MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
There appears to have been some confusion about the oblique reference to Graham Greene in the previous entry. Here are some explanations. I've also provided the texts of the articles cited.
After reading two recent portrayals of Paul Wolfowitz's trip to Iraq, I wrote,
For anyone who has not yet taken leave of his senses, the idea of a visionary wading through guerilla attacks while citing Tocqueville and exhorting Iraq towards its rendezvous with democracy ought to be a terrifying thought, bringing to mind the famous Graham Greene novel.Graham Greene (1904-1991) was an English journalist, novelist, and alleged intelligence agent, a writer of great talent who during his lifetime roamed the ideological landscape from Communism to Catholicism, but never really was able to toe either line, seemingly settling on some elusive point between them. His 1955 novel The Quiet American purports to describe CIA activity in French Indochina, and is as elegant an expression of anti-idealistic, world-weary anti-Americanism as exists.
There's a Greene tribute site here:
Robert Gorham Davis, reviewing the newly published book in the New York Times, synopsized Greene's title character, Pyle, thusly:
Pyle is an idealistic young United States official with gangly legs, a crew cut and a "wide campus gaze." He is the son of a famous professor who lives on Chestnut Street in Boston. There is nothing self-interested in his motives for the villainy which Greene has concocted for his role. He is working for the O.S.S. "or whatever his gang are called," [this is a reference to the CIA] and is convinced that in intriguing with the dissident General Tho he is moving effectively to create a "Third Force" against both the French Colonials and the Communists. Fowler [Greene's authorial stand-in] sees the Third Force as a merely political abstraction Pyle got out of books. "He never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture hall, and his writers and lecturers made a fool of him."Pyle's naive best efforts end up just heaping more evil onto the local people, when General Tho bombs Saigon's main square. Davis describes Greene's political point of view as
quite simply that America is a crassly materialistic and "innocent" nation with no understanding of other peoples. When her representatives intervene in other countries' affairs it causes only suffering. America should leave Asians to work out their own destinies, even when this means the victory of communism.Read decades after America's own Vietnam debacle, Davis' protests don't hold up as well as they once did, and if for no other reason, we are forced to take the novel seriously today. But he justly accuses Greene both of indifference to the horrors of life under Communism and of general unfairness to the United States. Pyle is a caricature. Greene's America is a caricature. It is all the more appalling, then, that the attempts of James Kitfield and David Ignatius to put Paul Wolfowitz in the best light possible bring Pyle so vividly to mind -- maybe with a little bit of Robert S. McNamara thrown in for good measure.
Are the latest attacks in Iraq the last gasp of a flash-in-the-pan guerrilla movement, or a sign of more urban warfare in the years ahead? A report on deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz's recent trip to Iraq.
By James Kitfield
BAGHDAD -- Everyone seemed drawn to the windows. Dawn was breaking over Baghdad on October 26; the soft light of early morning was muting the city's many shades of brown into one primary mud-colored hue. Against that opaque backdrop, a car caught the eye of U.S. observers stationed on a rooftop: It was pulling what looked like a portable generator down a largely deserted road outside the barricaded Coalition Provisional Authority complex. As a precaution, an Iraqi paramilitary patrol was dispatched. For some reason, the trailer was freshly painted a bright, incongruous blue.
On the upper floors of the Al Rashid Hotel, some 900 yards away, the entourage accompanying Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was crawling out of bed to the accompaniment of 6 a.m. wake-up calls. The night before, the bar of the Al Rashid had been filled with adventurous men and women -- soldiers, contractors, ex-military types, nurses, mercenaries, reporters -- all with stories to tell and no one to tell them to but each other. Not everyone was happy, then, to see dawn. However, when a sizzle-pop sounding like a giant Roman candle was heard outside, nearly everyone was drawn to the windows, including Wolfowitz himself. In that instant before the thunderclap, those who saw the mesmerizing contrails of the approaching rockets knew they were in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time, and that their lives were about to change.
The fusillade of 68 mm and 85 mm Katyusha rockets caught the Al Rashid broadside in a rapid succession of sledgehammer blows that sheared off massive chunks of concrete. The rockets burst into hotel rooms and blew locked doors into hallways. For a few endless moments after the attack, the entire hotel was quiet, as if it was holding its collective breath. Then the Al Rashid exhaled pure pandemonium.
Acrid smoke and ankle-deep water filled the hallway of the 11th floor, which had absorbed some of the worst damage. Half-dressed men carrying guns spilled into the hallway, screams and shouts of "Fire!" echoed off the walls, and the order was given to evacuate. The emergency-exit stairway was covered in glass from shattered partitions, and the wounded were being carried in sheets used as makeshift stretchers. Despite the thick smoke, the way down was clearly marked on each step and landing by the footprints of boots stepping through thickly pooled blood.
"They do this every time. Every time we do something positive, the bad guys try to reverse the psychology with their own negative act," said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Army's 1st Armored Division in Baghdad as he briefed Wolfowitz on the afternoon of October 26. The positives in this case were the relaxation of curfews in advance of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the reopening the day before of the 14th of July Bridge to ease traffic congestion in downtown Baghdad. The bridge's reopening created a traffic thoroughfare right through the middle of the "green zone" of barricades and checkpoints that buffer the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters complex downtown. The makeshift rocket launcher in the blue trailer had been parked on a side street just off 14th of July Street. "I don't think this fight will be won when the enemy raises a white flag," Dempsey said. "It'll be won when we can do more positive things than he can do negative."
