It’s already 1 May in Australia, so I get to make what will no doubt be (among) the first of many posts on the significance of the day.

First, and still the most important in the long historical view is the holiday (a public holiday here in Queensland) celebrating the achievements of the labour movement.

Second, there’s the admission of ten new members to the EU. As far as the historical significance of this event goes, I’m waiting to see whether Turkey is admitted to accession negotiations later in the year.

Thirdly, and of most immediate interest, the anniversary of Bush declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year] . Of course, this judgement may turn out to be as premature as was Bush’s statement a year ago, but the decline in the US position has been almost as rapid as the collapse of Saddam’s regime, and the events of the last few days have seen the process accelerating.

Among a range of events the most important have included:

* The exposure of torture[1] and rape in Abu Ghraib prison
* The abandonment of the siege of Fallujah, with none of the US objectives achieved
* The publication of opinion polls showing that most Iraqis regard the Americans as occupiers and want them to leave immediately
* The continued standoff with Sadrists controlling Najaf and large areas of Baghdad
* The publication, by the generally prescient Paul Krugman, of the first major opinion piece to take an openly defeatist position, that is, one that treats defeat as being more likely than not, and doesn’t present any alternative road to success

The Administration seems to be inching towards the position I’ve been advocating for some time – dumping the policies of Bremer and Chalabi (though not, unfortunately Bremer and Chalabi themselves), and handing over real military power to Iraqis. If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.

fn1. Predictably enough, there have been quibbles about this word. But mock-executions such as the one shown here are among the worst forms of torture – from my reading of survivor accounts, they are mentioned with more horror than beatings. And of course what we are seeing is only what the guards chose to photograph for their own amusement.

9 thoughts on “Mayday

  1. Hi JQ,

    Long-time reader, first-time poster.

    Perhaps we need a definition of defeat for the US? If the US pulls out (the “cut and run” exit), leaving bloody anarchy behind, is that a defeat? Or is it only a defeat if the US pulls out and an openly hostile fundamentalist Shiite government emerges?

    I suspect you may be overstating the perceived “decline” in the US position in Iraq. As with Vietnam (that other great “police action” FUBAR that Iraq IS similar to), the military reality on the ground is likely to be much less depressing than you suggest, or the media portrays.

    What does seem to be changing, however, is the “hearts and minds” condition of the US voter, and the prospects for improvement on that front appear bleak. That’s why your last bullet point is so important – I think public opinion is changing.

    Your last point, that…

    “If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.”

    …appears to ignore the key problems in Iraq, namely that:

    1) There is no unity within Iraq, except in opposition to US rule. It appears that Iraq is a Bosnia waiting to happen, with Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds preparing for the real fight (i.e. with each other, not the USA).

    2) The “inchoate” government has neither legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis, nor real power. Its police and military forces have proved themselves to be unreliable and incompetent. The only force for order in the country is the US army and its allies.

    3) Where’s the skillful management going to come from? If the US doesn’t sort it out (nobody hold their breath), the person who can is likely to be Saddam’s successor as Alpha-tyrant, after a particularly nasty civil war.

    As you’ve pointed out previously, the “you broke it, you fix it” rule should apply to the USA, but what if they can’t (or, it seems, are unwilling to) fix it? Bloodbath and misery.

    In my view there’s no graceful exit for the US.

    P.S. isn’t Saturday always a public holiday in QLD, or do they bend time there as well as bananas? Yeah, I know it’s Monday, but couldn’t resist 😉

    P.P.S. keep up the good work – you’ve a great blog.

  2. I think it’s hard to beat the historical significance of the EU expansion. Granted, many of the new members are small and a resolution of the Cyprus partition would be highly significant…

    But given the history of Europe since just about the year dot, which has involved more or less continual conflict in one region or many regions or the whole continent at once; and given the state of play in, say, 1938 or 1956 or even 1980: to have come to this point in such a short time is surely extraordinary. Quite apart from what it must mean for peoples such as the Poles, who would surely win an award for being the unluckiest, most fucked-over (sorry) nation on the continent.

    And of course there are horrendous difficulties ahead and the whole thing could fall in a screaming heap tomorrow, but …

    The progress towards creating a peaceful, stable and prosperous European continent since 1945 must surely rank as one of humanity’s better moments. And god knows it’s hard to keep sight of those.

  3. Warbo, what you put about “…the Poles… the unluckiest… nation on the continent…” would be true if you added the qualifier “surviving”, which isn’t so unlucky. They did their own share of oppressing up until around three centuries ago.

    It also has to be said that what the Poles did to their own minorities in the interwar period (minorities who never made it to recognised sovereign nationhood) compares unfavourably with anything that ever happened to the Poles before Hitler.

    As well as those minorities there were other groups that were erased earlier by other oppressors. They were unluckier still (by pre-Hitler standards). Ask about Courland, Pruthenia, Sorbia, and, oh yes, the Frisians who were the lineally closest ancestors of the English speaking peoples who were given the partition and occupation treatment as long ago as Charlemagne’s founding of Hamburg (he did similar things to the inhabitants of the upper Danube, by founding Vienna). And that’s not even mentioning various peoples wiped out or forcibly assimilated during the Dark Ages, of which only the English and the Hungarians are the survivors (although the Goths of the Crimea and the Burgundians hung on until the end of the Middle Ages).

    I am sure there are others I have missed (I omit the Scots and Irish on purpose, as being my own ancestors).

  4. OK, please imagine I’ve amended the earlier post to read ‘one of the many fucked-over [sorry again] nations’ etc.

    I’m sure you’re right, P.M. My point was that for some European countries or peoples who have suffered underneath one form of oppression or another, and for everyone else, someone quite extraordinary might be playing out over a decades-long time frame.

    The fact that many, many groups have suffered as much as or more than the Poles, and even the fact that the Poles have been guilty of their own share of oppression in the past, sort of bears my point out. At least I hope it does.

  5. April has been the cruellest month for those still harbouring delusions about the US’s crusade to bring civility, or at least security, in Mesopotamia.

    I note that Tim Blair has had a crack at Pr Q for the current “backpedal” from Pr Q’s initial recantation on the outcome of the war. TB should know better, Pr Q never had any doubt regarding the success of American arms in the heavy military phase of this war. The only doubt was whether this would involve massive collateral damage to Iraqi civilians.

    [I have been banned from TB’s site by his webmistress Andrea Harris for repeatedly and forcefully pointing out inconvenient facts like these. Access to the site is out of TB’s control, and does not reflect his liberal attitude to criticism. But Andrea’s authoritarian attitude to free speech is typical of the Bush admins & its camp followers denial of unpalatable facts.]

    It is now clear that Pr Q’s initial fears, about the need for street-to-street fighting to pacify insurgents, the poor follow-through of the Bush admin and the essential ungovernablity of a sectarian Iraq, have been vindicated, albeit belatedly.

    I can see why they call it “Mayday”.

  6. For Iraq, it is too early to tell. Bush definitely underestimated what it would take to “pacify” iraq… promises of freedom and democracy were not enough.

    Quite regardless though, from an American point of view, Iraq will not be allowed to fail. A solution will be worked out one way or another.

    The first step in a real solution is already underway. Legitimacy will be bestowed by the UN on a UN chosen interim government, and then elections will take place in january 2005.

    If by June of 2005 you still the problem right now, then perhaps the term “failure” would be correct.

    However, it is now to early to tell. Don’t jump on the silly doom and gloom bandwagon yet. Give Iraqi’s a chance to rally around a real government, instead of one appointed by occupiers, even fairly benign ones.

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