Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cagle on Iraq

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Click on the cartoon for a larger image. The answer key reads:

Answer: Definitely shoot A, H and B. Sometimes shoot C and D, don’t shoot E, J, F and I. Try not to shoot G, but if you do, we won’t worry too much about it.

I find this Daryl Cagle cartoon from late January striking and darkly satirical. The caricature of an angry Arab with a gun repeated throughout seems intentionally ironic given the “primer” style of the text and the brutal answer key. (It also reminds me of Slate’s Middle East Buddy List.)

It seems to me that this cartoon offers a more complex, nuanced perspective on the problems in Iraq than we typically get from Washington, and certainly than we get from Bush or anyone in his administration.

Bush did give a markedly more accurate assessment at least once, on 11/30/05 at Annapolis:

The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.

Bush goes on to describe each of these three groups in more detail, to his credit. However, he couldn’t resist intentionally muddying the waters by adding, “The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th.” (Given that he was actually talking about Al-Qaeda, there was more relevance than usual, but yet again he was implying that we invaded Iraq because of 9/11. The secular Hussein regime had no operational relationship with the radical, religious Al-Qaeda, and had even tried to arrest and kill at least one of its leaders. Al-Qaeda was only able to set up operations in Iraq because of the American invasion.)

Still, the Bush of that speech had certainly advanced beyond the man who, in January 2003, had already decided to invade Iraq but still didn’t know that such groups and Sunnis and Shiites existed and that Iraq had a sectarian divide. “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” he reportedly said.

Over at Slate, for some time Fred Kaplan has been faithfully chronicling Bush’s confusing rhetoric and confused understanding of the war in Iraq. After Bush’s latest State of the Union speech, Kaplan wrote ”He Still Doesn't Understand the War” (1/24/07) and considered the truth behind Bush’s proposed escalation, err, “surge”:

So which is it: a brief blip, as Secretary Gates assures us—or a very long haul, as Lt. Gen. Petraeus sternly warns?


What is most head-shaking of all is that, after four years of this war, the president once more fell short of making its case. As in the past, he said that it's very important—"a decisive ideological struggle," he called it, adding, "nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed." And yet he also said that America's commitment to the war is "not open-ended." How can both claims be true? If nothing is more important, it must be open-ended. If it's not open-ended, it can't be all that important.

One reason he can't argue for it is that it's not clear he understands it. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," he said. "Whatever slogans they chant ... they have the same wicked purpose. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East." He still seems to view the ever-mounting violence as reflecting a struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. He fails to grasp the sectarian nature of the fight. (Does he really believe that the Shiites and Sunnis are the same—or that, besides the small minority of al-Qaida, they're "totalitarian" in nature?)

Or, for that matter, does he really believe they’re Islamofascists? Any way to work in Hitler!

Back when the hot debate was whether Iraq should be called a “civil war” or not, a few people broke through to say the situation was worse than a civil war. My favorite description is still this recent one from a Washington Post reader (previously quoted in RWCW #14):

Regarding the Civil war status: If I am to understand the NIE assessment, then it is not a Civil war in Iraq — at least not comparable to the U.S. Civil War. If, in addition to the North fighting the South, we also had the Baptists at war with the Methodists, tortured bodies being dumped on the streets of Atlanta and New York, rampant and uncontrolled crime in the cities and the entire country under occupation — and the occupiers would not be Britain or France, but a country whose culture Americans understood little about at the time, say China or Japan. Then, yes, one could roughly compare the U.S. Civil War to what is happening in Iraq.

We’re not going to be hearing an admission remotely like that from Bush anytime soon!

Update: Welcome, Crooks and Liars readers (and other readers, of course!), and thanks again to Mike's Blog Round-Up!


Anonymous said...

Brilliant, I'm linking to this

Anonymous said...

I've heard no one hated fundamentalist (Sunni or Shia), like Saddam Hussein. And here we are 3 steps from turning Iraq into a theocratic fundamentalist state.

But now realizing we are 3 steps from turning Iraq into a theocratic fundamentalist state, Bush is trying to get back on the Sunni side. The same people who account for the majority of American casualties.

Of course both sides see this and figure the best thing to do is use Mr Flip-Flopper and his toys to advance their own interest. The only reason they allow Bush to stay in the game is so they can easily figure out which way to lay down their bets.

josh said...

like the blog. keep up the good work