Saturday, August 06, 2005

All You Need is Cash: An Indecent Proposal for U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq by Ron Garmon

A little bit of Lincoln can’t park the car/Washington and he, don’t go too far/Jefferson is good, played at the track/If you think you gonna bring some big bitch back/Them dead presidents, them dead presidents/I ain’t broke but I’m badly bent/Everybody loves them dead presidents .
“Dead Presidents,” Willie Dixon/Billy Emerson

When you’re losing a war, some weeks are worse than others. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives sought last month to end many days of speculation (fueled by Matt Drudge and the sheer pull of events) that U.S. forces might soon pull out of Iraq. Spiking this peace craze, the chamber went 291-137 for the idea that “[c]alls for an early withdrawal embolden the terrorists and undermine the morale” of coalition forces. Calls by Democrats for the president to establish a “benchmark” for success in the war were rejected.

For the Bush administration, displays of party-line atavism are as good as it gets. An Army mental health study finds 54 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq describe overall morale as “low,” with only 55 percent of National Guard personnel having “real confidence” their units can do their jobs at all. Vice-President Dick Cheney now decides “We cannot predict the length or the course of the War on Terror,” Karl Rove continues to baste over his part in Plamegate and Iraqi government officials head to Iran to say nice things about the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Even the reappearance of a Cold War revenant like ’60s defector Charles Robert Jenkins lends a theremin note to recent war news. A native of Rich Square, North Carolina, then-Army sergeant Jenkins reveals he abandoned a 1965 patrol he was leading in the Korean DMZ for fear he might be sent to fight in Vietnam. He later surfaced in North Korean propaganda films.

Then there’s the cost in dollars. On July 17th, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Congressional Budget Office projections for future operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could top $450 billion over the next four years. Add the $350 billion already spent, and the War on Terror becomes the most expensive military adventure in U.S. history. The Pentagon estimates the “burn rate” (operating costs of the war) in the Middle East comes to about $5.6 billion a month for Fiscal Year 2005.

Though the peace boomlet melted like a sno-cone on Slauson blvd., the brief gabble of withdrawal has whetted public appetites. Though Time and Newsweek may worry about U.S. “credibility,” polls indicate most Americans are sick of the war, terrorism, exhortations to “stay the course.” We’re being told exit is impossible without endless commitment of lives and resources. Many liberals, their feelings thus massaged, are left with the uneasy sensation that withdrawal from Iraq can’t help but be messy and prolonged.

Nonsense. I have a plan for total U.S. departure from Iraq by Labor Day ’05 with minimal expense and effort. We simply use an unorthodox variation on “shock and awe,” the military doctrine that was supposed to bring quick victory in the first place. We buy our way out.

Worth Its Weight

A single piece of U.S. paper currency of any denomination weighs exactly one gram. Since there are 454 grams to a pound, it follows that a ton of one-hundred dollar bills weighs 2,202.6 pounds. This ton (U.S. short) of century notes comes to the imposing sum of $99,998,040 or close to the figure required to shoot an A-movie in Vancouver, given defray of below-the-line cost by a German bank that once dealt in pre-owned gold teeth. This kind of money ain’t hay, but I propose we treat it as such.

Monthly expenditure for the Iraq war, as we know, comes to $5.6 billion. Expressed as unwrapped, unpackaged bulk, the August and September tabs come in at 103 million pieces of Ben Franklin paper weighing over 123.4 tons. Congress voted the sum back in February, turning its final disposition over to the president. Most individual Americans can scarcely conceive of such a haul except as a vast, intimidating mass, awesome in power and potential. From here on, it’s a matter of simple logistics.

“Operation Magic Christian” takes its name from The Magic Christian by the late Terry Southern. In the novel, billionaire Guy Grand uses his vast wealth to purchase small-scale chaos and anarchy for his own amusement. The philosophical point he grandly makes, with idiotic joy in endless repetition, is that the sight of raw cash makes civilized people go berserk. If there’s an argument against this commonplace observation, human inquiry has yet to uncover it. It’s revealing to note human inquiry hasn’t seriously tried.

