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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

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October 29, 2007

Weekly Commentary -- The Antiwar Movement -- How to Fix a Busted Paradigm?

In his new book, “Ending the War in Iraq,” Tom Hayden suggests that most political commentary in the United States overlooks the fact that there is a large, politically powerful antiwar movement in this country.

Since the November 2006 elections, people connected with United for Peace and Justice have often claimed that UFPJ and the antiwar movement deserve credit for changing the mood in the country about the war and, incidentally, for bringing the Democrats an electoral victory.

Which brings us, of course, to the age-old philosophical question: if a tree marches, all by itself, in San Francisco or New York, and nobody pays it any attention, does it have political power?

Unfortunately, that’s a pretty accurate description of Saturday’s antiwar protests across the nation. Billed as a group of regional demonstrations, with major sites in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Orlando, Seattle, and Salt Lake City, plus a few dozen smaller sites, they were the most sparsely attended major protests in years. Even ANSWER, legendary for its inflation of turnout statistics, only claimed that “over 100,000” marched across the whole country. In New York, where UFPJ’s headquarters is located, police estimated 10,000 and UFPJ countered with 45,000. The true number, I suppose, is somewhere in-between.

Although reporting of violence in Iraq is significantly down since the beginning of September and there is a flurry of reportage about the pacification of parts of al-Anbar province, public opinion hasn’t shifted very much on Iraq. The latest polls still show over 60% thinking the occupation is going somewhat badly or very badly for the United States and 50 to 60% saying we never should have invaded; a recent CBS poll showed 45% wanting U.S. troops out within a year and 72% within two years.

The apparent successes of the surge have not changed assessments of Bush’s handling of Iraq; about two-thirds still disapprove.

For any of those out there who were still unconvinced before Saturday, let me suggest that two things are now very clear:

1. The current protest schema is a busted paradigm.
2. The antiwar public has no interest in the antiwar movement – and is, frankly, generally not aware of its existence.

Understanding the reasons for these points is not difficult. Remember the old saw that “if voting could change anything, it would be illegal.” Well, when people believe protests can change anything, they are illegal – or at least strongly frowned upon and heavily policed. There is the rare exception, like the March on Washington or the February 15, 2003 protests, when the people in the street are articulating something that political elites are already beginning to think, but in general, protests mean something when there are attempts to suppress them, as there were in the Vietnam era.

Unfortunately, we keep on perpetuating actions that have by now lost any shred of rationale. What’s our theory of what protests will or should do?

With regard to the second point, it’s interesting to note that the pundits everyone goes to to understand Iraq – especially on TV, but also in other media, in public speaking, etc. – are in general exactly the same people who they went to before the war. Even though the majority of them were proved flagrantly wrong in perhaps 90% of what they said. We still get to listen to Kenneth Pollack, Michael O’Hanlon, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, …

In part, this is simply because TV producers are loath to update their Rolodexes. Yet, oddly, people from the antiwar movement were on TV and in the public discourse a lot more in 2002 than they are now.

One reason is that, if what we have to say sounds too much like what they have to say, there’s no percentage in having us on. Another is that there is no soul-searching, no deep-seated moral reckoning, no re-evaluation of the status quo coming out of this war. Since the solution to the problem is apparently to return to business as usual, how natural it is to rely on the pundits of business as usual as your interlocutors.

Do I have any answers to this screwed situation? Well, to start with, let’s stop doing what we’ve been doing. This one has largely happened anyway. National protests are small in part because the very places that are normally centers of protest activity – elite campuses and major urban centers – are dead.

But the next part is to start doing something different. Let’s come up with some ideas.

Posted at 3:32 pm

October 22, 2007

Weekly Commentary -- Pakistan and the GWOT

Last Thursday, Pakistan reaped the latest fruits of the “global war on terror,” with 140 dead in a suicide bombing apparently targeting Benazir Bhutto on her return from exile.

Dictator Pervez Musharraf’s power-sharing deal with Bhutto, a desperate attempt to shore up the crumbling legitimacy of his regime, under assault most recently by a burgeoning pro-democracy movement, is the result of concerted behind-the-scenes pressure by the U.S. government. Two years ago, they didn’t return Bhutto’s calls, but over the past six months concerns over the stability of Musharraf’s rule pushed them to this course.

Ever ready to proclaim her willingness to dance with those what brung her, Bhutto responded to the horrific terror attack by calling for “international aid,” meaning that of the United States, in investigating the attack. Sovereign nations don’t usually call for foreign countries to investigate purely internal criminal acts, but such niceties do not deter a grateful Ms. Bhutto – even though her call for U.S. investigation in Pakistan is about as popular as a call for more Shin Bet action in Palestine.

