and cannot be represented as the “Shiite” majority.

A good read is: http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004911

April 8, 2004 @ 2:08 am | Comment

I didn’t mean to put in that double negative … “resolve now that we’re in must NOT waver.”

Oops ;D

April 8, 2004 @ 2:09 am | Comment

Richard … don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is ANY possibility that the Sunnis and Shi’ites will kiss and make up. I also don’t think there is any possibility of the Shi’ites being any kind of ally to US intentions. The Sunnis are the only possible ally, and the sooner both the US and the Sunnis realise that an alliance between them serves both their interests, the better for all concerned.

April 9, 2004 @ 8:13 am | Comment

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