First Armored Division commanders largely discounted the possibility that the rocket attack was targeted at Wolfowitz. They described the improvised nature of the rocket launcher -- which Dempsey called a "Rube Goldberg device" -- as a sure sign of the enemy's relative weakness and lack of sophistication. The commanders and other officials see the attack itself as a sign of desperation from an enemy that realizes each day that U.S. authorities are making progress in improving security in Baghdad. The enemy's increased difficulty in finding recruits, the commanders said, is reflected in the skyrocketing price for a contract hit on American forces. It has spiraled from $300 shortly after Baghdad fell to roughly $5,000 today. "Though the Al Rashid attack was certainly sensational, and will no doubt create an uproar, tactically the damage it inflicted was pretty insignificant," said one 1st A.D. commander.
In fact, the strategic nature of the Ramadan offensive would become clear only the next morning. Between 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. on October 27, a coordinated wave of four suicide bombings would kill 40 people, wound 224, and plunge Baghdad into chaos (a fifth attempt failed). The chosen targets -- four Iraqi police stations and the offices of the International Red Cross -- were picked to counter a new U.S. strategy of greatly accelerating the handoff of security responsibilities to Iraqi authorities, and of eliciting greater international assistance in Iraq's rebuilding. The message from the guerrillas was clear -- siding with the United States in this war could kill you. Anyone who failed to receive that message was left with the example of Faris Abdul Razzaq Assam, one of Baghdad's three deputy mayors, who was assassinated on the same day as the Al Rashid attack by two executioners who shot him at point-blank range at an outdoor cafe. His slaying was just the latest in a string of assassinations of Iraqi officials who have dared to cooperate with U.S. authorities.
The United States has not faced a moment such as this since January 31, 1968, when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched an early-morning offensive in South Vietnam to coincide with the Tet Lunar New Year holidays. Then as now, the U.S. military plausibly argued that the offensive was a last, desperate act of a foe that was losing virtually every battle on the ground. Then as now, the U.S. was developing a strategy for more rapidly handing over security responsibilities to local authorities, in that case through "Vietnamization." Then as now, an enemy hopelessly outgunned in every conventional sense tried to change the terms of the debate with an unconventional war of attrition aimed directly at the will of the American people.
The U.S. military never forgave the press for what it perceived as the media's unwitting complicity in that strategy, or for missing the back-story of how the Tet offensive was a military setback from which the Viet Cong never fully recovered. For its part, the media blamed U.S. political leaders for never adequately fortifying the will of the American public against the challenges of Vietnam, or ever giving an honest accounting of the likely sacrifices in national treasure and blood that surmounting them entailed. Lyndon Johnson famously refused a large-scale call-up of the Reserves during Vietnam. Nor did he suspend expensive Great Society programs in order to pay for the war.
In late October, when the Office of the Secretary of Defense phoned a handful of journalists and asked whether they would be interested in accompanying Wolfowitz on a hastily arranged trip to Iraq, it was very much with the idea of reporting the back-story of the Iraq reconstruction campaign. Once again, a U.S. administration was publicly complaining that the media were accentuating the negative and missing the bigger story of progress. As before, a skeptical press was questioning whether a U.S. administration was giving a full and accurate accounting of the mammoth hurdles involved in a project of nation building during an ongoing guerrilla war. Like LBJ, President Bush has refused to fund the war by delaying cherished domestic initiatives (in this case, expensive tax cuts). And like LBJ, he has so far refused to increase the size of a stretched-thin military in order to fight it.
In some ways, the Wolfowitz trip was an opportunity for both sides -- the Pentagon and the media -- to avoid a repeat of 1968. Doing so, however, would require finding a common narrative to describe a journey to Iraq on the eve of Ramadan 2003. And that task, it turns out, was hard to do.
From the moment Paul Wolfowitz disembarked from a C-17 transport onto the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport on the early morning of October 24, his entourage was accorded unusual deference. Probably no Western functionary has so captured the imagination of Arabs since British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence joined the forces under Faisal al Hussein in 1916 and became "Lawrence of Arabia." In the minds of many Iraqi sheiks and governing officials, and the international press, Wolfowitz is the man most readily associated with the United States' drive to oust the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein and set Iraq on the largely uncharted path to democracy.
Indeed, the arc of Wolfowitz's advocacy for that proposition has remained one of the few true constants in U.S. policy-making circles during the tumultuous period between the two Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003. With the campaign to remake Iraq at roughly the six-month mark, its intellectual architect thus wanted to take the measure of a grand endeavor that the Bush administration acknowledges will likely shape a generation of Americans. Although the mold of this new American epoch may take years to fully form, the tumultuous forces unleashed in its forging would become abundantly evident in the coming days.
"I am pleased to be here, again, in free Iraq," Wolfowitz told waiting TV cameras and reporters on the Baghdad tarmac. "I am in Iraq to thank our brave troops and their international partners who are fighting alongside courageous Iraqis -- Iraqis who, in increasing numbers, are putting their lives on the line to defend their country and to build a free, prosperous future of Iraqi self-rule. They are taking the fight to the enemy, whose goal is to destroy substantial progress being made here, and take Iraq back to the prison of tyranny from which they've finally been liberated."
