Thursday, June 5, 2008

The "Art" of "Knowing" about Iraq

Can We Penetrate the Nature of the Iraqi Government?
Can We Do It Even Under A Media Blackout?

It’s high time to start with our version of the W.W.II German disclaimers, only we will need to smooth out some ruffled feathers with our national behavior in Iraq rather than declaring a lack of knowledge about “death camps.” Of course, we can only know what we have been told about the invasions and the subsequent occupation. How could we be held responsible for events about which we were never informed?

Frankly, if we place all that we have been told in one column on the right, then add a column on the left noting our inescapable other conclusions about the same topics, we would be facing a “loose brick” in our wall of presumptive innocence. Although the administration, with the help of its trained monkeys on AM radio, has carefully crafted a position for us about the whole affair, a position which provides a wonderful foundation for our “complete innocence,” those among us who can still claim to “know nothing more” is a dwindling population.

Our “innocence” has grown a little frayed, a little “road weary.” We can no longer wear our white wedding dress quite so effortlessly. The nagging alternative to this blissful blind faith grows into a more and more inevitable observation every time we add one of our famous “but’s” to the argument. “Well, they said this and this and this, BUT, what about that and that and that?” The innocent image the administration has offered to us tasted pretty good at first, but the bitter contradictions just seemed to keep on coming after those first few delicious, vengeful bites.

So, we admit it. We can no longer assume that we have ever known what was actually happening in Iraq.

As for self-deprecation, during the formal invasion I proposed loudly that we would never be able to just steal the oil. Such a blatant crime would collect too much international baggage even for someone as implacable as Dick Cheney. Instead, I suggested, American “looters” would nibble away slowly, imperceptibly, at the Iraqi fortune with truly awful oil field service contracts, bad distribution agreements and the like, all benefitting respectable corporations such as Brown and Root and Halliburton.

I was wrong. After spending five continuous years reporting on Iraq, from Iraq, NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, Richard Engel, estimates that around 500.000 barrels of Iraqi oil are pilfered every day. At $125 per barrel, that amounts to roughly $62,500,000 worth daily or about $24 billion per year.

Jumping right beyond this unaccounted-for-oil, let’s return to the question of what we know about what’s happening in Iraq. What do we know about our partners in democracy, the people running the Iraqi Government? Again, we have the “official” version of who these folks are. The administration would like to depict them as amateur but enthusiastic “founding fathers,” making possible all the wonderful things that Iraq will become if we just “stay the course.” Veritable copies of Thomas Jefferson or, perhaps, Ben Franklin, honest, hardworking nation builders eminently deserving of our respect and support.

Never mind the five year long argument about reconciling the country, never mind the idea that millions of Iraqi’s are possibly less than pleased with monthly death rates of 1,000, 2,000 or worse, depending on the moment. These same stalwart democrats continue to give their all to this mission of theirs, year after year without any progress, lucky breaks or inspired results.

Don’t be too critical. The model of democracy offered up as an example for them to follow was none other than a United States government reeling from every sort of corruption, lack of oversight and ridiculous ideology. What did we expect?

As for the missing oil, pause for a moment and consider the material reality of stealing half a million barrels of oil every day. Sure, these clever Iraqis have developed some very sophisticated tricks. Under filling and over reporting oil tanker loads in Basra. Undetected diversion lines from the main oil pipelines (undetected?). Outright criminal corruption done in the broad glare of the Iraqi daylight.

Yet, we are led to think that the noble Iraqi government leaders, in their daily struggle in Baghdad to form a new democratic nation, somehow remain aloof from such a dirty business. They learned from their American sponsors that a position in government is akin to a natural resource, a birth into a privileged nobility or a generous trust fund, suddenly discovered.

Now, years later, we have managed to create a class of politicians cast in the exact mold of the Republican Party that has run our own country, full of subterfuge, excuses, convenient confusion and graft, not to mention outrageous hubris. We taught our Mexican neighbors how to hold crooked elections. We taught our Iraqi partners how to perfect corruption.

Thank you, President Bush. Perhaps you and the Secretary of State can retire to a refurbished Chevron oil tanker, the Condalezza Rice, docked at some friendly port in the Persian Gulf once you have finally finished with us.

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