We Just Aren’t Hearing About the Good Things

April 12th, 2007  |  Published in etc

Once I was called to an explosion site. There I saw a four-year-old boy sitting beside his mother’s body, which had been decapitated by the explosion. He was talking to her, asking her what had happened. He had been taken out shopping by his mom.” — Saad, a young humanitarian worker from Baghdad, quoted in the International Red Cross’s 4/11 report, “Iraq: civilians without protection”

The full version of that report is currently available only as a PDF. I clipped a few more quotes:

Unemployment and poverty levels are rising . . . According to government sources, an estimated one third of the population lives in poverty, while over five percent live in extreme poverty.

Power shortages are growing worse throughout the country, including northern areas, owing largely to the failure to carry out maintenance and to increase generation capacity. Fuel shortages affecting power stations and acts of sabotage are further aggravating the crisis. As a result, water- treatment plants, primary health-care centres and hospitals rely mainly on back-up generators, which often break down owing to excess usage or fall victim to the chronic fuel shortages.


Medical professionals are fleeing the country in large numbers following the murder or abduction of colleagues. Hospitals and other key services are desperately short of qualified staff. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, more than half the doctors have left the country.


“With attacks being carried out daily, it is as if Baghdad were in a state of constant emergency. We are doing our best to cope with the influx of casualties with the means at our disposal, with the support of the Ministry of Health and the help of the ICRC. Our surgical wards are always full and working conditions are extremely difficult. Of the 208 surgeons who used to work here, only 40 or so are still on duty today.” — Dr Adel Al-Shammari, director of Al-Kindi Teaching Hospital, Baghdad (February 2007)


Both the quantity and quality of drinking water in Iraq remain insufficient

despite limited improvements in some areas, mainly in the south. __Water is

often contaminated owing to the poor repair of sewage and water-supply

networks and the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, which are the

main source of drinking water__. Electricity and fuel shortages and the poor

maintenance of infrastructure mean that __there is no regular and reliable

supply of clean water and that sewage is often not properly disposed of__.

So bear with me while I state the obvious in service of putting myself on the record:

Republicans and Democrats should be united in seeking grounds for impeachment of the president and executing on them. I’m of the opinion that, free of this administration’s criminal incompetence, our government could probably have the policy discussion that needs to be had. And I say that without any hope or expectation that the resulting policy would result in an accelerated withdrawal, and without any certainty that accelerated withdrawal is really the answer anyhow.

All I do know is that, to use the language and style favored by authoritarian hawks on the right, any unit commander who fucked up as badly as George Bush and his administration fucked up would be relieved of duty. He wouldn’t be allowed to “try somethin’ new out” or throw more bodies into a failed strategy. He wouldn’t get away for long with pinning the failure on his lieutenants. He’d be benched, hopefully sent to the rear to make PowerPoint presentations on the state of the unit toilet paper supply, and eventually disposed of. His incompetence might survive scrutiny by one or two levels of his chain of command, but eventually the pile of bodies he created would be noticed by someone.

Maybe you’re saying “But Mike! There are piles of bodies right now, and no one’s firing all the generals and commanders on the ground over there!” to which I reply:

  1. Most of the bodies have brown skin and aren’t wearing our uniforms. Points off where many of the people who most support this ruinous war are concerned.

  2. Our commanders are making the best out of a disastrous situation imposed on them by a negligent and incompetent commander in chief. I’m sure most of them are performing competently or even brilliantly. In fact, I served with some of them during my own time in the (thankfully peace-time) army, and I know some of those people have the gifts required of a hero.

But no one armed, equipped or allowed those commanders to prepare for four years of a grinding insurgency because it wouldn’t be politically expedient to admit that any of that was required. You don’t fire soldiers for not performing miracles when they’ve been sold out by their commander in chief and commanding generals. At least, not in a rational chain of command. There are exceptions to that rule working on their memoirs of 2003 and 2004 even as I type.

