blogenlust
12.09.2004

PMD Don't Mean PM Dawn


Thomas Friedman makes an argument that the biggest intelligence failure leading up to the war was not the failure to find WMD, but the failure to calculate the number of PMD--People of Mass Destruction.
Let me explain: America's greatest intelligence failure in Iraq was not the W.M.D. we thought were there, but weren't. It was the P.M.D. we thought weren't there, but were. P.M.D., in my lexicon, stands for "people of mass destruction." And there were far more of them in Iraq than anyone realized. The failure of U.S. intelligence to understand what was happening inside Iraqi society during the decade-plus of U.N. sanctions that preceded our invasion is the key to many of the problems we've encountered in post-Saddam Iraq. The U.N. sanctions pulverized Iraqi society - a society already beaten down by an eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the war over Kuwait and some 30 years of Saddam's tyranny. As Saddamism and sanctions chewed up the Iraqi people during the 1990's, many people of talent left. Before the war, the Bush team told anyone who would listen that Iraq had the most talented secular elite in the Arab world. And it was right. The only problem was that during the 1990's many in that elite moved to Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Cairo, where they worked as professors, music teachers and engineers. Meanwhile, back in Iraq, those who had no access to Baath Party privileges got steadily ground down. Many Iraqi youth, unable to connect with the outside world and unable to find jobs at home, turned to religion. Saddam encouraged this with a mosque-building program. By wrapping himself in an aura of Islam, Saddam also hoped to buttress his own waning legitimacy. So Wahhabi religious influence flowed into the Sunni areas from Saudi Arabia, as Iranian religious influence flowed into Shiite regions. You know all those masked Iraqi youth you see in the Al Jazeera videos, brandishing weapons and standing over some foreigner whose head they are about saw off? They are the product of the last decade of Saddamism and sanctions. Those youth were 10 years old when the U.N. sanctions began. They are the mushrooms that Saddam and the sanctions were growing in the dark. The Bush team had no clue they were there. These deracinated, unemployed, humiliated Sunni Iraqi youth are our biggest problem today. Some clearly have become suicide bombers. We can't say what percentage, because, unlike the Palestinians, the Iraqi suicide bombers don't even bother to tell us their names or do a farewell video for mom. They not only are ready to commit suicide on demand, but they are ready to do it anonymously. That bespeaks a very high level of commitment or psychosis, or both. I would estimate that U.S. forces have been hit with over 200 of these human missiles, and we still are not sure how they are recruited and deployed. What we are facing, I think, is a crude underground suicide supply chain - a mutant combination of Wal-Mart and Wahhabism.
Wal-Mart and Wahhabism? Isn't that redundant? Friedman brings up an interesting point regarding Hussein's efforts to stoke religious fervor as a means of maintaining power. Forgive me, but I can't help but make a similar connection: Many American youth, unable to connect with the outside world and unable to find jobs at home, turned to religion. George Bush and Karl Rove encouraged this with an anti-gay marriage amendment proposal. By wrapping himself in an aura of Christianity, Bush also hoped to buttress his own waning legitimacy. I know, it's a stretch. Anyway, back to Friedman. Of course he is right. We failed (big time) to understand that when you "liberate" a country that has only known tyranny for the past thirty years, and is as ethnically divisive as Iraq, you're not going to be left with a pretty situation. As the great American hero, Donald Rumsfeld once said, "Quit your whiny bitching, soldier. Freedom is messy." Actually, "we failed" is a little bit misleading. There were lots of people, like the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass who did accurately predict that we were heading into a very hostile situation that would require far more troops than we had planned. At the time, their opinions were considered downright blasphemous by the people in the know--Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz--all of whom, for the record, still have a job. I disagree with Friedman on one point, though. He concludes that if we can figure out the supply chain flow chart for how the Iraq insurgencies recruit members and turn them into suicide bombers, he would feel a lot safer. I won't. The suicide bombings will increase, and so will the number of people willing to kill themselves, as long as we're in Iraq and as long as we continue to perpetuate the myth that we're bringing freedom, democracy and liberty to the Iraqi people. The Iraqis aren't idiots. They see the contradiction between our actions and our message, and they (rightfully) don't like it. That's the big problem that not even a two fold increase in troops can solve.