For someone driving through Baghdad for the first time since just after major combat ended, the signs of change were striking. The dirty sidewalks and market stalls, the small shops hawking everything from satellite dishes to chickens, all were jammed with crowds and rang with the full-throated shouts of commerce. Long lines of beat-up cars snaked toward gas stations; roadside peddlers, their arms shiny with petrol up to their elbows, ladled black-market gasoline from open barrels into small plastic containers. The exuberance of liberation has now passed, and gone, too, are the constant waves and shouts of support for U.S. troops. So, too, have passed the blast-furnace months of summer, and the worst of the electricity blackouts.
In the interim, Iraqis have learned that the same United States that put a man on the moon is incapable of instantly transforming an electric grid and oil infrastructure fallen into decrepitude from decades of mismanagement and from years of international sanctions. Yet the signs of improvement in the Iraqi capital are nevertheless unmistakable. Electrical power output has now returned to prewar levels and is still climbing, a process greatly facilitated by the decision to turn the project into a high-profile military campaign involving the Army Corps of Engineers.
Nearly all of Baghdad's hospitals and schools have reopened, and U.S. commanders in Iraq have launched numerous drives to outfit local schools with supplies donated from hometown U.S.A. Through a burgeoning system of neighborhood, district, and city councils, the Iraqis are also learning the early cadences of democratic discourse. This lesson includes regular exercises of a citizen's right to vociferously criticize U.S. and Iraqi authorities through a raucous free press and frequent street demonstrations. "In a recent election for a local council, I personally witnessed the loser coming out and officially congratulating the winner," said a member of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council who asked that his name not be used. "This has never happened before in Iraq! I thought I was dreaming!"
The intervening months since the war have proven instructive for U.S. officials as well. Mostly what they've learned is that the United States alone will bear the overwhelming and unexpectedly onerous burden of Iraq's reconstruction. Just in recent weeks, for instance, a much-needed deployment of Turkish troops to Iraq has been shelved because of objections by the interim Iraqi Governing Council, and an international donors' conference in Madrid produced only a fraction of the anticipated costs of Iraq's reconstruction over the next five years. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are still reeling over the Bush administration's request to spend $87 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2004.
A chief message delivered by Wolfowitz to the Iraqis -- repeated at virtually every stop in the three-day whirlwind of meetings throughout the country -- thus indicated a distinct shift in U.S. strategy. Rather than focus on "internationalizing" the reconstruction effort and counting on further pledges of international troops and donations, the Wolfowitz delegation stressed to U.S. and Iraqi officials alike that they must greatly accelerate the transfer of responsibilities to nascent Iraqi police, security, and governing entities. The Pentagon will help with additional resources where possible, but the subtext was unmistakable: There was a finite window of American forbearance under present circumstances, and this window is closing.
"In some ways, the most important subject we want to hear about, principally but not exclusively from the Iraqis, is how we can accelerate Iraqi assumption of responsibility for their own affairs, for their security, for their economy, and for their governance," said a senior Pentagon official. "That is really the key to success, and there has been a lot of progress made already."
At the headquarters for the Coalition Provisional Authority -- a sprawling palace complex in central Baghdad incongruously crowned with Rushmore-like busts of Saddam -- a senior U.S. military officer briefed the delegation on what U.S. military commanders have learned about an enemy that has evolved in the months since the end of major combat. Having taken the measure of the hard tip of the American spear, the enemy was increasingly focusing his attacks on what is perceived as the soft underbelly of U.S. resolve and political will.
"Whereas 90 days ago we primarily thought the bad guys were a bunch of disorganized numb-nuts, we're starting to see more signs of centralized command-and-control and some type of organization directing these attacks," said a senior U.S. officer during a briefing on October 24, noting that the average daily number of attacks against U.S. soldiers had doubled since the summer. Increasingly, the enemy was employing "hard-core guerrilla tactics," he said, using remotely detonated explosive devices, hit-and-run mortar attacks, and carefully planned ambushes. "We don't have adequate intelligence to diagram out who or which organizations are involved, nor do we have evidence that Saddam is behind it. I will blanket tell you, there is a lot we don't know about who we are fighting, or how the percentages break down between Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters, and mercenaries. But we do see enough linkages and threads of communications to suggest a central brain or nervous system behind many of these attacks. We just can't tie it all together to the source yet."
Tower Of Babel
In its 6,000 years of history, the ancient city of Babylon has seen the passing of many kings and conquerors, from Alexander the Great and the Mongol hordes, to the armies of Syria, Turkey, Persia, and Germany. Now, modern-day Babylonians awake to find a new occupying army outside the original Babylon Gate, and one unlike any seen in the past.
A riverside palace in Babylon, near the Iraqi city of Al Hilla, is headquarters to the coalition's multinational division, which is led by Poland and includes 9,200 troops from 21 different nations. A visit to the palace demonstrated both the tantalizing advantages of a greater international military presence in Iraq, and the limitations of a division whose makeup of Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Thais, Danes, Spaniards, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Bulgarians, and Mongolians rivals the complexities of the nearby ancient Tower of Babel.