Once underway, “Magic Christian” will, in the most direct manner, bribe the Iraqi people to look the other way as we leave. The president announces the plan by name on prime-time TV, promising an unspecified quick end to the war and indemnities to all Iraqis. As delirious Americans party in the streets, carefully leaked news of immense sums being assembled at various Federal Reserve banks will draw the news media, who will then broadcast hours of inane speculation, with confusion slowly adding up in the mind of global humanity to a conviction that Big Things are Doing. Indeed, the raw facts fed to the American pundit class will create a great deal of misdirection independent of official efforts. So much the better for the surprise.

On the ground in Iraq, all operations should be suspended once the 123-ton package is assembled, our efforts geared instead to frantic transport scheduling for the Big Bug-Out, to begin no later than 8 a.m. (GMT +4 hours), August 30. Incessant media bombardment (in Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Behdini, Chaldean, Elkoosh, and Urmi) will herald the end of the war and an imminent miracle from Heaven. Heavy use of the following verses from the Koran – “Of what do they ask one other?/About the great event/About which they differ?/Nay! They shall soon come to know/Nay! Nay! They shall soon know” (“The Great Event,” 78.1-5) – can’t help but bring in the fundamentalist trade, or at least make them wonder what the hell is going on.

Iraqis, friend and foe, may tremble or scoff, but the physical reality of millions of hundred dollar bills shoveled by U.S. personnel out of transport planes over major population centers will put a temporary end to business-as-filthy-usual in Iraq as nothing else can. Packets of cash money peeled and scattered from helicopters in selected rural areas will buy, if not goodwill, then at least temporary puzzlement. A ton or two scattered along the Syrian border will halt any movement of insurgent forces between the two countries. Wads of bills and promises of one-way tickets to the States thrust at useful Iraqis will buy all the local cooperation we need for a high-speed exit from the former Mesopotamia.

The yearly income of the average Iraqi ranges from $450 to $610. Imagine a war-battered, poverty-mired, heavily oppressed people so hopeless of peace they blow themselves up in car bombs attempting to kill us or our collaborators. In a country where U.S. promises of justice and self-determination mean something humbler than mud, the effect of one cryptic American promise suddenly made glorious good from the sky can’t help but induce total paralysis in anyone still willing to point a gun at us. No one fights, or even argues with, free money.

By the time U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad walks, flag triangled in arm, out of the terminal at Baghdad Airport for the Last Plane To Georgetown, Magic Christian will be disseminating the final billion from tarmac and air. Flares and noisemakers should accompany the air-dropped bankroll on its way down. As notes flutter into raking fingers, the city will think a new age of miracles has dawned and Allah is truly merciful. They will be correct.

The idea here is to raise such a hell-storm of confusion, joy, riot, and hysteria in Iraq’s ancient capital as to foredoom and fuck up any last effort to attack us on our way out. A bright blizzard of greenbacks on the night of our departure is a suitably huge gesture, as well as a nice tip for our use of the place. And why not? It’s only money and a truly generous America might go the whole remaining appropriation for the rest of the fiscal year ending in March. But we’re traditionally a flinty-hearted republic and there’s probably not enough time left to distribute that much cash.

Nor is the disbursement the only thing we can do to ensure mass perplexity. On our way home, we can empty jail cells in Iraq, Gitmo, Qatar, and everywhere else of Iraqi nationals we put there. This includes every top Baathist political leader still caged, including Saddam Hussein. On the evening of the Baghdad payout, one of the last U.S. cars out of the Green Zone will take a spruced-up Saddam to some obscure street corner in downtown Baghdad and, after taking care to slip him a four-way hit of blotter acid, let him go. The remaining hour or so of his life, spent trudging the streets of his former capital with an unbearably large wad of Looney Tunes discharging in his brain, will generate wonder and legend, likewise the sight of his bullet-studded corpse later on.