But, you may say, surely such horrible acts and such misguided rhetoric are a product of Bush administration ineptness, and things will improve once we have a Democratic president?

I am not so sanguine; indeed, judging by rhetoric alone, the Democrats are worse on Pakistan than Bush is. Bush’s failure to catch Osama bin Laden is a constant campaign theme, with the suggested remedy usually being to “pressure” Pakistan to “do something.”

On Hardball with Chris Matthews, John Edwards summed up the dominant position among Democratic candidates and among liberal Bush opponents generally: “I think we have to ratchet up pressure on Musharraf and the Pakistani government. We have huge leverage with them. They get enormous amounts of money from the United States of America, and they are not doing what they need to do.”

The Pakistanis, like the Iraqis, are insufficiently grateful for all we’ve done for them.

And what have they done? Well, U.S. aid has been designed to get Pakistan to go on “anti-terrorist” operations in the Northwest Frontier Province of the kind that U.S. forces execute in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has delivered. Over the past several years, the Pakistani military has lost well over 1000 Pakistan soldiers and has perhaps killed similar numbers of civilians.

What does Pakistan have to show for it? A massive upsurge in suicide bombings, which, even before last week’s carnage, had claimed many hundreds of victims. And a rekindling of long-standing sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’a.

Pakistan has not been so victimized by destructive U.S. power games since the U.S.-backed Afghan jihad of the 1980’s. U.S. meddling back then shored up the rule of Ziaul Haq, the most brutally repressive ruler Pakistan has had. It left parts of the country awash in guns and drugs. It saw for the first time the establishment of Islamic extremism in what had been a mostly secularist country. And many died in the backwash of the violence in Afghanistan.

After the 2001 Afghanistan war, the 2002 general elections saw the Islamic political parties, hitherto a marginal force, band together and win 20% of parliamentary seats. At the same time, terrorist groups, which had hitherto mostly operated in Kashmir, started unleashing attacks within Pakistan. At this point, they seem to be able to attack almost any target at will.

It’s not exactly difficult to conclude that Pakistan’s participation in the “war on terror” and, in particular, its frequent military operations in the northwest, have accomplished nothing except to kill lots of people and make the overall situation worse. This is, of course, consonant with the experience of the “war on terror” in other venues.

It will take a lot for Pakistan to go the way of Iraq. It is not a totalitarian state, like Iraq was before the invasion, and, even more important, the state has not been dissolved by foreign intervention as it was in Iraq. But put enough “pressure” on Musharraf because he’s “not doing enough” and perhaps it could happen – but this time in a country with over six times Iraq’s population. Already, Pakistan has suffered far more from the “war on terror” than the United States, whose war it is.

Perhaps, instead of incessantly harping on the failure to catch bin Laden, liberals could spend a little time reflecting on whether it’s a goal that is worth the incredible disruption that is being visited on other countries.

Posted at 10:29 am

October 19, 2007

Article -- A Tale of Two Atrocities -- Blackwater and Haditha

A longer version of last week's commentary, with more information about the Haditha prosecution:

A Tale of Two Atrocities – Blackwater and Haditha
By Rahul Mahajan
October 19, 2007

The recent public outrage over the conduct of Blackwater Security mercenaries in Iraq, after an unprovoked massacre of at least 17 Iraqi civilians in western Baghdad has been heartening; unfortunately, there has been virtually no attention a far more important concurrent development – the ongoing collapse of the military prosecution in the Haditha massacre.

Paul Bremer’s decision at the eleventh hour before his departure in June 2004 to set all private contractors in Iraq above the law (they are not subject to Iraqi law, U.S. military law, or U.S. civilian law) stands out as one of the more cynical decisions of a war that has redefined cynicism, and attention to that fact is a positive development.

At the same time, however, all the attention is being focused on an extremely minor issue. The U.S. military has possibly killed more civilians in a single incident than all the mercenary companies operating in Iraq in the last several years. According to Iraq Body Count, the first U.S. Marine assault on Fallujah in April 2004, claimed the lives of at least 600 Iraqi civilians, out of a total of at least 800 people.

That number is actually cited in a report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding Blackwater, but its implications are hardly appreciated.

According to the same report, since January 1, 2005, Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents – other mercenary companies all together account for a similar number.