"It's a great challenge, trying to meld the forces of 21 countries into one unit," Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, the Polish commander of the multinational division, conceded to the Wolfowitz delegation. "We have East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans. It's difficult just ironing out the language difficulties, not to mention the different cultures and military habits involved."
Although the multinational division was purposely assigned a relatively quiet area of responsibility in the Shiite-dominated region south of Baghdad, this area has become a flashpoint given recent events in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. On August 29, for instance, a suicide car bomber assassinated the revered Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and scores of his followers, in an incident that U.S. officials believe was intended to spark a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. Though heartened by the fact that it did not do so, U.S. officials have been unable to avoid the vexing problem of exactly what to do about firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadr, whose actions and diatribes against the U.S.-led occupation have become increasingly provocative.
After an incident in which Sadr loyalists became involved in a gunfight that left three U.S. soldiers dead and seven wounded, and amid reports that Sadr's followers were hiding weapons in mosques, coalition authorities decided to act. But no one believed that the Polish-led division was up to the task. "One of the dilemmas of the multinational division is that its rules of engagement rule out offensive operations," said a senior U.S. officer in Iraq. "Given the dynamic situation in Karbala and Najaf, that meant we had to introduce U.S. forces into the mix."
The U.S. officials cite their response to the provocations in Karbala as a potential model for future joint U.S.-Iraqi operations, as well as an unmistakable warning to Sadr. Newly graduated Iraqi Civil Defense Corps forces, backed by U.S. combat troops, raided two mosques associated with Sadr, capturing weapons and arresting more than 30 of his supporters and two key Sadr lieutenants. Largely because it was ICDC troops that actually entered the mosques, U.S. officials believe, the response among Iraqis in Karbala has been relatively muted.
Col. Ralph "Rob" Baker, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division, led the operation against the Sadr mosque in Karbala. "We definitely did not want that raid to be depicted in the Arab media as some sort of assault on Shiite mosques, so we let two squads of ICDC forces that we had trained in urban combat go through the door as we backed them up, and they were up to the task," he told National Journal. "That also sent an important message to Sadr, who I would personally prefer to see marginalized rather than taken down and somehow martyred in the eyes of his followers. To most of the senior Shiite clerics, he's still a young kid," Baker said. "Sadr has insisted, however, that he is answerable only to Islamic law and the judgment of other clerics. That's a dangerous proposition in Iraq. The fundamental issue now facing this country is whether everyone is going to accept the same law, and have it apply to all equally. That's the only way Iraq will hold together."
Before boarding his helicopter, Wolfowitz gave an impromptu press conference. Was he not daunted by the challenges that lay ahead in Iraq's uncertain march to democracy? "You know, the Polish General Tyszkiewicz told me something interesting," Wolfowitz replied. "He told me that 15 years after the end of Cold War, his country is far better off than they were under Soviet domination and immediately after liberation. Yet Poland still has 18 percent unemployment and many challenges to confront. That's a valuable perspective. Instead of comparing Iraq to America, I think you need to compare it to progress made by other countries in the developing world. By that yardstick, I think an awful lot has already been accomplished in just the past six months."
Belly Of The Beast
The headquarters for the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division is in Saddam's ancestral home of Tikrit, in a cavernous palace on a bluff overlooking the Tigris River. Though Saddam reportedly never actually occupied this edifice, which he only recently had built, his presence is as real to the inhabitants of Tikrit as is the snake-rattle of automatic weapons fire that echoes in the river valley nearly every night.
"I haven't met anyone in this region who doesn't believe Saddam is alive and out there somewhere, and may be coming back," said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th I.D., which is responsible for securing the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad where attacks on U.S. soldiers have increased markedly in the past two months. Because of the former dictator's continuing hold on the Iraqi psyche, senior military officials in Iraq believe that capturing or killing Saddam remains one of the key unmet goals of the Iraq campaign. "By the time we got to Tikrit, Saddam had been around for 25 years -- more than twice as long as Hitler -- and it's going to take some time for us to counter his brainwashing and intimidation, and convince people that he's gone for good," one official said.
Although the killing of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay was a major victory in the effort to break the Baathist hold on Iraqis' minds, 4th I.D. officers caution that that success must be balanced against increasing acts of intimidation and reprisal against U.S. "collaborators" by Baath Party remnants and members of the Saddam Fedayeen. "Iraqis coming forward with information are the most important intelligence sources we have, but retaliation and threats against them is a huge problem," Odierno told Wolfowitz and his staff. Stories abound in 4th I.D. headquarters of such reprisals, such as that of the young woman who objected when the Fedayeen tried to bury weapons in her front yard, and then was forced to watch her husband and son being shot to death. "Those kinds of stories play on the psyche of the Iraqis," Odierno said.
Despite the sharp increase in attacks on U.S. troops in the Sunni Triangle, 4th I.D. officials believe that Baath Party loyalists are fighting a desperate rearguard action in Saddam's final stronghold. "They've largely surrendered the north and south, and are funneling in Fedayeen and foreign fighters from outside in an attempt to defend the heartland," said Odierno. "While they've had some success in scaring the public and monopolizing press coverage, they also know that as long as U.S. troops stay, they cannot win. Each day, we get stronger, our actionable intelligence gets better, and we continue to improve infrastructure and win more Iraqis to our cause. Their only hope is to sway U.S. public and congressional opinion to force us to pull out."
