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Jan 31, 2005 3:02 pm

Kung Fu Chaos in Iraq and Palestine

Since visiting Iraq in the late winter-early spring of 2004 I have been convinced that the chaos plaguing the country, and in good measure the responsibility of US policies, is being sponsored, or at least managed, by the US. As one Iraqi doctor who worked with the CPA told me exasperatedly, "They can't be that incompetent." Yet in the Jan. 9 NY Times and other news outlets it has been reported that there is increasing discussions among senior policy-makers in Washington of how to forget a quick exit strategy from Iraq, a development which if it occurred would certainly seem to put the lie to my belief that the US has no intention of leaving any time soon and that there are many reasons for senior Bush Administration officials (and their corporate cousins) to be viewing developments in Iraq with a feeling that everything is going, roughly at least, according to plan.

But when I read what they're actually saying as the violence continues unabated and more soldiers and Iraqi civilian lives are wasted every day, the words of the doctor echo louder in my head. For example, in the same edition of the Times an American official disclosed that the Association of Muslim Scholars, the country's most influential Sunni religious organization, made a proposal to call off their boycott of the Jan. 30 national parliamentary elections. According to the source, "They established two conditions… One was a timeline for our withdrawal under U.N. or other international supervision. The other was that we would pay reparations for war damage. Neither of which we will accept."

Now, why wouldn't the US accept these conditions? They are certainly reasonable by any standard. The US illegally invades a country, kills 100,000 people at least, destroys entire cities wholesale, kidnaps tens of thousands more citizens (also illegally) and throws them into Saddam's former prisons, violates dozens--literally--of articles of the 4th Geneva Convention, and won't accept what is essentially an offer of truce from the religious leaders without whose backing the revolt would be untenable so the country can have the face-saving exit from Iraq it so desperately needs. Oh, and in case we weren't sure who's really in charge in Iraq, the "we" in the quote didn't include Iyad Allawi…

As President Bush explained, no one is going to force the US into a time table to withdraw from Iraq because we'll only leave "when the job is done." But what job? And when will it be done? When there's no more money left to fleece, steal, or extract out of the ground, that's when.

Of course we won't leave or pay reparations. Yes, it is true, as the American official "noted," that "the United States has appropriated $18.4 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq." But the vast majority of that money will never get spent, and much if not most of what will get spent will be filtered through the major corporate sponsors of the invasion and occupation. Reparations, on the other hand, would go to the Iraqi people with no US corporate middleman to fleece off 20% (at the very least) in "cost-plus" reconstruction contracts that are every executive's wet dream. That won't do at all.

On the other hand, however, Defense Sec. Rumsfeld said he did not want to send more American troops to Iraq "because then we'd look more and more like an occupying force." Of course, he's joking, we couldn't look any more like an occupation force if we tried. The question is, how many Americans think of us as one yet? When enough do, the jig will be up. Let's hope it doesn't take as long as it did in Vietnam, or they'll have to clear our another few acres of prime Capital real estate for a long black marble list of names.

Still, I can understand why many people believe the occupation is going badly and very much not as planned. This, of course, is the Bob Woodward/Colin Powell version of the story. But I much prefer what I call the "kung fu chaos" theory, or more specifically--and the metaphor here will make the most sense to fans of the classic, pre-Hollywood, Jackie Chan films--the Drunken Monkey style of foreign policy. For those not familiar with Shaolin animal style kung fu, drunken monkey is one of the most interesting, difficult, and fun to watch styles of martial arts. It is so named because the person using the style literally moves and appears like one could imagine a drunken monkey would act (whether or not shaolin monks ever got monkeys drunk and observed them I don't know).

You can rent several Honk Kong movies with Drunken Monkey or similar names in the title and get the idea of how the style looks, including most famously Jackie Chan's "Drunken Master II." Basically, in its simplest form, which is all I learned, you seem to fall all over the place, especially all over your opponent, stick to him/her like glue, and generally fight so badly (seemingly) that they have no idea how to respond. But in fact, like Muhamad Ali's rope-a-dope, you are actually in control of the situation the whole time, and in the end you either tire out your opponent or lure her/him into a fatal mistake, at which point you finish them off with a more sober monkey move, or perhaps the mythical five-punch that Uma Thurman uses to kill David Caradine in Kill Bill II—in fact, the Chinese master who teaches her in that movie is none other than Gordon Liu, one of the foremost practitioners of Drunken Monkey.

