Naked City

War Drums: 'Let Freedom Reign!'

That was the effusion Dubya wrote (with a big black Sharpie) to Condoleezza Rice in response to her note saying that "sovereignty" over Iraq had been duly (and secretly) transferred from the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority to the U.S.-appointed interim Iraqi government. A "private" note – likely a misquote of "Let freedom ring!" – so immediately leaked confirms the always dual nature of the war. There's the literal version, going so badly that the new Iraqi client regime had to be installed in secret to dodge potential insurgent attacks intended to wreck it. And there's the PR version, in which the "liberation" is proceeding according to the U.S. presidential campaign schedule. Inconveniently, while proconsul Paul Bremer fled Baghdad in ignominy, he somehow neglected to take with him 140,000 troops left behind to continue the "ended" occupation. All that history is whitewashed by a Pollyannish sticky note from the Prez.

And not for the first time. Bremer was replaced by "Ambassador" John Negroponte, most notorious for his covert supervision of Ronald Reagan's ruthless Contra guerrilla campaign against the Nicaraguan government during his 1981-1985 tenure as ambassador to Honduras. "Military aid" to the Honduran regime jumped from $5 million annually to $100 million (small change by Iraq standards), and the World Court condemned U.S. actions – especially the U.S.-sponsored Contra assaults on "soft" Nicaraguan targets (that is, terrorism against unprotected civilians) – as violating international law. That, too, seems like small change by current neo-Reaganesque standards. Replacing Bremer's absolute authority, Negroponte is supposed to "persuade" the new Iraqi government to see the wisdom of U.S. priorities. Should troops and dollars not suffice, perhaps he can adapt the battle-tested Honduran methods developed at Fort Bennings' School of the Americas.

Bush's exchange with Condi took place at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization conference in Istanbul, where the U.S. and Great Britain (remember Tony "Baghdad" Blair?) persuaded NATO allies to pick up some security training responsibilities for the new Iraqi government. The "Coalition" leadership is hoping for more, but Germany and France are balking at any additional Western military presence on the ground in Iraq.

On the actual battlefields, both U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties continue to mount, and the Pentagon is calling up (involuntarily) 5,600 additional reserves to take the place of soldiers held fast in Iraq and Afghanistan. The State Department finally admitted that since the war began, incidents of terrorism have increased all over the world – even after excluding any acts of violence in Iraq itself, because those are by "combatants." The terms are malleable, of course, when the need arises. Freedom reigns.

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