LectureHop: Hamid Al Bayati
Written by Bwog Staff
So the U.S has been fighting this war for the past few years– you may have heard of it. It’s taken a lot of lives, cost a lot of money, and generally spiraled into a mess of civil war, religious strife, torture, and global disapproval. Listening to Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati recite his government’s policy on Tuesday night during an International Relations Forum (formerly Towards Reconciliation) event, however, I felt blissful waves of revisionism washing over my mind as he allayed our concerns with his Panglossian assertions. The U.S. had no motives but human rights in going to war, he told us. There was a direct link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, who was scheming the take over the world by invading oil-rich states one by one. Saddam either destroyed his WMDs while the UN was investigating or covertly smuggled them out of the country. The majority of Iraqis love America’s actions. Violent insurgents and terrorists are from outside of the country. “It’s a transition period.” Don’t worry– things are better than ever, and “eventually [time frame not provided] Iraq will be stable and secure.”
Was I the crazy one for believing all the dreadful things I’d heard about the Iraq fiasco? Here was the ambassador himself, telling us that no matter what the United States has done “we’re all human, we make mistakes.” Because Abu Ghraib is kind of like that time I forgot my sister’s birthday.
Of course, Bayati is not in control of his phrases and memorized statements, as anyone would be quick to point out. A Google search reveals that the ambassador himself was formerly associated with the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and a die-hard anti-Saddam agitator, which may explain his repeated exhortations against the deposed despot and also why he skirted questions about U.S. criticism of Iranian interventions in the conflict, given that Sciri has an armed guard funded by Iran. No matter! Bayati toed the line, and toed it well, giving us all new insight into what a puppet regime looks like.
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Oh wait–that was actually Hamid al Bayati, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations? Had me fooled for a second there. After all, there were times during the event, hosted by the International Relations Forum Speakers Series, when if you’d closed your eyes, ignored the accent, and imagined Kristol’s self-satisfied muttering in place of Bayati’s dispassionate, tediously diplomatic drawl, you might as well have been listening to the arch neocon and “Daily Show” regular (y’know, from back when there was a “Daily Show”).
The ambassador began his talk by blaming the media for giving the impression that Iraq is on the short rout to hell, and reviewed atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Desipite these, Bayati said that he opposed the invasion from the beginning, although he emphasized that American soldiers are “fighting a noble mission” and deserve our unquestioning support. He cited improvements in the security situation and predicted that 2008 would be Iraq’s year for “reconciliation” before opening the floor to questions.
Your reporter kicked things off by asking him whether the Iraqi government had a long-term plan for diffusing the insurgency; the question went virtually untouched, as it did about a half an hour later when a different questioner asked how the government planned on disarming Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Twice the ambassador categorically rejected the idea that the Americans invaded in order to control Iraq’s oil wealth, and at several points he downplayed the significance of ethnic conflict between the Shii’te, Sunnis and Kurds.
You could accuse him of sugar-coating his country’s abysmal situation, or worse, of being wilfully ignorant to the realities on the ground (which he might be: the ambassador is still wondering what happened to Saddam’s WMDs). But really–what’s a poor diplomat to do? If you had to represent the world’s foremost basket case, you wouldn’t spend an awful lot of time looking up from your talking points either.
Indeed, it would be absurd to slam Bayati for hewing to a strict, George Bush-style party line. As one questioner pointed out, Bayati’s endorsement/carefully worded non-endorsement of American involvement in Iraq (which, if I followed it right, goes a little like this: we never should have invaded although our reasons for invading were more than legitimate, and now that we’re there we should pretty much be able to stay stay as long as we want) implies that the US should be sending troops to every despotic hellhole on Earth. But American policy is really besides the point–in the end, Bayati is answerable only to his war-ravaged constituency, his thoughts on the implementation of American power notwithstanding.
So the only relevant question–and a question that was never addressed or answered–is whether American power and the strict accommodation of our political and military agenda is actually helpful to anyone, never mind the 25 million Iraqis Bayati represents. Although moderator David Eisenbach unsuccessfully pressured Bayati on some of these issues by, for instance, asking him whether or not he thought America’s military presence was actually doing anything to discourage terrorism and instability, one missing piece of context reveals that the ambassador’s aggravating spin didn’t indicate simple obliviousness: Bayati was active in Indict, a British-based organization that was committed to brining Iraqi leaders to justice through the existing international legal framework. Bayati actually did oppose the invasion and the occupation of 2003-04–he isn’t a shill for American militarism, but an advocate for what’s in the best interests of the Iraqi people. Somehow I doubt he likes being able to fill both roles simultaneously.