September 16, 2003
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS....Jonathan Gradowski points out an oddity about our mission to the UN: the French are pushing for an ultra-fast transfer of civilian power and one of their chief supporters is good old Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile.
Jonathan has some thoughts on this, none of them comforting. I can't really makes heads or tails of this situation, aside from the fact that Chalabi is obviously unhappy that he lost out in the internal administration power struggle over who would control postwar Iraq, and figures this is now his best chance to get back in the game.
He better be careful, though. Maybe he figures he has nothing to lose at this point, but if he has any allies left among the administration's hawks at all, buddying up with the French is probably a fast way to lose them.
Posted by Kevin Drum at September 16, 2003 04:54 PM
Does anybody remember Ngo Dinh Diem?
I know I probably haven't followed the intricacies of the (to me, at least) increasingly complex situation in "post-war" Iraq. But one thing I truly don't fathom is: why doesn't the administration back "the ultra-fast transfer of power" idea to the hilt. Or, alternatively, wouldn't it figure they'd at least be debating the merits of such a plan internally? Does anyone suppose such a debate is ongoing? I'm thinking this would make for the ideal exit strategy for the U.S. - especially if it allowed the U.S. to immediately replace 20,000 GI's with troops from Europe, the Islamic world, or elsewhere. I mean, even from a purely political standpoint, wouldn't a massive reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq (by, say, next October) only benefit the president's reelection chances.
Am I the only person who thinks Rule #1 in finding a new ruler is to *not* pick the guy who's been chomping at the bit to get control of the country for over a decade?
It's one thing for someone to work hard to liberate his country of origin. It's another thing entirely if that liberation is only an incidental side effect of deposing the current ruler and gaining power.
Did Washington foment rebellion from the sidelines for a decade before the Revolutionary War, positioning himself as the only possible candidate for the presidency?
P.B. Alameida writes: "why doesn't the administration back "the ultra-fast transfer of power" idea to the hilt"
Isn't that pretty much what we tried in Afghanistan? One Loya Jirga to appoint the mayor of Kabul, then we lose interest, short them on promised funds, and the next thing you know, the Taliban is resurgent.
Try this for an explanation. One of the things that bothers the Europeans most about the whole Iraq thing is that the administration's pattern threatens the entire system of sovereign states that's been more or less in place since about 1648. The sovereignty is hedged about, in a lot of ways, but it's still there in theory. From an international law standpoint we pretty clearly violated another country's sovereignty.
But to make matters much worse, we never did get a surrender, which is the clearest sign of lost sovereignty. Saddam and the Baathists never admitted defeat. An act of surrender would have handed over authority to the US or the UN or whatever in ways the state system can understand. There are mechanisms to deal with surrenders and the transfer of sovereignty that's involved. That's what we did in Germany and Japan after WWII. But at the moment it isn't clear where Iraqi sovereignty is; Saddam could pop up tomorrow and claim it because he never yielded it.
In practice this means no one can speak for the country of Iraq. It can't make binding deals, for example, because it can't carry on state-to-state relations. It can't sign a treaty. No entity can commit the country's resources to any kind of deal that can be held to. There's no such thing as sovereign debt for Iraq.
National self-interest somewhat aside, I think this is what the French are really concerned about. Of course you really can't set national self-interest aside because that's all there is for nation-states, and there the French do have an immediate interest in some debt that's owing to them from Iraq (in the short term) but in the long term they, like every other sovereign state, have an interest in maintaining the state system.
I agree with P. B. Almeida that it would be a good out for Bush, but he probably won't take it. It would mean giving up too much control to international agencies and bodies over the process of re-establishing a sovereign Iraqi government. They really want to control the process as well as the end result-- it's part of the New American Century doctrine that only *we* can call the shots.
If the current national council, or whatever it is, actually shows signs of working they'll probably stick with it for a while. But I think Jon H is right about where it will ultimately go-- either Afghanistan-style regional warlordism or, in order to get the anti-American attacks to stop, finding some Saddam-like strongman to keep things together long enough for us to get out.
But the administration, obviously, doesn't have any idea how to end this. They're especially not worrying about the sovereignty issues.
PJ Almedia asks: why doesn't the administration back "the ultra-fast transfer of power" idea to the hilt.
