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Friday, April 23, 2004


On December 14 of last year, after the capture of Saddam, LI “played the combinations”. That is, we looked at the effects that could ensue from the capture as combinations of possible worlds, as Leibnitz might have put it.

This is what we said:

“With Saddam rendered irrelevant, the third factor in Iraqi politics can now come into play - and come into play in such a way as to disturb Wolfowitz’s dream of Pax Chile on the Euphrates. That third factor is the Shiite demand for elections. Americans have been blocking this demand, because the American backplan is to somehow thrust a Chalabi or Chalabi like figure on Iraq. This thrusting was to be called democracy, not rape. So far, with Chalabi, it has pretty much failed …

In our opinion, the combinations now at work in Iraq are about to tumble to a new configuration. And this is not going to make the Pentagon happy. Our bet, right now, is that the following will emerge as the combination of forces in Iraq in the next, oh, two or three months:

The resistance will continue. It is a headless resistance. Whether it gets a brain will make a lot of difference, here. Our bet is that it won’t.

The Council is going to have to over-reach or dissolve. They’ve been put in an impossible middle position by the Americans. The question of who and how and for what Saddam H. is tried is going to be a point around which the Council will have to concentrate, for good or ill. We think that the Council, which is as brainless as the resistance, will try to over-reach and submit at the same time, and that it just won’t work any more. Alienating its patron, and alienated from its land, the Council will change radically.

Southern Iraq, assured by Saddam’s capture, will finally show a restiveness that America can ill afford. This, we think, will shape whatever happens next in Iraq. As to what that shape will be --- we have no idea. In truth, the Bushies have been so blinded to what is happening in Iran that they don’t realize that the conservative mullahs are, ideologically, their best friends. We think the clerical Shia elite, which has obtained a considerable amount of capital, is eager to find an excuse to privatize, and to inject its capital into the global monetary flows. Whether that influences the Shia elite in Iraq is something we don’t know enough about to predict.

Montesquieu, in the Considerations, makes a very shrewd remark: Ce qui gate presque toutes les affaires, c’est qu’ordinairement ceux qui les entreprennent, outre la reussite principale, cherchent encore de certains petits succes particuliers, qui flattent leur amour-propre et les rendent contents d�eux.

(What spoils almost all affairs is that ordinarily, those who undertake them seek, outside of the principle goal, certain small particular successes, which flatter their amour-propre and make them satisfied with themselves).

This is the history of the last six months of the occupation of Iraq.”

Time, now, to play the combinations again with the upcoming June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis. First, though, we should recognize that the handover is a complete sham. Iraq will have “limited sovereignty,” as the Bush people put it this morning in the NYT, meaning the new government will neither be able to make laws, nor have any control whatsoever over American forces operating in their own territory. If its legs are made of cloth, there’s a hole in the back for a hand, and its jaws are operated by moving your fingers, it is properly a puppet.

The Bush policy, which has consistently been a mad real life version of what the King's Counselors advice in the Anderson tale of the King and the Invisible Clothes, will be to stridently insist that the puppet is a man. Although it will also draw a wink wink advantage from the puppet being a puppet.

In order to understand the context of the handover, one has to draw the major lesson of this long, terrible two week stretch: – Bush faces practically no domestic opposition. This has truly shocked LI. Kerry’s campaign is justly wounded, perhaps fatally, by the incompetence, wretchedness, and cynicism of the candidate during the last month. Kerry has broadcast, in pretty clear terms, the following message to the voters: under President Kerry, the best we can hope for is the dispatch of even more American troops to be killed in Iraq. To sweeten the thought, he does want to put a UNESCO sticker on every green helmet. Shall we put our hands in the air now, ladies and gents?

If that is an opposition, I say to hell with it. LI, the perpetual naïf, has been stunned that Kerry’s mind meld with Joe Lieberman has not evoked a whimper even from the supposedly independent left side. The Atrioses and the American Prospects don’t care what Kerry says – they simply want him to win. It is a replay of the far fetched scenario of Gore’s campaign – diss your most likely voters, and then try to bully them into not voting for a third party candidate who represents exactly what they believe. So we have the spectacle of Kerry applauding Sharon’s policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders (never mind that the policy will certainly be paid for in American blood in Iraq), a man who has yet to suggest how we could exit from Iraq, a man who so evidently disrespects the people of Iraq that it has not yet occurred to him that the solution, in Iraq, is to return Iraq to the Iraqis – we have this man, and we, Lefties all, are supposed to queue up to vote for him.

