Friday, November 30, 2007

A more plausible reading of US policy: Maliki "under control", leading Iraq to US-protectorate status

There are a number of left-over questions relating to the last year or so of Iraqi political history, among them: (1) Why exactly did Khalilzad and the US end up supporting Maliki for prime minister in spring 2006 in spite of Maliki's well-known Iranian connections; and (2) what was the meaning of all the subsequent newspaper leakage from Washington citing complaints about Maliki's "weakness" and "incompetence" and so on; not to mention (3) why did the US swing to the Sunnis take the form it did (arming Sunni tribes) rather than any effective Sunnification at the level of the Green Zone government. These are of course part of the Big Question: Whether the American policy has actually been to help dismember the country--including via the Maliki administration--or whether on the other hand there is still any sense in clinging to the idea that US policy "really" aimed at keeping the country together, but was plagued by mistakes and failures.

An important missing hypothesis in this question comes as part of a commentary by Haroun Mohammad in his regular op-ed in Al-Quds al-Arabi this morning (Friday November 30, it's on page 19 if you have to go to the archives for the pdf), his immediate topic being the agreement in principle signed by Maliki recently committing to long-term US military "support" for the Iraqi government, something this writer says will in effect turn Iraq into an "American protectorate" by the time Bush is ready to pack his bags for home. The agreement was the result of a 20-minute phone conversation between Bush and Maliki, no prior studies, no negotiations, no consultations, no nothing. Just like that.

What this shows, says Haroun Mohammad, is something important about the personality of Maliki, which is not only devoid of any kind of Iraq-national component, but is really devoid of anything else either, except for doing what he is told to do, in this case by the Americans. And he explains:
It is no coincidence that the American occupiers selected him to use as head of government...even though his connections to Iran were well-known, having fled there and spent a long time there. His connection to the Americans started to strengthen right after the occupation, for instance according to Dawa party sources, it was Paul Bremer who picked Maliki to be a member of the DeBaathification Commission and to be its general manager, in spite of the fact that the Dawa Party had proposed others in its leadership who had experience in the human rights file.

And according to people in Ibrahim Jaafari's circle, Maliki didn't vote for Jaafari as the party's candidate for Prime Minister [in spring 2006] but stood against him, even though he was his comrade in the party, and instead supported Adel Abdul Mahdi, then Jaafari's rival, once he [Maliki] found out the Americans didn't want the Jaafari administration to continue, and were leaning to Mahdi instead. ... And now [Jaafari] has been working for months to cure the party from the hegemony of Maliki, and to rescue it from the grip of the Americans, his followers say.
In other words, the Americans liked Maliki because he was at their fingertips, so when Mahdi was unable to garner the necessary votes, the nod went to Maliki, for his subservience.

In the same vein, Haroun Mohammad tells about a member of the former Allawi government, who went to Washington in 2005 to work as a "researcher" in a Washington think-tank, and he found out about the thinking behind the US support for Maliki.
[He told] how senior people in State, Defence, National Security and the CIA called him to a meeting in April 2006, during the crisis over the formation of the [current] government, and they asked him about his information and views on Maliki, who at the time wasn't yet a name among those being talked about as a candidate. He explained to them that Maliki was of modest [or insignificant] intellectual and political abilities, and he gave details about his political career and his connections with Iran and Syria. They said: "We know all that. We're asking you about his personal character. We would like you to put aside your prior attitude against him and talk to us objectively." He replied that his personality was weak and closed, and he proceeded to give them details on that point, to expressions of pleasure on the faces of all.

And this former official said when he told a number of his friends in Baghdad, including Allawi, that the Americans were going to support Maliki, they all had the same reaction: Surely you're joking.

A member of the Iraqi Accord Front says he heard with his own ears US Ambassador Khalilzad tell IAF leader Adnan Dulaimi: "Support al-Maliki, he is under control--" this was in May 2006 before completion of the composition of the current government. And there are many witnesses who can show that the Americans brought him [Maliki] and set him up as Prime Minister for their own purposes, thinking him a person who will carry out whatever they want and desire, without discussion. And in fact we have seen how American officials and members of Congress have dealt with him in ways that aren't even suitable for any human relationship, and they give him instructions and orders as if he were a flunky in some institution in Washington or California, without ever hearing any opposition not to mention the word "no". And this has led many American newspapers to call his performance "disappointing", "a failure", "unsuitable", and so on. And certainly these names didn't come out of nowhere, rather this was the gist of his character and his concerns and his abilities, as it was known beforehand. Because it is well known that the Americans reject having partners when it comes to running countries they occupy, rather they have only cooperators and those who submit to their agendas and their plans. So it is that we have seen Bush dictate to him the terms of this so-called American initiative...
And he goes on to elaborate on the absurdity of giving away a country's sovereignty based on a 20-minute phone call.