In an effort to limit the most intrusive raids and random searches that alienate Iraqi civilians, 4th I.D. commanders have adjusted their tactics to focus more on targeted raids based on specific intelligence. Since September 10, such raids and operations have led to the successful interdiction of 175 "targets," they say, leading to the arrest of 1,316 enemy detainees, including 46 bomb-makers and six senior Baathist financiers.
By far the most dramatic shift in tactics -- and the one pushed hardest by Wolfowitz in his discussions with 4th I.D. leaders -- was the accelerated training and deployment of Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members, border guards, and police in the Sunni Triangle. To date, the 4th I.D. has recruited more than 12,650 such forces, in an attempt to increasingly put an Iraqi face on security operations. Nationwide, coalition authorities say they have deployed a total of 86,000 Iraqi security troops and police.
Lt. Col. Steve Russell, who trains ICDC forces for the 4th I.D., says the division has been able to weed out bad apples and potential spies by vetting recruits with local and trusted sheiks. Meanwhile, at checkpoints, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops often know if a car is stolen or if its driver represents trouble, he says, long before it can pose a danger to U.S. forces. "Because they've lived here all their lives, they notice when things aren't right long before we can," said Russell, whose 4th I.D. comrades have conducted more than 3,050 joint patrols with Iraqi forces just since September 10. "They gather intelligence from the friends and families in the region, and receive intelligence tips, that we simply aren't privy to. They can go into Iraqi homes and mosques without causing a furor or resentment. We can't."
Even in the Sunni Triangle, 4th I.D. trainers have exceeded their recruiting goals for Iraqi forces, and interviews with several of those volunteers suggest that in his hometown of Tikrit, Saddam was feared but not widely loved. "He stole all our oil, and hurt a lot of people around here," said one Iraqi trainee, who identified himself only as "Joseph." "These Fedayeen, all they are doing is fighting for money. That's not being a good Muslim. We are not fighting for money. We're fighting for our country. And one day, after the Americans help us get rid of the rest of Saddam's forces, we'll have our country back."
Before escorting Wolfowitz's entourage to its helicopters, Odierno drove them out to a lonely road crossing near a small power station and a canal bordered by tall grass. On the night of October 18, 1st Lt. David Bernstein of Phoenixville, Pa., and Pfc. John Hart of Bedford, Mass., were killed on this spot, in a coordinated ambush employing a machine gun, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms.
"When we first got here, the attacks tended to be by small, undisciplined groups who would give up and run at the first indication of a fight," explained Odierno. "More recently, the ambushes directed at us tend to be a little more organized. We can't prove it, but we think that indicates the increased presence of foreign fighters in this region."
As the helicopters carrying the Wolfowitz delegation lifted off from Tikrit, many of its members breathed easier, relieved to leave the Sunni Triangle behind. Every 4th I.D. soldier seemed to have a story about a harrowing firefight or close call with a roadside bomb. Indeed, just hours after the delegation's departure from Tikrit, a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter there was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and forced to crash-land in flames. Thankfully, the next stop for the delegation was Kirkuk, by all accounts a multiethnic success story in the relatively calm Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
"When you first arrived in Iraq, we thought you wore the ring of Solomon!" laughed Sheik Ali Khalid Al Iman, welcoming Wolfowitz to a roundtable discussion with local Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen religious leaders in Kirkuk, held in the shade of a long pavilion. "Now we see from your behavior and politeness toward Islam that you may even be one of us, because you come hoping to try and help us solve our problems. And as you can see at this table, we are of three ethnic groups, and two strands of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, and there are no problems among us."
The stop in Kirkuk clearly acted as a balm to Wolfowitz's spirits, as he walked to the pavilion through the city's main market street, where he was greeted and mobbed by locals as a returning hero. Although U.S. officials still fear that the region could turn into a flashpoint over the issue of resettlement of Arabs and Kurds displaced during Saddam's rule, on this day, the talk among the imams was of mundane matters. And, for Iraq at least, Kirkuk seemed an oasis of relative harmony.
"I'm very impressed by your spirit of cooperation," Wolfowitz told the religious leaders. "That makes us allies in the most basic sense, because we share the same goals.... I promise that we won't consider our work here finished until people are doing well again, and a new government is established in Iraq."
On that positive note, Wolfowitz left for his final evening in Baghdad. At the dinner reception that night, before the next morning's rocket attack on the Al Rashid Hotel, a reporter asked an Iraqi official if he felt that security was improving in the capital. The official replied that it would be wiser not to travel in the large Chevrolet Suburban SUVs favored by coalition and Iraq Governing Council officials. "Better to travel by taxi so as not to present such an obvious target," he said, "because the Baathists are once again getting more organized in Baghdad. I can feel it."
The Wolfowitz delegation left the coalition's headquarters by helicopter on the night of October 26, no one wanting to chance driving a convoy through the "snipers' alley" leading to Baghdad International Airport. Looking out the open rear door of the giant CH-47 chopper, you could see the rear gunner silhouetted against the bright lights that shimmered over the city and reflected off the dark ribbon of the Tigris. The backwash from the Chinook's turbines wafted through the darkened fuselage like one last, hot breath from Iraq.
That afternoon, Wolfowitz had stopped at a hospital to visit the critically injured from the Al Rashid rocket attack. An Army colonel was killed in the bombing, the most senior U.S. officer to die in Baghdad. After visiting the critically injured, Wolfowitz spoke with reporters.