A simple answer: Iraq isn't ready for a fast transfer of power. In fact, if one is angry over the supposed turmoil, lawlessness and near-anarchy in the country right now, pulling US troops out and transferring power to a Governing Council that clearly isn't ready to take control is the surest, shortest path back to a dictatorship.
Not to be cynical, but I suspect the French are backing this "ultra-fast" transfer of power precisely for that reason -- a dictator would be more likely to cut the French a deal, and for the French it's all about the oil. Always has been, as witness the ostensible "Oil-for-Food" program that funneled billions of dollars into France, the ultra-favorable TotalFinaElf contracts that Saddam inked, and the arms sales (Saddam got 12% of his foreign arms from France, less than 1% from the US in 1979-1990 according to none other than the UN).
An Iraq that develops a representative government over a 2 to 3 year period is one less likely to cut deals with the French and Russians. And that will never do. Altoid correctly notes the hanging debt, but the oil is even more important.
But Altoid and Jon H are wrong, I gently submit, in how the anti-American attacks will stop -- we won't find a strongman, we'll develop democracy. Germany in November, 1945 was a wreck. West Germany in 1948 was on the road back. Democracy is key, and one that I would hope liberal and conservative in this country would recognize to be true. That democracy is best built bottom-up, not top-down, and that takes time. There's encouraging progress in the Kurdish north and Shi'a south on this notwithstanding some of the terrible days we've seen recently.
The American occupation is far from perfect in Iraq. There are a number of things we could do better. But our occupation, and a gradual return to sovereignty and democracry, is far better than letting the country slide back to a thugocracy. I suspect GWB recognizes this and won't deal with the French on this crucial point.
Allen, I don't WANT to remember Ngo Dinh Diem, but he and Chalabi do share the same level of delusion and imcompetence. God know what that slippery little reptile is planning right now. Chalabi is pissed that he's not getting the keys to Iraq like the neo-cons promissed and now he's willing to kiss up to anyone to get what he wants. Well, I should warn him, if he wants to get the neo-cons to back him again, going to France for help probably isn't the smartest thing to do.
how the anti-American attacks will stop -- ... we'll develop democracy
With our magical democracy dust. Just add water (oops, maybe it'll be back on this afternoon)...
But one thing I truly don't fathom is: why doesn't the administration back "the ultra-fast transfer of power" idea to the hilt.
Possibly because "the Iraqis ain't ready", but it might have something to do with the possibility that they might choose the "wrong kind" of democracy - one which held a grudge at the US for bombing and invading them, and one which believed it had some kind of right to control Iraqi oil.
Now that we are in Iraq, it is impossible to pull out and expect a secure and stable nation to be born. As much as many people dislike it, we have been committed to a multi-year stay in Iraq and we have to see the course through (even though how we are going to be refunded anytime soon is still beyond me).
IMO, the French are just playing politics here, and so is Chalabi. Basically, he got a T-shirt from Bremmer/Rummy/Cheney saying: "I joined the Neocon Cabal and all I got was this lousy T-shirt and a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council." I bet he isn't very happy with his seat and would like to trade it for the presidency of Iraq.
Fortunately, this new French/German resolution will go nowhere as it stands because it is preposterous. Bosnia took 7 years, what makes Iraq so special that turning it over to the unelected civilian leadership will create a decent democracy? Even worse, what if we have quickie elections and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution or some other religious organization our government doesn't like takes a large plurality of the seats on a congress/parliament?
Too many questions that won't be satisfactorily answered by leaving a vacuum in the Fertile Crescent.
" might choose the "wrong kind" of democracy - one which held a grudge at the US for bombing and invading them, and one which believed it had some kind of right to control Iraqi oil."
One that might say "Hey, we're not paying for this overpriced Halliburton work!"
Steve White, I wish I could share your optimism about a democratic direction, and maybe it will work out. But I don't quite see why a democratically-based Iraqi government wouldn't deal with the French. The Russians I understand, but that would be geo-political and by no means certain at that.
The really hard part of the oil/democracy equation is, I think, whether *we* can live with an Iraqi decision to open the fields to someone else like the French, or (in another area) to go back to using German and Swiss electrical equipment like they did before the war.
In the spring there was some talk of setting up three or four permanent air bases in Iraq also as part of the plan. If it was, this is also something I can't square with a democratically-elected government there.