Sometimes, I should note, incompetent leaders survive and even thrive in the military even though they’ve been noticed an echelon or two up. When they fail to find themselves sitting around S4 doling out batteries and chem-lights, it’s often because they’ve got an incompetent abettor … someone as miserably inept as themselves … who just hasn’t been squeezed hard enough to give them up as an act of self-preservation.

George Bush’s incompetent abettor is the authoritarian right.

Their world view doesn’t involve echelons above George Bush, so it’s hard for them to imagine replacing him. And it’s not something they’d want to imagine anyhow: They also can’t imagine any policy that doesn’t take the form of either staying until Iraq is subjugated adequate to the requirements of a civil government, or piling into the helicopters on the embassy roof tops some time next week.

(Subjugated? I guess didn’t include the quote from the ICRC report that mentions “tens of thousands” of detainees, held by the Iraqi government, coalition forces or the Kurdish regional government. Nor did I mention that the Red Cross reports being able to visit only detainees held by the latter two entities. Those in the care of the government itself are either well cared-for, getting the pliers and the blowtorch, or mouldering in a ditch because they were named “Omar” and the thugs in the unit that happened to pick them up were not.)

Their world view has, however, been shaped by a few decades of increasingly militarized rhetoric that has ignored positive assertion in favor of focusing almost solely on how bad the other side is. They operate with a sense of the political spectrum that includes only three constituencies: patriots, “dhimmis,” and people on Osama bin Laden’s payroll. I’m not going to shed crocodile tears over the erosion of the conservative movement’s philosophical or intellectual vibrance, I merely note it.

For all that martial rhetoric, though, most of the authoritarian right’s foot soldiers seem largely unfamiliar with the military itself, outside what they’ve learned in Tom Clancy books, or from the anecdotes of people they nauseatingly refer to as “my buddy in the service.”

They seem to hope you’ll take “my buddy” to mean “my fellow service member from some previously undiscussed time in the military” as opposed to “someone who has served, unlike me, and whom I happen to know.” (They are not, by the way, likely to be thought of as “buddies” by their “buddy,” who more likely thinks of them as “my friend,” “my coworker,” or “my worthless brother-in-law, who insists he’d serve but he’s scared they wouldn’t take him because of his bum knee he got from his time as a second string kicker in junior high football.”)

So … aggressive, unimaginative, increasingly less thoughtful or philosophical about their positions, unfamiliar with the military they’re so eager to wield or wed their own images to, and simply unable to conceive of the presidency as an office whose roles as manager and political leader should be separated as a matter of judging its efficacy in governance and disposing of its chief executive when he fails in the former role. “Unitary executive,” indeed. Let the bodies pile high as long as a steady stream of dog-whistle words and choice selections from the authoritarian blogosphere’s Dictionnaire Infernal are emitted by the White House press office. He’s only “incompetent” to his worst supporters when he doesn’t offer them another tax cut, and even that’s not bad enough to stir them to outrage over his lethal blundering.

I want to note at this point that the authoritarian right isn’t the whole of America’s right wing or the biggest part of its conservative spectrum. They’re its loud subset … a kind of outboard id. More reasonable and moderate Republicans and conservatives don’t manage the heights of obnoxiousness your average authoritarian right-winger manages. But since I’ve spent a few sentences on the notion of incompetent abettors, it needs to be said that the authoritarian right thrives because it has its own abettors: Silent Republicans who’ve either bowed to political expediency or refused to push back against the woeful effects of authoritarianism in their party for partisan reasons.

One more time:

Once I was called to an explosion site. There I saw a four-year-old boy sitting beside his mother’s body, which had been decapitated by the explosion. He was talking to her, asking her what had happened. He had been taken out shopping by his mom.” — Saad, a young humanitarian worker from Baghdad, quoted in the International Red Cross’s 4/11 report, “Iraq: civilians without protection”

The authoritarian right and its abettors in the mainstream Republican party did nothing to stop the president, even as it was made clear he and his incompetent administration were laying the groundwork for this and tens of thousands more marketplace bombings and ethnic killings. They egged it on. They savaged anyone who questioned it.

And the worst part? Two more years of their obscenity. They’ve been at it for six — what makes us think they’ll stop now?

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