Do It Now

Needless to say, the Bug-Out component of Magic Christian needs to be accomplished with haste, much of it unseemly. The need to lift out mega-tonnages of personnel and material quickly forces a choice in favor of personnel, so hundreds of thousands of coalition citizens, uniformed and otherwise, will crowd every mode of transport out of the country. This will excite curiosity and wild talk in the days running up to Payoff Weekend, which is all to our advantage. Should any hint of the operation become public knowledge in Iraq, so much the better. No one will believe in American money from the sky until they see it.

But what of our coalition allies? They have no other choice but to ride the human wave out. On the plus side, the Anglo half of the Anglo-American effort has the institutional experience of Dunkirk to add to ours of First Bull Run and the fall of Saigon. The forces of both nations are just as capable of organizing an effective pell-mell flight as heroic victory and possibly better. To say otherwise would be a grave insult to our guys and girls in uniform. I suppose we’re stuck taking most of the Iraqi government, along with their dependents, but I doubt men like Ahmed Chalabi and Jalal al-Talibani will crowd the welfare rolls here at home. Corporations such as Halliburton should, ideally, be left to cut their own deals with whoever eventually seizes power, even a miraculously alive and mind-expanded Saddam.

Once started, the Bug-Out will take on its own momentum, until the circle of American presence in the suddenly happy land closes to a dot and disappears. The wind-up of Magic Christian will be frenzied, improvised but certainly not tragic for any but the thousands of local finks and collaborators stampeding the runway in the final moments, vainly trying to flee oncoming justice. Let us hope, as U.S. boots leave Iraqi dust forever and the ambassador’s aircraft cuts an elegant hole through the still-descending fog of currency, our last act of selfless generosity inspires feelings of forbearance toward these wayward people in the hearts of their countrymen.

Of objections to Magic Christian as outlined, I can think of two. The first is rational and venal enough: What’s to insure the Brobdingnagian bribe makes it to dispersal in one piece? Why, nothing more than the bald fact that no one soldier or group of them can hope to move any considerable part into their own pockets without certainty of detection and Leavenworth. That said, we should encourage our boys and girls to take extra double handfuls of the stuff as informal bounty for moving the package along. A single battalion of 600 U.S. Rangers doing their duty under the sharp eyes of as many Treasury officials would get the job done from count to weigh-in to dispersal and greatly cut down the amount of anticipated leakage.

The second is the yelp from Great Power enthusiasts at home that America will have traded its global status for an irresponsible practical joke. This objection is largely theological in nature and easily disposed of. Yes, we did, but the joke is glorious and America’s superpower role very nearly over. A bona-fide, globe-girdling, old-school superpower would not be stuck in another unwinnable ground war in Asia thirty years after Vietnam. Such an über-nation wouldn’t make threats against Iraq’s neighbors the world knows it can’t honor. A truly militarized and truculent America would’ve reinstated the draft long ago. The post-9/11 U.S.A. has acquired a terminal case of an old Dixie malady known as “letting your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash.” We aren’t fooling anybody anymore.

I assure these nervous folk that America will come out of Magic Christian with greatly enhanced prestige and some of her old reputation back. The global truism that “Americans think money can buy anything” will enter the eternal corpus of self-evident wisdom, thus giving humanity the agreeable feeling of having an old maxim proved correct and making everyone more amenable to U.S. commercial exploitation than ever. The war will be over and the lucrative work of rebuilding what’s destroyed will have begun. The scattering of largess is the act of a benevolent hegemon rather than a despot.

Considering a trillion-dollar deficit and the shrunken dollar, Magic Christian is a stone bargain. It’s a free lunch, tickets to the circus, buying the house a round at closing time, a smiling loser paying off an absurd bet and the open-handed sportsmanship for which we think we’re justly famous. I submit this plan to the public, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President George W. Bush with an earnest heart and every faith in its success.

Run in L.A. City Beat, 8-4-05

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