This is the equivalent of a couple of days’ worth of shooting incidents for the U.S. military in Iraq. Not only are there more of them than there are of private mercenaries (roughly three times the number), mercenaries do not go on offensive operations or do routine patrolling. Those are the activities most likely to lead to shooting.

Even if U.S. soldiers are for the most part genuinely more careful about rules of engagement, the far greater volume of violent incidents means that it is actually the conduct of the U.S. military, not of mercenaries, that is the problem.

In that regard, consider the evolution of the prosecution for the Haditha massacre, one of the most iconic incidents of atrocity by the U.S. military.

The facts that are not in dispute are these: On November 19, 2005, after an IED attack that killed one of them, Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment killed 24 people. The first killed were five men in a car who stopped, got out, and then were mown down. Afterwards, Marines entered a house and killed 15 civilians, including three women and seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 13.

In another house, four brothers, all adults, were killed, three of them with handgun shots to the head. Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt, the killer, said that they were armed and preparing to attack.

The Marines lied about what happened, indicating at first that there had been a firefight with insurgents and the others had been caught in the crossfire.

A series of higher-ranking officers didn’t bother to investigate.

Court-martial hearings did not begin until this summer, almost two years after the incident.

Initially, 8 men were charged: Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, for unpremeditated murder, and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, Capt. Lucas McConnell, Capt. Randy Stone, and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, for dereliction of duty and a series of more minor charges relating to not investigating or to covering up.

The hearings have been a circus. First of all, they were held in Camp Pendleton, California, rather than in Iraq, so the Iraqis who witnessed the events couldn’t testify. Second, the families of the victims refused requests by military interrogators to exhume the bodies for forensic evidence. Third, Lt. Col. Paul Ware, who presided over the hearings, has been both excessively sympathetic to the defendants and excessively concerned with the effect that the verdicts will have on future Marine operations. Fourth, some rather odd plea bargains have been made.

Most recently, Ware recommended that all charges of murder (originally 13 counts) against Wuterich be dropped and replaced with charges of negligent homicide only for seven of the murdered women and children (many of them shot in their beds) – and has added that he doesn’t think Wuterich would be convicted on those charges either.

According to the testimony of fellow Marines, a week before the incident, Wuterich said that if something like that happened, they should kill everyone in the vicinity. Wuterich himself admitted to ordering his men breaking into the houses to “shoot first and ask questions later.” And, contrary to Wuterich’s claim that the first five men were running away after they got out of the car, Dela Cruz testified that the men "were just standing, looking around, had hands up."

Dela Cruz was given immunity for his testimony, but he may have deliberately made a hash of it, contradicting himself and at one time admitting that he was lying; events conspired nicely to get him and Wuterich both off.

Earlier, Ware recommended dropping all charges against Sharratt, accepting his claim that the execution-style killings of the three men shot in the head occurred in self-defense in the heat of combat. He also wanted charges dropped on Tatum, even though fellow Marine Lance Cpl. Humberto Mendoza testified that Tatum had ordered him to shoot the seven women and children, even after being informed of their identity and that they posed no threat.

Charges were dropped against the two captains, Grayson is still under investigation, and Ware recommended that Chessani be charged with dereliction of duty, although with none of the actual murderers on trial, apparently, he was derelict in investigating nothing.

Major General Eldon Bargewell’s scathing outside report on the incident, which, though unclassified, has not been publicly released because of the ongoing hearings, found that "All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics," adding, "Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get 'the job done' no matter what it takes.” He also found that found that "virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted,” that officers looked at reports of civilian casualties as pro-insurgent propaganda to suppress and spin, and that reports filed by senior officers were “forgotten once transmitted.”

Even so, no higher officers faced criminal charges; three were reprimanded.

Of course, not every court-martial in the Iraq war has been such a farce. The men who raped 14-year-old Abeer Hamza in Mahmudiyah, killed her family, then killed her and set her corpse on fire got severe sentences. In the Hamdaniyah case, where a squad of Marines murdered an innocent man and then planted a shovel on him to suggest that he was placing an IED, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins was actually sentenced to 15 years, although it remains to be seen if he will serve his time; most of his accomplices got slaps on the wrist and are already out of jail.

The Haditha case is different from the others. It is not essential to U.S. military strategy in Iraq to leave soldiers free to rape and murder little girls or even to murder the wrong man when you’re looking for insurgents; in fact, the military has an interest in discouraging such behavior. Aggressive house raids in which soldiers feel free to “shoot first and ask questions later,” have been, however, fundamental to U.S. practice in Iraq; even Lt. Col. Ware, departing from his ostensible role as prosecutor, expressed concern about the chilling effect convictions would have on Marines operating in Iraq.

