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Monday, December 31, 2007


Iraq in fragments

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, December 31, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
Michael J. Totten has a powerful essay in Commentary Magazine, a film review of James Longley's documentary Iraq in Fragments:

Most recent documentaries filmed in Iraq can be fairly categorized as liberal or conservative. All are about the war, and most are cinematic equivalents of op-eds. James Longley’s lush and intimate Iraq in Fragments is different. While the director appears to be some kind of liberal or leftist, his film is refreshingly none of the above. Iraq in Fragmentsis about the war only insomuch as it was shot in Iraq during the war. This film is a collection of portraits of Iraqis, not Americans or the American military. And unlike almost any other documentary out there, Longley’s includes the Kurds.The director is invisible. We never see him or hear him, and he uses his camera as though he were shooting a fictional film. This is emphatically not the kind of documentary you’re accustomed to seeing. Longley’s camera and editing work are so stylish and deft that the end result is perhaps the most artful documentary ever made on any subject. (Watch the high-definition trailer here for a powerful preview.)

It's a review worthy of the subject matter. It seems to capture the irony of Iraq, succinctly summarized by a blindfolded shopkeeper on the floor in the face of thuggery by a Shi'a militia:

“We were saved from tyranny,” he says while he cries. “And you brought another. How can it be, brother? When Saddam fell I rejoiced, but now again I am blindfolded.”

As Totten notes, it is a balanced film though the filmmaker probably leans left. Still, I think (from what Totten describes) that in some ways it makes a moral argument against withdrawal rather than a pragmatic one for withdrawal.

Unfortunately, what the documentary doesn't address is how inextricably tied to US politics is the future of Iraq. And on that score, Phil Carter calls out the Administration on its surprise pocket veto of the National Defense Authorization Act this week. Carter fumes,

After months, no, years of browbeating Democrats for putting politics ahead of the troops, the President has now chosen to do the same thing. He is delaying an urgent piece of DoD legislation with many important provisions, including a pay raise for military personnel and an end strength bump for the Army and Marines. That's flat-out wrong. We are at war and our troops need this legislation. A piece of legislation, I might add, that the White House supported until just recently. And hell, just weeks ago, the White House was excoriating Pelosi and Reed for playing politics with the troops' resources. How exactly is this any different?

On a third level, this veto stinks because it reflects the White House's deeply flawed view of law and legal processes. I understand the legal issue created by this bill with respect to Iraqi assets that may be attached by plaintiffs seeking reparations for the sins of the Saddam govt. I get it. But let's look a the plaintiffs here — Iraqi expatriates and former U.S. prisoners of war, to name but a few. They're a hell of a lot more sympathetic than the current cast of theo-kleptocrats who make up the Maliki government in Iraq today. That doesn't sit well with me. Nor does the general argument that we should be scared of legal processes, and hold the entire Department of Defense hostage because we're scared about the possible outcome from a handful of cases. Do we really have that little faith in our federal courts, or in the Justice Department's ability to represent the U.S. Government's interests?

the fact that the veto is designed to shield the Maliki government - the same one that shows no interest in political reconciliation for the good of Iraq, and whose heavy hand gives the Shi'a militias lamented above their legitimacy - only further undermines the entire rationale and argument of the United States that we desire freedom for Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suck the oxygen out of Afghanistan, where we are losing ground. Michael Yon paints a grim picture:

I have characterized Afghanistan as little more than a hunting lodge for our special operations forces. Since the Afghan campaign has been largely a special forces war from the beginning, we have been able to transition with great secrecy from near victory, to abysmal performance, to what has now become a sustainable human-hunting resort. Our special operations forces are out there hunting Taliban and al Qaeda, outside of public view—although it appears that “the public” is hardly clamoring for news from Afghanistan—while the country devolves into the consummate narco-state.

There are many indicators that the Afghan campaign is at this date a complete failure; how much has anything changed from when “The Perfect Evil” was published nearly a year ago? At the time of its publication, I intended it as a warning that action needed to be taken, and fast, before the momentum of decline reached avalanche velocity.

These are harsh words, but they need to be said, because arguably it is the Afghanistan-Pakistan axis where our true threat lies (exacerbated by the Bhutto assassination):

U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan's growing turbulence.

"The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied," said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

U.S. military officers and other defense experts are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan, which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban have strengthened and expanded its operations.

While we are seeing some progress in Iraq, we aren't anywhere close to Iraq being a healthy and stable democracy of the sort that would be required for the Iraq campaign to have any substantial relevance to the war on terror.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.