Nov

27

LectureHop: Hamid Al Bayati

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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.

KER

Lecture Hop: William Kristol Speaks at Lerner

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.

-Armin Rosen

 

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9 Comments

  1. Panglossian?

    Panglossian assertions? really?

    Let's not forget the international sanctions directed towards the Iraqi regime because of almost a decade of evading UN weapons inspectors and threatening cooperative Iraqi scientists. Let's not forget the ineptness of the Clinton Administration by bombing a few sites and not curbing the development of weapons programs.

    Let's not forget Kofi Annan's Oil-For-Food Scandal.

    Let's not forget that Saddam was a cruel dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons and made parents watch their children get executed.

    • lets not forget  

      indeed. the existence of the oil-for-food scandal clearly proves that, in fact, the ambassador's assertions were not panglossian. though poster #1 may have appeared to list a bunch of non sequitors, the argument is logically correct. after all, if we were in the best of all possible worlds, the oil-for-food scandal would not have happened. the ambassador, whatever other delusious he put forth, did not assert that there was no such thing as the oil-for-food scandal. therefore the ambassador did not assert that we live in the best of all possible worlds, therefore his assertions were not panglossian. q.e.d. kulawik for the win!

    • Ineptness?  

      Really? The Clinton administration was inept for not starting a civil war in Iraq I guess. How blind could Bill be, in not seeing Saddam's WMDs and going after them? Clearly Saddam hid them well in the interim. And I guess the UN is inept too, right. I mean, how shitty of them to even bother trying with Peacekeeping operations, and trying to stabilize countries that we don't give a shit about.

      Fucking dumbass right wingers

  2. why

    why does armin rosin HAVE to get a word in here after a perfectly good lecture hop has already been written?

  3. 9/11 and saddam  

    You got it wrong. He did not link 9/11 to Saddam. He linked Saddam to terrorism, but not 9/11. In fact, he stated flatly that he was not accusing Hussein of being involved with 9/11. Good reporting!

    • KER  

      Hi,
      I will stand by my comment about him linking 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, since he repeatedly said that 9/11 was the reason the U.S. launched a pre-emptive strike on Iraq and made numerous comments to that effect. When someone asked him about the link directly, he backtracked, but in his other statements he said otherwise, as you must recall.

      • number six  

        I'm sure you probably aren't still returning to this page to look for my response, so I apologize for not checking back soon enough. But, I'll respond anyway.

        I think there's a huge distinction you're missing. On the one hand, there is the idea of linking 9/11 and Saddam, as in Hussein helped execute it or helped the al Qaida terrorists who did it. On the other hand, there's the idea of terrorism in a post-9/11 world, and that states who sponsor or support terrorists should be held accountable.

        Now, let's say you're right, and that the ambassador obfuscated by carelessly mentioning 9/11 and Iraq together, when he meant to suggest what I just wrote. It was pretty obvious to me what he meant, especially if you reflect on the entire event and not just his initial comments (which were incidentally not confusing to me either, I thought he was just linking Iraq to terror generally). Anyway, even if you're right, isn't it irresponsible to characterize his words as, "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."

        If you agree he backtracked, then make that clear in your report. Instead, you sought to make him look like a reckless neocon.

        By the way, the second part of your quote is also misleading. You make it seem that he was seeking to invade oil-rich countries, according to the ambassador, before the war. It was clear, though, that he was referring to Saddam circa 1990/1991, when he went into Kuwait and certainly had a desire to challenge the Saudis.

  4. Eric Chen

    Depends if you're a liberal. If you're a liberal, then you see 9/11 as symptomatic of a larger trend. If you're not a liberal, then you view the event in isolation. Throughout the 90s, Osama bin Laden actually cited the Western intervention in Iraq as a main justification of his terrorist movement. From a liberal standpoint, without solving our role in Iraq, we couldn't solve the terrorist phenomenon that expressed itself on 9/11.

    A good summary of President Bush Jr's liberal approach to the War on Terror:
    Among the momentous effects of Al-Qaeda's violent strikes against the United States on September 11, 2001, was a re-orientation of American policy toward the Middle East. The new paradigm adopted in Washington viewed much of the world as being divided into opponents versus supporters of terrorism. Furthermore, the roots of terrorism were ascribed to Mideast regimes that caused social and economic failures while pursuing the interests of small groups of ruling elites.

    Who knew that George Bush Jr was a closet liberal? Well, 9/11 brought out his inner liberal with a passion.

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