Aijaz Ahmad on Bush’s State of the Union Address
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Iraq is, of course, the centerpiece in President Bush’s State of the Union Address and the centerpiece also of the triumphalism that permeates this address. This is a story of success as manufactured by the establishment, both official and media. We have heard it on Fox News, we have heard it on CNN, we have read it in The Washington Post, etcetera.
GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: But the enemy is still dangerous, and more work remains. The American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago. A year later, high-profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down. Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated. In the coming year, we will work with Iraqi leaders as they build on the progress they’re making toward political reconciliation. At the local level, Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds are beginning to come together to reclaim their communities and rebuild their lives.
What this neglects is a whole range of realities, such as the fact that, yes, ethnic cleansings have gone down at the moment, but the largest reason for that is the success of the ethnic cleansings of 2006 and the first half of 2007. Baghdad, for example, was a city 65 percent Sunni. Today, it is 85 percent Shia. Very few Sunnis are left there to be killed. Yes, there is the so-called Anbar awakening, where the Sunni tribesmen, very large numbers of them, got fed up with the foreigners who were being infiltrated by al-Qaeda into Iraq. And in order to fight al-Qaeda, they made, provisionally, a common cause with the United States. And the Sunni militias were withdrawn from the ethnic cleansings. However, the flip side of that is there are now some 75,000 to 80,000 Sunnis, mostly tribesmen, who have been armed by the United States, who have gained combat experience. And we do not know what will happen when their immediate objective of evicting al-Qaeda from their regions is attained. Will they simply go home? Or will these arms, this combat experience, be used to settle older scores? The US armed the Shia militias in the past, which carried out much of the ethnic cleansing. Now these Sunni tribesmen, mostly tribesmen, have been armed, and it is quite possible that as soon as the objective of fighting off al-Qaeda is attained, they will now let loose their weaponry for ethnic revenge. The other aspect of the fighting going down is that as soon as the United States put in 30,000 more troops and escalated the war, Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew his forces, declared a ceasefire, and he’s waiting out this whole period. Once the US has withdrawn these 30,000 troops and the troops level go back to where they were before the so-called surge, it’s perfectly possible that Muqtada al-Sadr will resume fighting. What this narrative also neglects, in fact, is the fact that the United States has carried out four times as much bombing of Iraq in 2007 as it did in 2006. Escalation in fighting from the side of the United States is enormous. At the same time, the US forces lost more troops in 2007 than they did in 2006. These facts simply do not emerge in President Bush’s very detailed accounting spread over 15 paragraphs of his address. It is said that refugees are coming back. Well, according to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, there are now 4.2 million Iraqi refugees, that is to say, virtually a quarter of the Iraqi population has been rendered homeless. About 2 million of them are outside Iraq; 2.2 million are said to be wandering around homeless in other parts of Iraq. The Maliki government claims that 46,000 have returned in 2007—46,000, according to this official claim, out of 2.2 million inside the country and 2 million outside the country. The New York Times says that the figure is vastly exaggerated. The Maliki government claims that 1,600 families have come back. The New York Times correspondent estimates that more like 50—five-zero—not 1,600 families have returned. What I find most astonishing, dismaying, and tragic, really, about President Bush, in this address and elsewhere, is the sheer indifference and callousness towards the scale of the tragedy that has unfolded in Iraq since 2003. In a matter of five years, 4.2 million refugees, and the UN High Commission for Refugees says that half of them are children. That is more than 2 million children rendered homeless. The British firm ORV has just released a study which claims that 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003.
BUSH: A nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope. These successes must continue.
There’s not an acknowledgment, not even a regret, to say, yes, this has happened, we are sorry about it, but it was necessary in order to fight the terrorists, in order to overthrow a dictatorship, or whatever. This disconnect with reality I believe is partly manufactured. I don’t believe that President Bush does not know these facts. There seems to be an absolutely deliberate attempt to mislead the American public through the medium of the State of Union Address, which is watched by vast members of his fellow citizens, and the president just stands up and says things, which have no connection with reality.
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