What I'm getting at here is that some of the administration's economic and/or strategic goals seem incompatible with the idea of establishing a real democracy that implements the wishes of a real majority of Iraqis. Or so it seems to me.
Altoid writes: "In the spring there was some talk of setting up three or four permanent air bases in Iraq also as part of the plan. If it was, this is also something I can't square with a democratically-elected government there. "
We're going to need some place to put the troops pulled out of Saudi.
I believe some permanent bases are, in fact, being constructed, but I don't have any citations.
Jon H, aren't the troops supposed to be returned to the USA? The permanent headquarters and air bases, and the navy base, were supposed to be in Qatar, I thought. But the ground-pounders were supposed to be mostly out of there even by now.
The best thing about the airbase story is that it's exactly what the British did when they originally set up Iraq as an "independent" country. Three bases, IIRC, which they used to control the natives-- dropped gas on them. That's where the former regime learned the trick.
Nell Lancaster: "With our magical democracy dust. Just add water (oops, maybe it'll be back on this afternoon)..."
Thank you, Nell, a good laugh is always healthy.
I liked the Democracy dust one too, but thought Leremiah's quip re Chalabi's T-shirt was even funnier. #:0__===
The USAF is setting up 4 permanent bases. They are being built (rebuilt?) on the major Iraqi Air Force bases away from the cities. The US Army is also doing the same, just unsure how many of them (I think three in the west, north and south). The headqurters for all this will stay in Qutar and is were the bulk of the US forces moved to when they left Saudi. As a note, US military prescence in Saudi is almost zero. I know of no Navel or Marine presence planned at all.
Who will man these bases? Good question, undecided at this time, but the good money is betting troop levels in Old Europe will drop to the absolute minimum (say 1 armor brigade and 1 fighter wing) as they move to the ME. Places the troops near the combat zone - no chance of 5,000 Commie tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap these days. You can also expect to see a quiet draw down in all our little commitments (like Bosnia) that are not directly related to the War on Terror (yes, don't grip at me about Iraq not being part of it, I heard the argument, but the bad guys are in the ME now not in Europe reguardless of how you feel about the French) :)
Just trying to give some facts.
As an aside, Kevin, your site is starting to get a little shrill. Don't know why, but please don't go down the road of Atrios or dKos. The level of hate there scares away any informed debate. :)
Altoid, you write: "The really hard part of the oil/democracy equation is, I think, whether *we* can live with an Iraqi decision to open the fields to someone else like the French, or (in another area) to go back to using German and Swiss electrical equipment like they did before the war."
Do you really believe this the hard part of democracy in Iraq? Really? You don't believe that a potential rise of an Iranian backed, Islamic, 'one vote, one time' regime is more of a threat? You don't believe that the rise of a dictator is more of threat? You don't believe that Saudi Arabia flooding the country with their special schools is more of a threat? You don't believe Turkish threats to 'control' the Kurds is more of a threat? Hmmm. And those are the threats I could come up with on one minute's reflection.
Altoid asks whether we can live with an Iraqi decision to open the oil fields to someone like the French. My wild-assed guess (no one here has anything better :-) is that yes we can, for several reasons -- 1) we generally respect decisions of a democratic government even when we don't like them (the UN debate in early 2003 is clear evidence of that). 2) we really wouldn't want the problems that would arise with our allies, especially Tony Blair, if we did something to subvert a new democratic government because they gave an oil contract to TotalFinaElf. 3) the oil fields are enormous, and I don't think anyone thinks that they can all be developed by a single partner.
So if the French, et al., manage to get some contracts at some point after a democratic Iraqi government is elected, installed and regains full sovereignty, my guess is that we'll say and do precisely nothing.
I also agree with Sebastian's threat assessment, and suggest that if a democratic Iraqi government manages to deal with all those issues, handling oil contracts will be a snap.
I really hope that you are right. I hope we are able to set up a true Iraqi democracy in 2-3 years, and we will respect its decisions.
But I just can't see how this will happen. The Middle East has so much bad history. I don't think we could have picked a harder place to do it.
There are serious culture problems, religion problems, and natural resource problems.
"Do you really believe this the hard part of democracy in Iraq?"
