Saturday, November 04, 2006

the sleeper cell

“Beyond the social level of the public, neighborly sphere there is, once again, the political level. All states have the propensity to protect themselves with the very mechanisms that are so feared at the neighborly level: secret services are part of any state apparatus. Their agents – who may be ‘sleepers’ (programmed and waking up only once alerted), “moles” (actively digging for information under a surface of normalcy), or simple analysts (plowing through often public information and in the process extracting potential secrets…) – ideally never emerge as actors. Their working identity is to remain secret so as not to jeopardize the protective functions of the state, and the underlying purpose is to allow members of the polity to remain safe, even ignorant, of the threats to their normal lives.” – Regina Bendix, Sleeper’s Secrets, Actor’s Revelations

Cruel age! Do you feel how black and low, how heavy the heavens are on the head of man? The poor little children, from their first years, are imbrued with horrible ideas, trembling in their cradles. The pure virgin, innocent, who feels damned by the pleasure the Spirit inflicts upon her. The wife in the marriage bed, martyred by his attacks, resisting and yet, for some moments, feeling in herself… A horrid affair known by those who have the tenia. To feel in oneself a double life, to distinguish the movements of the monster, sometimes agitated, sometimes with a soft tenderness, undulant, which is even more disquieting, making one feel one is at sea! Thus, one scurries about lost, having a horror of oneself, wishing to escape oneself, to die… - Michelet, The Witch

Regina Bendix is an ethnographer. Her essay on the notion of the “sleeper” – as in “sleeper cell” – really jacked me up. Bendix first covers the folkloric bases, listing the various sleepers from mythology, like the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, and then asks about its use after 9/11. LI read those articles about sleeper cells of terrorists too, but so asleep were we that we never thought about the notion of the sleeper as a secret identity. Bendix’s essay concentrates mostly on the self-identity of the sleeper. LI, however, went off on another train of thought. For if the sleeper is the name of the one who disguises himself to be like the rest of us, surely that implies we are sleepers – that we even, in a sense, recognize this in the metaphorical unconscious. Nietzsche, in The Use and Abuse of History, has a wonderful passage about human beings as a herd, in which the vocables of the German have a tinge of the ox and the cow – the passage seems to be transcribed from the human moo. However, the idea of a sleeper as a watcher, the sleeper as the man awake, or the man who can awake, awaited, of course, the great surveillance discourses of the twentieth century.

And after all, sleep does bind us. The night comes down, and at a certain point we can say, everybody is asleep, and be pretty confident that we are mostly right. But we don’t say, everybody is awake, because even in the daylight we have a sneaking suspicion that waking is a much harder state to define. Sleep is our team identity. We are all sleepers. And we can’t even say for sure that we sleep alone, although we take that on trust. Perhaps we fall into the collective sleep.

LI, though, wants to be a sleeper – wants to be the agent whose duty is to pretend to be asleep, and to be really, all of the time, awake. That agent, as Michelet implies, is the devil, or of the devil’s party: “To feel in oneself a double life, to distinguish the movements of the monster, sometimes agitated, sometimes with a soft tenderness, undulant…” Witches, once; and now, here, today, the American loser at the present moment, stinking quietly away somewhere, or the tattoos and dyed hair waifs and strays, embodying some kind of possession or addiction. In the double life of the sleeper, the best disguise, is to seem like one is not asleep at all – to grind one’s teeth like the underground man at every insult.

But I don't know if I have that much jam.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

wormwood under the ice cream

And the name of that star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood, signifies the infernal falsity from which their self-derived intelligence is derived, and by which all the truths of the Word are falsified. – Emmanuel Swedenborg. The Apocalypse revealed

Robert Kagan is a bloody old soul, one of war’s puppet intellectuals – not The war, not the war in Iraq, but war as a system, the War system in which we live – and as such, he sometimes speaks the truth. Ask Belzebuub about the anatomy of the fly, and ask Kagan about the tendency of Americans to … well, not fight so much as rain destruction down on their supposed enemies. His column about the Republicans, the Dems, and the American love of war – or, rather, War’s love of America – is right on target:

“In this respect, there is even less debate over the general principles of American foreign policy than during the Vietnam era. In those days, opponents of the war insisted that not just President Richard Nixon was rotten but that the "system" was rotten. They did not just reject the Vietnam War, they rejected the whole containment strategy of Dean Acheson and Harry Truman, which, they rightly claimed, helped produce the intervention in the first place. They rejected the idea that the United States could be a benevolent force in the world.