The foregoing discussion might seem like a digression to some, but only till we read the most recent offering by Thomas Friedman to understand how well the strategy is working. In his Jan 9 oped, "Remapping the Middle East, maybe," Friedman--whom I consider part of the holy trinity of authors behind Axis of Arrogance and Ignorance that has defined American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War (the other two primary ideologues are Huntington and Fukayama)--argues that what is happening within Israeli, Palestinian and Iraqi societies is comparable to the one in the post-World War I era when Churchill redrew the map of the Middle East. Today is "a new Churchillian moment," he writes hopefully. "Like the recent tsunami, this sort of tectonic movement of geopolitical plates happens only once a century. This is a remarkable political moment that you don't want to miss or see go badly." But badly it will go if the "theocratic, fascist and messianic forces on one side," beat the "more moderate, tolerant, democratizing majorities."

Here we go again. Does anyone know who's missing from the picture? How about us? Why are there always only two sides in these conflicts? And always from within the same side—the one we're occupying or dominating? This is the same disingenuous thinking behind the 9/11 Report, which argued like every other mainstream voice that the war today is between radicals and moderates in the Muslim world and we can only site back and watch as innocent bystanders, lending a generous helping hand when it will do some good. Of course, we had nothing to do with creating or perpetuating the mess; and of course, it wouldn't suit our interests for the mess to continue.

Perhaps Friedman should have boned up on his Churchillian moments a bit more, then he would have recalled that Churchill specifically advocated using poison gas and carpet bombing cities in order to crush the rebellion in Iraq against British occupation. The violence was so great it lead one Iraqi author to argue that it directly produced Saddam's culture of violence fifty years later. It is also worth noting, as we learn from Peter Baker's Washington Post article "History Is Likely to Link Bush to Mideast Elections" the same day as Friedman's, that President Bush's hero is none other than… Churchill. He even keeps a bust of him in the Oval Office and it is precisely Churchill's famous iron will and determination that is leading Bush to refuse, or so the story goes, to change course in Iraq.

Bush argues, "I believe democracy can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned to tyranny… And I believe when democracies take hold, it leads to peace. That's been the proven example around the world. Democracies equal peace. And that's what we're trying to advance in this administration." I guess this means that the US isn't a democracy, since it certainly isn't "leading" anyone to peace these days.

Both Bush and Friedman seem to believe that when it comes to Israel, Ariel Sharon is a great man of peace fighting a valiant battle against extremists on all sides, including what Friedman describes as Jewish-Zionist zealots. He argues, "Mr. Sharon is the strongest prime minister Israel could have right now, but even he is having problems pulling off this self-amputation of the Gaza Strip." But this idea ignores the significant evidence that everything is going pretty much according to Sharon's plan; that all these protests, which lead influential columnists like Friedman to fret about how hard Sharon's job is, is helping Sharon to go to Bush and say, "See how hard it is just to leave Gaza and a few remote settlements. It'll be civil war if you make me leave anything important in the West Bank.

This is of course music to Bush's ears, because his core constituency--the Christian rapturists" who need Israel to stand strong enough for all the Jews in the world to return and help bring Jesus back to earth--would not be too happy if Sharon actually gave up most of the West Bank and signed a peace deal with the Palestinians. God forbid.

I will be off the web for much of the next week for family reasons (and no, it's not because I'm getting lazy, as one commenter amusingly argues). I appreciate the comments to my earlier glog entries and articles on HNN and hope to respond to them in a more detailed fashion in a future entry. In the meantime, for those who'd like commentary on Iraq and Palestine, you can see my LA times oped, "Gandhi, King and the Elastic Sheik," or my article "Decoding the Palestinian elections" at
Later this week the Christian Science Monitor will run an oped by me on the Iraqi elections.

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