Thursday, February 01, 2007


US “strategy,” for lack of a better word, in the fighting of the Iraq War (or perhaps we should say “wars”) has often and with some justification been referred to as a game of “whack-a-mole.” With the implication being that every time US troops hit hard at one flash point, violence of the insurgent or civil war variety simply pops up somewhere else, the phrase is certainly not a compliment.

Alas, one of the problems with the allusion is its singularity—hammer one mole down, and one mole pops up from another hole. As four sordid years of US whacking will illustrate, for every sow-sized American victory, it seems a labour of moles pops up elsewhere.

But at least, as the metaphor goes, America is swinging its $200 million-a-day mallet at actual moles—as ill-advised as this strategy may be. But, with the decider decision-maker flailing wildly in Baghdad and pouring more flesh-and-blood whackers into a sinkhole in Al Anbar, it seems clear that chop-meat George and his butcher buddies can’t really tell a mole from a hedgehog, meerkat, vole, or shrew.

Add (with heavy sighs and shaking head) the comments of Bush flunky Nicholas Burns (theoretically a top State Department diplomat) on Thursday’s Morning Edition, and you start to wonder if the administration is even swinging at mammals. In an interview, Burns details with a complete lack of detail how Iran is supposedly helping “Shia insurgency groups” (see what I mean about not being able to tell moles from other creatures?) in the south of Iraq and is spreading this “operation” throughout the country. This, says Burns, has required the US—in an act of self-defense, mind you—to “warn Iran privately” and “detain Iranian officials” (one can only imagine what that means beyond the initial abduction).

All of this talk and action, it appears so very clearly, is designed to provoke a confrontation with Iran and escalate whack the whole mess right into another country.

Meanwhile, up north, real trouble is brewing—trouble that one might think would have every diplomat and military strategist working overtime to whack back into its hole before it could even show its scary, hairy head.

KIRKUK, IRAQ — American officials, regional leaders and residents are increasingly worried that this northern oil-rich city could develop into a third front in the country's civil war just as additional U.S. troops arrive in Baghdad and Al Anbar province as reinforcements for battles there.

The LA Times article spends many inches explaining the situation (yes, it’s about oil, identity, and nationalism), and, if you will forgive me, I don’t think I’m making a mountain out of molehill to call it a looming bloodbath. But, beyond that initial indication that “American officials” are “increasingly worried,” one gets no sense from the article that said officials have a plan to head off the coming conflagration.

Rather, in reading the LA Times, following recent events, and listening to Burns, it seems that the US has decided it has an interest in helping the Kurds demonstrate an al Qaeda connection to the Sunni population in Kirkuk—while at the same time working hard to “prove” that the Iranians are involved (presumably in helping the Shiites, or so I would assume, anyway). It is a strategy about as clear as I have explained it—which is to say, I have no freaking idea what the administration is thinking. (Unless, of course, they actually want to stoke Sunni/Shiite tension in the north in order to strengthen the position of the Kurds, but then what will be the reaction of Turkey?) In fact, I am almost certain that in writing this, I have taken more time to think about it than those at the White House.

I say that in part because I am trying—desperately—to look at the whole picture instead of just staring down one or another deep, dark rabbit hole. Or, should I say “mole hole?” And rather than “staring”—which would imply at least some studied attention—I should probably just get back to the whacking metaphor. Whacking seems about as nuanced as the wild Bush bunch can get, and caring not at all how many mallets they break, the administration will keep hammering on holes. . . with the vainglorious hope that they will hit a few moles in the process.

And, beyond Bush’s inability to play the game with any degree of skill, what gets lost in he metaphor is that both the mallets and the moles are, in reality, people.


Post a Comment

<< Home