Today Democrats insist that the United States will be such a force as soon as George W. Bush leaves office. Although they pretend they have a fundamental doctrinal dispute with the Bush administration, their recommendations are less far-reaching. They argue that the United States should generally try to be nicer, employ more "soft power" and be more effective when it employs "hard power." That may be good advice, but it hardly qualifies as an alternative doctrine.
Many around the world will thrill at the defeat of Republicans next week. They should enjoy the moment while they can. When the smoke clears, they will find themselves dealing with much the same America, with all its virtues and all its flaws.”

War’s puppet here can display his tone of preening certainty because he knows the props and devises of court society. It is a society surrounded, on every side, by the prosperity brought on by war system. The harms are all out in the beyond, which is a place tv cameras roam for the odd freak footage.

Which brings me to what I was going to write in this post, and which I just wrote, part of, to our far flung correspondent, Mr. T. in NYC. A little personal reminiscence from the fumes of last night:

… Last night, I went to see Maidstone, that rarely seen Norman Mailer film. Which was great - it was funny, Mailer was in his prime asshole decade, the misogyny was over the top, and the way he kept taking the piss out of people, just begging for some hitback, and the end of the film, which is famous, lived up to its sheer... weirdness. Rip Torn tries to kill Mailer in front of his family with a hammer. Or at least flails away at him, drawing some blood and much wrestling – with Mailer sincerely trying to save his head. I saw this with my friend A., who doesn’t love Mailer – but I do. I long for that spirit to be set lose in the U.S. again. That is, the spirit of testing oneself, instead of immediately responding to vulnerability by seeking absolute cures: gated communities, ever more technically advanced militaries, ever fewer rights, ever creeping encroachments on what we do by the Polizei.

And then I went to the continental club and listened to James McMurtry. Anyway, dancing and hopping away to McMurtry, and seeing the usual UT undergrads there, so damn and briefly happy, such plausible lovely girls, such awkward guys, and the stuffed milk fed sports bodies raising their beers every time McMurtry mentioned the joy of shooting guns, drinking beer, or the state of his hardon, I started thinking about the ice cream we live in and how I just fail to enjoy it - in fact, under all that ice cream, I feel there is an apocalypse, that the structures are falling in very, very slow motion. And so all our personal agonies all seem to dissolve in sugars – but the sugars, I think, really mirror the agonies, they don’t destroy them. They will crystalize later - or so some daemon tells me.

And I wondered if this is just because I'm mildly deranged.

And then I got home and decided that it didn't matter, since the apocalypse under the ice cream is my subject, God fuckin' damn it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

civil war in Iraq - as planned

One war disguised the other in Iraq.

One war spanned the invasion to the fall of Baghdad. America’s reason to invade was, of course, a sham, but there are degrees of shamming. Where fraud does converge with truth is the American determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This war could be called the formal war of the U.S. against Iraq. The second war operated behind this war, and then came out into the open in the occupation. This was the substance of America's war against Iraq, and it was waged against the very existence of Iraq. It proceeded by zigzags, but with the general goal of reducing Iraq to a weak network of independent states, all of which would be colonies of the U.S. in much the way Kuwait is. Call it the Kuwaitization of Iraq. It was as brutal and as immoral a plan as any hatched by the Nazi Wehrmacht. It has resulted, so far, in some 300,000 to 600,000 deaths. Its genealogy is rooted in the American sponsorship of death squads that was one of the common features of the Cold War era, except that the dirty wars Americans sponsored in the seventies and eighties were never on this extensive a scale. Pentagon planners were no doubt expecting that the reduction of Iraq would result in some minor, some Guatamalan sized death pile – 100,000 butcheries, tops.

However, once you treat a country the way Milosovic treated Yugoslavia, you get a Yugoslavian situation.

Think LI is exaggerating? Let’s look at two interesting pieces of evidence that the U.S. plan was, all along, the crushing of Iraq, its disassembly, and the creation of perpetually vulnerable smaller states that the U.S. could “manage” – steal from, leave in utter poverty, and site bases on.

The first is this surprisingly candid interview, today, with Jay Garner, the first overseer of the second war. Jay Conan, of NPR, is the questioner.

“CONAN: And I also mentioned that you were involved in the establishment of the no-fly zone and the secure area in the north of Iraq after the war in 1991. And as we think about the future of Iraq, does the current - the present of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, does the point that way at all, do you think?

