So, on the same day that the Administration claimed that Iraq cannot raise and utilize its own army, or elect its own government, or make any decision not subject to the veto of a man who by all accounts lives in a well guarded, English speaking bubble, Mr. Bremer, the Adminstration "haled" the complete overhaul of the Iraqi economy. It is as if an American occupier were to hale some American Council's decision to nationalize all American industries. A bit of a change, eh?
Contradiction has become Bush's daily bread; his substitute for the politics of joy. Now, however, he is starting to choke on it.
The plan, apparently, is to make Iraq into a sort of Cato Institute wet dream. This has, of course, been in the works since before the war. But the question, to LI's mind, is not whether the plan is a good one or a bad one -- we think that it is inevitable that the state dominated economy of Iraq is in line for a hit. Tha't reality. No, the question is one of form. The question is: can Bremer top, for complete stupdity, his edict this spring to dissolve the Iraqi army, right away? That decision added four hundred thousand armed and pissed off men to the mix in the country. The decision yesterda, we think, is Bremer blunder number 2.
How stupid is it? Let us count the ways.
The low intensity warfare being waged by the Iraqi resistance lacks a fundamental reason for being. That is, beside the question of pure power. Insofar as the resistance is manned by Ba'ath diehards, it is self-limiting.
The Cato Institute policy is a gift from heaven to these people. They suddenly have an ideological goal. Blowing up an oil pipeline owned by the Iraqi government is, really, just a way of saying that the sabateurs want to control the Iraqi government. Blowing up an oil pipeline owned by Exxon, however, is a way of sending a much more attractive message: we are fighting for Iraq.
The new rules put a premium on the skills of Iraqi exiles. When foreign companies enter the country and bid on the stuff there, the intermediaries will almost surely be selected from the exile pool, which is better educated, and familiar with the inscrutable customs of foreign companies. Second huge gift to the resistance. The exile leadership in Iraq has faced, from the beginning, the charge that they are pawns of the Americans. This is just the kind of economic policy that will confirm that idea.
And then, of course, there is the overarching question of governance. If the Americans are so concerned that Iraq has a constitution before it has a government -- the ridiculous belief that some constitutional looking piece of paper will defend America's interests when our troops leave is among the more riotous of the neo-con superstitions -- then why are they so suddenly eager to allow a non-constitutional, non-elected government to, essentially, revolutionize the Iraqi economy?
For a preview of coming distractions, check out the LATimes article about the Iraqi response to the Council's NEP:
"BAGHDAD � In the marble-floored corporate offices of Al Hafidh General Trading Co., Waleed and Hani Hafidh vented the rage of many Iraqi businessmen Monday over the country's new wide-open foreign investment policy.
Puffing furiously on imported cigarettes, the brothers asserted that the economic reform package unveiled by Iraq's recently appointed finance minister in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday will destroy the country's small yet burgeoning private sector, create a permanent "world occupation" of its economy and render the Iraqi people "immigrants in their own land." "
As we've emphasized before, prediction is not the mark of good cultural commentary. Rather, what one wants is a clear sense of the combinations that are forming now, and some way of assessing their odds for the future. A week ago, we gave our own list of the five major combinations we see in the Iraq situation, and how we assessed the odds.
Here is a possible scenario that plugs into those combinations. Let's say the odds that the NEP angers Iraqis more than it entices businessmen from outside is really the case in the next couple of months. We would guess that the next Saddam tape (we used to be of the opinion that Saddam was dead -- but we think now, from the accumulation of tapes, that he is probably not) will probably contain some reference to selling out the country. Look for a heavy anti-semitic tone to come into those references too. Because the plan is both impossible to impose and ideologically rigid -- its imposition would certainly cost Iraqis jobs, at a minimum -- it will be both used as a confirmation that the occupation is a thinly disguised colonialism and used as a weapon to challenge the idea that things are going to get better for the average Iraqi. Because the NEP comes from an unelected council, it will be a mark against the council's legitimacy. And because the distrust engendered by the plan will actually give an ideological gloss to the resistance's acts of sabotage, it will heat up Rumsfeld's Spike -- indeed, we can call this the Spike war. This, of course, will lead the Bremer faction to further postpone Iraq's political autonomy. And so on and so forth. The combinations lead to further involvement in the country, rather than less.
This, we think, will be very bad for Bush. That is a good thing, since Bush needs to go. But it will also be very bad for the U.S. and Iraq. That is a very bad, immediate thing. If there were ever a time for an opposition to make a change in a potentially disastrous course, the time is now.
Time to fire the Defense Department crew. Replace them with people who have been, at least once in their lives, to a racetrack.