Overall, the record of accountability for atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers is pathetic. Soldiers who kill prisoners in custody routinely get administrative punishment; missing a troop movement gets a court-martial, but murdering a helpless man rarely does. In the particularly brutal killing of two young men in Bagram prison, in which soldiers testified that they used to assault one of them, Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver, just because they liked to hear him scream “Allah!” in pain, nobody was charged with murder, on the incredibly specious reasoning that, since 27 different people used to enjoy torturing him, there was no way to determine which “unlawful knee strike” caused him to die. Try using that defense if you’re a young black kid holding up a 7-11 when one of your accomplices shoots the clerk. Contractors may be subject to no law, but the law soldiers are subject to is rarely much better than nothing.

During the course of this trial, we learned that Marine rules of engagement allowed them to shoot in the back unarmed people running away from the scene of a car bomb explosion, even if there was no reason to connect them with the attack. We learned that in the second assault on Fallujah (in November 2004), approved procedure was to “clear” rooms by tossing in fragmentation grenades blind – even though initial estimates were that perhaps as many as 50,000 civilians remained in the town – and that many Marines used the same technique afterward in other areas. We learned about the routine practice of dead-checking – if a man is wounded, instead of offering him medical aid, shoot him again, on the principle that “If somebody is worth shooting once, they're worth shooting twice.” One of the Marines testified in the hearings that they were taught this practice in boot camp.

A sleepwalking nation paid little attention to these revelations. When future histories of the war are written, it will probably accept statements that the hearings proved the Haditha massacre was a hoax.

But we will all remain united in righteous indignation against peripheral targets.

Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the weblog He has been to occupied Iraq twice and reported from the first assault on Fallujah in April 2004. His most recent book is Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond (Seven Stories Press). He can be contacted at

October 15, 2007

Weekly Commentary -- Al Gore, Peacemaker

The right wing is already hyperventilating over the decision to award Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran an unsigned editorial naming all the people who didn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize this year (their list of potential nominees included Alvaro Uribe and Tony Blair), suggesting with the subtlety of a sledgehammer that Gore didn’t deserve it.

I, on the contrary, think Gore richly deserves the prize and his place in history beside Henry Kissinger and Theodore Roosevelt.

Gore’s first claim to fame, after all, was being one of only 10 Democratic senators to vote in favor of the 1991 Gulf War. The Bush administration whipped up a massive propaganda campaign, the centerpiece of which was an Amnesty International report containing the false claim that Iraqi troops had ripped hundreds of Kuwaiti babies out of incubators. AIPAC also went all out in its lobbying. The final vote was 52-47 in the Senate.

Republicans Alan Simpson and Bob Dole claimed afterward that Gore, who had remained on the fence until the final hours, sold his vote to the Republicans for 20 minutes on prime time in the televised hearings. This claim has been denied by many and two biographers of Gore were unable to corroborate it.

Instead, according to others, it was a deeply principled vote and Gore spent much time in anguished consultation with his good friend Marty Peretz, editor of The New Republic, and widely acknowledged even by mainstream journalists to be an extreme anti-Arab racist.

In 1992, Gore came out with a book on the global environmental crisis called Earth in the Balance. Except for the last bit, which devolved into Christian fundamentalism (before the Second Coming of George Bush, Clinton and Carter were by far the most fundamentalist postwar presidents), it was an excellent book. In fact, it was so good that I remember wondering who wrote it.

He followed up this ringing environmental call to arms with eight years in an administration that never raised the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for automobiles. Indeed, more action was taken on mileage during the Reagan-Bush years than during the Clinton years.

While in office, Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative served to gut government oversight of numerous spending programs; $1000 hammers and $2000 toilet seats for the military, which had disappeared after a wave of taxpayer outrage, returned.

His most impressive achievement came later, as head of the U.S./South Africa Binational Commission. In 1998, South Africa passed a law, legal under WTO rules, enabling compulsory licensing of AIDS drugs – so that they could produce the drugs themselves, simply paying the patent-holders a fee. At the time, a years’ worth of AIDS drugs cost about $20,000. Gore, defending the interests of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, threatened trade sanctions if South Africa didn’t repeal the law. Gore only changed his stance in 1999 when, running for president, he was constantly protested by ACT-UP and other activists; if the plight of Africans with AIDS didn’t move him, the prospect of his own embarrassment certainly did.

