To hear Richard Holbrooke tell it, the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government is even more dangerous a gamble than President Bush’s decision to go to war. On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, he told George Stephanopolous that the very idea of turning over power to Iraqis without a plan to assure its success was akin to jumping off a diving board before you’ve checked to see there is water in the pool. It is an arresting image, but not a very good metaphor. Holbrooke, who was UN Ambassador during the Clinton Administration and is said to be the likely Secretary of State in a Kerry Administration, predicted failure of this “greatest gamble in the history of American foreign policy.” He said that it would not work because the interim government has to be seen as independent of the U.S. government while at the same time it is totally dependent on the U.S. government. However, that is the meaning of the word “interim,” which is what Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has to keep in motion toward elections next January when the government can be permanent and, if it chooses, invite the U.S. to take its troops and go home.
This is “politics is motion,” as John Sears liked to say when he was Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager. On this first day of transfer of limited sovereignty to Allawi and his ministers, we can assume that the Iraqi citizenry already is in motion, as they discuss the political combinations and permutations that might flow from this “historic” event. As long as the general population sees the real potential of getting control of their own destiny at the end of the “interim,” the insurgents who are clearly willing to die in the process of driving out the American occupying force should do some fresh thinking. There will continue to be attacks on American and British troops as opportunities present themselves, if only to remind the occupiers that opinions on that score have not changed.
As long as Allawi & Co. keep moving toward the elections and are seen as being responsible caretakers of the commonweal, mainstream nationalist impulses should emerge. These impulses would discourage violence against Iraqi "collaborators," as well as the sabotage of Iraqi oil fields and other national assets. Oil’s decline to $36/bbl. can be heard as applause from the oil market as the transfer proceeds. As skeptical as I had been of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s choice of Allawi for the Prime Minister post, given Allawi’s CIA connections, I have been very impressed with the way he handles himself and can understand the early polls showing 73% of Iraqis approving of the choice. We can be sure that his every utterance and action will be discussed on the streets of Iraq for signs he is doing the bidding of the interim occupiers.
My greatest encouragement so far has been the unhappiness of late expressed by the neo-con editorialists at The Wall Street Journal and by William Safire in his New York Times columns. This morning both sources denounced the NATO allies for demanding so much from President Bush in exchange for the fig leaf they are providing him. What they want from NATO are boots on the ground, hoping to maintain the imperial presence in Baghdad that was their aim from the outset. What they now fear happening is a fast track to Iraqi independence under a secular government that runs more or less as it did under Saddam, but without Saddam and without the embargo that kept Iraq impoverished as it had not been prior to the embargo. No matter what you have heard to the contrary, the Ba’ath Party’s market-based socialism worked extremely well up to the Gulf War. If the Iraqi electorate could see that happening, with a loose federation that preserves “state’s rights” for the Kurds, it might just find a way to get from here to there. In a best-case scenario (from my perspective), our troops would be home for Christmas 2005. President Bush might even be around to welcome them home.
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