If I told you I was skiing with a friend up in the Swiss Alps last week, and my friend had been skiing in Iraq two days before that, you’d probably think I’d been smoking exotic cheroots. But you’d be wrong. Peter Galbraith is the son of Ken Galbraith, the Harvard professor, writer, economist, ex-ambassador to India during the Kennedy administration, and now, at 97 years of age, semiretired from the political wars. His son Peter is also an ex-ambassador—he was Uncle Sam’s man in Croatia during the early nineties—now lectures at the War College, and did stints with ABC in Iraq during the start of the great blunder. Peter Galbraith’s great love, however, has been the Kurds, those ancient people without a country, and his involvement with them has been going on for more than 30 years.
Actually, Peter was cross-country skiing in Kurdistan and was quite funny in describing how the Turks at the Iraqi border were mystified by the large gunnysack carrying his skis, but after a few cigarette packs exchanged hands, the all-clear was cheerfully given. Cross-country skiing in Iraq can be dangerous, he told me. No one shoots at you, not in Kurdistan, but the place is full of mines, so one just sticks to the tracks and hopes for the best. I told him that I, too, love skiing cross country, but I prefer the Swiss Alps anytime.
Peter’s two close Kurdish friends are rather well-placed. One is president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and the other is the prime minister of Kurdistan, Barzani. Needless to say, his access is the envy of journalists throughout that miserable part of the world.
Galbraith is not optimistic about Iraq. Originally he was for the war but quickly saw the dark at the end of the tunnel. When I asked him what the situation will be like two years from now, he answered in two words: much worse. “As of now we are far worse off than we were before March 20, 2003, and in two years it will be worse than it is now.” What appalled me, however, was not his doomsday scenario—after all, when we started this magazine, we knew that the war was unwinnable—but what he told me about the men who led us into this disaster.
According to him, three months before the shooting started, President Bush did not know the difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis. Talk about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. The other way round, rather. Bush and the neocon gang shot so straight, they have turned Iran into the most important powerbroker in the region. Iran’s enemies, the Taliban and Saddam, have been defeated by American military might, and those ungrateful mullahs haven’t even bothered to thank the Bushes, Kristols, Frums, and the rest of the bums who cheered us down Swanee.
All that was needed was History 101. First lesson: there are no Iraqis. Only Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. You’d think some young whippersnapper would have told Bush so. But as we all now know, this administration’s mantra is “we don’t want to know.” Galbraith thinks that George W. is an intelligent man but ignorant and arrogant—a lethal combination where the game of nations is concerned.
The only good news is the Kurds. They are sitting pretty right now, waiting to see what their “fellow” Iraqis will do. If they don’t get a good deal in Baghdad, it’s adios amigos. They have a strong and disciplined army, are united, and can resist invasion. If they do get what they want, so much the better.
Given the fact that the neocons and their acolytes have led us into a mess with horrendous consequences, I would not be surprised to see some of those bums try to put the blame elsewhere. The military will most likely be their first target. (Poor Tommy Franks will carry the neocon can for sure.) Rumsfeld and Cheney are already toast, and Wolfowitz jumped while the jumping was good. Along with the rats.
So what can be done to lessen the damage? Easy. Leave the field now. Iraq is already fighting a civil war, and the strongest militias will prevail. The Iraqi army is an illusion. Its loyalty is a mirage. Treating the Iraqi army as the cement that will glue the country together is as unreal as a pipedream. Left to its own devices the present Iraqi government has a slight chance of holding the country together. Imprisoned in its green zones as puppets of the Pentagon, it hasn’t got a chance. Give a date for withdrawal, and stick to it, George. Then give a cocktail party for the neocons and do to them what they did to your administration. It’s the best advice I can give you.
April 10, 2006 Issue