Gore has certainly done something good; his mediocre film has brought a tremendous amount of attention to global warming. And, even though the IPCC has been criticized by many scientists for watering down its predictions under political pressure, its honoring takes the political fight against global warming to a new level.

I would like also to believe in the possibility of personal redemption. Starting in 2002, before it was cool, Gore made impassioned speeches against the Iraq war; indeed, they may have cost him the 2004 presidential nomination. He has been a steadfast critic of the political turn the country has taken and also of the pathetic band-aid measures on global warming being considered by Congress.

Bill Clinton, who once presided over Gore’s South Africa fight, now runs a foundation dedicated to bringing cheap AIDS drugs to poor Africans. Jimmy Carter, who supported the Shah of Iran, and increased arms sales to Indonesia during its genocidal occupation of East Timor, certified the Chavez recall referendum results as legitimate and wrote a book condemning the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Jeffrey Sachs, the architect of “shock therapy” in the former Soviet Union, has been an advocate for massive aid to Africa and wrote some blistering editorials against the U.S. backed coup in Haiti in 2004.

I’d like to say all these people learned from, and repented their sins. But until the bastards apologize for what they did in the past, instead of simply preening about what they’re doing now, I can’t.

Posted at 10:43 am

October 8, 2007

Weekly Commentary -- A Tale of Two Atrocities

Yet another foundation-stone of the ongoing liberal-patriotic reconstruction of the Iraq war is being laid as we speak.

On the one hand, Blackwater and to a lesser degree other private mercenary corporations have been exposed. After the Iraqi government, in a rare assertion on behalf of Iraqi civilians, created an uproar over the unprovoked massacre of at least 14 Iraqis (and wounding of 18 who will languish in Iraq’s decayed medical system), there has finally been some attention to their unaccountable terrorization of Iraqis. The final nail in the coffin was perhaps the discovery that reports by U.S. soldiers on the scene also criticized Blackwater’s conduct.

The House, suddenly discovering what anybody who reads a newspaper has known for over three years, that by deliberate decision of Paul Bremer and the White House, private contractors in Iraq are subject to no law, Iraqi, U.S., military, or international, has voted overwhelmingly – against Bush’s wishes – to subject them in the future to U.S. law.

Henry Waxman has held hearings, although because of the potential legal case in Iraq regarding the killings in Nisour Square, they focused on the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries in Fallujah in 2004, which set off the first U.S. assault on the city. Interestingly, the Waxman report does mention the rarely covered fact that at least 600 Iraqi civilians were killed in that assault.

And, biggest bellwether of all, even Jon Stewart issued a mea culpa for jumping all over Jeremy Scahill when Jeremy suggested on his show that there was something wrong with having private armies of mercenaries running around Iraq beholden to no law.

This is, of course, all to the good. Bremer’s decision to set these mercenaries above the law stands out as one of the more cynical decisions of a war that has redefined cynicism. It’s great to see some attention to this and even to the deaths of Iraqis for once.

Still, it’s important to keep this in perspective. Blackwater may well behave worse than other U.S. armed forces in Iraq, but overall private mercenaries are not involved in very much violence. Apparently, since January 1, 2005, Blackwater has been involved in perhaps 195 shooting incidents – and Blackwater represents about half of all the incidents involving mercenaries.

This is the equivalent of a couple of days’ worth of shooting incidents for the U.S. military in Iraq. And even if they are genuinely more careful about rules of engagement, the far greater volume means that that is really the big problem.

In that regard, the simultaneous (and much less covered) disintegration of the prosecution for the most iconic of these events, the Haditha massacre, is a far more significant development.

The chief U.S. prosecutor has just recommended that all charges of murder against Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich be dropped, and replaced with charges of negligent homicide only for seven women and children murdered in their homes. This even though fellow Marines testified that a week before he had said that if an IED exploded, his soldiers should kill everyone in the vicinity and then repeated an order to shoot on sight at the time. And though Wuterich killed five men and his claims that they were running away from the scene were flatly denied by other Marines.

This follows the recommended dropping of charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who apparently killed three men with 9mm handgun shots to the head in “self-defense,” and against Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum who fellow Marine Humberto Mendoza testified ordered him to kill women and children in a house even after being informed of their identity. Mendoza’s testimony was supposedly not sufficient for a trial.

No criminal proceeding have been brought against higher officers, even though Major General Eldon Bargewell’s report found that "virtually no inquiry at any level of command was conducted” and that "All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine.” A few higher officers have gotten reprimanded, which may hurt their prospects for promotion.

