Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Iraq: Flying The Chickenhawk Coup

Since the occupation of Iraq began, the needs of the many (Iraqis and troops alike) have been outweighed by the political needs of the Republican few.

The presentation of the occupation as a rose-covered cakewalk which needed no planning because the occupiers would be welcomed with open arms was followed, once the awful truth began to sink in, by demands that America would stay a course. That course was always designed to show American voters that the Republicans were tough and strong rather than solve problems such as reconstruction, equal rights, sectarian feuds and an insurgency fuelled by the very presence of the occupiers.

That course has failed, and failed so obviously that even the Republicans who wanted to stay it most cannot deny it. So the course must be changed - and yet again the needs of the few will outweigh the needs of the many. Tomas Barnett writes that, following the midterms, we should expect to see many other Republican luminaries following the likes of Hagel and Warner into dissent over what has been policy to date. The reason is simple - the political machinists in their smoke-filled backrooms who run the GOP know that no Republican will get elected in '08 by advocating "staying the course" and so they will demand that the party unite behind a new message, a new course that the next presdiential candidate can run on - and it must be done early enough that there is a minimum disruption to their precious message discipline.

Thus the commission chaired by James Baker, the Secretary of State in the Administration of George Bush Sr. Baker is a staunch Republican and a Bush loyalist - his task is to give continuity by steering "the course" towards a policy for the '08 presidential run without making it look like ditching the Bush line outright. He is said to be considering three possible options - a federalizing of Iraq into three mostly autonomous regions, the imposition of a strongman "junta" or, as suggested by David Ignatius, a solution that involves a wider Middle East resolution and the involvement of local nations such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia - perhaps by classifying Iraq as some kind of U.N. Protectorate and moving in a multi-national peacekeeping force to allow the current occupiers to make a phased withdrawal. The last option could partner the first.

But for now, the rhetoric has to be "stay the course" - at least until after the U.S. midterms. That any decision will be held off until then, for purely partisan political reasons, is causing nervousness, uncertainty and further bloodshed.

The international option is favored by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani who says it could end violence in Iraq "within months". Donald Rumsfield, on the other hand, says "Neither Iran nor Syria have been helpful," but then Rummie is one of those in the administration who appears to think America should never talk with those it disagrees with. Talibani has always backed federalism too - especially when it comes to his own Kurdish region.

Federalism - which many see as the prelude to a truly "hot" civil war and the eventual break-up of Iraq - has been opposed by Sunnis, who fear it would leave them in the lurch and by Shiites such as the influential Muqtada al-Sadr. The Kurds and many Shiites, who would gain advantages by such a move, widely are in favor.

In favor of the "strongman" solution are many of the neocon think-tankers who talked Bush and the nation into the current mess in the first place. One of their favorite candidates as dictator or member of a junta is Ahmed Chalabi, the man they always wanted to install as strongman boss of the Satrapy of Iraq. Others include one of the main Sunni political blocs, who surely see it as a surefire way of preventing the Balkanisation of Iraq. Bush himself, while saying that he supports the Malkiki government, has called Maliki's reluctance to reign in the militias "unacceptable" -dpilospeak for "do something now or we get nasty" - and back in June the U.S.'s neocon ambassador to Iraq, a man who has often seemed to be pulling the strings of the Maliki administration, gave them six months to succeed in this, or else. Maliki is now asking for more time and obviously worried that he will be ousted by the occupiers.

I think he is right to worry. Despite a level of incompetence that means neither President nor top intelligence officials can tell the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni, the Bush administration continues to ride roughshod over its own declaration of Iraqi sovereignty. Given a set of options, one of which is throwing Maliki to the wolves and getting that strongman they always wanted, the strongman option - a coup, indeed - will win. Baker, the Bush Family consigliere, with typical Republican attention to framing has described this option as "Stability First". A better title would be "Democracy? Fuggettaboutit!".

A prerequisite for acceptance of any policy that says ditch democracy in Iraq would first have to blame the Iraqis for the failures of the Bush administration, and indeed that is more and more what we are seeing. The Chickenhawk Coup will come as news to all except those who have been planning it all along.

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