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Saturday | June 14, 2003

Bremer's dilemma

Part two of a series

The average Iraqi sees his new overlords, and that's what they are, speeding in armored Mercedes and protected by plainsclothed guards. Which is exactly what they saw when Saddam was in charge.

Paul Bremer was dropped into a situation not of his own making or choice, and has remarkably little he can do to influence it. Security, despite the antics of Bernie Kerilk, former 9/11 opportunist and NYPD Commissioner, is still in the hands of the Army. He can only ask for security help, he cannot order it.

Which means he has lost the most important tool in his occupation. The inability to provide even nominal physical safety and security has undermined any possible support he might have had from the Iraqi people.

The fact was that his bosses in the E-Ring listened too closely to Ahmed Chalabi and his tone poem of glorious Iraq without Saddam. Every other expert said there would be factional violence and disorder. Rumsfeld and his aides picked the "virtuous" Chalabi over the experts we had in place who knew modern Iraq.

Only Rummy and his crew were shocked to see that Chalabi had zero support in Iraq, and the few who knew whom he was remembered he was convicted of fraud in Jordan. They also expected that the infrastructure of Iraq would remain in place, that their fantasies of bloodlessly removing Saddam and inserting their own man would actually happen. Instead, everyone went home and stayed there.

The politics of virtue

Bremer is handicapped with directives which rely on the thinnest of hopes. Iraq's security situation cannot wait for the formation of a new army. They need armed police under US control now. But the military is loathe to arm thousands of Iraqis , unsure of what they will do.

The absolute refusal of UN member states to aide in the policing of Iraq only makes this situation worse. The US is so concerned with de-baathisation over maintaining order that they fired the Army without thinking. A stupider plan could not have been imagined.

Telling them that they had no job and no likilhood for one seems an act of virtue over common sense. "We must cleanse Iraq" sounds fine at an AEI dinner or over drinks at a Federalists meeting. It condemns American soldiers to death in the field. Simple as that. Refusing to pay the army sends thousands of trained soldiers right into the arms of the Shia militias, Arab volunteers and whomever else will pay them.

To make an obvious point, a limited demobilization, with mustering out pay and rations would have created good will, if not respect. Just stating something like
"we recognized that you fought bravely for your country and that you deserve some recompense for your service." would have earned the respect of the officer corps. Tossing them out like bums in the street wounded their pride and made them a very dangerous element in society. Iraqi units were regionally and ethnically based. Everyone knows everyone, their home towns and who they served with.

Waiting to rebuild their army is a mindbedingly stupid idea. That will take years, and unlike the end of WWII, there aren't millions of them dead or in overseas POW camps. They are sitting around, with no money, families to feed and watching.

There seems to be a thread of virtue running through US policy, that we are rigth and opposing us can only be done for callow or self-interested reasons, which is insane on it's face, but a trademark of the team B planners now running the Pentagon.

In 1976, Paul Wolfowitz was part of a study which said the CIA was wrong on estimates of Soviet strength. Calling themselves Team B they created wild estimates of that same strength by cherrypicking intelligence estimates. In the end, even the CIA's original estimates were completely off. This method was used again in the 1990's about China and then Iraq. However, since we didn't wage war against the Soviets or China, it didn't matter. Now, Americans are wounded and killed behind these wild, now highly questionable, estimates of Iraqi power.

This emphasis on the virtue of the regime in question led to a fantastic belief that the Iraqis would be willing accomplices in their occupation and basically maintain the state while we sorted out who would run the country after Saddam. Instead, the Iraqis remained sullen and hunkered down as crime exploded across the country.

The average Iraqi has no incentive to help us or a stake in our success. The lack of water and power have caused great resentment among the average Iraqi, who is war weary and would be more than happy to have a life where the need for AK 47's was limited to family heirloom.

It is simply amazing that the US assumed so little and relied on the word of exiles.

Some facts of occupation:

* The main power in Iraq is now a cluster of Shia clerics, some of whom are neutral to US power, some backed by Iran, but all envisioning an Islamic state where Sharia law dominates civil life. We can pretend that will pick the next rulers of Iraq, but that is artifice. Ayatollah Al-Hakim had 27 relatives murdered by Saddam, Ayatollah Sadr had his father and brothers murdered by Saddam. They don't call the Shia slum of Baghdad Chalabi City.

When Sadr or Al-Hakim walk among the Shia, they are heroes because they have survived and suffered with Iraqis, not sat in some London or Detroit office building playing exile in waiting. They have both credibility and gravitas that our choice Chalabi does not.