This seems almost self-evident. But having followed this issue for the last year or so, I would like to underline how this analysis of Maliki--seemingly very simple and straightforward--would actually give the lie to much of what has been written about this period of Iraqi political history. Because it has been popular in the media and elsewhere to file all of the Maliki-Bush events under the heading of Bush's stupidity in unwittingly giving the control of Iraq to an Iranian partisan; and to call for American withdrawal on the basis that political events there are out of control. The hypothesis outlined here--namely that Maliki is and has always been "under control"--would require a different reading, putting more emphasis on the idea that in fact the dismemberment of the country, which Maliki has done so much to promote, is part of the American strategy, not an index of its failure.

19 Comments:

Blogger annie said...

excellent post

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose this goes a long way in explaining why an actual coup against Maliki never materialized - Maliki was suppose to be weak and ineffectual, and has accordingly played the role brilliantly. Everything the U.S. does in Iraq is predicated on breeding dependency with the presumption of keeping its forces in place there. It will be interesting to see if Maliki will be allowed seal his little deal with Bush on executive order without the approval of the legislature. If that goes down, there can be little doubt left about his quisling status.

anna missed

2:06 PM  
Anonymous shirin said...

Very important article and commentary, Badger - thanks.

I have some thoughts brewing, but need more time to process them and make sure they make sense. In the meantime, I can make a few small comments immediately.

You know, until the last couple of days I have rejected the term puppet to describe the Iraqi "government" because I believed that it did not even rise to the level of a puppet government - it was less significant even than that. Therefore, I referred to it as a make-believe government, and to Maliki as the make-believe prime minister (lower case intentional here). However, I am prepared now to consider that Maliki, anyway, might have earned the title of puppet, particularly with the signing of this agreement to become a permanent American military base.

The parliament, on the other hand, has developed into quite a different matter with its nationalist majority. It has shown itself willing in some matters to defy the emperor, and act in the interest of Iraq and Iraqi people, and more importantly it has not been completely ineffective. Its refusal to approve the onerous oil law is an example. I am not quite fully prepared to remove the make-believe designation, but if there is any hope on the political front, it is this parliament - assuming it is able under the circumstances to assert any authority.

And that brings up the question, what about the parliament in this question of the "permanent relationship" and the Iraqi state "embracing" the "protection" or whatever it was of the United States - not to mention giving American companies some sort of preferred status (my god, doesn't that stink rather badly of racketeering?!). The only reason I have not fallen into complete despair over this latest agreement is that under the Iraqi constitution this kind of agreement must be made by the parliament. The prime minister simply cannot do this legally. So, will the parliament try to assert its constitutional authority in this matter, and if it does will it be able to succeed?

And finally, I am not quite ready to go fully with the view that dismembering Iraq was ever the Bush regime's goal. There is still a very strong keystone kops flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants-andm desperately-making-it-up-as-they-go quality to the entire Iraq adventure. I think they really, really did believe that they would be able to put Chalabi in power over a grateful Iraq, and soon be on to their next conquest, minus a few tens of thousands of troops stationed in the permanent bases that Chalabi would happily sign off on. Ever since it became obvious that wasn't going to happen, I think there has been a series of one desperate failed decision after another. No doubt they did choose Maliki because of his pliability, and that has worked out pretty well for them so far. It may be that they have decided that dismemberment of Iraq is acceptable to them as a byproduct of achieving their main goals of a controllable puppet, permanent bases, a regional command and control center (which they laughably call an embassy), and control over the oil, but I don't think that is a goal of theirs, or necessarily even their preference. I could be wrong of course, but that is what my intuition is telling me, and when it comes to Iraq my intuition is almost always pretty accurate. Of course, time may tell, or we may never know for certain.