Lt. Gen. GARNER: Oh, absolutely. I think the plan – the talk now to partition the country – I don’t like the word partition, but I think divide into federal districts or federal entities. You know, we’re already partitioned. Anybody that don’t think that partition exists is - either hasn’t been there, or they had their eyes closed when they were there. But to have a Kurdish area, a Sunni area, and Shia area, with Baghdad separate with a decentralized government, federal government over it I think is the way to go.

CONAN: Yet this process of partitioning, it’s not clearly demarcated in most areas of the country. Obviously, the Kurds still have a major problem…

Lt. Gen. GARNER: Oh, I think what you do, you have a referendum and you say – and in the referendum, you vote on what area want to be – to live in.

CONAN: Well, right now, people are being asked to – forced to move from the areas at gun point.

Lt. Gen. GARNER: And so – but if you allow them to vote what area – it means you would end up probably redrawing some provincial boundaries. But yeah, right no, you see a lot of shifting going on. You see some of Sadr’s people moving up around Karkuk to try to influence like that.”

Interestingly, what Garner proposes for Iraq is what the U.S. violently opposes in Israel - a right of return that would displace the Israelis. Why not just say, look, Israelis that arrived from Russia will just have to go back there. And so on...

So, after instituting a plan for the dissolution of the state, Americans are surprised that Iraq is falling into civil war. Must be those awful savage Muslims, right? Cynicism and incompetence are the muses of this particular war.

But more... We've seen the mindset of America's first overseer, in 2003. In 2004 began the process of constitution making. Here, we have plenty of evidence from Peter Galbraith’s book on Iraq. I’ve interviewed Peter Galbraith. He’s a personable guy. He’s also the son of one of my heroes. But wherever Galbraith goes, trouble follows. When he was the ambassador to Croatia, as Roger Cohen has written in his book on the Yugoslavian wars, he either turned a blind eye or actively cooperated in defying the arms embargo on Croatia. In 1994, remember, Croatia was ruled by Tudjman, who was bent on ethnically cleansing Croatia of Serbs. Tudjman approached Galbraith to request that the U.S. not block the transfer of Iranian arms to Croatia. Galbraith transmitted this message to Clinton, and the U.S. government decided to defy the arms embargo imposed in 1991.

This is normal among the ‘humanitarian interventionist’ crowd: its appeal to only those international laws that it decides not to break, its friendliness towards a certain kind of warlord, and its magnification of conflict, a consequence that it then uses to proceed with its ‘humanitarian’ plans.

Here, to refresh all of our memories, is a report from the Hague war crimes trial from 2004:

“Belgrade, 18 October: The minutes of a meeting between the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and the Croatian military leadership, which took place on the northern Adriatic archipelago of Brijuni on 31 June 1995, were admitted as evidence during the testimonies of Croatian Army general Imra Agotic and former US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith at the Hague war crimes tribunal in the autumn of 2002, a Belgrade lawyer has said.

"I am profoundly irritated by the cynicism with which the Croatian public perceives as a sensational discovery what preceded Operation Storm in the Krajina (Serb-occupied territory of Croatia) in the summer of 1995," Branislav Tapuskovic, a lawyer and former friend of the court in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, has said in an interview with the Belgrade-based newspaper Vecernje novosti published on Monday [18 October].

The authenticity of the minutes of the meeting, where Tudjman said that "the Serbs should be dealt such blows as to practically disappear", was never disputed and it was perfectly evident from this record that there was a plan to launch Operation Storm with the prior consent of the United States and Germany, the lawyer said.

The former head of Tudjman's office, Hrvoje Sarinic, has confirmed that the Americans set territorial limits and ordered that the Croatian forces should stop before Banja Luka. That part of the trial was public, it was televised, and the records made available to me by the Hague tribunal's prosecution were hundreds of pages long," Tapuskovic said.”

This is the same Galbraith who advises the Kurdish government, and – as shown in his latest book on Iraq – has actively tried to get the Kurds to impose the most drastic kind of partition on Iraq.

