You have to hand it to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., for having the chutzpah to cite the fiercely anti-American rally that dominated the anniversary of Iraq's fourth year of U.S. occupation as evidence that the troop "surge" is working. As opposed to Lieberman, who continues to act as Bush's overeager lap dog, his masters in the White House knew better than to celebrate at this depressing moment.
After a weekend in which 10 U.S. soldiers were killed—four more were killed on Monday, bringing the total to 45 already in April—and the citizens of once bustling Baghdad cowered in their homes under a U.S.-imposed round-the-clock curfew, President Bush had the good sense for once to say not a word about the glorious "liberation" of Iraq. Instead, as Dana Milbank noted in The Washington Post, the president never mentioned Iraq in a 24-minute speech he gave on the happier subject of illegal immigration, nor did any of his top aides touch on the topic. The White House website ignored Iraq entirely under the heading "LATEST NEWS," instead featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog's romp at the South Lawn's annual Easter egg hunt.
Meanwhile, back in liberated Iraq, the anniversary of Saddam Hussein's overthrow was marked by only one sign of public response: In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, hundreds of thousands gathered to burn American flags and otherwise denounce the United States. "Yes! Yes! Iraq. No! No! America," chanted demonstrators organized by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, reported the BBC. "We were liberated from Saddam. Now we need to be liberated again. Stop the suffering. Americans leave now."
What part of "leave now" doesn't Lieberman get? Speaking of the rally called by Sadr to blast the Americans as Iraq's "archenemy" and to demand "that the occupiers withdraw from our land," Lieberman surreally sought to find a silver lining of support for U.S. policy: "[Sadr] is not calling for a resurgence of sectarian conflict. He's striking a nationalist chord. He's acknowledging that the surge is working," he said.
Ugh. What tortured logic. Ponder that sentence for the sheer mendacity of its optimism, which conveniently ignores the fact that the nationalist chord is a stridently anti-American one. Yes, there were Sunni clerics in the Najaf march and Sadr's followers heeded his call to wrap themselves, literally, in the Iraqi flag while shunning sectarian slogans—but what united them was the demand to end the U.S. occupation, which Lieberman so fervently supports.
So apparently the surge is working ... to unite all Iraqis against us. As Hazim al-Araji, one of Sadr's top Baghdad representatives, described the by-all-accounts massive rally: "There are people here from all different parties and sects. We are all carrying the national flag, which is a symbol of unity. And we are all united in calling for the withdrawal of the Americans."
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What irony: The final refuge of the scoundrels who sold us on this war, Lieberman included, was that although it could not be justified by claims that Saddam had WMD or an alliance with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, the invasion would implant American ideals of democracy on Iraqi soil. What is being implanted instead is a virulent anti-American and anti-Israeli nationalism, Sadr's current cause, competing with a smoldering sectarian civil war, which this multitasking demagogue has also fueled. Yet, spinning like a top, Sen. Lieberman desperately finds solace in a resurgent Iraqi nationalism based on hatred of the United States.
It is true that Sadr has consistently opposed the breakup of Iraq into three ethnicity-based entities, but it is scant comfort that this son of a famed Shiite cleric killed by Saddam Hussein should now, in a sentiment that a recent ABC News poll shows is shared by a majority of his countrymen, consider Iraq's self-proclaimed liberators as evil occupiers. Indeed, the legacy of Bush's invasion is that the tired anti-U.S. nationalism of Saddam, never endorsed by the Shiite majority, now has a virulent energy that it never previously possessed.
The only alternative to this Iraqi nationalism is not the democratic and pro-Israel fantasy of the neoconservatives like Lieberman who talked our clueless president into this irresponsible folly, but rather the subjection of Iraq to a Shiite militancy allied with Iran. Sadr, who is rumored to be living these days in Iran, seems torn between those two futures, perhaps positioning himself to benefit no matter which path proves more popular.
Colin Powell was only partially right when he warned before the U.S. invasion, "If you break it, you own it." What he didn't add is that the locals will hate you for it, and try to kill you every day until you give it back.
Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com and a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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