11:58 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Just on that last point for now, Shirin, I think I probably sometimes exaggerate a little just to sort of make sure the point gets across amidst all the Washington argle-bargle. It would be better to put it this way: The US strategy is the much the same with the nation as a whole as it is with people. What they want is subservience. If they can't get it by asking nicely, then there are always other alternatives, and finally torture. You could say: Well they don't set out to torture each and every prisoner, they're more or less flying by the seat of their pants in trying to get cooperation, and that would probably be true. But it doesn't alter the fact that there isn't any bar to torture, where needed, as far as they are concerned. It is the same with the nation. True, there were people how believed in Chalabi and they had Bush's ear; then Bremer believed in indirect elections, and so on. But in pressing for the political subservience that is their aim, where nothing else works there was always dismemberment, just as there is always torture in the case of intractable individuals. And I think the question (for purposes of understanding how the process works) isn't so much when exactly the exasperated arrogance and the fundamental screw-you attitude turns legally into torture in individual cases; similarly with national dismemberment. You could well be right that it isn't an "end in itself", as if they thought dismemberment was the only way to achieve the political subservience they are looking for. But the process naturally goes in that direction.

One reason why I have been using this shorthand of "dismemberment versus striving to keep national unity" and oversimplifying, is that the debate among the Democrats seems to me to be completely off-topic. They are talking as if US policy has been to try and keep the country together, and mistakes were made which mistakes need to be rectified. That isn't the case at all. The policy has been to get subservience by all possible means, including possibly dismemberment, and pretending otherwise is just a way of shutting people's eyes to the essence of what US policy is and focusing instead on short-term tactical military issues.

In short: You're right. Maybe dismemberment isn't the preferred outcome. But the fact that it is part of the arsenal of strategic weapons says as much about political policy as torture says about the moral underpinnings.

Meanwhile I'd like to hear more about what your intuition is telling you about what happens next...

6:15 AM  
Blogger annie said...

badger, as much as i totally appreciate you're scribe posts, it is in these comments where you often really shine.

thanks always

7:10 PM  
Blogger annie said...

shit. 'your'... re scribe..thank you for this essential task of translation.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

Badger, I certainly agree with you that dominance is the overriding motivation. My take on it at the moment is that the original plan was to keep Iraq in one piece with their puppet - first Chalabi, and when that did not work out, `Allawi - heading the country. When they were forced to allow elections, and could not control or manipulate them sufficiently to get one of their guys in a good position, they at least managed to get a pliant Maliki and his cabinet, who are adequately subservient, but separatists. To me it looks like they may have to accept dismantlement as a tolerable, though not necessarily desirable side effect of achieving dominance. I do not see dismantlement as a means of obtaining dominance so much as a consequence of being stuck with a separatist as their puppet.

My sense is not that Bremer believed in indirect elections (or elections of any sort), but that when the U.S. was pushed into a corner on this matter he decided on this method because it provided a lot of opportunity for him to control and manipulate the process and the outcome while still allowing him to call it an election, and pretend it really was about democracy.

I could not agree with you more that the Democrats are talking off-topic, and they are doing that on virtually every aspect of the Iraq business, including of course just what you described. They do not even remotely get it. Of course, the Democrats are for the most part no less imperialistically inclined than are the Republicans. The main difference is not the goals, or even so much the means, though those do differ, but the style with which they go about it. But then when has the United States ever had a government that conducted itself in as brazen a manner as the Bush regime has?

On the question of what my intuition is telling me about the next stage of things, one of the things that is terribly difficult when the outcome is of great personal importance is to distinguish wishful thinking and worst fears from actual intuition. I've mostly been able to sort that out, but sometimes it takes a while.

From the outset I have felt beyond a doubt that there could be no possible positive outcome for Iraqis from being "liberated". My greatest fear has always been that the Bush project will succeed. The terrible consequences of that include, but go well beyond Iraq. At the same time underlying all my fears and hopes and senses of dread and doom is an intuitive confidence that ultimately Iraqis will never accept a permanent controlling foreign presence over their country and their lives and their resources.

Iraqis, contrary to the popular nonsense promulgated by self-appointed experts and talking heads (and a number of people who should know Iraq better than that), have always had a strong sense of national identity and pride. We saw this resurrected briefly when Iraq won the Asia Cup this year, and we have seen it in less clear and dramatic fashion a few other times since 2003. The majority of Iraqis do not want the country broken up, and this is reflected, interestingly enough, in the parliament, which is the only part of the "government" that is at least sort of elected.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqi people want the Americans out, and the overwhelming majority of Iraqi people have known all along that the Americans had no intention of ever leaving. Iraqis are exhausted right now, and just want something that looks like normalcy, but Iraqis are also very strong and extremely strong willed.

1:02 AM  
Anonymous gj said...

