The Kingmaker

Juan Cole translates an Al-Jazeera interview with the new kingmaker of Iraqi politics. In many ways, he’s just what the Bush Administration has been hoping for. He’s a Shi’ite but favors a broad government of national unity, reaching out to Sunni nationalists. He has an impeccable record of opposition to Saddam and isn’t compromised by any links to the occupation or to the interim Allawi regime. And while he’s previously called for an immediate pullout of US forces, he’s now prepared to accept a timetable for withdrawal.

He is, of course …

Moqtada al Sadr, the theocratic demagogue whom the US forces twice tried to arrest or kill (dozens of US soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis, including many innocent bystanders were in fact killed in these campaigns, but al Sadr was only wounded). He now controls the largest bloc in the UIA government and effectively nominated Jaafari to continue as Prime Minister. So the Bushies will have to learn to love him, or at least get on with him.

Among other things, Sadr makes it clear that an attack on Iran would have dire consequences for US forces in Iraq. This ought to have been obvious in any case, but Sadr’s remarks, now issued from a position of power, drive home the point. Far from providing a base from which the US can exert power in the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq has strengthened the position of every anti-American government in the region. And in chasing Saddam’s fictional WMDs, the US has deprived itself of any practical option of using military force to stop Iran developing real nuclear weapons.

The kind of dance where enemies become allies, or at least bargaining partners, while former friends become enemies is a standard feature of power politics. But when tens of thousands of people are killed in the process, as has been the case in Iraq, all those involved in such manoeuvres are guilty of grave crimes against humanity.

42 thoughts on “The Kingmaker

  1. [I put this in another thread at the same time as JQ opened this one. I think it fits here better]

    Meanwhile, in Iraq things just get weirder.

    Here’s US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad lecturing no doubt highly bemused Iraqi politicians:

    “American taxpayers expect their money to be spent properly. We are not going to invest the resources of the American people into forces run by people who are sectarian,�

    Which raises at least two questions:

    1. If the Bush Clique doesn’t spend the money it borrowed on the democratically elected government of Iraq, what are they going to spend it on in Iraq?

    2. Whom do the Bush Clique expect to rush forward to grasp Ambassador Khalilzad by the knees and cry, “We won’t be sectarian any more. Please don’t take your money away. Please don’t go home. We need you!�

  2. Katz: I am curious as the the meaning of the “Bush Clique”. Are you referring to the duly elected U.S. President and his government? If so, why call them a clique?

    Was their a “Clinton Clique”, I wonder…and was Monica part of it?

    An Eisenhower Clique? A Kennedy Clique? Yes, I think a Kennedy Clique is appropriate…Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, assorted Mafia heavies, etc. A denefit clique there.

    No doubt, if there is a Bush Clique, it follows there is a Howard Clique. Or should that be a Deputy Clique? Clique go the shears, perhaps.

    Arrr, the left, always amusing in their use of terminology. In fact, “clique” if I recall was a favourite expression of Mao’s Red Guards when they were monstering people. Perhaps Katz, you were a member? Those were the days, and you live them still.

  3. Its pretty clear to me that the priorities for the Bush administration are to get permanent military bases and as much economic control of Iraq as possible. In the short term at least, they will have to deal with Al Sadr’s people to get these things. Realisticly Al Sadr will pay a vey high price if he tries to throw the Americans out and probably needs their help to economicaly develop Iraq anyway.

    Hence the two parties are almost certainly negotiating right now. I would love to know what is happening in those negotiations. The biggest question is, what does Al Sadr want? If all he wants is the Americans out it could get ugly. And what are the Americans willing to offer? and do they have any real threats left?

    Of course this is all being done behind closed doors. We will not be privy to the outcome of these negotiations but we can infer the result from what happens on the ground. One way to tell how much the Americans got is who ends up in charge of the Iraqi Oil Ministery. I will be googling the bio of whoever the Oil Minister is in six months to get some clue as to what happened.

  4. SWIO,

    Perhaps you prefer “die-hards” “regime remnants” or the everso unambiguous “bad guys”.

    I’m very happy that persons such as your good self have given up arguing about the substantive issues concerning Iraq and have redirected your anger and disappointment toward matters of terminology.