"The victims of this attack, including our colonel who tragically died, are real heroes," Wolfowitz said. "The criminals who are responsible for their deaths and injuries are the same people who have abused and tortured Iraqis for 35 years. There's a small number of bitter-enders who think they can take this country back by destabilizing it and scaring us away. They are not going to scare us away. We're going to finish this job despite the last, desperate acts of a dying regime of criminals."
It was exactly the right tone to honor the fallen, of course, and from the air at night, you could almost imagine Baghdad as just another capital city with a river running through it. You didn't want to think about the ethnic and religious patchwork that the view obscured, or the demons spawned by 35 years of tyranny. You didn't want to think about all the heroes, American, Iraqi, and coalition alike, who are yet to be sacrificed to the cause. You didn't want to think that the Ramadan offensive had only just begun. Just for a moment, you wanted to see the landscape below the way Paul Wolfowitz sees it -- without doubts or fears of ignoble failure. You wanted to believe.
A War Of Choice, And One Who Chose It
By David Ignatius
HILLA, Iraq -- It was a classic Paul Wolfowitz moment: He was speaking at a new women's rights center here nine days ago when someone asked for his advice on writing an Iraqi constitution. Wolfowitz, the professor turned Pentagon war planner, began quoting Alexis de Tocqueville's theories about democracy to the residents of this ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates River.
"There are people in the world who say that Arabs can't build democracy," Wolfowitz told the crowd. "I think that's nonsense. You have a chance to prove them wrong. So please do it."
That interaction captured the missing element in many analyses of the Iraq conflict. Commentators in Europe and the Arab world write darkly about America's designs on Iraqi oil, or a conspiracy to enrich Vice President Cheney's old friends at Halliburton, or a plot to help Israel. It would be nice, in a weird way, if the Iraq war were anchored to such worldly interests. But it isn't.
The reality is that this may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times -- a war whose only coherent rationale, for all the misleading hype about weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda terrorists, is that it toppled a tyrant and created the possibility of a democratic future. It was a war of choice, not necessity, and one driven by ideas, not merely interests. In that sense, the paradigmatic figure of the war is Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and the Bush administration's idealist in chief.
I traveled through Iraq with Wolfowitz on the whirlwind trip last weekend that concluded with a rocket attack Sunday on the hotel where we were staying in Baghdad. For people watching on television, that assault may have conveyed the vulnerability, and perhaps futility, of America's mission: We keep trying to help the Iraqis, it seems, and they keep shooting missiles back at us.
But seen through Wolfowitz's eyes, the rocket attack was just a blip -- no more daunting than the car bombs, assassinations and ambushes that are daily facts of life here for U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. More important to Wolfowitz were the dozens of Iraqis and Americans he met who are risking their lives for the U.S. mission and the ideals that Wolfowitz holds dear. In that sense, the trip was fuel for Wolfowitz's intellectual engine.
As we were flying back to Washington in a lumbering C-17, I asked Wolfowitz if he ever worried that he was too idealistic -- that his passion for the noble goals of the Iraq war might overwhelm the prudence and pragmatism that normally guide war planners. He didn't answer directly, except to say that it was a good question. And it's a starting point for some reflections on Wolfowitz and his war, seven bloody months after U.S. troops invaded Iraq.
Wolfowitz is a rare animal in Washington -- a genuine intellectual in a top policymaking job. He was dean of the Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University before taking his current Pentagon post, and he has the kind of curious mind that makes him as good a listener as talker. He is also a man who for more than a decade, ever since he served as ambassador to Indonesia, has been fascinated with the Muslim world.
That passion undercuts the widespread notion that Wolfowitz is simply a neoconservative tool of Israel. He is instead a kind of amateur Orientalist: He reads about the Arab world, bleeds for its oppression and dreams of liberating it. He seeks out Arab intellectuals who can advise him on policy, and he says he opposes Israeli settlements. Wolfowitz, as an outsider, may romanticize the Arab world, but there's no denying his intellectual interest.
His idealism about the potential for change in the Middle East was on display throughout his recent trip. He told the gathering at the women's rights center in Hilla, for example, that democracy wasn't just about elections -- which are somewhat discredited in Arab countries by the experiences of Egypt, Jordan and even Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Ultimately, he argued, democracy was about justice.
"To Americans, the most important thing about democracy is to guarantee human rights and justice for all," he said. At other stops, he made a similar pitch about the role of courts and legal institutions in a free society.
Wolfowitz's emphasis on justice emerged in part from conversations he had in September with Jamil Mroue, publisher of the Daily Star in Beirut. Over a four-hour dinner in Washington, Mroue argued that if America simply stressed security in Iraq, it would be no different than the authoritarian rulers who govern in the name of security throughout the Arab world. The missing ingredient was justice, said Mroue. Taken with the argument, Wolfowitz arranged for Mroue to meet with his top aides.
Mroue is only one Arab influence on Wolfowitz's thinking. Wolfowitz's initial mentor on Iraq was Ahmed Chalabi, the long-exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a man with powerful ties to the neoconservative establishment in Washington. A brilliant if abrasive intellectual, Chalabi helped convince Wolfowitz that the Iraqi people longed for liberation and would rally behind an American invasion.
