Saturday, November 15, 2008

More pattern recognition

I'm sorry I haven't actually responded to anyone on the prior thread, but I do take it all to heart. Anyway, posting something every couple of months or so seems about right...And possibly in fact a better way of keeping track of the main points this time around.

Since the US presidential election, Barzani has returned to Iraq from Washington with a belligerent announcement to the effect that unless the Iraqi government signs the agreement with the US, there will be civil war. Also since the election, Haroun Mohammed has written in AlQuds alArabi that Obama people have been speaking to groups "outside of the political process" assuring them that an Obama administration would be prepared to revise everything that has been done by the Bush administration, "from the Bremer administration down to the present day," and even hinting at a willingness to help in the training of a new Iraqi army based in some secure area in the western part of Iraq (Thursday, Nov . 6, p.19)

Meanwhile, in the Maliki camp, there has been a sudden shift from stalling in hopes of a better deal from Obama, to this latest position that any alternatives--including waiting for a "better" deal from Obama--will be worse.

Recall that the beautiful minds on the Democratic Party side have been talking about the need for "strategic conditionality" in bilateral US-Iraq negotiations, without mention of any specific points of leverage apart from either withdrawal or the threat of withdrawal. What the Barzani statements and the Sunni rumors suggest is that there has been a completely different bargaining-point in the background: If an agreement is not signed, according to this pattern of threats, Barzani's Kurds would revolt against the Iraqi state, and Sunni groups "outside the political process" could supposedly, according to these rumors, hope for some kind of US help in organizing a new Army in Anbar. In other words: If an agreement isn't signed, the Americans would help to dismantle Iraq from the north and from the west, creating conditions that could only be addressed in one way: Institution of the Biden Plan for a three-part partition of the country.

Naturally, this is all bluff and puff. Or is it? Did it seem that way to the Maliki camp? To put the question another way: What other factors could have motivated the Maliki camp to now--suddenly--take the position that they need to grasp this last opportunity for an acceptable deal--that conditions, in other words, will be worse, not better, for this would-be nationalist government under an Obama administration?

(And of course, for those who are hard to convince without pictures, there was the visit of to the GreenZone of John Negroponte in the last few days: Not the Negroponte of MIT with the computers, but his brother, the one with the Honduran death-squads on his resume).


Blogger Helena Cobban said...

Badger, I do believe that as of now it is all "bluff and puff" as you suggest may be the case. The political environment both internationally and in Washington are in a probably unprecedented amount of flux right now. In Washington, there is certainly a tough tussle going on for the "soul" of the future Obama administration-- that is, for control of of its agenda both domestically and in foreign affairs. And internationally, the chips from the financial crisis haven't even started to fall into their final pattern. How much will US power in the world end up being diminished and how rapidly? Unclear as of now, though the WaPo and others are already talking about the need for cutbacks in the military etc in response to the economic crisis...

Regarding the "soul" of the Obama administration, for now we mainly have to trust in the vision and integrity of the O-man himself, and his ability to reach and think beyond the phanxes of Clinton-era America-uber-alles folks who surround him. He has demonstrated some ability to do this in the past, though had to curtail it during the election. However, we should get some good indications of where his soul is sometime before January 20. (It's not just WHO he picks for the top jobs but also the program he picks them for and the conditions he places on their appointment...)

7:51 AM  
Blogger Dr. Mathews said...

I assume you have read Visser's The Obama Administration, Iraq, and the Question of Leverage:

it seems more and more likely that if faced with an Obama offer of “conditional engagement” Maliki's most likely response would be essentially that Iraq is an independent country which is not willing to be bullied into constitutional reforms at the behest of foreigners. He would be thankful to the Americans for their support their support so far in making him a strong ruler, but he would feel strong enough to decline the offer of extended support if this comes with too many strings attached: a SOFA, maybe, but no more than that.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger, you make some good points.

I get the sense that the political importance attributed to the fact that we will now have a black Democratic president, is sometimes overrated. Sure, it's a momentous shift, but the real question is foreign policy and the basic approach the U.S. takes towards other countries, especially in the Middle East.

It's rarely noted how Obama naively assumes that increasing airstrikes in Pakistan and augmenting the "hunt for bin Laden" in Afghanistan with a troop escalation will actually be productive. Oh well, he's not of the Vietnam generation, he didn't see what this kind of pointless imperialistic (and yet ideological, insofar as it's based on the mythology of American supremacy) war against a non-threatening underdeveloped nation, especially when the war is failing, can do to paralyze the U.S. both domestically and with regard to foreign policy.

