Thursday, April 24, 2003

So.... it's begun.

According to the Washington Post, the Iraqi Shiites are already starting to move the country in a direction Washington never intended:

As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country.

The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations and is now concerned that those sentiments could coalesce into a fundamentalist government. Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy. Others were more focused on the overriding goal of defeating Hussein and paid little attention to the dynamics of religion and politics in the region.

"It is a complex equation, and the U.S. government is ill-equipped to figure out how this is going to shake out," a State Department official said. "I don't think anyone took a step backward and asked, 'What are we looking for?' The focus was on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."
Indeed it was, despite the concerns of pretty much everybody not directly caught up in the project. The biggest problem with removing Saddam has always been what to do afterwards, and outside of "quagmire week", most people were quite aware that removing Saddam's regime would be the easy part. Since outsiders knew, those insiders not hit with the blinding brilliance of America As The Shining City on the Hill should have known as well. Why didn't they prepare for something they were endlessly warned about?

Oh. Right. The looting of the museum and library. This is getting to be a trend, isn't it? There's pretty abundant proof at this point that the post-war scenario was not properly thought out, something that even the most hawkish liberals had been worrying about. While the Museum's looting was bad enough, however, the side effects this time could be catastrophic.

The administration hopes the U.S.-led war in Iraq will lead to a crescent of democracies in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied territories and Saudi Arabia. But it could just as easily spark a renewed fervor for Islamic rule in the crescent, officials said.
I do wonder who these particular "officials" are. I'm betting they're out of State, not the Pentagon, and that State had been worried about this particular eventuality for a while. This actually raises an important question- how bad is the infighting getting? It seems like State and the neoconservatives within the Bush administration really are at loggerheads on everything. There's State's desire to bring the U.N. on board, which Cheney, the Pentagon, and the Defense Policy advisor types were manifestly against. There's the question of who runs the show in post-war Iraq, and for how long, as some Defense types are already suggesting a quick pull-out after the infrastructure is rebuilt. There's the relative importance of Chalabi- darling of the neocons, and more and more a complete wash on the ground in Iraq. There's the all important question of whether Iraq will be allowed to be democratic even if the people decide that they don't want to have a close relationship with the United States. A series of stories in the media implied that the post-war chaos in Baghdad was at least partially due to dueling plans and wars over control between different branches of the U.S. government. Is this the fruit of that conflict?

More importantly, who should win that conflict? Newt Gingrich is already coming out on the side of Defense at the AEI, although somebody should let him know that Bush's agenda does not have to be the AEI or PNAC agenda. There's no doubt that the conservative media and the neocons at the helm are going to be backing their people in Defense. Still, while Defense should be given its props for (most) of their handling of the war, they shouldn't be the ones handling the peace. Not because I think that the U.S. military can't handle it, but because at this point it's already been pretty conclusively demonstrated that Rumsfeld and Co. can't be trusted with the safety and security of the Iraqi people due to their penchant for poor planning. Even if Defense stays in, the neoconservatives should definitely be taken out of rotation, as almost everything they've advocated as a solution for Iraqs woes has either had the stench of empire or has been proven hopelessly wrong. (Witness Chalabi.)

I said long before this war began that nobody would want Saddam around in-and-of himself... that, at best, he's useful mostly as a classic Hobbesian sovereign, there to keep order at the price of freedom, because the chaos of freedom would be even worse. I worried that once he was removed, the situation in Iraq would grow steadily worse, as it's an almost-entirely invented country that was only kept from flying apart by the efforts of British-backed monarchs and then the most powerful strongman in the middle east. It's a little early, of course, but it would appear that religion's centrifugal effects are already starting to take their toll.

I had also said that war is not a magic wand- that it carries its own risks and consequences, ones that can far outweigh the benefits initially sought. The end of both the Franco-Prussian War and the first World's War can be seen as examples of this, as the former led to the latter and the first World War led to an even greater one. This does not mean necessarily that those wars should not have been fought (although it takes a gifted mind to defend the insanity of the first World War), but it does mean that what plays out after the war is over matters, whether it's Bismarck's efforts to isolate France or the Treaty of Versaille where France and its allies pay back Bismarck's successors in spades, not realizing what they're actually seeding. Even the end of the Cold War can be seen in this light, as the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. was deeply traumatic to both Russians and the region, and the fallout in Russian politics has led to a streak of nationalism that is disturbing to anybody who cares to take a close look at it.

This war in Iraq looks to be moving in these very same directions. The blindness, foolishness, zealotry and tendentiousness of the neoconservatives running the show (either directly in the administration or indirectly through the conservative media) are slowly crushing the prospect of peace, prosperity, and secularity in Iraq. If they guessed wrong, and it's pretty manifestly obvious they have, their responsibility for the situation should be highlighted and publicized, and the responsibility for diplomacy should be given back to the diplomats at State.

That may not suit Bush's agenda, as Newt has been charging...

but it may save Iraq.

Edit: Another piece on the same issue. One quote, right at the top, should summarize everything that's wrong with this situation:

Just days before a meeting this week in Beijing between U.S. and North Korean officials, for instance, the Defense Department pressed to have James A. Kelly, the head of the delegation and Powell's chief Asian expert, replaced by Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, a Rumsfeld ally on North Korea. Powell rejected the suggestion.
What more needs to be said? This is a battle between the expertise and pragmatism of the people at State and the neo-conservative movementarians, a group that appears not to have sunk its claws too deep into at least one part of the American executive branch. This definitely puts Newt into context- he's trying to open the door for the Movement to take over State too. Blaming State for the alienation that the Bush doctrine prompted is only the start. Looks like we now know where Bush's next war is going to be, and it's going to be at Foggy Bottom.

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