Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | July 31, 2003

The field is wide open

by RonK, Seattle

No, not the field of successors to Gray Davis on the CA recall ballot.

And not the field of successors to Dubya in the Democratic primaries. [Not the Republican primary field either ... at least not yet.]

We're talking about the field of successors to Saddam Hussein.

The most likely sequel to a series of viceroyalties and puppet councils is a strongman regime much like Saddam's. Rivals will emerge, collide, collude and double-cross until one dominates all others, secures Iraq's borders, suppresses her many fractious factions, and makes the trains run on time.

In the alternative sequel, Iraq fractures along regional, ethnic, tribal and charismatic lines, like Afghanistan or the former Yugoslavia.

What about democracy? Iraq could be on the road to democracy, BUT ...

Iraq doesn't get real democracy until the Shi'a majority "gets religion" and embraces pluralism ... until some genius finesses the problem of regional anxiety over Kurdish federal autonomy versus Kurdish fear of nonfederal subjugation ... until gangsters demand law and order, warlords demand central authority, and theocrats demand separation of church and state.
Iraq could be on the road to democracy. Stranger things have happened. By the same token, Iraq could be on the road to civil war, "protective" invasion by neighboring states, oil-fired intervention by major powers, confrontation among global powers, and choosing up sides for WW III. I rate the two extremes about equally likely.

The odds-on favorite is strongman rule. Mr. Strongman might be another butcher. With better luck, he's a brain surgeon ... but he's still Mr. Strongman.

Pre-invasion, Saddam was in personal and political decline. The endgame might have taken a few years. Saddam passes on, Uday and Qusay vie for power, brother eliminates brother, the surviving brother fails to hold the stage, and the "first next" successor dies trying. The successful candidate keeps his powder dry and takes initiative in the chaotic reaction following a less disciplined rival's premature move. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss -- Mr. Strongman.

Immediately post-invasion, the groundrules really didn't change that much. Saddam and his kin were still players, and everybody else had to play a waiting game.

Saddam and the boys no longer cast long shadows over Iraq's political landscape. The succession contest now shifts into a more active mode.

Aspiring strongmen now enjoy increased liberty to cultivate their power bases, and they operate under greater urgency to get the jump on each other. It's now a game of first mover advantage ... but a game that must be played out under the suppressive umbrella of US occupation.

The next stage isn't a Clash of the Titans. It's more like training camp, ramping up to pre-season exhibition games. The serious contender has a lot of work to do.

Capitalize on grievances, stir up dissatisfaction, point the finger of blame. Raise and regiment an organization. Muster the angry young men into your ranks, before the next guy does. Give them something to do, and reward them for doing it.

Acquire resources -- earned, smuggled, improvised, bartered or commandeered. Declare yourself in charge of something, especially now while the rules of acquisition are poorly defined. Deliver services -- real or psychic -- to the civilian population.

Make allies, and prepare to outmaneuver them in the endgame. ldentify rivals, and prepare to intimidate or destroy them. Raise up an army (but don't call it an army), and give the army something to do.

What can your "security teams" do to get in shape for the regular season? Gather intelligence. Guard warehouses. Loot warehouses. Charge for "protection". Infiltrate allies. Assassinate rivals. Torture and terminate turncoats. It's too early for real war over real turf ... so let them go on maneuvers against symbolic objectives, and take trophies.

In this reputational game of live-fire exercises, US troops, vehicles and facilities are high-value trophies. "Get 'em while they last" ... and don't get caught.

From our perspective, the playing field heats up and the going gets bloodier with Saddam permanently out of the picture.

Posted July 31, 2003 10:30 AM


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