“Meanwhile, corrupt Iraqi officials are pocketing the pay of thousands of ‘ghost’ policemen and soldiers who exist only on paper, a senior US officer claimed yesterday.” — from this news article
These phantom Iraqi warriors on the American payroll put one in mind of Gogol’s “Dead Souls.” The names of serfs, if still on the official rolls, even though those serfs might be dead, were worth something to Our Mr. Chichikov. Here I cannot remember what the benefit from the government was, but Gogol’s premise required that there be one. And so he travelled around, picaresquely and picturesquely picking up, for a song or a swan song, those “dead souls” (“dushi”) who, though worthless, in Chichikov’s calculated scheming turn out to be worth something.
In the case of Tarbaby Iraq, those non-existent army or police for which you and I, dear reader, are paying help give that large and growing population of corrupt Arabs more and more and more.
We are paying, as part of that $880 billion that has been spent or fully committed to the venture in Iraq. That is more than the cost of all the wars, save World War II, ever fought by the United States. And it is going to aid more corrupt officials, as our money has aided them in Egypt, with Mubarak’s Family-and-Friends Plan; in Jordan, with the Son of Plucky Little King and his mediagenic wife and of course Good Queen Noor and her “act-of-faith” feelgood propaganda on behalf of Islam and the Arab cause; and as it has of course aided the “Palestinians” and their noble, self-abnegating representatives such as Arafat, and Suha Arafat, now of Paris and the stores of the Faubourg St.-Honore, and Mahmoud Abbas, and all the other Slow Jihadists who want that Infidel money to keep on coming.
And nowhere has the waste been greater, nowhere has the American money been thrown up in the air like confetti, than in Iraq. There it has been spent to buy the hearts and minds of so many Iraqis — those “contractors” who never performed, or performed shoddily, but always decamped with incredible sums. Just ask the American soldiers who saw this happen, or who, because they were low down on the totem pole, were forced to endure the spectacle without protesting. It has been spent also on those supposedly true-blue, you-can-really-count-on-them gunga-dinnish “Iraqi” officials and officers, who have been happy to smile at the Americans, happy to give them intense, liquid-brown-eyed looks of intense sincerity, who made up names — hell, how would the Americans ever be able to tell one Arab name from another, how would the Americans be able to tell anything about a place like Iraq, where “war is deception,” and so, come to think of it, is peace?
Dead Souls. American taxpayers are in Iraq so many chichikovs, paying for those dead souls, and a whole lot more. But in the case of Gogol’s book, Chichikov is the one who is doing the fooling. In the case of Iraq, it is we who are being fooled, by all sides in Iraq — the Sunnis (three or four different factions), and the Shi’a (four or five different factions), and even by the Kurds (two factions).
Victory, or more exactly, a satisfactory return on the investment already made, can be achieved, but only if and when Americans decide to leave Iraq. Such a version of victory can be achieved, in a way that only seems paradoxical, if American forces leave Iraq. The American presence holds sectarian strife down, strife that need not be encouraged but should not be suppressed through American efforts. Instead of compromise and sweet reason, those raised up in Islam, in societies suffused with Islam, will naturally show a readiness to resort to violence, and an unwillingness to make real, as opposed to feigned, compromises. Mutual hostility and aggression naturally arises from those raised in societies, and a view of outcomes that is limited to victors and to vanquished. That is where another work of Russian literature comes in: “War and Peace.” For in “War and Peace,” wily General Kutuzov helps bring about the destruction of Napoleon’s Grande Armee during the late fall and early winter of 1812, not by engaging his troops in major combat, but by refusing to do so, by falling back, by even abandoning Moscow, and then setting fire to Moscow, so that the natural forces, the forces of “General Winter” that Napoleon could not possibly defeat, could help to rout the French troops and the Prussian troops. They were insufficiently prepared to survive a Russian winter and discovered that Moscow was not a refuge, but an empty, fire-ravaged place.
And it is exactly the same strategy — exploiting the sectarian and ethnic hostilities that are as unavoidable, as “natural” as the severe Russian winter that helped defeat Napoleon, and of which our generals, and civilian leaders, ought to be taking full advantage. What the Americans are doing now in Iraq is exactly the opposite, for they are attempting to dampen all signs of sectarian and ethnic strife. They are behaving in a way that is akin to a counterfactual situation, in which General Kutuzov, back in 1812, instead of falling back from Moscow, had stayed to hand out fur coats and Russian caps to the invading soldiers of the Grande Armee.
Who would have thought that Russian literature would be of such help in elucidating the problems of Tarbaby Iraq? We began with the relevance of Gogol’s “Dead Souls” to the phantom soldiers being paid real salaries by the Americans, and ended with Kutuzov in the “war” chapters of Tolstoy”s “War and Peace.” Perhaps there is something else to be found, say, in Pushkin, to explain the failures of policy. Yes, I”ve thought of it just now, but it is not nearly as famous as either “Dead Souls” or “War and Peace.” It’s a little couplet, mocking some well-known officious highranking fool, a certain Prince Dunduk, who is described as being admitted to the “Akademiya Nauk” (Academy of Sciences). Unfortunately, the couplet loses a lot in translation. But you get Pushkin’s point and, I hope, mine.