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It all makes sense now


"But it all makes sense if..." Newsweek's normally sober and thoughtful Fareed Zakaria recently exposed the innermost secrets of American policymaking in Iraq in an article headlined "Beware the Puppet Masters." Now it can be told!


Last week Iraq's Governing Council, the 25-person body of Iraqis that helps the United States run the country, chose nine members who will each serve as president of the council on a rotating basis. This committee within the committee is where real power will lie. And the group of nine is virtually identical to the Leadership Council of exiles formed last February--at the urging of the Defense Department. In other words, we have pushed our favorite Iraqis onto the center stage of Iraqi politics. All those groups and leaders who lived through Saddam Hussein's reign cannot be pleased to see the exiles--many of whom hadn't been in Iraq for 40 years--being foisted atop their country.

Some have wondered why a small group of people in the Pentagon--Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith--have been obsessively maintaining control of Iraq policy. They have cut out the State Department entirely. They have blocked efforts to bring in other countries or international organizations, except in a purely subsidiary role. They have constantly overruled Paul Bremer, who was wisely trying to keep the Governing Council as an advisory body. But it all makes sense if the Pentagon's goal is to create circumstances that help the exiles gain control of Iraq. "That's why they didn't want extensive postwar planning, that's why they don't want a long transition process, that's why they are paranoid about greater U.N. involvement. All this forces us to transfer power quickly to a reliable group of Iraqis. And right now, the exiles are the only ones around," explains an administration official. Douglas Feith admits, "Our goal is not to turn Iraq over to any international organizations. Our goal is to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis." Transpose two words and you have the actual policy: the goal in Iraq is to turn Iraq over to our Iraqis.

It is not at all clear, as Zakaria infers, that decisionmakers in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), to whom Ambassador Bremer answers, forced the nine-man presidency on the members of the Governing Council. The Governing Council seems to think otherwise. We might also consider the difficulty of finding "inside" Iraqis willing to play the Karzai role, not to mention the reluctance of such individuals to allow any rival with a genuine indigenous base to accumulate any of the trappings of national power.

Even less persuasive is the idea that OSD wants to see matters get so bad in Iraq that America will have no choice but to hand off to a bunch of squabbling lightweights. After all, if they are so rigidly insistent on control of policy (and they are), whose hand are they supposed to be forcing? The editorial board of The New York Times?

On this latter point, Zakaria's column supplies further evidence of the creeping derangement of the US foreign policy establishment in the face of our government's totally inexplicable behavior. It's not that members of the Administration haven't explained the policy; it's that they've explained it every which way. Rearranging an official's words to say something other than what he actually said in an attempt to make sense of the senseless, as Zakaria does, is itself senseless. Reality is damning enough.

Even those who favor the Administration's policies must first divine rational explanations. But the Sinister School is persistently the more creative. Among the best to date was Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs' offering of a week ago in the Financial Times. ("It seems increasingly likely that Iraq was attacked because Saudi Arabia was deeply implicated in the terrorist attacks.") Such are the fruits of the deathless human quest to pluck order from chaos.

What all of these sense-makers have in common is giving the decision-makers far too much credit for thinking anything through. Zakaria's anonymous source -- seemingly a mid-to-low-ranking Department of State official fuming, justifiably, at the exclusion of a broad range of views from Iraq policymaking -- unwittingly has described the normal modus operandi of both OSD and the White House, in Iraq as in all other areas:

  1. Set policy,
  2. Find rationales as needed,
  3. Exclude rival centers of power,
  4. Subordinate allies,
  5. Maintain strict secrecy,
  6. Admit no error,
  7. Do it on the cheap,
  8. Don't dwell on consequences.
Zakaria, Sachs, and Anonymous could do worse than to review the final paragraphs of Richard Hofstadter's celebrated essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics":
The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest... are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power--and this through distorting lenses--and have no chance to observe its actual machinery.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000067.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 06:41 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 2 comments

The most reasonable explanation I've yet read for American actions. Who is the author?

Posted by Jon Kagan @ 09/02/2003 12:07 PM CST

I'm the author. Thanks for the comment. It actually wasn't intended as an explanation for American actions in Iraq. What I wanted to point out is that those actions, however you do explain them, are consistent with the administration's overall style. The bad outcome there seems more like a product of incompetence than of malice.

Still, I do have a thought or two about why the US invaded Iraq, which I've shared here:


Posted by Analyst @ 10/09/2003 09:45 PM CST

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