Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Pottery Barn Deception

By Cernig

The surge proposed by the Bush administration over the objections of the commanders on the ground - necessitating a change of those commanders to ones who would just say yes - was supposed to accomplish two things. It was supposed to reduce sectarian violence and so give breathing space to the current Iraqi leadership to reach out and touch their compatriots, forging a cross-sectarian reconciliation as a way forward which would stem the current civil war.

Unfortunately, the Maliki government has shown that it will drag its feet at every turn in that reaching out process. And now figures show that the original objective, reducing sectarian deaths, isn't being accomplished either.

From the beginning of May until Tuesday, 321 unidentified corpses, many dumped and showing signs of torture and execution, have been found across the Iraqi capital, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. The data showed that the same number of bodies were found in all of January, the month before the launch of the Baghdad security plan.
In the face of this breakdown in their Plan A - one that was widely predicted by the same folks who were correct about how the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn out badly in the first place - the Bush administration are casting about desperately for a Plan B which will accomplish their main objective. They plan to stay in Iraq forever, one Friedman Unit at a time.

In Iraq, Petreaus and his team are trying to stay loyal to Bush's parameters for their mission while making "course corrections" in the way that mission is carried out. In Washington, rival Bush administration factions are touting (and leaking) rival new spins on the mission. None will be effective because the original premises they are working from are flawed.

Bush cannot say outright that he wants the US to stay in Iraq permanently, but that is what he has always been working towards. Yet that drive for a permanent presence is itself what has fuelled not just the insurgency but the flawed political process set up in an attempt to guarantee that presence - and thus the current civil war. Because of this, the stated objectives - peace and an eventual withdrawal - will always fail in their stated aims, and succeed in their unstated aim of creating additional turmoil to justify staying the course.

The discussion today between Dale Franks at Q&O and Oliver Willis points this dichotomy up nicely. Dale comes up with a bunch of questions for liberals about the Iraqi occupation that could so easily be turned back on himself. He could so easily be asked 'how does what you advocate solve any of these questions, based upon the evidence?" Oliver does a convincing job of making a liberal reply, but I feel he misses on key point - a matter of framing which has always driven the Bush administration's doubletalk. We can call it "the Pottery Barn deception".

Dale asks "Do you reject the "you broke it, you bought it" idea?" and Oliver answers:
I didn't outright, but it's clear there's nothing we can do to fix what we broke. The simple act of us being there is preventing that, either through the Iraqis leaning on us to clean up all their messes or resentment provoked by having their country occupied by the world's sole superpower. The moment to fix it has passed us by.
In which he is correct if by "fix it" he means keep meddling. But that ignores the fact that the conservative framing of the Pottery Barn rule relies on twisting what that rule is.

As I wrote recently, the rule if properly applied demands the occupation's end:
You pay for what you broke.

You don't hang around to help fix it, glueing the wrong chunks together and maybe breaking some more stuff because you're just that clumsy. You don't loan the store the money for the breakages and you don't try to arrange it so that in return the store owners have to buy all their hardware from your store.

You pay and you leave...and you try to convince your equally clumsy friends, aquaintances and neighbours (Israel, Iran, Saudi etc) not to go blundering around in the store either.

But if the store-owners want to finish the destruction you began, that's their problem, yes? Likewise, they get to decide which workmen they call in to help clean up the mess.

So...withdrawal, reparations (apology cash), aid without strings, containment, non-interference, true sovereignty.
Let's begin planning for the first part of that Pottery Barn set of consequences for our actions. Withdrawal. I'm hoping my co-blogger Fester can step up with some ideas on that subject and I'll also be trying to put some ideas forward for what Bush won't allow the Pentagon to do.