This essay by Zaid Al-Ali tracks Galbraith’s interventions in the illegal construction of the constitution last year
– illegal by the rules laid down by the invaders themselves. al-Ali quotes this astonishing passage:

“But Galbraith's own account suggests that he (acting in an individual capacity), practically formulated the position of the Kurdish leadership himself, and in so doing had a crucial impact on the substance of the Iraqi constitution. He writes:

"I realized that the Kurdish leaders had a conceptual problem in planning for a federal Iraq. They were thinking in terms of devolution of power - meaning that Baghdad grants them rights. I urged that the equation be reversed. In a memo I sent Barham (Salih) and Nechirvan (Barzani) in August (2003), I drew a distinction between the previous autonomy proposals and federalism: ‘Federalism is a ‘bottom up' system. The basic organizing unit of the country is the province or state. [...] In a federal system residual power lies with the federal unit (i.e. state or province); under an autonomy system it rests with the central government. The central government has no ability to revoke a federal status or power: it can revoke an autonomy arrangement. [...] The Constitution should state that the Constitution of Kurdistan, and laws made pursuant to the Constitution, is the supreme law of Kurdistan. Any conflict between laws of Kurdistan and the laws of or Constitution of Iraq shall be decided in favor of the former.' These ideas eventually became the basis of
Kurdistan's proposals for an Iraq constitution."”

al-Ali analyzes this passage with a certain scholarly softness, instead of screaming at the top of his lungs – LI’s own favorite method of communication. He writes of the ‘ethical’ problem here. Damn right. Fucking right. Fucking terribly, terribly right. And he concludes:

“From the extract set out above, it should also be obvious that Galbraith went beyond the objectives that his Kurdish patrons initially wanted to achieve. Indeed, whereas the Kurds requested of Galbraith that he provide advice on how to structure Iraq's federal system of government, his proposed course of action - which included allowing the Kurdish constitution to be the supreme law in Kurdistan - actually amounts to establishing a confederal system of government, which is far from being the same thing.”

To conclude: the civil war isn’t a terrible product of the savage factions in Iraq, those beheading beasts, as a bulwark against which the humane Americas have to stay in Iraq. The civil wars are a logical product of American policy in Iraq from the beginning of the occupation. This is sometimes disguised under the American ‘suggestion’ of federalism, but the American object in Iraq was and still is the fundamental undermining of that country as a sovereign entity. Period. So much for the sliminess of the Bush objective. As in any Bush program, however, the sliminess of the goal is undermined by the vast incompetence of the means – and so, instead of the atomization of Iraq enforced by U.S. troops, we have the factionalization of Iraq in which U.S. troops are used, now by this side, now by that, as a trump card.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

abandoning iraq is the same as occupying iraq

“We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot…” – David Bowie

“The message to the Baghdad morgue was simple - they could do what they liked with the plastic handcuffs, but the metal ones were expensive and needed to be returned. Such is the murderous state of affairs in Iraq at the moment that the demand, made by a militia gunman who is also believed to be a member of the Special Police Commandos, hardly caused a stir.

There was a similar lack of shock when a dozen bodies were brought in with identification cards showing that each had the name Omar. The catch here was that Omar is a Sunni name, and this fact was enough to seal their fate at Shia checkpoints.

Baghdad is full of checkpoints. Leaving the Hamra Hotel, where the dwindling band of British journalists outside the Green Zone stay, means negotiating the Badr Brigade, their Shia competitors the Mehdi Army of Moq-tada al-Sadr, and the Kurdish peshmerga. The Iraqi police and the government paramilitaries, in the meantime, have their own barriers. And there are others: the Shia Defenders of Khadamiya, set up by Moq-tada's cousin Hussein al-Sadr, and the government-backed Tiger and Scorpion brigades. They all have similar looks: balaclavas or wrap-around sunglasses and headbands, black leather gloves with fingers cut off, and a very lethal arsenal of weapons. When not manning checkpoints, they hurtle through the streets in 4x4s, scattering the traffic by firing in the air. Out of sight, they stand accused of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.” – Independent, Operation enduring chaos - Kim Sengupta

LI often reads op ed pieces that begin, the United States must not abandon Iraq.

