Across the Bay

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Is the Jig Finally Up?

It appears that Powell might have already taken charge over Iraq. That's certainly the vibe over here, and the prevailing mood is now for a withdrawal. Powell even entertained that at the G-8 press conference yesterday. Spencer Ackerman has commented on it as well.

Prima facie his comments don't seem out of the ordinary, as he basically said that if the US is asked by the Iraqis to leave, they would leave. He added that he doesn't believe that that will happen during the transitional period. At the same time Michel Barnier emphatically asserted that there will be no French troops in Iraq at any point. The only help the French will consider is on the Iraqi debt, other economic issues and police training. the Canadians said the same about training and such, and so did the Russians. This comes as no surprise as it had been reported that NATO is balking at the possibility of its deployment in Iraq. The funny thing is that everyone is asking for security for them to be able to send help (not military help), yet they refuse to help in pacifying the situation. Basically, what this means is that the US will have toppled the regime, paid for everything, and got blamed for everything, while the French and Russians attempt to get economic deals with whatever government that emerges. So John Kerry has to find another mantra besides "bringing the international community in" as they have no interest in doing so to help out the Americans. They might be thinking that the US is going to pull out anyway.

That might in fact be the case, as Bremer and Powell seem to be indicating. The problem is that if that happens, no one really knows what will be the fate of Iraq, as Ackerman points out. The removal of US troops from Iraq would basically render the ME reform project toothless, as there would be no credible muscle to push it through. Powell repeated the bankrupt cliché yesterday that "reform cannot come from the outside." It could have been Mubarak or Assad saying it. You see where this is going.

Meanwhile, the Iraqis are strongly divided over the Brahimi plan, and the potential return to ways of old, which is what everyone around wants.

A last gasp attempt to safeguard the original plan was made by William Kristol and Robert Kagan in The Weekly Standard, where they called on Bush to conduct elections in Iraq earlier than advertised. This way, it would give the Iraqis other things to worry about and show them that they have a stake in fleshing out their own future. I'm afraid that it might be a tad bit too late for that, as it seems that Powell and Bremer are on the same page, and the dumping of the stock has already begun.

You could get a beat on that reading Tom Friedman in his op-ed this past Thursday. He's talking about "regime change at home," and the old line about not having enough troops in Iraq (i.e. the Powell line):

"First of all, Rummy wanted to crush once and for all the Powell doctrine, which says you fight a war like this only with overwhelming force. I know this is hard to believe, but the Pentagon crew hated Colin Powell, and wanted to see him humiliated 10 times more than Saddam. "

Hillary Clinton also laid that line on Wolfowitz during the previously-mentioned hearings. Wolfowitz replied that it was Tommy Franks' idea not Rumsfeld's. But even if you don't believe that, Wolfowitz made a decent (even if paradoxical) point when he said that the idea was not to show the Iraqis that we're an occupying power (less visibility of the military). Now that might have proven to be wrong, but the rationale behind it reveals a larger problem: the Arabs. What I mean is that Tom Friedman and everyone else keeps talking about the "humiliation" of the Arabs and how everyone hates to be occupied, and the fear of imperialist or colonialist perceptions etc. On the other hand, what Friedman is doing here is effectively, to use Bernard Lewis' line, chastising the US for not "fulfilling its imperial duties." So there is a schizophrenia involved. Rather, it's a no-win situation as no matter what the US would have done, the Arabs would have opposed it and brought on their "intellectuals" to discuss it in all kinds of post-colonial jargon. And you would have had their western counterparts -- your Seales and Fisks and Chomskies and Coles etc. -- echoing it. In other words, Ajami's line looms large: "there are no hearts and minds to be won in the Arab world." Unfortunately, the job is now given to someone who believes that the solution should be in the hands of the Arab regimes, i.e. Colin Powell who is busy today apologizing to Jordanians again about Abu Ghraib.

Basically, it's been a nice ride while it lasted, but the jig seems to be up. See you in a hundred years.