And then there's Biden, who also instantiates the imperialistic mindset insofar as he supports the fundamental transformation of a nation many miles away from him and far removed in terms of history, civilization etc.- the transformation of splitting the country and fracturing it into three permanent ethnically separated conclaves.

The point of all of this is that the whole Iraq conflict, especially, is a manufactured affair, here in the U.S. The U.S. pulls the strings with regard to Iraq and because of their approach to Iraq, they underline the fact that the Iraqi government is not sovereign or independent (or try to impose that reality). On the Iraqi side, there's a government there that is being threatened, implicitly, to face the ethnic dissolution of its country if they fail to sign the security pact with the U.S. guaranteeing troops access to Iraq indefinitely; on the American side, we hear about the ancient blood-feud of Iraqis who are so limited by tradition and intrareligious tribal conflicts that they mandate our occupation of their needy lands. The real and unmentioned seed of the conflict is the American desire for geopolitical supremacy, cloathed in the garb of universal humanitarian intervention.

As a side note, do you think that the economic situation will have any implications for American foreign policy in Iraq?

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this story mean the "Obama people" are looking at the Joe Biden 3 state solution, Badger? That's an extraordinary story about training a new army in Anbar!

5:30 PM  
Blogger Cugel said...

Reality bites Obama in the ass if he wants to retain the imperial dream of an "American" Iraq. The U.S. flat can't afford it and MUST do whatever is necessary to remove U.S. forces from Iraq.

And that means Obama is free to "redo" everything Bush and Maliki agreed to. There is NOTHING binding on the new President.

Because Bush refuses to submit any proposed SOFA to the Senate for approval, it lacks the status of law. It's merely an informal agreement and nothing more than comity requires honoring it to any degree at all.

As Admiral Fallon just stated publicly, it's all "negotiable." He meant the time-table for withdrawal, but that's far more likely to be revised DOWNWARD than upward.

And yet to get out requires the U.S. to take MAJOR steps to force negotiated concessions from all sides. I would expect the most important job of Sec. of State Clinton (if she takes the job) would be in-depth negotiations in Iraq to try and forge a political consensus that would have a chance of surviving a U.S. withdrawal.

Maliki may well resist, but Obama has many levers of power there.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Shirin said...

"...we mainly have to trust in the vision and integrity of the O-man himself, and his ability to reach and think beyond the phanxes of Clinton-era America-uber-alles folks who surround him....we should get some good indications of where his soul is sometime before January 20."

What about the people he carefully chooses to surround himself with? Not encouraging at all.

- Rahm Emanuel, very right wing Democrat, uber Zionist and big time hawk.
- John Brennan, strong and very public advocate of extraordinary rendition (think of Maher Arar), black sites, torture, and warrantless wiretapping - chosen for Obama's intelligence team.
- Jami Miscik, former Deputy Director for Intelligence, who contributed greatly to the lies that were used to sell the aggression against Iraq. Among numerous other things, she helped draft Colin Powell's 2003 UN speech - you know, the one that made 28 claims, every one of which was false? Also chosen for Obama's intelligence team.
- Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State? The same Hillary Clinton who never saw a military action she did not wholeheartedly endorse (and who reportedly strongly encouraged her husband to launch a series of bombing attacks on Baghdad to "punish Saddam" as a result of bogus allegations about a plot to kill George H.W Bush - the same series of attacks that (purely coincidentally, I am sure) killed Layla Al Attar, the artist who designed the mosaic of Bush's face on the floor of the entrance to the Rashid hotel, as well as her husband, and also blinded her daughter in one eye. Way to punish Saddam, Bill and Hillary!

And some of his rhetoric of late also does not bode well - that macho nonsense about killing bin Laden? I could understand that if he were still campaigning, but the campaign is over for heaven's sake.

And it's lovely that he wants to close down Guantanamo, but unacceptable that he intends to create a special legal category for the "really bad ones", presumably so they can be denied basic rights like due process. How is that different from what Bush did?

And then there was that statement he made on 60 Minutes about torture. "America does not torture". My God, those are the exact words Bush used repeatedly. Couldn't he have found a less reminiscent statement? Furthermore, that statement is every bit as false coming out of Obama's mouth as Bush's. Clearly America DOES torture. Furthermore, torture by America did not begin with Bush, and something tells me it will not end with Bush, though it most likely will go back underground for a time.

I never held any illusions about Obama, so I cannot say I am disappointed so far. It is pretty much as expected. He is, after all, a politician.

11:39 PM  

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