Blogs > HNN > Incompetence or Sponsored Chaos in Iraq?

Feb 7, 2005 3:05 pm


Incompetence or Sponsored Chaos in Iraq?



A rather delayed and truncated post today because of other responsibilities. But stay tuned for a detailed posting after my debate with John Yoo on Monday.

Thanks to the commenter on my last posting for the haaretz citation to show that the Israeli attorney general has forbidden the government from taking over Palestinian land based on the Absentee Property Law, which I wrote about in my last post. But before we celebrate, let's remember that the Israeli government has a long history of violating similar orders by the AG's office and even the Supreme Court (e.g., continuing openly to use Palestinians as human shields even after the Court explicitly prohibited the practice). Nevertheless, we should not only celebrate this decision by the Attorney General, but hope that America's newest AG might one day show similar backbone against his leader—fat chance of that happening, most likely…

Days after my last posting, which actually received some nice emails from friends also sick of the head-in-the-sand attitude of the left towards what's happening in Iraq, I received an email with the title: "Statement of Concern in the WSF 2005, on the threat of violence in the resolution of political differences." Great! I thought. Finally, the global peace and justice movement will take a stand against the insurgent violence in Iraq. Sadly, I was quite mistaken. Instead, here's what it said (slightly abridged):
"The last few years have seen a very large number of diverse groups and organisations coming together in spite of their differences to confront neo-liberal globalisation. However, we are deeply concerned that there are still some groups in the world today that attempt to deal with political differences using physical attacks and death threats. A recent example of this is the situation which has emerged in the Philippines where a number of individual intellectuals, activists (Walden Bello and Lidy Nacpil) and organisations engaged in various forms of struggle against militarism and globalised capitalism have been listed by the international department of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as ‘counter-revolutionary’ and as ‘agents of imperialism’. Some individuals named on this list have already been assassinated and, based on past experiences, this list constitutes a credible threat of assassination.

"Therefore, those of us gathered here in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil and others in the world, inspired by the pluralism and inclusiveness of this global process, believe that when the security of activists is at stake we cannot act as if the problem is a local one. In our efforts to consistently build an international movement for fundamental transformation we strongly reiterate that the resolving of political differences must be done through the struggle of ideas and democratic dialogue and not through the politics of individual assassination. We call on everyone within the global justice movements to re-assert this principle and express solidarity with all those who are victims of such threats."
This letter was signed by some of the biggest names in the movements, including heroes of mine like Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali. Now, had I been asked I would have certainly signed onto this too. But what I find troubling is that no kind of statement of anything close to comparative scope has come out of the WSF gathering about the insurgent violence in Iraq. Indeed, as I have elsewhere argued, Bello himself has publicly called for supporting the insurgency—or at least not questioning the tactics used. The only reference that I have seen to Iraq being sent out by the gathering was a condemnation of the elections. But this is a day late and a dollar short, as far as I'm concerned. Surely a gathering of such esteemed intellectuals and activists can come up with something better!

This week I did two nights of a "debate" with Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Larry Diamond on Iraq. I put debate in quotes because it turns out that we agree on almost everything in our assessment of how the US screwed up Iraq. The only difference between us is that while we agree, in his words, that the US "squandered" the victory in Iraq through incredible incompetence, mismanagement and shortsightedness (thus the title of his new book, which I urge everyone to buy, is "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq"), I add on top of this assessment another layer of analysis that says that a good percentage of the chaos generated by the US occupation has been "sponsored" or at least "managed" by the US to serve its interests of staying in Iraq for the long term. Diamond's response, which is partly convincing to me, is that if the US wanted to stay in Iraq wouldn't a better strategy have been to be really nice and helpful and then the Iraqis would want it to stay.

But this assumes that a country with Iraq's colonial history would have let the US stay no matter how nice it was, and I think the Bush Admin calculated that the chances were the US was never going to get its prizes—permanent bases, management of (or at least veto power over) the development and sale of Iraq's huge petroleum reserves, and the vast majority of the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars worth of military contracts to modernize the country's decrepit military—unless Iraq was first thoroughly disciplined and so exhausted from the occupation that people were willing to accept US control over the country's military, foreign and oil policies as the price for "independence" and "democracy." And here by discipline I mean a strange combination of the post-structuralist foucauldian "discipline" which focuses on education, training and embodiment of practices and discourses and, even more, the older style of disciplining that involves lots of torture, murder and mayhem until people get the point of the lesson…

Please buy Diamond's book. Here's one nugget from it he recounted to me: he was on the five-person committee to draft the interim constitution and the US position was that the PM should be able to approve any treaty without consulting the legislature. But the two Iraqi members, who went to law school in the US, felt that if a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress was good enough for the US, it was probably good enough for Iraq. Diamond agreed but was overruled and the US pushed extremely hard for its position. Why? Because of the base issue: that is, it knew that it would never get 2/3 of the Iraqi legislature to agree to permanent bases. Ultimately the US forced the Iraqis to make it a simple majority rather than a 2/3 one. Now at this point this is all moot because a whole new constitution will be debated in the coming months, but the anecdote shows clearly that the US was thinking long term about how best to secure agreement for permanent bases and willing to strong-arm Iraqis into facilitating the realization of its objectives.

We'll see who has the upper hand in the shifting balance of power between the US and emerging indigenous Iraqi leadership once the votes are counted. As a Shi'i friend, Sheikh Anwar al-Ethari predicted months ago to me, "Look, now Bush has all the power, but with Allawi we have maybe 30%; after the election we'll have 50-60%, and after a year or so we'll have 80% and be able to do what we want no matter what Bush says. So we have to be patient and not rely on violence." If only the anti-war movement were that farsighted...

In the "what a surprise!" department, the Feb. 4 edition of the LA Times reported that the Army decided against docking Halliburton any payments for the incredible mismanagement and fraud the company has committed in Iraq…

More Monday night or Tuesday…


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