Sunday, March 28, 2004

Baghdad Blues ... conservative update on Mesopotamian conundrum


The oldman has been maintaining for quite some time - as of early last fall really and prior - that the fundamental problem that would afflict the success of the Iraqi venture would be political, and not primarily military or economic.

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard summarizes his trip to Iraq in these excerpts calling it "The Bumpy road to democracy":

HERE'S WHAT YOU LEARN QUICKLY IN IRAQ: The transformation of the country into a peaceful, free market democracy is a bigger, more demanding, and far more difficult project than you ever dreamed. Nonetheless, a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Operation Iraqi Freedom has gained impressive momentum. Iraq has traffic jams, street life, drinkable water, reasonably reliable electricity, and is about to experience an extraordinary economic boom, thanks to the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds soon to begin arriving. Though terrorist attacks continue, they don't halt progress and are likely to be gradually beaten back.

But don't assume a growing economy and declining terrorism spell success. There's a serious obstacle remaining--the attitude of many Iraqis.

The oldman would argue with Barnes' premise that terrorism is declining in Iraq. It seems it's shifting from anti-US attacks to more sectarian strife and struggle. This danger was amply warned of in a previous CIA assessment of potential civil war.

Fred Barnes goes on to elaborate:

"Kurds, educated exiles who've returned ..., and a good number of other Iraqis have embraced ... the "new Iraq." But many Iraqis haven't. They don't want Saddam back, but ... Like the French, they may never forgive America for having liberated them."
"Iraqis want help. Indeed, they demand it and are angry and frustrated when they don't get it instantly. But they appear to hate being helped. Their expectation was an America capable of supplanting Saddam in less than three weeks would improve everything overnight. When that didn't happen, they grew frustrated. Now they're conflicted between lashing out at the American occupation and trying to get the full benefit of it. For success to be achieved, they need to buy into the program fully--democracy, free markets, rule of law, property rights, political compromise, and patience. They need an attitude adjustment.

Americans I talked to in 10 days here agree Iraqis are difficult to deal with. They're sullen and suspicious and conspiracy-minded. Maybe it's not their fault.
But perhaps the problem is more basic. Seventy years ago, Iraq's first king, Faisal I, described Iraqis this way: "There is still--and I say this with a heart full of sorrow--no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, prone to anarchy and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever."
"The most encouraging trend in Iraq is solid economic growth, sure to be followed by torrid growth... and joblessness has dipped below 30 percent, according to Bill Block, a Princeton-educated economist for the Treasury Department now working for the CPA...

This summer the Iraqi economy will be on the receiving end of the biggest stimulus in history.

The oldman managed to catch a preliminary briefing from Fred Barnes on FOX_news, and Fred Barnes quite honestly reported that he had left for Iraq feeling quite optimistic about the prospects for success but that once he had gotten there that his assessment and revised opinion was "sobering" regarding the obstacles to success.


The news outlet KR-Wa reports that Iraqi translators are getting killed for collaborating with the United States.

Linguists are caught in the crossfire, ... Many have been unheralded casualties of the shadowy year-old war. The latest was an Iraqi translator for Time Magazine, who died Friday ... when he was ambushed Wednesday as he drove to work. Another Iraqi interpreter, working with the U.S. Army, was killed Sunday when someone triggered a remote-control bomb, then opened up with automatic gunfire on an Army patrol. An American soldier also was killed.

Furthermore much of the money being spent on the Iraqi reconstruction also as is being mispent in Pentagon contracts (KR-Wa):

In awarding the first contracts in Iraq, the Pentagon "cut corners," couldn't show that it got "fair and reasonable" prices and didn't follow up to see if the work was done properly, a new Defense Department inspector general's report says.

Experts on contracting said Wednesday that the Pentagon report shows a disturbing, but not surprising, institutional problem with spending in Iraq that's probably far worse than the Department of Defense indicates.

Furthermore, the rights enshrined on paper in the Iraqi Basic Law are both being rejected by Shiite leaders threatening mass civil disobedience (Needlenose blog) while on the ground there is encroaching intimidation characteristic of a social theocratic power grab by the Shiites:

Shiite Muslim religious extremists, backed by armed militias, are waging a campaign of intimidation to enforce a strict Islamic code of conduct in Iraq's second largest city. Neither the Iraqi police nor the British military forces that occupy Basra seem willing or able to stop it...

