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Saturday, November 15, 2003

Bollettino

Back on September 8, LI took stock of Iraq and came up with five combinations, given the forces in play at the moment, which might come true. Here are the combinations and our analysis.


�1. American troops withdraw. We leave behind a stable, American friendly democracy, that pays America back its 200 billion dollars, with interest, in a timely matter.

2. American troops withdraw. The government that is left behind is less friendly to America than Kuwait, but more friendly than Iran. It is, however, stable, and has certain democratic aspects. The 200 billion dollars is not paid back.

3. American troops leave. The American friendly democracy that is left behind tries to repay the American debt, causing a nation wide rebellion. It is overthrown by a government that is hostile to America.

4. American troops leave. Iraq is riven with conflict. The 200 billion dollars is gone. The conflict lasts for a long time, is destabilizing, and no side in it is openly pro-American.

5. American troops don't leave, but have to stay indefinitely, due to conflict. Another 100 billion dollars is spent on Iraq, but the nation is riven with conflict. Casualties mount. No stability, no democracy, and increasing harm to American forces.

One can argue that there are innumerable subsets. There are. But I imagine each one simply enriches the detail of one or another item on this list.

The problem with the Bush solution is simple. It bets everything on 1. Myself, I think one has about the same chance as Dennis Kucinich has of being the next US president.

The second option is much more possible. But humans drive their own history -- it will definitely be made impossible the more Bush bets on 1. The other three options are progressively worse for American interests. And for Iraq.

So, rationally, for our 150-200 billion dollars -- money we are not going to see again -- I'd say the reasonable thing to do is to take 2 as a scenario and try to improve it. That means ... well, it means handing power over to the Iraqi cabinet, and letting Bremer tell rotary clubs in Indiana all about his splendid plan for an Iraqi constitution. It means getting real about the money -- this money isn't coming back. It means letting the Iraqis decide what kind of economy they want -- from the contractors they hire to repair oil wells to the market system they are comfortable with. Of course, the "Iraqis" don't operate in isolation. But we should certainly not get into a situation in which there is a puppet Iraqi elite that simply obeys Americans, and thus abruptly abridges its shelf life. The commentary I've read about Iraq is truly odd -- it is as if nobody even thinks about what happens when the Americans withdraw. The Americans are not going to enforce a permanent solution to the Iraq problem -- period. The arguments are all about the chaos that will ensue if we withdraw right now, and how we have to do this, and how we have to do that... But by the force of things (ah, Lucretian phrase!) the Iraqis are the ones who will be there when the Americans are long gone. The american exit strategy better be shaped with that reality in mind.�

Since then, we are happy to say that the Bush administration, with all the finesse of a gnat shooting an elephant gun, has actually committed itself to certain of the changes we recommended in our last graf. Congratulations, Bush-ites. Alas, for changes in a plan to be successful, they have to be timely, correspond with the changed circumstances (of which they are part � feedback, my dear Watson, is an inherent factor in any extended action), and have to project some kind of goal. By September 8, it was obvious that Bush�s people had lied about the cost of the war and who was going to pay for it. Bush�s 87 billion dollar speech was much like the patient finally admitting to the shrink that those dreams did signify something a little funny about his relationship to his parents. Actually, Bush looked much like a patient as he droned the speech out. Now, another bullet point of the plan � the incredibly silly search for a constitution that would guarantee a democracy in Iraq, as long as it didn�t give the majority in the country (the Shi�ites) the majority, is starting to crumble. But accepting reality in Iraq (which extends to such things as calling the war in Iraq a war, and not a war on terrorists or terrorism, which it isn�t) is not a hallmark of the dimwit D.C. occupiers. The goal from the beginning of the occupation has been to make Iraq free for free enterprise. Whether that idea is good or bad for Iraq is irrelevant � the question is, is it implement-able? The answer is no. The one thing the Americans can�t leave behind, with any confidence, is a set of laws that radically change the economic nature of the country.

Ah, but the reader exclaims, Mr. LI, incredibly prescient as you have been so far, sir, aren�t you committing an act of probabilistic hubris here?

Well� okay, we are. No is too big, perhaps. But it is colorful, and it does bear the weight of history. It is a much better bet than the Bush bet.

For confirmation, one has only to go to Bush�s favorite occupation stories, the case of Germany and the case of Japan. Germany is more interesting. There were essentially two occupations of Germany, the American and the Soviet. The Americans never even broke up the criminal corporations that did the dirty work for the Nazis, and profited by it. Essentially, the Americans left the economic structure of Germany to be worked out by the Germans. The Soviets, on the other hand, re-did the whole system. They implemented Communism with a Non-Human face � Frankenstalin Communism � from the top. Result: East Germany became an economic basket case by the eighties, and was absorbed by West Germany � an act that showed the incredible opulence of West Germany, by the way � when the Wall fell.

So what are the combinations now?

Point for our side: we can now subtract the 200 billion the Iraqis are going to pay us. This should make combination 2, above, a better bet. So far, the resistance in Iraq has not produced a program, or a leadership. We are told repeatedly that polls show how much the resistance is disliked. We don�t quite believe that so much military activity could be carried out by so wholly an unpopular network. We think that even those people who tell American pollsters that they dislike the guerrillas might be thinking that the guerrillas are supplying messy but needed pressure on the Americans to get going. Otherwise, the impunity of guerrilla actions is pretty hard to fathom. On the other hand, since guerrilla activity seems to correspond pretty strongly to the map of Sunni Iraq, it is possible that he Shi'ite population doesn't even toy with this Machiavellian afterthought.

Alas, while the resistance hasn�t produced a program or a leadership, neither have the American sponsored Iraqi leaders. This is a leadership that longs for democracy without elections. Being perpetually appointed by democratic powers seems to suit them just fine. That is because they, too, stand for nothing. Chalabi has turned into a symbol of this hollow leadership. We once thought of Chalabi as a sort of Iraqi Mussolini. No longer. We think of him now as an Iraqi D�Annunzio. You�ll recall that the poet, D�Annunzio, seeing himself as the natural duce of Italy, organized a paramilitary force at the end of WWI and tried to take Trieste. D�Annunzio was much better at designing operatic costumes than coups. His was a fiasco, and his natural duce-ship of Italy soon went up in smoke.

The town meeting idea � that town meetings, rather than elections, are going to find the representatives to assemble the congress that assembles the constitution that lives in the house that Jack Bremer built � represents an unworkable compromise with democracy. Sorry, no dice, Jack. While it is natural that Bush should have a liking for the electoral college, and a dislike for popular elections, he shouldn�t assume that it makes a great foreign policy idea.

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