Well, Sebastian, as a matter of fact I do. The many good questions you've raised are tactical. They have to do with what groups in the region will be trying to do to subvert Iraqi democracy. They are close to overwhelming, I agree, but they're still tactical.
What I was talking about was more "strategic"-- about whether the US really, really, is ready to make a whole-hearted commitment to real democracy there, since we would be the sole real sponsors.
The answer we seem to be getting is that they can be a democracy as long as they democratically decide to invite us to keep our air and land-force bases and let our nationals have an edge in certain kinds of contracts. And, probably, agree to divert oil revenues to a repayment schedule.
Whether this will satisfy enough Iraqis, if we do it, or will look like real democracy to outsiders, is the question. I'm skeptical that it can do either.
BTW, the other democracies whose decisions we respected are not client states of ours. The fairly clear intention is that Iraq would be.
OK Altoid, your priorities are obviously very different from mine.
I don't understand all this 'client state' rhetoric. Germany isn't a client state, and we hope to put Iraq on the same path. Germany also can't get rid of our airbases, but that doesn't make them a client state. I'm not at all sure that our nationals get an edge on FUTURE oil contracts. They have an edge in the REBUILDING contracts being decided now. I don't see any evidence of binding a future Iraqi government to permanent dealings with Haliburton. We want to make Iraq into a Germany within 50 years. How imperialistic of us.
As far as I know, Sebastian, most Germans have a very different view of the past 50 years or so than most of us do. If Rumsfeld goes ahead with the plan to permanently redeploy US troops from Germany to Bulgaria, etc., Gerhard Schroeder's place in history will be secure-- he'll be the man who finally got the last of the US occupation troops out of Germany. He'll be a national hero.
Not that many individual Germans didn't like the Americans who lived in their towns, etc., etc., but as a whole society their view is that they were willing to tolerate us as long as they needed us to protect them from the Russians. And they were willing to use Marshall Plan aid (credits to be spent in the US), and favored access to our markets (part of the geo-political structure of the Cold War), as an opportunity to rebuild themselves faster. The penalties were having to spend Marshall Plan money in the US, having to accept Bretton Woods with the dollar as reserve currency, and having to remilitarize within NATO.
I agree that they took to heart the constitutional thinking thrust upon them by Lucius Clay. Perhaps they also learned from their own history there.
Looking at it from our point of view, the Cold War is the primary reason we were willing to make the huge commitment we made to them. It cost the treasury a ton of money. On the other hand, lots of American companies made tons of money too and the German market supported thousands of jobs, with all the gain that implies. I don't know how it all shakes out in the end, net gain or net loss. There's lots of argument over that point.
I don't see a willingness to make a similar long-term commitment to Iraq. The external pressures just aren't the same at all, and we are not a notably patient and long-term-oriented people. Then too, we have economic troubles of our own right now. In that context we know that Iraq will cost us something close to $170 billion just to the end of the fiscal year, with more supplementals to come. What would even a 15-year occupation cost? Half a trillion? Do we even have that kind of money to spend? Will we endure the taxes we'd have to pay for that?
And why "client state"? Because it seems likely that any Iraqi government that will do what we seem to want it to do for us will have to depend on US money, and possibly US arms-wielding, for survival. That's what makes a client state. I meant it as an essentially neutral descriptive term.
In that sense Germany was a client state for quite a while. It was also a highly sophisticated, centralized, hierarchical society whose big-city infrastructure was largely destroyed in 1945 but which still had a very skilled, hard-working populace, a largely intact and highly productive rural and small-town infrastructure, and the basics of an excellent modern transportation system that could be rebuilt relatively quickly. It also had a commitment to state action and planning within a generally capitalist and democratic system.
It was able to take itself out of clientage gradually-- economically, probably in the mid or late 60s; militarily, during the period from the collapse of the USSR through today. If you remember the great brouhaha over stationing Pershing missiles there during the Reagan years, that was about the military side of being a client state.
It's things like these that make me less than optimistic about the prospects that we will build a truly functioning democracy in Iraq. There are others having to do with Iraq itself. The kinds of challenges you described are further reasons why I doubt the US's ability to achieve that goal. And of course there's the other discussion about whether that is in fact the administration's goal. When I add all these up, they seem to point in a different direction.
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