    You’re making good progress. Anger is one step on from denial.

    Acceptance can’t be too far away. Then sadder but wiser, you’ll start thinking more clearly about what went So Very Wrong in the Middle East.

  5. Sorry SWIO, the above was addressed to the so-very-significantly self-dubbed “Red Guard”.

    I guess being called a “Maoist” is a bit of a change from being baptised a “Wet”. And this ideological range does leave a fair bit of wriggle room.

  6. No worries.

    If Iraq war supporters are resorting to calling you a Maoist and talking about Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatrathen clearly the argument is clearly over bar the insults.

    Maoist? Who calls someone a Maoist? At least come up with an insult that shows a bit of creativity or is humourous if nothing else.

  7. Maybe we should follow Irans example and switch our currency to euros before the U S dollar collapses in a heap.

  8. The Middle East is the graveyard of statesmens dreams. The West should leave the area, seal the borders and let traditional rivals sort matters out in the time-honoured way.

    We should urge the Israelis, who are Westerners, to quit occupied territories. But we should guarantee Lesser Israel’s borders with armed might, athough they are probably more than able to take care of themselves.

    We should move post-haste to develop non-fossil fuels and remove oil dependency. As a parting shot we should threaten to blow certain parts of the region to kingdom come if any local kings start arming terrorists with nukes.

  9. Jack,
    And we should also keep our new years resolutions. We should give up smoking, drinking and overeating and we should get more exercise.
    Whether any of these options are viable is another question.

  10. Actually, in today issue of “Counterpunch”.Craig PaulRoberts calls Bush and his cligue” war-criminals,liars,thieves and fools”..and he is no old Maoist…He was Assistant-Treasurer to Reagan,and once Editor of the Wall Street Journal..Top-drawer Republican,Old Guard,but no time for mad Bush and the Ne0-Cons and Likudniks who now run the White House,and whose Middle East policy has only two aims(1)Get the oil,and (2)do whatever is good for Israel..Nothing else matters!!!. Roberts urges the UN to depose Bush and put them all on trial. I know it’s only a fantasy, but what a lovely thought,and better still coming from one of Reagan’s old buddies,…who sweet it is !!

  11. I love the fact that the best push-back on this far is a critique of the use of the word “clique”. Funny.

  12. On the subject of cliques, here is George Kennan, writing in 1952 on the Spanish-American war:

    “And we can only say that it looks very much as though, in this case, the action of the United States government had been determined primarily on the basis of a very able quiet intrigue by a few strategically placed persons in Washington, an intrigue which received absolution, forgiveness, and a sort of a public blessing by virtue of war hysteria – of the fact that Dewey’s victory [over the Spanish fleet at Manila] was so thrilling and pleasing to the American public – but which, had its results been otherwise, might well have found its ending in the rigors of a severe and extremely unpleasant congressional investigation”.

    from Kennan, G. (1952): “American Diplomacy, 1900-1950”, Mentor Books, New American Library, N.Y.

    Plus ca change

  13. PrQ,

    The kind of dance where enemies become allies, or at least bargaining partners, while former friends become enemies is a standard feature of power politics. But when tens of thousands of people are killed in the process, as has been the case in Iraq, all those involved in such manoeuvres are guilty of grave crimes against humanity.

    To me, this appears to mean that, where there has been any conflict that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, the parties to that conflict can never become allies or even bargaining partners without being guilty of war crimes by the very act of trying to achieve a bargain while the conflict is continuing. I assume this is not what you mean, but you are looking at the conflict for war crimes. If this is what you mean, please say so. If not you have made what is (IMHO) a silly statement.
    In this case, the bargain (if there is one – which I have no reason to doubt) has been achieved after the outright hostilities had completed – or at least a ceasefire was in effect – so it is not covered by what you have said in any case.

  14. Of course this isn’t what I meant. The crimes are the thousands of deaths, not the making peace afterwards.

    My point, is that the fighting between Sadr and the Americans was pursued, on both sides, with the idea of strengthening their own political positions within Iraq and therefore, in some sense, looking ahead to the eventual bargain, expected to be struck from a position of strength. [There were brief periods when the Americans thought they could eliminate Sadr once and for all, but even so they would have had to deal with his successors]. So, the fighting was just like, say, a strike or lockout, except that people were getting killed.

