November 13, 2003

We Told You So! You're

We Told You So!

You're not surprised are you? The self-congratulatory chit chat is perking up over at Le Monde. Schadenfreude over the Seine is being combined with the self-satisfied snickers of the omniscient 'I told you so' Bordelaise schoolmarm--an offensive mixture, to say the least.

Le Monde's correspondent even eagerly relays that the French Congressional Club is becoming the ne plus ultra of select Beltway precincts.

Who would have thunk? The French is back in Freedom Fries. The chic is back in Chirac.


Because wasn't Dominique de Villepin telling all of us so many months ago to handover power to the Iraqis soonest?

And isn't that what hapless Georgy is so belatedly doing now?

Except that's not quite what the U.S. is doing. And that's not quite what the French had recommended we do. Otherwise why would the French still be complaining their position on Iraq is still too divergent with the U.S. one?

Because, for one, the Bush administration still realizes that a rapid fire full-blown handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis could well backfire in a very big way.

Here were de Villepin's key post war strategic musings (also, surprise, courtesy of Le Monde!)

Don't (lucky sap!) read French? I blogged about some key portions a while back here.

De Villepin was advising that U.S. troops be scaled down and authority be handed over to the Iraqis more quickly (mostly simply so that we defused that alarming Rive Gauche construct called the "logic of occupation").

But how, I mean, really how is that an efficacious policy option back when he was writing or, more importantly, now?

Without really ensuring adequate security, somewhat stabilized economic conditions, a burgeoning sense of ethnic cooperation--how does one just, willy-nilly, hand off power to a provisional government?

Such complexities were never really discussed by de Villepin.

He would have liked to U.N-ize the effort (think Srebrenica); scaled down U.S. forces (think greater Ba'athist resurgence), and had a provisional government up and running within a month or so (think mega-ethnic bickering without a proconsul mediating).

So how to combat an effective and determined counter-insurgency? And how to so expeditiously create a provisional government amidst all the secretarian and ethnic differences in Iraq?

De Villepin had written:

"Today, it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves so as to allow them to fully assume their responsibilities. Then the different communities, I hope, will find the strength to work together." [emphasis added]

But "hope", as is often said, doesn't a strategy make.

Even for de Villepin the notion of the Shi'a, Sunni, Turkomen, Kurds (not to mention internal rivalries amidst said groups) beginning to work together as a sovereign, effective government within a month was a long shot.

Sure the Governing Council often feels ineffective and unwieldy. Maybe we need a smaller body.

But who will get ejected from the present body? Who decides?

Do the French have suggestions on all this that are detailed, implementable, in a word, serieux?

Or is it all pretty much take-a-good-pull-on-the-Gauloise-and-exhale-derived-musings that aren't really, at the end of the day, practicable?

So What to Do?

Some people are proposing potentially implementable ideas that had seen some light in the not so distant past.

Juan Cole, a passionate and smart observer of the Iraq scene (though unfortunately too myopically focused on solely the bad news from Iraq) writes:

"The US must go back to the Garner plan, of calling a national congress of about 250 delegates from all over the country, chosen by their townships or clans. They must elect an interim president, who could appoint a cabinet. Holding such a national congress is risky, since the outcome is unpredictable. But it is the only way to get a legitimate government...

That shouldn't be so hard. In fact, that's what I thought the Bush administration had been saying it was aiming for in removing Saddam. Any other way of proceeding will make the political and military situation worse, not better."

But it is going to be hard.

Damn hard.

The Sunnis will be even more concerned about a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerging if the township ballot counting occurs so soon--in times of such great uncertainty and historical flux--especially for the Sunnis who feel pretty embattled at the moment.

I agree with Cole that an attempted resurrection of the Hashemite throne would be folly and immensely dumb policy.

But between and among crowning a Hashemite (or an Ahmed Chalabi) Supreme Leader, slogging along with the unwieldy Governing Council or calling for a national congress--there might be some viable middle ground to be found.

Perhaps a less unwieldly pared-down interim authority. Perhaps with fewer exiles in it--and more leaders with real grass roots support in their communities (yeah, that means no to Chalabi).

But I'm just too worried that conditions in Iraq are not ripe for a national congress just yet. Imagine the elections in the environs of Tikrit, Falluja and the like.

Ballot-counters and poll attendants would be viewed as collaborators. They might be protected at the polling stations--but not in their beds at night. And there would be bombing attacks in predominately Shi'a and Kurdish regions too.

Anything to scuttle the balloting project. Remember, democratic processes spell the very death-knell of the Baathist or jihadi project.

My point? We need security re-established first. That's not to say that we can't pursue a more serious counter-insurgency efforts while simultaneously handing off more powers to Iraqis--perhaps via such elections. But conditions won't be ripe for such an exercise for a while, I fear.

The Road Ahead

Listen, no doubt, the U.S. has its hands full. A too rapid turnover, even with a sizable (or ideally increased) U.S. force presence could backfire. And a too slow handover increases the percentage of Iraqis who views us less as liberators and more as occupiers.

Somewhere amidst all these complexities lies a middle path that we need to navigate.

Meanwhile, security needs to be established so that conditions of normality enhance the prospects of an effective handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, ie. one that doesn't lead to the potential dissolution of the state amidst secretarian and ethnic bitterness.

But we're simply not at the point yet. We still need the 'benign MacArthur' that is Jerry Bremer.

The trick is looking benign in the midst of an ongoing war. Remember, Japan and Germany had unconditionally surrendered. The Ba'athist guerrillas are still hard at it.

Defeating the Saddam loyalists must be the priority task. Even more than rushing towards the erection of a provisional government that is likely to totter easily given current conditions in Iraq.

That's what de Villepin and his ilk don't get. And what we must hope Bush does.

It's becoming a mantra over here at B.D.--but I'll say it yet again.

We need more troops. The quicker the insurgency is quashed--the quicker the handover of sovereingty to the Iraqi people themselves. We can be a bit more willing to hand over responsibilities and real authority to the Iraqis--but only, finally, in tandem with real progress vis-a-vis an improving security situation. Therefore, ensuring a better security environment must be the focus of our main efforts at the present time.

Put differently, we aren't nation-building and setting up polling stations just yet.

We're still at war.

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