Monday, November 06, 2006

History Lesson, Part I

I'm putting these two back out because...oh, what the heck.

This is a very long article, but well worth reading. As ever, the Big Idea didn't fail; only those who tried to execute it. Once again the gods are let down by their followers; but the gods themselves never, ever, lose:

"The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz," Chalabi says, referring to his erstwhile backer, the former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. "They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out." Chalabi still considers Wolfowitz a friend, so he proceeds carefully. America's big mistake, Chalabi maintains, was in failing to step out of the way after Hussein's downfall and let the Iraqis take charge. The Iraqis, not the Americans, should have been allowed to take over immediately - the people who knew the country, who spoke the language and, most important, who could take responsibility for the chaos that was unfolding in the streets. An Iraqi government could have acted harshly, even brutally, to regain control of the place, and the Iraqis would have been without a foreigner to blame. They would have appreciated the firm hand. There would have been no guerrilla insurgency or, if there was, a small one that the new Iraqi government could have ferreted out and crushed on its own. An Iraqi leadership would have brought Moktada al-Sadr, the populist cleric, into the government and house-trained him. The Americans, in all likelihood, could have gone home. They certainly would have been home by now.

"We would have taken hold of the country," Chalabi says. "We would have revitalized the civil service immediately. We would have been able to put together a military force and an intelligence service. There would have been no insurgency. We would have had electricity. The Americans screwed it up." Chalabi's notion - that an Iraqi government, as opposed to an American one, could have saved the great experiment - has become one of the arguments put forth by the war's proponents in the just-beginning debate over who lost Iraq. At best, it's improbable: Chalabi is essentially arguing that a handful of Iraqi exiles, some of whom had not lived in the country in decades, could have put together a government and quelled the chaos that quickly engulfed the country after Hussein's regime collapsed. They could have done this, presumably, without an army (which most wanted to dissolve) and without a police force (which was riddled with Baathists).

In fact, the Americans considered the idea and dismissed it. (But not, Wolfowitz insists, because of him. His longtime aide, Kevin Kellems, said that Wolfowitz favored turning over power "as rapidly as possible to duly elected Iraqi authorities.") The Bush administration decided to go to the United Nations and have the American role in Iraq formally described as that of an "occupying power," a step that no Iraqi, not even the lowliest tea seller, failed to notice. They appointed L. Paul Bremer III as viceroy. Instead of empowering Iraqis, Bremer set up an advisory panel of Iraqis - one that included Chalabi - that had no power at all. The warmth that many ordinary Iraqis felt for the Americans quickly ebbed away. It's not clear that the Americans had any other choice. But here in his London parlor, Chalabi is now contending that excluding Iraqis was the Americans' fatal mistake.
emphasis added.

And note, again, the irony there: not even the lowliest tea seller in Iraq failed to realize we were an occupying power. But did we ever acknowledge it here?

Acknowledgement, of course, means also accepting responsibility; and in all the talk of leaving Iraq, that is something no one, on either side of any discussion of the matter, is willing to do. Indeed, the article is full of ironies; but few of them are surprises:

Iraqis, once known for their largely secular outlook, ran headlong toward Islam. Religion and anarchy moved together: the worse conditions got in the streets, the more Islamic Iraqis became.
A first year sociology student could have predicted as much. But then, this whole affair is a lesson in being careful what you wish for:

"Ahmad's problem is that Ahmad is usually the smartest man in the room, and he thinks he can control what happens," I was told by an Iraqi official who worked with Chalabi at the time and who would speak only anonymously. "But these guys don't care if you have a Ph.D. in math; they'll kill you. In the end, things went way past the point where Ahmad thought they would ever go. I can't imagine he wanted that. But he helped start it."
It never ceases to amaze, how willing they are to make excuses for each other. Everybody wants the power; nobody wants the responsibility.

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