Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oscar Arias in Iraq

Peace is not something you reach or don't reach. Peace is a process. It's an outlook, a way to live. You can never say that peace is lost, or that hopes for peace are lost. Peace is always waiting for us. Dialogue is the only way to resolve problems. Sooner or later, even Nicaraguans recognize that.
---Oscar Arias, 1987 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, quoted in Blood of Brothers, by Stephen Kinzer

President Oscar Arias, showing off how SOME hot chics go for the skinny nerd-type

During the 1980s, Nicaragua was torn by a vicious war. The Contra armies were not strong enough to overthrow the Sandinista government, but were too strong to be destroyed. President Ronald Reagan and his administration were both completely obsessed with and wholly ignorant of the people, history, culture, and current happenings in Nicaragua. William Casey, Reagan's CIA director, in his Congressional testimony could not even pronounce "Nicaragua,' calling it 'Nicawawa.' Oliver North, is his televised testimony to Congress, predicted that if the Sandinista government was not overthrown, 'you will see democracy perish in the rest of Central America, a flood of refugees crossing the American borders, and potentially the construction of a Berlin-type wall across the Rio Grande to keep people out...' Which is especially ironic, given that the Sandista government was not overthrown, none of Mr. North's parade of horribles came to pass, and yet we are still building a 'Berlin-type wall' along the US-Mexican border.

Despite millions of legal funding from Congress, and untold millions more of illegal funding for the Contra armies--from Saudia Arabia, cocaine trafficking, arms sales and shipments to Iran, US military 'manuevers' in Hondouras for the sole purpose of constructing air fields and supply bases for the Contras, etc--the combination of pressure from Lawrence Walsh's Iran-Contra Investigation and Congress's 1988 refusal to extend more US aid finally sapped the Nicaraguan Democratic Front (FDN)'s ability to fight. The cut off of aid to the Contras finally allowed Costa Rican President Oscar Arias's peace process, with the nominal heads of state of Honduras, Guatamala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to move forward. While the goal of the process would be the removal of the Sandanista Commandantes from power, the Reagan and Bush administrations did all they could to prevent the agreement from suceeding. Nevertheless, the Sandanistas adhered to the agreement, signing a peace treaty with the FDN on March 23, 1988, ending the war. Contrary to American delusions, on February 25 1990 Nicaragua staged its first fair and free elections in history, and Violeta Chamorro became President.

And President George HW Bush stopped caring about Nicaragua, not even engaging in a pretense of rebuilding what America had destroyed, and completed the cover up of the Iran-Contra Scandal by pardoning any and all who were involved.

While reasonable minds can differ as to whether the Nicaraguans have recognized that dialogue is the only way to resolve problems, and that (in the words of Mr. Arias) peace is an outlook, a way to live--no one can say Americans have recognized that simple truth.

Why do Americans refuse to learn? During a debate of the 1980 GOP candidates for President, the rough dozen hopefuls were asked what was their biggest regret. For the most part, the candidates all mouthed the usual platitudes about not looking back. However, Illinois Congressman John Anderson paused briefly, and said that the one vote he regretted the most was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the Johnson Administration to escalate the Vietnam War. President Johnson had claimed--falsely--that on August 4, 1964, two US destroyers had been under attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

While Rep. Anderson learned something (so he said), what were the lessons America learned from the Vietnam War? That peace is a process, waiting for us? Not exactly. Forty years later, another White House insisted another backward, undeveloped nation on the other side of the planet posed a serious threat, telling the American people a documented 935 lies about how we needed to act, so the smoking gun would not be in the form of a mushroom cloud.

General David Petraeus, watching the clock, waiting to see if the gains from the 'surge' will stay in place--at least until he transistions authority over to General Odierno

And still, after five years of war, seemingly everyone not named General Petraeus are falling all over themselves, rejoicing in the success of the 'Surge,' despite the fact that 'success' in Iraq remains illusionary. Life in Iraq may better today than it was a year ago, but for both Americans and Iraqis, we are still worse off than before the March 2003 American invasion. There are more American troops in Iraq today, than were estimated by General Shinseki as necessary in post war Iraq--a number that Paul Wolfowitz called 'far off the mark.' Currently, there are sixty-one American bases and approximately 250 smaller outposts and facilities throughout Iraq. To give you an idea of scale, Victory Base Complex, which is the headquarters for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, is home to over 50,000 people--and that's just one base.

For Iraqis, life remains grim. In a nation with an estimated population of 28,221,180 (CIA estimate, July 2008), the best estimate death toll is 1,220,580 Iraqis. To that number, there are an estimated two million refugees who have fled Iraq, and another three million who are 'displaced' inside the country. As a percentage of the population, a staggering 22% of Iraqis have either been killed or driven from their homes. Using an American population base of 303,824,640 (CIA estimate, July 2008), 22% Americans would mean roughly 66.8 million Americans killed or displaced. That's equal to the entire populations of California, Texas, and half of New York: the three most populous American states.

By any objective measure, the qualitity of life for Iraqis is still worse than it was prior to the invasion. Iraqi streets are still more dangerous than they were under Sadam Hussein: at least 500 Iraqi civilians a month are dying violent deaths. Production of potable water, electricty, and oil are still below the pre-invasion levels of an Iraq crippled from ten years of sanctions. The Maliki government is still profound Shiite partisans, refusing to take even basic steps to reunite the country. The goals of allocation of oil revenues and reintegration of Sunnis into the government remain largely ignored, despite the 'breathing space' created by American troops.

Grace Kelly, who has nothing to do with this note--but she is way better looking than Oliver North, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Casey combined, even on their best days

In fact, the situation in Iraq is arguably worse today, after the surge: the gains in pacification of Iraqi streets have been at the expense of the central government. When America turned over 'Iraqi control' of neighborhoods, the turnover was to local Sunni forces. For all practical purposes, those troops are autonomous of the Maliki government. If the Shiite dominated Parliament continues refusing to build an Iraq for all its peoples, the Sunni minority will be in an even stronger position to reignite the civil war.

Oscar Arias, I am sure, would still say that peace in Iraq is still waiting for us, and that hope for peace is not lost. I want to share his confidence.

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