We tried this with the French, picking General Giraud to "run" the resistance because we didn't trust DeGaulle not to turn into some kind of tinhorn dictator. Luckily for France, he was a man of his word. But how did DeGaulle succeed?
First, he created an armed force. Second, he controlled the resistance in France to the point where the leaders accepted his leadership and no one elses. Third, after the invasion, he gave the order for the resistance to take over the town halls and impose their own government. And when things got hairy, he ordered all of the resistance into the First French Army. He used the resistance to constantly change the facts on the ground and by creating a French Army to fight alongside the allies, he negated much of the effects of the 1940 surrender.

Let's look at what the Shia have done:

1) Created armed militias. 2)Provided local relief services and order 3)Established their own government and forced the coalition to work with them. 4) begin the imposition of Sharia law.

As they do this, the US stands unable to do more than stare as they acquire power.


Because of the politics of virtue, subtly egged on by the Shia, who don't want the Baathists back, the US bans and even fires former Baath Party members, people, btw, who also have the technical expertise to run the police and the oil fields. So, if you don't have baathists, whom do you turn to? The Shia and in the north, the Kurds.

While their grievances against Saddam are real, there is also a great deal of gamesmanship going on.

* Bremer doesn't have the resources he needs to be an effective viceroy
In a world where Donald Rumsfeld thought and then spoke, thousands of UN policemen would be providing security with the help of the US military. They would have far better Arabic language understanding and have a much easier time of restoring order to Iraq's cities.

There would also be help in rebuilding the infrastructure. As it stands, the US will bear most of the cost for any such project and cannot call on non-US experts to help restore power.

Instead, we are seen as impotent and they then remember they hate infidel invaders anyway. One feeds off the other.

*The lack of security makes his people targets. If you need security to do even the most basic of tasks, how can you be effective?

You can't.

The whole choice of location for the occupation HQ reeked of virtue and little common sense. Instead of commandeering a commercial office building or part of one of the college campuses, they set up in one of Saddam's old palaces. Besides sending a horrible message to the locals, they make for poor office buildings. They make it seem as if we're sitting as conquerers on the old emperor's throne.

When you have to be protected by troops, how can you deal effectively with the Iraqis? Our occupation relies for almost everything for the military. Bringing in NGO's seems to be a secondary thought.

*Iraq makes a poor laboratory. The talk coming from Bremer seems ladened with free market dogma and little of the realities of life in a market economy. The plans for the oil economy may sound great in Washington, but one thing Saddam is praised for was taking control of the oil from the Western companies. Even though he stole a lot of that money for himself, he was smart enough to let some of it trickle down. In a nationalistic country, Saddam's act played well. A US sell-off of oil resources could have a very nasty backlash.

All of these neocon ideas, like the early attempts to sell water in Umm Qasr, makes us few friends in Iraq. Experimenting with market driven systems could well face a AK47 veto.

* The exiles from the West are useless. No one knows them, no one respect them. They are seen as American ciollaborators or irrelevant to modern Iraqi politics. Bremer's rejection of the hapless Chalabi is clearly a sign they recognize this. He's not a serious man, except among his Washington fan club.

*What is quietly going to become very clear is that Bremer is in a hopeless position. He doesn't have and isn't likely to get the tools that he needs to begin a serious reconstruction. He cannot control the US military, which makes his job harder with each weapons search. He may want all weapons turned in, but only a fool would turn in a useful weapon with anarchy still ruling at night. Imagine most of Dallas or New Orleans with no police. Would you go unarmed for long? And would you give up that protection because some clowns in a palace which they rarekly leave said so? Or would you wait until they rape your teenage sister in a society where rape dishonors the family?

Rumsfeld's arrogance assumed the US didn't need any stinkin' UN plutocrats. Or any of that Shinseki's meddling. Well, they needed both. The reason the US is moving so slowly is that there is less emphasis on making Iraq work, than making Iraq work according to the PNAC plan of free markets and a pro-West government.

That kind of fantastic thinking benefits one group above all else: the Shia clerics. They get nominal US support and are allowed to form their own power bases while the US is unable to prevent it. In a supreme irony, while US troops die in attacks from shadowy guerrillas, the shia clerics benefit from a Saddamless Iraq where they can openly organize and arm. In the end, unless things change rapidly, Wolfolwitz's team B mentaility may well deliver up Iraq as an Islamic Republic as Iran slides into secularlism.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 14, 2003 01:49 PM | Comments (65)


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