18 MARCH 2006, Page 67

Lethal combination


If I told you I was skiing with a friend 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, Harvard professor, writer, economist, exambassador to India during the Kennedy administration, and now, at 97 years of age, semi-retired 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 had been 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, the other 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 would 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 20 March 2003, and in two years it will be worse than it is now.’ What appalled me, however, was not his doomsday scenario 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 Shiites and Sunnis. Talk about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. The other way round, rather. Bush and the neocon gang shot so straight that they have turned Iran into the most important power broker 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 Kristols, Frums, Podhoretzes and all the rest who cheerled George W. and Tony down the Swanee.

All it needed was a bit of history. One book, in fact, Winston’s Folly, by Christopher Catherwood, would have done the trick. People in the know know there are no Iraqis. Only Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. You’d think some young whippersnapper would have told them so. What I’d like to know is how it is possible that George Bush senior kept out of harm’s way in the first Gulf war, but his son made sure he will go down in history for leading the United States in the greatest political blunder ever. 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. Oh, yes, I almost forgot. There was another good thing that came about because of the first Gulf war. The Kuwaiti ruling family established the world’s speed record in getting the hell out and sprinting all the way to Saudi. 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 them 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 a pipedream. As Simon Jenkins wrote, ‘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, they haven’t got a chance.’ Give a date for withdrawal, and stick to it, Mr President. Then throw a bash at the White House advertised as the bash to end all bashes. Have only neocons. They are a terrible-looking bunch, so I’d get off the wagon, if I were you. Make sure there is plenty to eat because of John (four dinners) Podhoretz. Then, as midnight strikes, have Big Julie from Chicago come in and do his thing. Rataatatatattatat ... You know what I mean. It’s the only chance you have to go up in the polls.