Chalabi had a receptive audience. Wolfowitz, as under secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, had advocated toppling Hussein after the first Gulf War in 1991. He thought then and for most of the '90s that the regime could be overthrown by Iraqi insurgents, without sending U.S. troops to Baghdad. But after 9/11, Wolfowitz decided it was too dangerous to wait, and began arguing forcefully within the administration for an Iraq invasion.
The once close relationship between the administration and Chalabi has cooled, in part because of Chalabi's inability to get along with the head of the U.S. occupation authority, L. Paul Bremer III. (Indeed, President Bush is said to have used crude language in expressing his anger toward Chalabi in a conversation in September with Jordan's King Abdullah. Chalabi professes to be unconcerned about his new unpopularity in Washington. "Do you know that Adenauer was arrested by the British in 1945?" he told me at a reception in Baghdad a week ago, referring to the man who eventually became the architect of postwar Germany, Konrad Adenauer.)
The Iraqis who matter to Wolfowitz now are the indigenous leaders who can take over responsibility for Iraq's governance and security. Here, too, Wolfowitz's views were shaped by a conversation with an Arab intellectual -- a Lebanese professor and former cabinet minister named Ghassan Salame, who outlined a plan for a rapid transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis when he met with Wolfowitz for two hours in September. Much of Wolfowitz's schedule a week ago was meant to highlight this new strategy. Wolfowitz visited Iraqi police stations in Hilla, Kirkuk and Baghdad, and a Civil Defense Corps training camp in Tikrit.
At each stop, he argued that only the Iraqis can provide security for their country. That is undoubtedly true, but I suspect that Wolfowitz may be overly optimistic about how quickly the new security forces will be ready to take over from American troops. The Iraqis recruits are courageous and well-meaning -- but at this point they are no match for the insurgents.
Still, Wolfowitz feels an almost visceral sense of loyalty to his Iraqi allies. And that helps explain why he is so determined to stay the course. Everywhere he went he saw reminders of the cost Iraqis have paid. The Hilla meeting, for example, was chaired by a local leader, Iskander Witwit, who lost 34 members of his family to Hussein's forces after the 1991 Shiite uprising in southern Iraq. Witwit carries with him a photo of his late brother, who was decapitated by Hussein, to remind himself what he's fighting for.
Wolfowitz asked the audience in Hilla how many had lost close relatives to Hussein's secret police. About half the people in the room raised their hands.
The Pentagon number two also stopped near Kirkuk for a moving visit to a site where U.S. troops had been ambushed days before. He heard the story of how Lt. David Bernstein, a young officer who graduated eighth in his class at West Point, died saving the life of one of his men. His voice heavy with emotion, Wolfowitz told the commander of the unit that had been ambushed, "We're going to win this."
Wolfowitz's Iraq is haunted by the ghosts of those who have died fighting for the dream of a free Iraq. That's the paradox of intellectuals in politics -- the abstract ideals they preach become encrusted with the blood of those who fight to make them real.
I find it impossible to fault on moral grounds the case for toppling Saddam Hussein last March, and for staying the course now. America did a good deed in liberating Iraqis from a tyrannical regime. But Hussein never posed the sort of imminent danger to America that administration rhetoric implied, and Wolfowitz must share the blame for exaggerating that threat. However dubious the arguments for war may seem in retrospect, I believe it would be wrong to abandon Iraq now, when a relatively small number of insurgents are waging a ruthless campaign to subvert the change and reconstruction that most Iraqis seem to want.
One lesson of this painful year is that too much moralizing is dangerous in statecraft. The idealism of a Wolfowitz must be tempered by some very hard-headed judgments about how to protect U.S. interests. Wolfowitz said in an interview with a Vanity Fair reporter earlier this year that he was a "practical idealist" and that, for him, policymaking wasn't "just a matter of doing business and being sensible." His commitment to principle is admirable, but sound policy can't be premised on the dream of human perfectibility, in Iraq or anywhere else.
America's problems in Iraq stem in large part from wishful thinking, and Wolfowitz and his colleagues must be careful to avoid any more of it now as they try to craft a sustainable strategy. What worries me most after touring Iraq with Wolfowitz is how little the U.S. forces know about their adversaries here. Pressed at a briefing about who is controlling the resistance, a general answered, "We don't have the intelligence to lay this out on a chart." That was chilling.
Now that the going is difficult in Iraq, the Bush administration needs to think more with its head and less with its heart. The idealists can win this war, but only if they act with brutally honest pragmatism.
David Ignatius is a columnist for The Post and a former executive editor of the International Herald Tribune.
The New York Times
As the title suggests, America is the principal concern. The thesis is quite simply that America is a crassly materialistic and "innocent" nation with no understanding of other peoples. When her representatives intervene in other countries' affairs it causes only suffering. America should leave Asians to work out their own destinies, even when this means the victory of communism.
In Greene's previous novels, geographic and social backgrounds have been used with great skill to make the foreground action more dramatic, but social or national issues have never been argued for their own sake. In "The Quiet American" the effect of circumstances is specifically ideological and political. Everything that the British reporter, Fowler, sees of the war, of the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, drives him out of his "uninvolvedness" toward a decision. Above all, he is moved by his hatred of the Americans. "I was tired of the whole pack of them, with their private stores of Coca-Cola and their portable hospitals and their wide cars and their not quite latest guns." The sensual Fowler, incidentally, seems to have been tired of everything, including himself.