Badger -understand why a blogger might be tempted to not let facts get in the way of a good story. But really are you comfortable with Shirin's emotional outpouring engendered by this report which you have represented as fact and have then have censored differing views on questions of those fact?

ie: Instead of allowing them to be aired and then commenting in riposte yourself?

Correct me if am under misapprehension, but I always understood this site as basically being an intelligent criticism/revelation of orchestrated US Admin propaganda and how it influences the US media?

So what are you doing now? On the face of it promoting an outsider Arab media outlet's tendentious view and then representing it as fact. Followed by the deletion of a commenter's questioning of the facts?

Don't you think you have some responsibilities here to infrormed debate?

2:31 AM  
Blogger badger said...

gj, Your pro-occupation trolling here and elsewhere is aimed at turning any serious discussion into a fruitless pissing contest. That's why, as a service to thoughtful readers, it is deleted.

5:24 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Shirin, thanks for setting all of that out. For me, from the side of US "policy" and the marketing of it, I think my point is that there is something in between dismantlement as an explicit policy-tool for control, and being "stuck with a puppet who is a separatist". By which I mean: At every turn, where the US was faced with alternatives, it chose the easy alternative of siding with a friendly sect or at least a sectarian approach, at the expense of the more-difficult alternative of promoting the nation. This is illustrated from the decision to set up the first Interim Governing Council on a sect-allocation basis, right down to the current intimations about battles between State and Defense over the policy toward Sunni tribes. By and large, the winner has always been the sectarian approach. So while US policy may not have ever been explicitly pro-partition, still, it isn't quite right to say they ended up "stuck" with Maliki either. Rather, the policy was something embedded in the hearts and minds of the US decision-makers, namely: When in doubt, in any given case, always go with the friendly sect, not with the nation. As you can tell, I'm still chewing on this.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous gj said...

Badger, I have openly stated here my background, my interests and where I am coming from. I have also openly stated here other sobriquet's under which I post on other sites. For the record "bb" on JWN and Abu Aaadvark and "Barbara" on Informed Comment.

I can do no more than that, and you call it "trolling?"

Going back to Haroun Mohammad's op ed in Al Quds:

Is it not fact that Maliki spent most of his exile in Syria?

Is it not fact that Jafaari's appointment was blocked by an alliance of the Sunni and Kurdish blocs in 2006 and that Maliki was only able to get the job with their consent?

And is it not fact that bi lateral agreements are negotiated government to government usually over considerable periods of time and not conducted in a 20 minute phone call between the leaders?

If these are facts, what other evidence did Haroun Mohammad advance for the assertion that Maliki is under "control"?

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

At the risk of being accused of making an "emotional outpouring":

- How many years Maliki spent here versus how many there is quite irrelevant. What IS relevant is that the Da`wa party and the very closely affiliated SCIRI (or whatever more "politically correct" name they are using now) are deeply beholden to and closely allied with the Iran regime.

- What is significant is that Maliki's appointment was blocked - and very openly so - by George Bush, who instructed his ambassador, Khalilzad, to inform the UIA that Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Ja`fari as prime minister, and that shortly after that Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw arrived in Baghdad to meet with leaders of UIA, following which the less prominent and more pliable Maliki was selected as prime minister.

- How bilateral agreements are negotiated between independent sovereign states is irrelevant in cases like this, in which a country is under occupation by a foreign military power.

What is relevant is not whether what you stated are facts, but whether they apply or are significant in the case we are discussing. In the case of Iraq they either do not or are not, or both. As for evidence that Maliki is under control, one does not need Haroun Mohammad to provide evidence. The evidence is clear in Maliki's responses to Bush, with who, by the way, he has to endure video conferences at least weekly - hardly a typical requirement of a leader of an independent sovereign state.

End of "emotional outpouring".

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

Badger, this is a very interesting and worthwhile discussion for me. We are in complete agreement that from the beginning the United States has consistently chosen a sectarian approach in Iraq as it has lurched from disaster to disaster. Whether that was due to a predetermined calculated strategy for gaining dominance and control by creating sectarian strife is open to question. My belief is that they went in with some very fundamental misconceptions about relations among Iraqis, and thereby inadvertently created the internal strife that exists today.

Clearly the above is an oversimplification, and I will try to expand on it a bit tomorrow.

12:43 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Shirin, I'm sure there is a lot to what you say about the initial misconceptions. But then as the whole story unfolded, I guess what we're really talking about is what was the mix in Washington between ignorance and malice, not to put too fine a point on it. This is a big issue, and one with a big bearing on the transition to the Democrats. So let's continue to try and hash it out whenever... Btw as far as I'm concerned there's nothing wrong with [over]simplification in the process of thinking something through. (See the end of the following post for a good example...)

