Tuesday, 30 October 2007

No Plan, No Peace in Iraq – beWare BBC version

In an incisive inside story, BBC reporter John Ware takes us behind the political and diplomatic scenes to reveal that the US/UK had no effective plan to realise the peace in Iraq, and that the neo-con “crazies” should shoulder considerable blame for that set of mistakes.

Or does he?

At a surface level, this is the reading of No Plan, No Peace – the Inside Story of Iraq's Descent into Chaos (BBC, 28, 29 October 2007) that much of the public and even many anti-war adherents will, no doubt, have seen and accepted.

And if they do, it would be testament to Ware's capacity for crafted distortion and the BBC's willingness to make ever-refined excuses for the illegal and immoral actions of its political masters. Indeed, even among its finest catalogue of whitewashed output, we may struggle to find a better example of the BBC's 'good-warmonger – bad-warmonger' version of US/UK 'intervention' in Iraq.

Ware's film is actually the classic liberal version of the 'mistaken war': the 'mistake' of not having a pre-planned strategy for 'state-building' and formalisation of 'democratic structures'; the 'mistake' of extreme de-Ba'thification and disbanding of the Iraqi security services; the 'mistakes' of failing to anticipate the alienation of displaced Iraqis; and the 'mistaken' belief that the surge might still break the insurgency.

Completely absent from this version of the 'mistaken war' is any acknowledgment of its actual illegality or immorality. Nor, in Part 1 of this 'cutting-edge' exposé, does Ware deem it necessary to discuss the actual extent of the Iraqi death toll. A “few hundred thousand” may have died, he permits, in vague admission, as though the tragedy and suffering of so many people can be treated as a passing comment. Ware never thinks it appropriate to mention the Lancet and (complementary) ORB studies which reliably estimate in excess of 1.2 million people now dead as a direct consequence of the invasion.

The cast of goodfellas

Ware, instead, proceeds to introduce an extensive cast of the 'good-guy' warmongers. First-up is Colin Powell's ex-Chief of Staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, who confirms Ware's enquiry about Powell and his circle referring to Cheney and their neo-con cohorts as “the crazies”. Douglas Feith is also singled-out as being a particular “idiot”. Such statements are presented as a journalistic coup for Ware who seems unconcerned at the passé nature of these 'great revelations'. But they suit his purpose in building an apparent foundation for his 'shocking' thesis: that a cavalier-and-uncaring bunch of US neo-cons and a careless-but-dutiful UK had no serious understanding of how to plan and maintain an occupation.

It's instructive to see such a 'distinguished' cast of diplomatic, political and military elite eagerly participating in Ware's film. And why not, for it serves their purposes of being star players in this gentlemanly re-writing of history. In Ware's liberal revisionist treatise, Powell and his State Department people are feted as some kind of wronged and maligned faction, unable to realise their 'diplomatic' efforts and 'benign' planning policies. That, of course, didn't stop Powell himself going to the UN to sell Bush's war agenda. Nor did he or any of his 'concerned' coterie stand-up and declare their worries or abhorrence of the invasion at the time.

The cast of good-warmonger denialists keep on coming. In a telling 'cameo', US Ambassador and ex-Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) figure, Barbara Bodine talks of the neo-cons' antagonism towards the State Department, telling us, in sombre tones, that:

“This [Bush's] is the first truly ideological administration that we've ever had.”

Ware: “Ever, in the history of the United States?”

Bodine: “Ever, ever.”

Astonishingly, Ware accepts this assertion at face value, allowing it to sit in the pregnant silence as some kind of major disclosure.

I immediately thought of what Pilger recently said about it all being the fault of the “Bush gang”:

“And, yes, the Bush gang are extreme. But my experience is that they are no more than an extreme version of what has gone before. In my lifetime, more wars have been started by liberal Democrats than by Republicans. Ignoring this truth is a guarantee that the propaganda system and the war-making system will continue.”

(This, incidentally, is the same Bodine who obstructed the FBI's investigation into Bin Laden prior to 9/11.)

Ware continues with a standard re-hash of the false “45 minutes” claim, coupled with more mitigation from Powell's ex-aide that he really wanted “diplomacy and inspections”. Ware sees no contradiction either in Powell's other 'difference of opinion' in seeking double the number of US troops allowed by Rumsfeld. Powell's man infers that this was to help build and maintain the 'peace'. Yet, Ware has nothing to say about Powell's key role in prosecuting the war or his case for troop deployment. He's conspicuously quiet too on Wilkerson's claim that Jack Straw, Powell's UK cohort, was also a man of diplomacy.

The 'good Brits'

By this point, the other key theme in Ware's distorting film is unfolding: Bush, Cheney and the US high-command were 'fundamentally uncaring', while 'we' Brits were only 'incautious and misled'.

Sir Christopher Meyer, ex-UK Ambassador to Washington, affects his usual all-knowing manner in recounting his worries about the post-invasion aftermath and proclaimed efforts to:

“...above all, get them [Blair and his government] thinking about what's next.”

Never does it seemingly occur to Meyer that “above all” he should have been at the door of Downing Street, rushing round media studios, even taking to the streets with the millions of others, to denounce the invasion itself.

We also have an account of Condoleezza Rice 'ticking-off ' Meyer about his 'concerns', reminding him that the Iraqis were actually capable of planning their own reconstruction. We get more Whitehall mandarins talking reflectively about their “warnings” to Washington and, for good measure, Claire Short's 'searching' testimony on the inadequacy of the international aid and development efforts.

