Thursday, October 20, 2005

Long-Running Act 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.M., the impeccable comedic stylings of that legendary vaudeville duo McClellan & Helen:
Q: Dispatches from Iraq said that yesterday we killed 70 people in Iraq, near Ramadi, including 18 children. I want to know what the President thinks of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think you need to talk to the military, because the military --

Q: No, I'm talking here.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and as I'm responding to you, the military has said otherwise at this point. Now, the military has review mechanisms in place and when there are questions raised, they look into those matters, and so that's something that, obviously, they will look into. But, beyond that, you'd have to talk to the military about where that stands. Now --

Q: Eighteen children --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in terms of our United States military, our military goes out of the way not to target --

Q: Why were 18 children killed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way not to target innocent civilians.

Q: I'm not saying they were targeted --

MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way to target the enemy, and to --

Q: Why did they say 18 children?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- bring to justice the terrorists and those who are seeking to prevent democracy from taking hold, through violent means, to justice. And that's what our military does. And they do --

Q: Seventy people were killed by an air strike.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, please let me respond, because I think it's important to point this out when you're bringing up a question like this. We fully support our men and women in uniform. They're doing an outstanding job to defend our freedoms and to help the Iraqi people move forward on a free --

Q: I'm not saying -- I'm saying why did they kill 70 people?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to move forward on a free and peaceful future. I think everybody in this room would like me to have the opportunity to be able to talk to you about this question. And you're assuming things that people have different recollections about right now, or have characterized very differently. And that's why I said the military has review mechanisms in place, when situations like this arise, and they look into those matters. That's why you need to talk to the military, to see where that stands.

Q: Are the figures wrong in all the newspapers?

MR. McCLELLAN: The military is looking into the matter, Helen. I don't have any more information at this point.
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UPDATE: Juan Cole of Informed Comment is a fairly recent convert to the idea of immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He discusses his change of heart in an excellent two-part interview (here and here) with Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch:
JC: In August of 2004, when the Marines were fighting the Muqtada al-Sadr people in Najaf, the Sadrists in Basra did make threats to start pipeline sabotage in the south, which really would have crippled Iraq. In a regional guerrilla war, there would be a lot of impetus for Sunni guerrillas to hit the Iranian pipelines, and there are some Sunni tribes in the oil-producing areas of Iran who might be enlisted for this purpose. If the Saudis got involved, then the radical Shiites have an impetus to hit the Saudi pipelines, and the Saudi petroleum facilities are in a heavily Shiite area. Basically, what we've learned from Iraq is that petroleum is produced in a human-security environment in which powerful local forces want it to be produced. If some significant proportion of the local forces doesn't want it to be produced, they can spoil it . . . .

So think what you're talking about here. Something on the order of 80-84 million barrels of petroleum are produced every day in the world. Saudi Arabia produces 9 of that reliably, sometimes more. Iran produces 4. On a good day, Iraq used to produce almost 3. Now it's down to somewhere around 1.8 million. If you took all of that off the market, that's about a fifth of world petroleum production. Do you know what that's going to do to prices!

If you don't like three-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, you're going to really hate this kind of world I'm painting. I think the price shock would reduce economic growth globally, plunging some countries into recession or even depression. This would be a world-class catastrophe. And it's also not clear, once it starts, how you stop it.

TD: In this context, you still called recently for U.S. ground troops to be brought out now.

JC: Because I'm not convinced that U.S. ground troops are preventing this kind of scenario from happening.

TD: So talk a little about your thinking on withdrawal.

JC: Well, my concern is that U.S. ground troops are being used at the moment for things like the Fallujah operation, the Tal Afar operation, or now the Haditha operation. This essentially means using the troops to attack cities which are Sunni Arab (or in the case of Tal Afar, Sunni Turkmen). These are seen as bastions of the guerrilla movement and facilitators of the infiltration of foreign fighters into the country. To empty them of their populations, to flatten entire neighborhoods, to do extensive infrastructural and building damage to them, to reduce their inhabitants to tent dwellers and refugees, and maybe gradually let them back in to live in tents on the rubble of their former homes -- this way of proceeding has no chance of success as an anti-insurgency tactic. People in other cities see this happening and they sympathize with their fellow Sunnis.

The hope for counterinsurgency would involve three things. Of course, you'd have to hit people who are blowing up innocent civilians. You'd have to try to stop that, but you'd also have to open backchannels to their political leadership and try to find ways to bring them into the system. And you have to convince the general population not to support them. Operations like Fallujah, Tal Afar, and Haditha might have some limited effect -- I think not very much -- in fighting the guerrilla movement. But they do not cause the political leadership to come in from the cold or the general Sunni population to think well enough about the U.S. and its Iraqi allies to start informing on that movement.

So things are only getting worse in the Sunni areas. People forget that a year ago, before the second Fallujah campaign, Mosul was being held up as a model. It had been governed by General [David H.] Petraeus. It seemed like it might be possible to woo the Sunni Arabs there. But during the Fallujah campaign Mosul exploded. Four thousand police resigned. Guerrillas en masse took over checkpoints throughout the city. There were bombings and it never really has settled down again. As al-Zaman [the Times of Baghdad] reported recently, Northern Mosul is now essentially guerrilla-held territory.
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