But the effectiveness of the campaign by religious extremists raises questions about whether freedoms of expression and religion - newly enshrined in Iraq's interim constitution - will survive in the Shiite-dominated south after the coalition returns authority to Iraqis this summer.

Even the recent "good news" about the support that Iraqis have for the American occupation seems shaky when you read the fine print (Needlenose blog). Meanwhile, basic practices of the occupation like indefinite detention of suspected insurgents (CSM), house to house searches (via Needlenose), and the failure of the new "soft touch" tactics of the Marine units to restore amity to Fallujah (Guardian_UK) seem to be sparking a wave of violence across Iraq:

Rebel rockets slammed into a government building in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing two civilians and wounding 14 others. An explosion rocked central Baghdad in a roadside bomb attack on a convoy, wounding five Iraqis.

The Mosul attack brought to 21 the number of people killed in two days of explosions and shootings across the country.

This seems consistent with background reports that Iraqis are escalating sectarian strife (via Needlenose) informally while formally making empty gestures of disarming and demobilizing their militias (via Dan Drezner).

As the oldman noted, according to the very same article cited:

"Many militiamen will likely be absorbed into existing security organizations such as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, where their loyalties will continue to be divided between their Baghdad paymasters and local or sectarian affiliations," Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote last week in a paper on Iraq's militias.

In other words, they're not going to get disarmed and "dissolved". They will get new uniforms, their paychecks will come from Baghdad, and they will probably keep the same commanders and command structure only nominally under the control of the "central" government.


If the CPA and Bremer assume that al-Sistani will back down over the constitution and he doesn't, then an explosive confrontation could be set off. This is going on, while the Taiwan election situation remains unstable with China openly threatening to intervene if the situation becomes unstable (BBC):

China, which regards Taiwan as part of its own territory, says it will not stand by if Taiwan descends into chaos.

Taiwan has told China not to interfere.

A spokesman for US President George W Bush, Scott McClellan, urged Beijing and Taipei to pursue dialogue and refrain from unilateral steps that would alter Taiwan's status. He said the US would continue to maintain close ties with Taipei.

Later, Beijing denounced as a "mistake" a US message congratulating Mr Chen after his narrow re-election was formally confirmed on Friday.

The Foreign Affairs Magazine has a great new article "Trouble in Taiwan" that discusses why somehow managing to perpetuate the status quo of de facto autonomy with de jure sovereignty limbo is in the best interests of both Taiwan and the United States.

China very much wants to avoid conflict over Taiwan. But this does not mean that it would be unprepared to go to war over the island. For China's leaders, the Taiwan issue is inextricably related to national self-respect and regime survival... Beijing regards the eventual reunification of China and Taiwan as essential to China's recovery from a century of national weakness, vulnerability, and humiliation, and to its emergence as a respected great power.

Today, however, China's main objective is not to assert direct territorial rule over Taiwan but to avoid the island's permanent loss. Losing Taiwan against Beijing's will would deal a severe blow to Chinese prestige and self-confidence: Chinese leaders believe that their government would likely collapse in such a scenario. Taiwanese independence would also establish a dangerous precedent for other potentially secession-minded areas of the country, ...

China's leaders are under few illusions about the detrimental effects a coercive strategy would have on Beijing's ties with the United States. But China would almost certainly sacrifice good relations with the West (and the economic benefits that accrue from those relations) in order to avoid losing Taiwan. The damage to China's political and social stability in being seen to lose territory, in other words, would be even greater than the diplomatic and economic damage resulting from a conflict with the United States.

The Chinese leadership would thus almost certainly fight to avoid the loss of Taiwan if it concluded that no other alternative existed, even if its chances of prevailing in such a conflict were low. Exactly how much blood and treasure China would be willing to expend over the issue is unclear, but it might be considerably more than the United States would be prepared to shoulder. Indeed, many Chinese believe that, in the final analysis, Taiwan matters far more to China than it does to the United States. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that the Chinese government can be persuaded or coerced to alter its calculus regarding Taiwan, especially not by a U.S. government that appears to be supporting Taiwan's independence. This notion directly contradicts a key assumption held by critics of the status quo.


Certainly if a crisis occured in either Tawian or Iraq, we would be in "difficult straits". If it happened in both places, then Greenboy's speculation of a draft may well come true.


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