This impassioned moral plea from the smug, who are not about to leap out of their chairs to volunteer to go over and help save Iraqis, ignores the fact that the United States has already abandoned Iraq. The occupation and the abandonment have been as one thing, a dialectical entity, a living breathing monstrosity condoned by the Americans, paid for by the Americans, ruthlessly put through by the Americans, and for which America’s loss of prestige is way too little a punishment, one of the signs that this country has soured in its very pores and ouns. The abandonment started with the looting. It went through de-structuring the government. It went through the inability to even control the weapons, the random imprisonment of innocents, and the inability to imprison criminals, the razing Fallujah, the berms around Sunni cities mostly because they are Sunni, the outsourcing of American troops as instruments of ethnic cleaning, the dirty and appalling laws allowing mercenaries carte blanche in Iraq, and the now institutionalized Green Zone mentality, an almost perfect imitation of that of the Ba’athist oligarchs. Somehow, the message of the Lancet study hasn’t sunk in. The right is still attacking it, comically enough, as a dartboard approach – this is the same right that continually cites polls using sampling methods that are much narrower in scope. LI is rather suspicious, actually, of polls, and we read with interest all of the controversy surrounding the Lancet study. None of the complaints against it really confronted did more than cast into doubt some marginal process issues.
If one accepts the Lancet study, or even halves its equilibrium point to 300,000 extra fatalities, the great fact is not so much that Americans have killed a great number of Iraqis – it is that a far greater number have been killed by other Iraqis since the Americans liquidated security in the country in 2003 and signally failed, themselves, to fill that gap. And that vast number of deaths has worked like acid on the innumerable threads that keep any society together.

The question, then, isn’t about abandoning Iraq, but whether the malign and awful invaders are going to continue to sit on that country like a nightmare the people cannot get rid of.

“Iraq's savage sectarian war is now regarded as a greater obstacle to any semblance of peace returning than the insurgency, and was the main reason for the Americans recently pouring 12,000 troops into the capital - an operation that, they now acknowledge, has failed.

"Yet, ironically, the death squads are the result of US policy. At the beginning of last year, with no end to the Sunni insurgency in sight, the Pentagon was reported to have decided to train Shia and Kurdish fighters to carry out "irregular missions". The policy, exposed in the US media, was called the "Salvador Option" after the Ameri-can-backed counter-insurgency in Latin America more than 20 years ago, which led to 70,000 deaths and countless instances of human rights abuse.

"Some of the most persistent allegations of abuse have been made against the Wolf Brigade, many of whom were formerly in Saddam's Baathist forces. Their main US adviser until April last year was James Steele, who, in his own biography, states that he commanded the US military group in El Salvador during the height of the guerrilla war and was involved in counter-insurgency training. The complaints against Iraqi special forces continue. At the end of last year, while in Iraq, I interviewed Ahmed Sadoun who was arrested in Mosul and held for seven months before being released without charge.

"During that time, he said, he was tortured. He showed marks on his body, which were the results of the beatings and burnings. Mr Sadoun, 38, did not know which paramilitary group, accompanied by American soldiers, had seized him, but the Wolf Brigade was widely involved in suppressing disturbances in Mosul at the time.”

We know how the death squad template was imported. Next question: Where do the militias get their arms?

This is from a NYT story a day ago:

"The American military has not properly tracked hundreds of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces and has failed to provide spare parts, maintenance personnel or even repair manuals for most of the weapons given to the Iraqis, a federal report released Sunday has concluded.

The report was undertaken at the request of Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee …

The answers came Sunday from the inspector general’s office, which found major discrepancies in American military records on where thousands of 9-millimeter pistols and hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons have ended up. The American military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of nearly half a million weapons provided to Iraqis, the inspector general found, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands.”

Notice, LI still hasn’t listed the combinations in Iraq, as we promised to do yesterday and which we were cocky enough to do in 2003. That is because the situation has retreated to a sheer Brownian motion of violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that there are not more probable outcomes. Realistically, the U.S. is probably going to remain stuck in Iraq, multiplying the violence, for the foreseeable future – both Democrats and Republicans being as one in the D.C. consensus that we must not ‘lose’ in Iraq, which has nothing to do with Iraq, where we have already lost, and everything to do with D.C. Having flourished on the money spouted out by the Pentagon during the past five years like a tick fattening on blood, we have to imagine what D.C. will do by thinking like a tick. If a tick could get up on its hind legs and make speeches to dogs, cattle, and other warm blooded creatures, advising them for their own good, it would sound much like the editors of the Washington Post.

So, we should start our combinations by trying to think like a tick - like the odious bugs who rule us. But thinking like a tick makes my brain hurt a lot, so I will put this off until another post.

Monday, October 30, 2006

In my last post, I reprinted one from 2003 about Iraq in which I played the combinations from the American p.o.v. – that is, I listed some basic possible states (all of them combining different possibilities) that the American war in Iraq could move to. I wrote that the American policy of that time was to bet everything on one of those scenarios, and that the bet was made regardless of the fact that the combination of possibilities seem to rank it pretty low among possible outcomes. And that even then, the Americans were not resourcing or acting in such a way as to make it more possible, or patch over the internal incompossibilities –if anything, American behavior contradicted the America’s preferred goals.

