Tomgram: CSI Iraq

The Corpse on the Gurney

The “Success” Mantra in Iraq


By Tom Engelhardt

The other day, as we reached the first anniversary of the President’s announcement of his “surge” strategy, his “new way forward” in Iraq, I found myself thinking about the earliest paid book-editing work I ever did. An editor at a San Francisco textbook publisher hired me to “doctor” god-awful texts designed for audiences of captive kids. Each of these “books” was not only in a woeful state of disrepair, but essentially D.O.A. I was nonetheless supposed to do a lively rewrite of the mess and add seductive “sidebars”; another technician was then simplified the language to “grade level” and a designer provided a flashy layout and look. Zap! Pow! Kebang!

During the years that I freelanced for that company in the early 1970s, an image of what I was doing formed in my mind — and it suddenly came back to me this week. I used to describe it this way:

The little group of us — rewriter, grade-level reducer, designer — would be summoned to the publisher’s office. There, our brave band of technicians would be ushered into a room in which there would be nothing but a gurney with a corpse on it in a state of advanced decomposition. The publisher’s representative would then issue a simple request: Make it look like it can get up and walk away.

And the truth was: that corpse of a book would be almost lifelike when we were done with it, but one thing was guaranteed — it would never actually get up and walk away.

That was in another century and a minor matter of bad books that no one wanted to call by their rightful name. But that image came to mind again more than three decades later because it’s hard not to think of America’s Iraq in similar terms. Only this week, Abdul Qadir, the Iraqi defense minister, announced that “his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018.” Pentagon officials, reported Thom Shanker of the New York Times, expressed no surprise at these dismal post-surge projections, although they were “even less optimistic than those [Qadir] made last year.”

According to this guesstimate then, the U.S. military occupation of Iraq won’t end for, minimally, another ten years. President Bush confirmed this on his recent Mideast jaunt when, in response to a journalist’s question, he said that the U.S. stay in Iraq “could easily be” another decade or more.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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