During the course of this trial, we have learned that for Marines in Anbar at the time it was all right to shoot people running away from a car bomb explosion even if they were unarmed and there was no reason to connect them with the attack. We also learned about the practice of “dead-checking,” finishing off wounded men after they’re incapacitated.

A sleepwalking nation paid little attention to these revelations and even less to the unraveling once again of accountability when the U.S. military polices its own. And when future histories of the war are written, it will probably accept statements that the Haditha massacre was a hoax.

Posted at 10:36 am

October 1, 2007

Weekly Commentary -- Tailgunner Joe and Iraq Partition

Frustrated by congressional inaction on Iraq? Hoping for some kind of political breakthrough? Take heart. The Senate has pointed the way with a couple of bold bipartisan resolutions.


The first was a 75-22 vote to censure MoveOn for its ad about General Petraeus. Now, I think it was a stupid ad; the treason trope is not just wrong but, more important, it’s politically unhelpful. Even were that not the case, let’s just say the connection between treason and the sound of a man’s name is somewhat tenuous.

But the bipartisan resolution, in which over half the Democrats joined the Republicans to send a clear message that asinine wordplay will not be tolerated – unlike, say, lying to the country to get us into a war or violating the Constitution by executive fiat, acts for which sanctions are “not on the table” – represents the Senate’s lowest point since the Terry Schiavo incident. And this time with a Democrat-dominated Senate.

But leave it to Tailgunner Joe Biden to top that. Joe may be clean – he did tell us during one of the interminable presidential debates that he had been tested – and he is certainly loquacious if not exactly articulate, but bright he is not.

For years now, partition of Iraq has been his hobbyhorse. He and foreign policy eminence grise Leslie Gelb imagine themselves a modern-day Sykes and Picot, dividing up the Middle East as they please, stopping now and then to ascertain whether each has the other’s support.

As originally conceived, the arrogance of the idea was palpable. In addition to its illegitimate arrogation of power to the United States, which is not yet claiming to be Iraq’s colonial ruler, it vastly overstated U.S. abilities in Iraq. The United States doesn’t have enough troops for what it claims to be trying to do now, let alone enough to oversee large population transfers and to enforce newly drawn internal borders. It also doesn’t have anywhere near enough leverage with any of the major political groupings in Iraq to push through something they don’t want.

The stupidity of the idea matched its arrogance. Ask Yugoslavia – especially Bosnia – if partition is a panacea for ethnic strife. Baghdad, with one quarter of the country’s population, is a majority-Shia area (and with perhaps a million Kurds as well) attached to Sunni Arab territory.

Over the years, Biden and Gelb have toned things down. Now they claim the plan is about autonomy, not partition, and they make a nod to the federal provision in Iraq’s constitution that allows provinces to declare themselves, singly or jointly, autonomous, with a host of attendant legal rights. And, thanks to the recent massive ethnic cleansing, the problems of population transfer are much smaller than they were.

And the Senate resolution, passed 75-23, this time with the Democrats (except for Russ Feingold) in lock-step joined by half the Republicans, does indeed have mealy-mouthed language about “the wishes of the Iraqi people.” If you take this language seriously, then perhaps instead of arrogance the problem is mind-numbing ineffectuality – the Senate finally gets together to pass a nonbinding resolution about something not under its jurisdiction calling for some group of people not under its control to do what they want and have the legal right to do.

Personally, I think both arrogance and ineffectuality are involved. And that is how it is being seen in Iraq as well. The Senate resolution has been roundly denounced by everyone except the Kurds, who favored independence and self-determination even before Biden invented them.

Not only does the Biden resolution echo Western colonialist decisions to redraw the map like the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour declaration, it comes on the heels of a genuine showdown over Iraqi sovereignty. Enraged by Blackwater’s killing of 11 Iraqi civilians in a recent incident, Prime Minister al-Maliki has been trying to ban them from operating in Iraq, a decision that the United States, heavily dependent on private mercenaries, cannot allow.

Instead of working on holding U.S. mercenaries accountable, the Senate has sent a clear message to Iraqis that it cares little for their opinions or their sovereignty.

The political class in this country has to get it through their thick heads that the question is not about what’s their plan for Iraq – Baker-Hamilton, Biden-Gelb, you name it. At this point, those plans are as meaningful as Hitler’s plans in the last days of his bunker, ordering nonexistent armies to attack the Russians. The only question is whether the powerful groups in Iraq are ready to reconcile and whether the U.S. presence is keeping that from happening.

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