The number one goal, in 2003, was this: “1. American troops withdraw. We leave behind a stable, American friendly democracy, that pays America back its 200 billion dollars [spent on the war], with interest, in a timely matter.”

By the terms of this goal, America lost the war in Iraq in Spring of 2004. In fact, winning and losing are, in a sense, stupid terms for what happened. America became irrelevant in Iraq in 2004. There was not going to be a stable state. There was not going to be an American friendly state. There was not going to be a democracy (in the broad sense – with an independent judiciary, a strong legislature, a unified chain of command over the army, etc., etc.). The Wolfowitzian promise that America would be repaid the money expended on this war was not only not going to happen, but was universally forgotten.

Now, incredibly, for the last two years the Bush administration and the majority of the governing class has pretended that America still has a chance 1. It doesn't. The impossibility is two fold: there is no will to do what would be necessary to achieve 1 in the U.S. And there is no possible way to go from the situation in Iraq back now back to a situation in which 1 is possible. It is like a cracked egg - you can't uncrack it.

In order to obviate the obvious improbability of America achieving 1, the discussion about America’s role in Iraq has been reduced to a question of staying – a wholly abstract question that tells us nothing about what the Americans are staying there to do, how they are going to do, what means they are going to use to do it, etc. Of course, whereever a vacuum of real thought occurs, ethical sentimentalism rushes in. The ethical sentimentalism of the moment is that America owes Iraq. Well, that's the fucking truth. But it is not going to 'repay' Iraq by staying and interfering in the only paths possible to peace in Iraq.

Now, I’d like to put forth another series of combinations, but it is much harder to do at the moment. My preferred combination is not from the American p.o.v. I’d like to see the Americans leave Iraq, and the Iraqis themselves hold unconditional talks between factions not to create an absolute peace, but to create the conditions for peace talks. I’d like to see the factions agree on lowering the level of violence in their areas, as well as agreeing not to attack other areas. As in Lebanon, the first step to peace is not an absolute solution to the question of power, but, first, a recognition of who has power. Only then will Iraq be able to move towards folding the militias into a reconstituted army and actually creating a new Iraqi state. I have a strong suspicion that the new Iraqi state will include Northern Iraq in name only.

It would be a D.o.G. [delusion of grandeur] to think that the Americans would cooperate on what Iraq really needs right now, however. The U.S. is still unwilling to accept reality – that is, the lesser degree of their power and influence in the Middle East. Just as Thomas Friedman and Paul Wolfowitz wanted, the Americans blindly smashed an order in the Middle East, but it turns out that this order was the optimal order for American influence. To try to prolong American hegemony in the Middle East in a new, Bushian order will sap the political will of the Americans and, in the long run, be a tremendous waste of their resources. It won’t work. However, that it won’t work still is not evident to the American governing class.

Anyway, I’m going to try to list some combinations with various American policy changes in Iraq, just to see what they would look like. In the next post, I think.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

from the past

LI likes to go through the early years, sometimes, to see what we got right and what we got wrong. This post, from 2003, right after Bush's first request for an 80 billion dollar supplemental for the war, got one thing very wrong: under the influence of the Gulf war, we really figured that the U.S. would try to squeeze back the money for the Gulf War II. Otherwise, the combinations look pretty good.

“Monday, September 08, 2003

All right. Let's do a review. The war was supposed to bring some benefits. There would be costs, there would be benefits. Now we have a better picture of both, and we have a sense of how -- from the American perspective -- they are defined. One of the great benefits of the war was the bringing down of Saddam H. The cost, in human lives and in dollars, hasn't yet been toted up -- on the Iraqi side it may never be -- but as of today we have some feel for it.

So, the Bush administration has defined the ultimate benefit in Iraq in terms of several abstractions and one pre-war claim. The pre-war claim is that Iraqi oil will pay for the war and the American contribution to Iraq. In other words, we are spending about 150-200 billion dollars on Iraq, but we will receive that money back. The abstractions can be boiled down to: a democratic, American friendly country. Like Iran under the Shah, only with elections.

Given these baselines, we can come up with combinations of possible outcomes, assign them probabilities, and ask which one will give us both 1) the greatest benefit and 2) the best odds.

I can think of five basic combinations.

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.”

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...