OxBlog

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Compare the following opinion columns by Iraqi National Congress leaders Ahmad Chalabi and Kanan Makiya. Chalabi's is from the WSJ, Makiya's from the Guardian. (Also note the Guardian's fawning interview with Makiya).

The first thing you will notice about the two columns -- both critical of the US plan for a military government in postwar Iraq -- is how much softer Chalabi's tone is. Sensibly, Chalabi observes that
For Iraq to rejoin the international community under a democratic system, it is essential to end the Baathist control over all aspects of politics and civil society. Iraq needs a comprehensive program of de-Baathification even more extensive than the de-Nazification effort in Germany after World War II. You cannot cut off the viper's head and leave the body festering. Unfortunately, the proposed US plan will do just that if it does not dismantle the Baathist structures.
Chalabi's harshest criticism of the US plan is that it would "ultimately leave important decisions about the future of Iraq in the hands of either foreign occupiers or Saddam's officials."

In contrast, Makiya writes that the American plan's
driving force is appeasement of the existing bankrupt Arab order, and ultimately the retention under a different guise of the repressive institutions of the Baath and the army.
This difference in tone reflects the fact that: a) Makiya has no official position in the INC and can thus say things that Chalabi can't; and b) Chalabi dares not antagonize the Wall Street Journal and its readers with anti-American tirades like Makiya's, since it is the only leading American newspaper whose editors openly support the INC.

But the real question here is why the journalistic standard bearers of the British left and American right have adopted identical positions on how to run postwar Iraq. The answer to this riddle can be found in the following quote from Makiya's column:
The plan is the brainchild of the would-be coup-makers of the CIA and their allies in the Department of State, who now wish to achieve through direct American control over the people of Iraq what they so dismally failed to achieve on the ground since 1991.
Now, as any good conspiracy theorist knows, the CIA stopped directing coups in the 1970s. With Langley out of action, its responsibilities fell not to the State Department, but rather to the Pentagon.

Surely, you ask, a professor of Middle Eastern studies such as Makiya must know this? Of course he does. But Makiya and Chalabi also know that it is the Pentagon which has waged bureaucratic war against the State Deparment on the INC's behalf.

In a classic irony of the post-Vietnam era, America's generals want to hand over responsibility for their mission to Iraqi civilians while the State Department insists that the US armed forces govern Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion.

Unsurprisingly, the Wall Street Journal has taken the side of the Pentagon and decided to support the INC. The Guardian, on the other hand, has gleefully taken advantage of the opportunity to publish anti-American invective from a nominal American ally such as Makiya. Presumably, the Guardian's editors have no idea that they have become the unwitting implements of a Pentagon conspiracy.

Having cut through the strange politics of the INC's coverage, we come to the more practical question of whether the United States should support the INC. The answer is no.
The State Department recognizes -- correctly -- that the INC has failed to demonstrate that it can function as a unified whole, rather than as a collection of egos and factions. Nor has the INC shown that it has a realistic sense of how to construct a democratic state.

In addition, State recognizes that the INC has only limited support in Iraq itself, as a result of its long-term exiles tenuous connections to the current population. Moreover, neither the INC nor the other exile organizations effectively represent either the Kurds of northern Iraq or the Shi'ites of the south. As such, the INC's constant insistence that it should head a transitional postwar government would be a much greater affromt to the ideal of democracy than would a US military occupation.

With the US military in charge, Iraqis of all ethnic, religious and political backgrounds can be sure that those with the final word in Baghdad will play by the rules and not favor any particular faction. Only in such an environment can democracy flourish.

Update: Read Overspill's insightful comments on Chalabi's column.
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