Kerry seems to have quickly jettisoned the Democrat persona he was forced to bear against Howard Dean, and arrayed himself as a Daschle moderate. Daschle’s strategy is to stand very firmly against privatizing Social Security, unless it is done under a Democratic administration. That is about it, in terms of principle and policy, the height and breadth of the Democratic commitment to anything like justice. Consequently, the Dems lose and lose elections. And they cling ever more tightly to their strategy. They do like to indulge in a rhetoric of indignation, but their acts breathe the corrupt air of complete submission. How could they not? These people go to the same country clubs as the Bush people, employ the same DC wonks, play the same trivial games of gotcha. It is painful to see how Kerry’s sex change of a campaign is being coddled on the left side. Very painful. Kerry needed Howard Dean, in the same way the Grandmother, in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,” needed the Misfit: ‘She would have been a good woman,” said the Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

So: Here is one given: the lack of any real opposition to Bush (and supposing, as I am beginning to, that he wins the presidential election, his upcoming victory becoming more and more evident over the next couple of months). And here is an event: the June 30th “handover”. What scenarios can we spin out of that?

The strong signal this week is the ‘appointment’ of Chalabi’s nephew, Salam to head the prosecutorial team against Saddam Hussein. Our December combinations were way too hasty about the trial, and very wrong about the modification of the Bush policy of pushing an autocracy on the Latin American model on Iraq. As has been well publicized, the U.S. has supplied Chalabi and his death squad with all of the records of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Trials are well known instruments for legitimating the usurpation of power. Until recently, LI thought that the Chalabi plan was never going to come off – that the CPA itself, as well as the White House, was too riven by doubts about Chalabi to unite behind him. But things are beginning to take on that familiar, Rumsfeldian cast. Rumsfeld likes nothing better than a fait accompli. The apparent bumbling of the question, who are we turning Iraq over to? – dodged by both Bremer and Bush – might not really be bumbling at all. The full effect of the fait accompli is wrung out of an initial period of uncertainty. This has all the hallmarks of the classic Rumsfeldian M.O. Given the nonexistent state of the opposition to Bush, it is hard to imagine the anointing of Chalabi – as head of some puppet organization – will provoke an outcry among the Dems. His appointment, of course, will be conditioned by just that reference to “limited sovereignty.” Surely, the reasoning will go, Chalabi will not be able to do too much harm, given the limited extent of his power.

If Chalabi is given executive power in Iraq by the Americans, the combinations become very interesting.

On the one hand – Chalabi has been wooing Sistani intensely. On the other hand, Sistani knows that his own legitimacy could be endangered by embracing a man so disliked by Iraqis that in the admittedly imperfect ORI poll conducted in February, Chalabi was the most distrusted politician in Iraq – ranking well over Saddam Hussein himself.

Our guess is that if the Rumsfeldians put their little Mussolini in play, there will be: minimal opposition in this country; and fear and loathing in an Iraq squeezed between the bullying ur-Saddamist remnant and the Americans. Chalabi is no doubt combing the secret police files for things he can hold over Sistani or his associates. No doubt, he will find something. But we wonder if it will really count. So far, Chalabi has demonstrated a masterly understanding of Americans. But he seems genuinely puzzled by Iraqis.

The last time we played the combinations, we were more optimistic. We believed that the CPA’s battle with the Resistance would make the June 30th handover more important than the CPA knew. Imagine the CPA as Wiley the Coyote, and the June 30th date as a big black circle he’d painted on a rock, in the likeness of a railroad tunnel. Image Wiley hearing a whistle sound, and looking at his work in puzzlement, and then being run over by a train that comes through it. This, we thought, loomed as a real possibility, There is a budding civil society in Iraq. We know vaguely of its outline through the imperfect polls and the dumb sociology of newspaper and magazine articles, with their insistence on interviews with the man in the street. This is the movement that the Bush people will have to oppress if they are going to complete their dream of Iraq. Chalabi is the perfect instrument to do the Bush’s dirty work here. To avert that, LI’s hope is that those who were prepared to do organizational work for Kerry desert the sorry man, and organize for a long term anti-war campaign. Because this is going to be a very long and ugly war.

PS -- for a more optimistic view of the 'new' policy in Iraq, read David Ignatius' column in today's WP. LI once interviewed Ignatius, and came away with a very favorable impression. The man worked as a correspondent in Lebanon through the eighties, and has a pretty clear grasp of Middle Eastern reality, unlike his WP op ed colleagues.

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