Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The most frequently asked question in Iraq: "What the freak is going on over here?"

(Photos are of a countryside oasis in Ambar province, one of many shot-down old airplanes out in the desert, me, some children and an MRAP)

FAQ: "How long does it take to fly from Kuwait to Anbar province, in western Iraq?" If you fly in a C-17, it takes about an hour. The C-17 is a huge no-frills military troop transport jet that looks like the Bat Cave inside. All the plane's freight cargo and everybody's luggage sit right in there next to you, lined up on pallets, and you yourself have the choice of sitting in regular airline seats or sitting in lawn chairs. And there are no stewardesses, no inflight movies and no airline food.

Watching soldiers exit a C-17 at night is truly bizarre. It's like watching a big silver shark the size of Chicago giving birth to hundreds of tiny robots onto a large field covered with glo-sticks instead of runway lights.

FAQ: "What does the average soldier think of the war in Iraq?" Who the freak knows?

One soldier sitting next to me at the DFAC (dining facility) the other day told me that he thought that Iraq was a "resource war". "And this is just the beginning," he added. "Americans are soft, and are basically clueless about how to survive without their cars, appliances, supermarkets and gadgets. They are used to having everything done for them. They need to man up and learn how to grow things and build things and maintain some of the skills that our grandparents had. They are going to need these skills in the hard times to come."

FAQ: "What does Naomi Klein have to say about Iraq?" I actually found a copy of Klein's latest book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" in an airbase give-away library yesterday while looking for something to read. Good grief, what a book! Am I the last person in the world to be reading this book? And if so, and everything that she writes is true, then why isn't everyone in the whole freaking world up in arms against the globalization movement and its "Disaster Capitalism" flying monkeys who deliberately take advantage of situations involving large-scale human misery in order to steal other people's stuff?

In her book, Klein states that economist Milton Friedman, the apparent godfather of globalization, "first learned how to exploit a large-scale shock or crisis in the mid-seventies, when he acted as adviser to the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Not only were Chileans in a state of shock following Pinochet's violent coup, but the country was also traumatized by severe hyperinflation. Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy -- tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation." Sound familiar?

This same plan of using chaos and disaster as an excuse to "de-regulate" and "privatize" and torture and murder and establish dictatorships and let corporatism raid the national treasury worked very well in Indonesia under Suharto, the USSR, the former Yugoslavia, Argentina after Peron, Brazil right after its 1964 coup, Asia during the 1997 financial crisis, Sri Lanka after the tsunami, a whole laundry list of African countries who fell victim of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund and, of course, Iraq. And don't forget that even here in the USA, Friedman and his followers had a field day after 9-11 and Katrina.

Klein also appears to think that, during Bush's 2003 famous Shock and Awe attack on Iraq and for several years afterward, Iraq was deliberately allowed to go to Hell in a hand-basket in order to create conditions of chaos that would generate an opportunity for rebuilding Iraq from the ground up as a colonial state controlled by corporatism -- like a neo-con version of what Mao was trying to do with his Cultural Revolution.

Further, Klein also strongly hints that American neo-cons have spent the last several years carefully engineering and orchestrating America's upcoming Great Depression sequel in order to generate some kick-ass Shock and Awe here at home -- so that in the chaos and confusion that results after the subprime goes nuts, hyperinflation hits hard and banks like Bear Stearns go under, they will be able to disassemble America as we know it and rebuild it again according to their own Disaster Capitalism model as well. Oops.

There appears to be a definite "intersection between super-profits and mega-disasters" in the minds of the followers of Milton Friedman, writes Klein. All I can say to that is Lord help us if they ever learn how to create man-made earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

FAQ: "What are the chances of Jane marching for at least half a mile in almost total darkness, across an unpaved airfield, from the C-17 to the Al Asad terminal pre-fab, while carrying all of her gear and yet managing to avoid falling flat on her face?" Zero.

FAQ: "How does one get from an airfield out in the middle of nowhere to the main part of Al Asad airbase at 1 am in the morning?" One stands around the terminal looking miserable for about 20 minutes, curses when one can't get the terminal's only telephone to work, searches for someone with an internet connection in order to e-mail one's point of contact to PLEEZE come get her and chats with a nice Kurdish man with a laptop but with no wi-fi connection. "What's it like up in Kurdistan now," one asks.

"Honestly? Right now it's rather peaceful and safe."

Then one goes and asks for help at the KBR office. Although KBR has a bad rep in the US for price gouging, no-bid contracts and violence toward its women employees, here in Iraq they are usually our go-to guys. "Walk outside that door, hang a left, proceed north for 50 feet and there will be a bus stop -- right past the construction equipment, port-a-johns, Humvees and blast walls. You can't miss it. A bus usually comes by every half-hour."