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Shirin said...

Uuuuuuuffffff! I only just now spotted an error in one of my comments from last night, even after multiple proof-readings:

"What is significant is that Maliki's appointment was blocked...by George Bush." Of course, it was Ja`fari's appointment that the Bush regime blocked, not Maliki's, which they ultimately allowed to go ahead.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Badger and Shirin,

Good points all and I think you're right to hold in abeyance a decision as to whether the dismemberment of Iraq was a US administration plan from the outset.

I have done quite a bit of thinking and exploration of this idea and have so far tracked back as far as the London conference of December 2002, convened and hosted by Ambassador Khalilzad. You may recall that while the bickering was going on at ground level the Ambassador himself was hammering out an agreement with Abdul Aziz, Talabani, Barzani and Chalabi. The resulting statement on Iraq's political future was rather anodyne but seemingly agreeable to all parties.

However, a later interview with Zebari led to the following - quite revealing, I think - quote: "But most Kurdish leaders are convinced that the majority of the Arab population of Iraq, yielding to nationalist feelings, would reject a federal constitution. "The Iraqi Arabs are far too chauvinistic," says one. "We cannot take our proposal to an Iraqi assembly. It would be killed off," asserts Hoshyar Zibari.[sic]

According to US media reports around February '03 there were leaks from the VP's office that Chalabi had been effectively dumped. Were these just a smokescreen or had Zal identified more reliable partners in the Shi'a community who he felt were able to deliver a constituency in Iraq??

When Gen Garner was appointed to the top job in Iraq it was because there was an expectation of a massive refugee outflow. Was this expectation based on the Kosovo experience? Was the administration, having been convinced of the deep sectarian extant in Iraq, expecting a "cleansing" of the Shi'a community and therefore a neat partition already carried out prior to the fall of Iraq to coalition troops?

Badger, you're right to point to the appointment of the IGC by sectarian quota but don't neglect the TAL and the fervour of Ambassador Bremers language; that Iraq must never again be subjected to the "tyranny" of central government and the way it lays out a plan for Kirkuk that is effectively a charter for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs who have only been there 20-odd years or so. Imagine if that kind of forced - but compensated - relocation were advocated as a solution to the other ME issue....

Shirin, you're right of course to point to the undermining of the anti-federalist Jaafari - which has been quite well documented - but Maliki wasn't the man Zal wanted in the post; it was al Mahdi, he of the "favorable" oil law. Maliki was the "compromise" candidate when all else failed but unfortunately he was always too beholden to those nasty nationalist Sadrists.

I found it very interesting that during the testimony to Congress in September, while Gen P was talking about creating a space for reconciliation and unity, his Ambassador made much of the progress toward de-centralisation and was positively effusive in his claims that the Anbar tribes had come to see the benefits of the policy. Two men sitting at the same table and contradicting each other on the goals of the United States efforts in Iraq and not a single representative, journalist or commentator noticed the blindingly obvious.

There's a great deal to explore and depths to plumb between these salient points but in summary I would say that it will be very difficult to prove that the US intended partition at the outset but absolutely impossible to prove that the desired end state in the country was a unified country with a functionally effective central government.

It may be, as you say Shirin, that in leaping from one crisis to another the US just ended up where it is but given that all the mistakes lead in the same direction and the next crisis was largely a consequence of the last decision, that case too is difficult to make.

Thank you guys for carrying on the discussion.

7:21 PM  
Blogger badger said...

TAL = Transitional Administrative Law dated 8 March 2004
text in English here
The text Steve refers to, linking "tyranny" to a strong central government is in Section 52. It includes this: "The design of the federal system in Iraq shall be established in such a way as to prevent the concentration of power in the federal government that allowed the continuation of decades of tyranny and oppression under the previous regime". And Section 53C talks about the formation of federal regions outside of Kurdistan, which is something that supports the idea of plans for federalism already at the immediate post-invasion stage. (But interestingly this TAL provision talks about potential federal regions composed of "no more than three" governates, suggesting the specific SCIRI super-region idea was something that came later).

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badger, from your post

was of modest [or insignificant] intellectual and political abilities... his personality was weak and closed

why did the ptb decide to back bush for the gop nominee?

annie

7:59 AM  
Blogger badger said...

now that you mention it...

9:37 AM  

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