Friday, November 14, 2003

Sticky Wicket: Much is being made (or not) about the sudden about-face (or natural evolution of the original strategy) in the U.S. policy towards Iraq and who is to run it, and when. The pundits have been gleefully saying how Bremer was "summoned" back to D.C. to give a brief on what the situation was, and then get educated on what it will be. Rather than infuriate Eno with some vapid quote from MSNBC or the WaPo, I went to Connie, for a detached view, but from a consistent supporter of the Bush policies.

In that vein, the Connie reports that the situation is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the facts still suggest that most of the attacks are coming from foreign nationals, and are not necessarily reflective of "Ameen Iraq" (my version of "Joe America") and his viewpoints on the occupation. Stated differently, the attacks are opportunistic and designed to inflict pain on the U.S., more as revenge for its infidel ways than for its toppling of Saddam.

On the other, there are serious concerns about the apparent shift in U.S. doctrine to speed up the hand-off of power to the natives. First of all, what do you leave in your wake?
Mr Bremer had previously insisted that the drafting of a constitution should precede elections (as in Afghanistan). But writing constitutions is a painfully slow process—Afghanistan’s effort, unveiled two months late, is a case in point.

And as the CIA report suggests, time may not be on America’s side. According to the New York Times, Mr Bremer is expected to urge Iraqis to hold elections in the first half of next year. However, he must still work out an agreement with the country’s Governing Council, a 24-member executive made up of Iraqis but set up by America. The council is expected to seek more immediate power for itself, possibly instead of rushed elections. Any solution will require delicate handling of the country’s ethnic divisions, as the Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities will be worried about too much power accruing to the Shia Muslim majority.
But, if you wait too long, you face the real possiblity of countries like Italy backing out (notice how brave Berlusconi seeks to appear by keeping his forces in the face of one attack) and Japan never showing up. Granted, both of those countries are giving nominal support, but sometimes the appearance is more important than what lies beneath.

In the end you can probably view this in one of two ways: (1) all of the attacks and sudden reversals in policy show that W never had a realistic gameplan and that he's simply treading water with no attainable objective in sight with the shift in policy aimed solely at appeasing future voters; or (2) Iraq is a wildly fluid place, with near anarchy, a disturbing mixture of ethnic influences, no democratic tradition in recent memory, and hell, throw in 70% unemployment, no running water, security or healthcare.

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