FAQ: "How do you find someplace to sleep at Al Asad?" You get off the bus at Camp Ripper and some really nice Navy medical corpsman on R&R from Husaybah in Al Qaim up near the Syrian border helps you to carry your gear. Then some really nice KBR guy finds you a "can" -- a pre-fab trailer -- to sleep in for what's left of night.

FAQ: "How are things going in Anbar province right now?"
"We have around 60 incidents a month -- snipers, IEDs, caches discovered, etc.," said one Marine operations officer I talked with, "but when you consider there are over 2,000 aggravated assaults per month in Los Angeles alone, that's not too bad. Anbar used to be the most restive province in Iraq, far worse than Baghdad. But now things have really turned around." I sincerely hope that this means that even the powers-that-be in Washington have finally given up on Disaster Capitalism in Iraq -- but I'm not holding my breath. It could simply mean that the Marines are doing a good job even despite of the White House.

FAQ: What's for dinner in the DFAC tonight?" Chicken, ribs, baked potatoes, tacos, pizza and a salad bar. And root beer floats.

FAQ: "If the American economy falls apart and we can no longer afford to keep up the financial drain of maintaining a presence in Iraq, then what will happen?"

"The Iraqis will just have to step up to the plate," replied one officer I met in the chow line. "They will have to pay more. They have oil money that they aren't spending -- and with the price of oil going up, they will have even more oil money. And as the Iraqis do more to pull their country together, Americans will have to do less. As long as Americans keep funding and organizing projects, the Iraqis will continue to act like teenagers who are more than willing to let their parents do their chores for them but once the parents stop doing their chores, they will step up and do those chores themselves."

armored vehicles are working out -- and although their shock absorbers aren't all that good, they give you a rather bumpy ride and they are hard to climb into, the FAQ: "Are the Marines being supplied adequately enough here to allow them to do their work in helping with the reconstruction and also to keep themselves safe from harm?"

"There is nothing that Marines need that they are not getting now. The supply lines are good. The new MRAPMRAP's outside up-armoring is very effective.
"Basically, the Marines and the local sheiks have been working hand in hand in western Iraq for the last year or so and violent incidents are way down. People are out in the streets again. There are goods in the shops. Anbar province seems to have reached critical mass and then suddenly tipped in favor of the rule of law. Basic humanitarian needs are now being met -- water, sewage treatment, electricity, healthcare...." Better not let the neo-cons hear about that! They will all start yelling about how the government is not supposed to be interfering with economic freedom -- except of course for when major corporations want to go on the dole. But I digress.

FAQ: "Will this current calm in Anbar be spreading to the rest of Iraq any time soon?" I couldn't find anybody yet who could answer that question. But, trust me, I'm still asking around.

FAQ: "Why do you think the Marines are so effective in Anbar?"

"Because we are flexible," stated one Marine.

FAQ: "What do you think will happen in Iraq after the next presidential election?"

"One of the things we are trying to do here is to give the next president options...." said another officer I talked with.

FAQ: "What gives you hope?"

Look at it this way. The people of the Middle East like to bargain. It's an integral part of their culture. In most markets and shops, if you simply go in and pay the price that they ask or just walk away, it is almost like an insult to them. Bargaining is part of their life. And western politicians need to understand this and drop their currently unsuccessful "My way or the highway" approach to Middle Eastern affairs if they ever want to be at peace with this region. Bargaining is much more effective here than Shock and Awe.

However, if the Bush-Cheney neo-cons are searching for more arenas to inflict their "Disaster Capitalism" on, then they ARE using the right approach in the Middle East. Their efforts are bringing results. Under the constant barrage of their continued threats, refusal to bargain, mismanagement and military antagonism, the entire Middle East is rapidly falling apart -- and a pre-emptive attack on Iran will be just the thing needed to create TOTAL disaster in the Middle East (mission accomplished!) But if peace and security are the end goals that we want to achieve, then Americans need to learn how to bargain too. And if they learn to do this, then perhaps there may be some hope.

FAQ: "Have we pretty much covered the topic here now concerning what the freak is going on in Iraq?" Hell no. We've barely even scratched the tip of the iceberg.

FAQ: "By the way, how long does it take a country to recover from the effects of Disaster Capitalism?"

Good question. And pertinent too. In Chile, it took approximately 30 years from the time Pinochet introduced his military dictatorship until when he was first charged by a court of law with 94 counts of torture -- but even today, Chile's middle class, which had grown and thrived under Allende's pre-coup new deal, is still marginal and 45 percent of its citizens are now living in poverty. And nobody is quite sure how long it will take for Iraq to recover or for Bush and Cheney to be charged for their crimes. Hopefully it will only take less time than it took Chile -- perhaps ten or 15 years max due to Iraq's access to oil profits. Frankly, however, Iraq isn't the country that I am most worried about right now.

Right now, I just want to know how long it is going to take AMERICA to recover from Bush, Cheney and Friedman's implementation of "The Shock Doctrine".