Our Subprime War

Whenever I read or hear about the success of the surge, I substitute the phrase bribes to the tribes. Those four little words make a world of difference, and they go back a long way — viz. “Protection Payments” made to Tribes in Ottoman Gaza (1519-1582) — but you don’t see them often enough in news accounts of the Iraq war.
Nor do you hear the President With His Head Up His Ass boasting about our bribes to the tribes. He brags instead, as he did the other day, about “the surge of forces.” Even a lengthy report that broke the news of the new Army operations manual on counterinsurgency, revised after the “hard-won lessons” of Afghanistan and Iraq, fails to mention bribery. It speaks instead about the importance of street patrols.
Maybe when the revised operations manual is made public later this month, we’ll see the inclusion of a new doctrinal tactic to formalize what has already happened: “Bring lotsa cash to buy off the enemy, especially in ten-million-dollar bricks.”
(Hmmm, thanks to Fred Kaplan at Slate, I see that the manual has already been posted in a huge pdf file by Secrecy News. Downloading the 314-page manual– it’s 28 MB — is guaranteed to freeze your browser for a while. But I managed, and a quick glance through the pages indicates that bribing insurgents is not mentioned anywhere.)
A weapons analyst I know can’t understand why “the press lays off all this stuff. It scrubs everything clean, sanitizes it, and presents it in the best possible light. If this were a Democratic president overseeing strategy, he would be ripped apart. We have a real scandal. It’s not Whitewater. It’s something at the highest level of national security.”
In fairness, I have to point out that it’s not as if bribes to the tribes have gone unnoticed. Not too long ago, the BBC reported, as did others, that the payoffs have made al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri very unhappy. (Scroll way down.) And they were mentioned in passing only yesterday by NYT reporter Alissa J. Rubin. She noted that groups paid by the American military “to fight Islamic extremists” in Iraq’s Anbar Province “have mostly seemed to be cooperating,” although recently “their behavior has been [um] problematic.”
Meaning, of course, that bribes notwithstanding they’d rather put their own interests ahead of ours and others’. Now ain’t that a surprise.

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