In this novel, as in Greene's earlier "entertainment," "This Gun for Hire," a murderous outrage occurs, intended to affect the war's course. A badly timed bombing in the public square of Saigon, planned to disrupt a parade, instead kills mostly women and children. Fowler sets to work to discover the author of this outrage and finds it to be an American, Pyle, whom he already knows as a love rival. Intending to marry her, Pyle has taken Fowler's mistress, Phuong, away from him, but has tried to do it in as candid and decent fashion as possible.
Pyle is an idealistic young United States official with gangly legs, a crew cut and a "wide campus gaze." He is the son of a famous professor who lives on Chestnut Street in Boston. There is nothing self-interested in his motives for the villainy which Greene has concocted for his role. He is working for the O.S.S. "or whatever his gang are called," and is convinced that in intriguing with the dissident General Tho he is moving effectively to create a "Third Force" against both the French Colonials and the Communists. Fowler sees the Third Force as a merely political abstraction Pyle got out of books. "He never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture hall, and his writers and lecturers made a fool of him."
"Innocence," Fowler says, "is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. You can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them." The elimination of liberals and social democrats always comes first, of course, in the Communists' program for political seizure of power. The symbolic act toward which Fowler is driven by the events of the book is the elimination of the American, with the aid of Vietnam Communist agents. There is nothing personal about this, as far as Fowler's conscious mind is aware, for Pyle had saved his life during a brilliantly described night of violence and suffering on the road outside Saigon.
If much of the description of Indochina at war is written with Greene's great technical skill and imagination, his caricatures of American types are often as crude and trite as those of Jean Paul Sartre. He is not ashamed as an artist to content himself with the picture of America made so familiar by French neutralism; the picture of a civilization composed exclusively of chewing gum, napalm bombs, deodorants, Congressional witch-hunts, celery wrapped in cellophane, and a naive belief in one's own superior virtue.
Even in this indictment the book is inconsistent. As a non-implicated man who really understands the East, Fowler scorns American liberals for trying to introduce into Asia their textbook notions of democracy and freedom. "I have been in India, Pyle," Fowler says, "and I know the harm liberals do." At the same time, sounding very much a liberal, he accuses the Americans of selfish opportunism, of letting the French do the dying while they clean up commercially. Emotionally and usually Fowler describes the war as a meaningless slaughter of women and children, as if no enemy existed, and yet he is in touch with this enemy, the Communist Vietminh, and expects it, because of its superior understanding and organization, to win the war.
Admiring American girls for their bodies, Fowler insists to himself that they could not possibly be capable of "untidy passion." He has contempt for their bright vacuousness; yet Phuong, the comely Vietnamese, the only person in the world who means anything in his life, shows few qualities beyond self-interested compliance. She prepares his opium pipes and allows herself to be made love to at his convenience. She says nothing of interest, takes her rewards in bright-colored scarfs, and pores over picture books of the royal family.
What will annoy Americans most in this book is the easy way Fowler is permitted to triumph in his debates with the Americans. The priests whom Greene makes argue so tersely and effectively with the skeptics at the conclusions of "The Power and the Glory" and "The End of the Affair" did not have so easily their own way. When Americans are condemned for letting others do their dying for them no one speaks of Korea. Fowler says that only the Communist respects and understands the peasant. "He'll sit in his hut and ask his name and listen to his complaints; he'll give up an hour a day to teaching him -- it doesn't matter what, he's being treated like a man, like someone of value." Pyle, the American, does not remind Fowler of the thousands of individuals who make desperate escapes from Communist countries every week in order to life as humans. He only replies uneasily, "You don't mean half what you are saying." There is no real debate in the book, because no experienced and intelligent anti-Communist is represented there. Greene must feel either that such men do not exist or that they do not serve his present purposes.
It would be wrong, of course, to wish to argue, if these custom-made characters were merely characters and merely speaking for themselves. Fowler, however, is often quoting almost verbatim from articles which Graham Greene wrote about Indochina for The London Times last spring. He had visited the Communist territories and been much impressed by the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. When these articles were published in this country they caused an especially strong reaction in the Catholic press. Greene had regretted that the Catholic Bishops with their people had withdrawn from Communist territory. "The church has not ceased to exist in Poland." He criticized the Catholic Church for identifying itself with American "militarism" and with the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, the southern Vietnamese Premier, "a patriot ruined by the West." Subsequently Greene has visited Warsaw for private talks with Polish Catholic leaders.
When "The Quiet American" is read against the background of these articles, it can be seen to be more profoundly related to Greene's earlier religious novels than its polemic character at first suggested. In those novels God is reached only through anguish because religion is always paradoxical in its demands. Rationalists are forced to accept the crassest of miracles. In believers, love and pity often war with the chance of salvation. God is most God when His earthly Kingdom is weakest, and His mercy sometimes looks like punishment.
When Graham Greene grants primary justice to the Communist cause in Asia, and finds insupportable its resistance under the leadership of America, he raises inevitably this question: Has he reconciled himself to the thesis that history or God now demands of the church and of Western civilization a more terrible surrender than any required of the tormented characters in his fiction?
Mr. Davis is chairman of the English Department at Smith.
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