I watched the address last night and got exactly what I expected. As an aside, I don’t understand why the President’s staff informs the media of what he will be saying hours before he says it. I guess it is just more time for the administration to disseminate its message.
I watched a fantastic installment of Frontline last night called, The Long Road to War. The first half hour was devoted to a political biography of Saddam, the second segment dealt mostly with the ’91 Gulf War, and the final bit addressed the Clinton and Dubya years. I’m so glad I caught it because it helped fill in a lot of holes for me. It was also nice to get the story from a relatively objective source, which was then supplemented with original interviews with prominent Iraqi officials and neo-cons like William Kristol and Richard Perle, who offered a fascinating peek inside the Hawk mentality. Here’s a helpful chronology from Frontline’s Website.
Some interesting facts (that were news to me):
Saddam’s relationship with the CIA goes back to the early-60s, when he was an up and coming enforcer (torturer/killer) for the Bath Party. The CIA helped them overthrow the existing government, which was pro-Soviet, and Saddam slowly rose through the ranks until he deposed his mentor in 1979. To inaugurate his regime, Saddam, at a formal dinner, had several of his best friends removed from the room and executed. Video footage of the dinner (which was shown on Frontline) was also broadcast throughout Iraq to let the people know what kind of a leader they now had. An odd moment: you can see Saddam crying after he gives the orders. Even in the 1960s, by the way, Saddam had a separate library devoted to Stalin. Nice.
One interesting segment dealt with the feud between Saddam and Bush 41. All commentators, American and Iraqi alike, agreed that each man had disastrously misjudged the other. Bush made the regrettable mistake of making it personal — calling out Saddam by name — and in the process he did nothing but elevate Saddam’s status in the Middle East. Not only was Saddam taking on the United States, but he was now actually taking on the President himself. What a hero. Saddam, for his part, assumed that Bush would never actually attack him. After being supported by America throughout the 80s during his war with Iran and in his suppression of the Kurds, Saddam guessed that Bush would never risk American lives in the Iraqi desert.
The big revelation for me was learning about the massive mistakes that we made at the end of the Gulf War (and that were strangely well-intentioned). After beating down the Iraqi army and destroying most of Saddam’s Republican Guard, our forces planned to eliminate what remained of enemy opposition. Powell, who was on the scene and who was disturbed by what he was seeing (on Frontline they showed footage of American helicopters gunning down retreating soldiers), Powell called Schwarzkopf and suggested that they call it off. Schwarzkopf passed the recommendation onto the White House, who went along with Powell. Rather than risk more American lives and needlessly kill more Iraqis, a truce was declared and Schwarzkopf was sent alone to sign off on Iraq’s terms of surrender. Here’s where it gets interesting.
The Iraqis asked for permission to fly their helicopters. Knowing that we had destroyed most of their roads and bridges, Schwarzkopf agreed. Then, the Iraqis asked for permission to fly their armored helicopters. Again, Schwarzkopf agreed. Why did the Iraqis need those helicopters? Both in the North (the Kurds) and in Baghdad itself (Shia Muslims), opposition forces were rising up to depose Saddam — just as Bush had hoped! What did we do about it? Well, after allowing Saddam’s troops to use their armored helicopters, we just threw up our hands and said, “We did our job. Now it’s up the Iraqi people to deal with Saddam.” Tens of thousands of resistance forces were wiped out while our military looked on from a safe distance, forbidden to intervene.
I’m really frustrated by the frequent comparisons of Saddam to Hitler — Saddam is contained, after all — but the footage of the crushed uprising was eerily similar to what I saw in The Pianist this weekend. Young men were dragged on the ground and shot point blank in the back of the head. Women and children had no choice but to put their belongings on their back and step in line. Everyone fought for bread and water. Bush didn’t act until several weeks later, when Saddam turned his attention to the Kurds. We set up and protected relief camps that were filled with Kurdish refugees, but by then the resistance had been quashed and Saddam was firmly in power again. Several interviewees said that, had America intervened, even for only a few days, Saddam would have been ousted by his own people.
I also enjoyed the program because it dealt explicitly with the divide in the Republican party between what they called the Neo-Reaganites and the Practicalists. The divide has created an interesting tension in Dubya’s administration. On one side are folks like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who have been pushing Bush toward war with Iraq since well before 9/11; on the other are Bush 41 and Powell, who warned the President months ago that he would never get support for war from the U.N. The Hawks versus the Diplomats. I was well aware of this divide, of course, but the show cast it in a new light. I have more sympathy for the Practical thinkers, especially for Powell, who has been dutifully fighting an honorable diplomatic battle that he has always known would never amount to more than ceremonial political maneuvering. But I have to admire (in a sick, sick way) the Machiavellian efficiency of the neo-cons, who exercise such remarkable control over affairs. That they’ve managed to do it under the flag of “Christian Providence” is just forehead-slapping.
I have to admit that some of the administration’s attitudes toward Saddam make more sense to me now. I am so ready to see his reign brought to an end, and to think that that will happen without actual military force is, at best, idealistic, at worst, hopelessly naive. But I’m still horrified by the prospect of our looming war because I genuinely believe — and the Frontline special only reinforced this belief — that our administration honestly thinks that it will be stage one (or maybe stage two, after Afghanistan) in a military-supported, imperial quest to democratize the world. Talk about naive.