The UK's Foreign Office head, Lord Jay (2000-2006), offers varying 'diplomatic asides' on Washington's “dysfunctional administration”, asking, in rhetorical admission “...should we have had a better understanding?” Britain's other ex-ambassador to the US, Sir David Manning, claims that the UK had little sense of the imposing role the Department of Defense had in mind for the running of Iraq.

General Sir Mike Jackson is invited to add weight to Ware's 'mistaken war' thesis, while Britain's Major General Tim Cross (Senior Logistics Planner ) records his apparent “unease” over Rumsfeld's lack of military and civil planning. The 'academic' evidence of Professor Charles Tripp (School of Oriental and African Studies ) is, likewise, invoked to illustrate how ill-prepared the UK was even days before the invasion. Relating how the Department for International Development (DfID) had asked him to do “desk-based research on government structures in Iraq”, Tripp describes the lack of preparation as “surreal”.

Yet, more-tellingly, none of these people have a solitary word to say here about the fundamental illegality and immorality of the invasion itself.

While Ware is lining-up his eager cast of 'disillusioned insiders' on the UK side, his examinations of Jay Garner, Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), and Robert Bremer, head of the subsequent CPA, are of a more hostile nature. Not, an unreasonable view to take, of course. Both were arch-participants in the murderous brutality. However, Ware is more concerned here in highlighting their 'mistaken strategies' - rather than their criminality – and how their actions largely 'differed' from the UK's more 'pragmatic assessments'.

But there's still the 'goodfellas' on the US side to consider. ORHA official, Colonel Paul Hughes, for example, recounts how another of Rumsfeld's appointees to ORHA, Lawrence Di Rita, had made loud-soundings about the US having already given the Iraqis 'their freedom' and, thus, refusing to acknowledge their right to actual reconstruction. Hughes recalls his own reaction to Di Rita's belligerence:

“...holy hell, what are we here for, then? Why don't we all just go home?”

Di Rita's zealous thoughts need no further comment. More revealing is how Ware sees Hughes's response as some sort of honourable, good-guy remonstration. The impression is, thus, conveyed of a 'good war 'being hampered by 'bad-war' neo-cons. What Ware refuses to admit is that ALL these people were/are there as part of an illegal and - contrary to the fine-sounding ORHA title - inhumanitarian occupation.

Part 1 of No Plan, No Peace ends with this pre-summary from Ware:

“In Baghdad, the heat was burning-up what Iraqi goodwill there was from being liberated. The failure to provide electricity and water was stoking anti-American feeling.”

Ware has Colonel Tim Cross amplify this selective version of the invasion. It was like “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

More 'mistakes' and 'good-guy' 'regrets'

The 'mistaken war' line is developed in Part 2 with Ware proceeding to question the lack of planning to deal with the insurgency. Bremer's 'new brush' approach is scrutinised, with Ware introducing old Washington favourite Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, to question Bremer's handling of the situation.

Deeply-absorbed in this claim and counter-claim about securing an 'effective strategy', one is easily-led into Ware's false agenda on 'the problems' of reconstruction and securing of a 'pluralist democracy'. Other UK-sided 'good guys' are invited to sum-up the catalogue of incompetence, but never to comment on the illegal occupation or their own participation in it. We even have the tragi-comic utterances of Sir Hilary Synnott (attached to the CPA) bemoaning his lack of funds to entertain and co-opt the Iraqi tribal leaders. How very old-colonial. In similar vein, Ware thinks that we should consider the snubbing of UK Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock by the US in Iraq as a further troubling indication of the good-guy-bad-guy relations.

In particular, Bremer is taken-to-task for pursuing an extreme form of de-Ba'thification, serving to drive alienated Iraqis over to the insurgency. As Ware, in his gravitas-laden voice reminds us: “The Americans were trying to spread freedom.” But they were going about it the wrong way.

While Bremer talks-up General Petraeus's surge “strategy”, Greenstock expresses “regret” over the suffering of the Iraqi people. There's footage of UK troops, portrayed as some kind of benevolent force, training-up a proto-Iraqi army. Even the damning footage of British soldiers ruthlessly beating-up Iraqi civilians is passed-over as a “shocking” but atypical incident.

Alas, Ware has to concede, “Basra is not the showcase for democracy that London and Washington had hoped.” But why does Ware assume that either the UK or US were ever seriously interested in democracy?

Ware leaves us with this final thought:

“Somehow, with all our shared history, a Prime Minister and a President abandoned a principle that's been an iron law of warfare since Napoleon. Never take the first step to war without planning every bit as carefully for what comes afterwards.”

So, the dark story is now safely contextualised by Ware: the war itself was noble, only the war plan, or lack of, was at fault.

And there we have it, an 'inside account' of disregard and incompetence which, together, serves to separate the good-warmongers from the bad warmongers. While the 'bad guys' have pursued a 'thoughtless war', the 'good guys' have opened-up, in 'candid', 'concerned' fashion, about their part in this disastrous but, still, honourable invasion to remove Saddam.

Again, one shouldn't be surprised to see such output lauded as 'cutting-edge' reportage, with the general public expected to be in thrall to Ware and his 'vigilant' BBC peers for bringing us these 'vital insights'. In actual truth, we have here a classic exercise in gate-keeping liberal propaganda, with a lavish cast of denialists and apologists permitted open-forum to register and record their own personal and political 'authentications'. At Ware's careful discretion, they have been eulogised as moral players in a 'benevolent occupation'.

Maybe they'll see Ware's film as a timely 'lesson learned', and that all we need is a little 'fine policy-tuning' for our next big adventure in Iran.


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