America adrift

To the casual American observer of the news who relies on the half-hour a day evening broadcasts from CBS, NBC, ABC, or Fox, the war in Iraq has to appear very confusing at times. To the more ardent investigator, the same is true.

Even the news itself is under attack. In this case it involves the First Amendment and its cherished freedom of the press versus seeming excesses by an over-exuberant war president. Aljazeera itself experienced the enthusiasm of this chief executive when it was disclosed last November that president Bush wanted to bomb its headquarters in Qatar, an ally of the US.


Thinking in a uniquely disconcerting manner, Bush had deemed Aljazeera as providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Fortunately, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, is said to have talked Bush out of this disastrous course. This disclosure only added to the fog of war and general confusion among observers.


More recently, events have occurred to indicate that our various branches of government are in conflict. To the casual or ardent viewer, this does not lend itself to a mutual understanding of events. A few weeks ago the senate debated two non-binding resolutions that dealt with troop withdrawals in Iraq.

“We [the US] are in a war that we cannot afford to lose. Those people attacked us! I don’t think we are doing enough. If I were running things we would have already nuked Iraq, Iran, and Syria.”

James Pickens, US

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Bush has adamantly refused to provide the Sunni resistance and the foreign fighters under the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq a date that will provide them with an end game as how long they need to hold out. Consequently, the senate voted down both resolutions after heated debate.


This was no shock to experts on Iraq. What came as a shock was that, in the same week, General George W Casey, the supreme commander in Iraq, privately presented a plan for significant troop reductions to the president.


Many a senator who is beginning to feel that congress has become irrelevant in this war was livid. Senator Boxer stated, “Now it turns out we [Democrats] are in sync with General Casey.”


events have occurred to indicate that our various branches of government are in conflict.

Senator Carl Levin said: “One of the worst-kept secrets in town is that the administration intends to pull out troops before the mid-term elections in November.”


The White House argued that Casey simply presented a contingency plan. Well, we all know about contingency plans, so here is my question. Did Casey also provide a contingency plan for bolstering our beleaguered troops in Iraq?


Recently, the supreme court weighed in. In a case involving a Guantanamo detainee, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers, the judges voted against the Bush administration, indicating that the court was not willing to accept Bush’s concept that his war powers are limitless and beyond challenge. Justice Stephen Breyer said: “Congress has not issued the executive a blank cheque.”

Another alarming issue regarding this president is his chronic use of what are known as signing statements. Ordinarily, meaning for the past 200 years or so, a bill becomes the law of the land when congress passes it and the president signs it. Not with Bush. 

He has usurped the authority to issue a separate statement saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret, or disregard laws he has signed on national security and constitutional grounds. Arguably, the signing statements are themselves unconstitutional, and Bush has issued them in conjunction with more than 750 laws.

Americans have to ask themselves if this is the type of democracy we wish to export. Can the leader of a democratic nation decide which laws he will obey? The answer, of course, is no.

Through the power of the people and its representatives, the US is a nation of laws. That holds true even for the president. Interestingly, the president’s Republican party may lose its grip on congress in the legislative elections in November. This brings up the possibility of his impeachment. The concept of the unitary executive is not the image Americans wish to project.

There are even conflicts within the Bush administration. The Pentagon, under the leadership of the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, wishes to rewrite a portion of the Army Manual, omitting the Geneva Convention Detainee Rule that bans “humiliating and degrading treatment”. The state department fiercely opposes the military’s decision and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider.

Then there is a problem with the contrast between what our leaders are saying and what they are doing. Rumsfeld recently stated: “We do not intend to occupy [Iraq] for any period of time. Our troops would like to go home and they will go home.”


Can the leader of a democratic nation decide which laws he will obey? The answer, of course, is no.

Excellent idea, but we are currently building an enormous embassy in Baghdad, which encompasses 21 buildings that will house more than 8,000 government officials.


It will have all the amenities, a huge pool, gym, theatre, beauty salon, school, and six apartment buildings. In addition, we are building a gargantuan military base, appropriately named Camp Anaconda, which occupies 15 square miles of Iraqi soil near Balad.

20,000 soldiers along with thousands of contractors call it home, and the airport is the second-busiest in the world behind only Chicago’s O’Hare. Anywhere between six and 14 more US military bases are in the pipeline to be built or are being built.


Marjorie Cohn writes: “It does not appear we will be leaving any time soon – or any time, really.”

Then there is the persistent disparity between what Bush says and reality. Giving troops a pep talk on July 4th, America’s independence day, Bush said that since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, US/Iraqi forces have conducted more than 190 raids on targets throughout the country.

He said that more than 700 enemy combatants had been captured and 60 more killed. This is in stark contrast with the most recent report issued by Baghdad’s central morgue. It stated that the morgue had received 1,595 bodies in June, a 16 per cent increase over May.

This is largely due to the systematic sectarian killings between Sunni and Shia militias, and, not surprisingly, civilians bear the brunt of the killing. Seventy per cent of the deaths are non-combatants. Bush’s statistics are undoubtedly accurate, but they are not relevant to progress. The morgue’s statistics are. Unfortunately, they indicate a lack of progress as Iraq descends into the abyss of civil war.

Mass confusion reigns in Iraq. Case in point, the 16th Brigade and the al-Mahdi Army. The 16th is a 1,000-man Sunni brigade that was formed by the defence ministry early last year to guard a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through a southern Baghdad neighbourhood.

Heavily armed and lightly supervised, the brigade morphed into a death squad, co-operating with the resistance and executing those who worked with the Iraqi government.

Representing a military arm of the Shia majority is the al-Mahdi Army, a Shia militia loyal to a Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. It specialises in torture, murder, kidnapping, and the settling of scores for political parties. These are just two of the rival forces.

The number of actual rival forces in Iraq today may be incalculable. Toss into the mix the Wolf Brigade, which targets the Sunni resistance, the dozen or so resistance forces, and al-Qaeda in Iraq, consisting of foreign fighters with its new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, alias Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who has a penchant for explosives, and one has the recipe for a civil and military disaster.


And now a new player, a Shia force called the Islamic Army in Iraq, Abbas Brigades. It accuses the American forces of fomenting sectarian violence and pledges attacks on US troops.

“No one knows who is who right now,” says Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq’s vice-presidents. “We do not think the problem in Iraq is militias. People have to defend themselves.”

Sitting on my patio on a quiet residential street in Southern California, US of A, it took a while for his last sentence to sink in. My God! What have we done!

Obviously, the situation in Iraq is dire. With our various branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial at odds, and our president suffering from some of the worst popularity numbers in US history, it is time for President Bush to take charge and unify our federal government and unify Americans.

It is time for our president to take certain steps, whether they are popular or not, to end the killing and destruction in Iraq and begin the rebuilding of this republic with its dynamic people and an extremely valuable resource. And it must be done irrespective of politics, but respective of need.

Considering this bloody sequence began with our invasion of this nation nearly three-and-a-half years ago and the violence is unabated since that dubious day, for the United States of America to begin withdrawing troops for political convenience would be the worst perfidy we have ever perpetrated on any nation in our history.

[Sandy Shanks is the author of two novels, The Bode Testament and Impeachment. An avid historian, he is also an experienced columnist, specialising in political/military issues.]  

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.        

Source: Al Jazeera

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