    This kind of thing is common in power politics, and quite different from, for example, a war of self-defence (the original sales pitch for the invasion) or liberation (the revised pitch, but one that clearly doesn’t cover the anti-Sadr campaigns).

  15. So, the period of the fighting in say, Korea, from late 1951 to 1953, when it was clear a deal had to be done to end it as it could not be won, was a war crime?

  16. AR, I’m not sure of my dates, but obviously the original NK attack was a war crime and so, in my view, was Macarthur’s counter-invasion of the North.

    But I think you’re playing logical games here. Once a war has started, it’s hard to stop, and hard to allocate blame for the failure of negotiations to progress. That just increases the criminality of using war in pursuit of political advantage as the US did in the campaigns against Sadr (and Sadr did in retaliaton).

  17. >We should urge the Israelis, who are Westerners, to quit occupied territories. But we should guarantee Lesser Israel’s borders with armed might, athough they are probably more than able to take care of themselves.

    I can’t conceive of any good reason why a “Lesser Israel” shouldn’t be admitted to NATO membership with the concommitant security guarantee.

  18. First time I have heard a question on Macarthur’s offensive into the North. He was staggeringly silly to threaten China, but responding to a war of aggression by counter-invading the aggressor? I would be very interested to see how this is a problem.
    I suppose the Allied assult into Germany at the end of WWII was a war crime on that basis. Dresden, maybe. Crossing the Rhine? no.
    I have to disagree on Sadr, too – but that one comes down to the legitimacy of the original assault on Iraq – and I know we differ there. If they are now capable of making peace with him, and he with them, I cannot see the problem. Embracing your enemy to end a conflict is (IMHO) a good thing.

  19. World War II is rarely a good basis for working out intuitions about war, Andrew. It was clearly impossible (in many different senses of the term) to make peace with Hitler.

    But in general, if you favor embracing your enemy to end a conflict, you should oppose counterinvasion aimed at conquering him. Once you’ve rejected an attainable peace on the basis of the status quo ante you become an aggressor yourself.

    Finally, the campaign against Sadr does not “come down to the legitimacy of the original assault on Iraq”. Sadr and his father and (i think) grandfather were fighting Saddam when Rummy was giving him the bear hug and sending him weapons. The fact that the US was/is an occupying power does not give them the right to conduct military campaigns against those opposing their presence.

  20. On Korea, have you read Jung Chang’s biography of Mao? If accurate, I think it removes any doubt on the possibility of reaching a peaceful conclusion to the Korean war on the basis of the status quo pro ante and for much the same reasons as with WWII. The pity is that they were not able to finish the job.
    Surely, if the occupation is the result of a legitimate war, then conducting operations against those opposing it is also legitimate – again, to use a WWII example, if some (for example) Communists had holed up in Munich and were shooting at the Americans occupying the area should the Americans have just withdrawn or turned the other cheek? I would contend not.

  21. As you can easily check, Andrew, the fight with Sadr began when the occupying authorities shut down his newspapers and made attempts to arrest him on the basis of a warrant secretly issued months before (and dropped as soon as it became convenient to get on with him). T
    Similarly, in Fallujah, the trouble started when US troops fired on demonstrators, not long after the invasion.

    These and other actions are violations of the Geneva conventions, which are very strict on the duties of an occupying power. You seem to think that have conquered by force, occupying powers are not subject to law.

    But if you’re not willing to accept my arguments on morality, let’s look at the consequences instead. Surely you won’t claim they’ve been good, or that “finishing the job”, for example by martyring Sadr or destroying Fallujah even more thoroughly would have been a good idea.

  22. “If accurate, I think it removes any doubt on the possibility of reaching a peaceful conclusion to the Korean war on the basis of the status quo pro ante and for much the same reasons as with WWII.”

    I’m not with you, Andrew. The status quo ante was the final settlement. If the US forces had not pushed up to the Chinese border, they could have dictated this outcome to the North Koreans after defeating them in the South, without any risk of a surprise attack from China.

  23. Interesting to hear Sadr described as having a “newspaper”. Just a man of the people, trying to print the truth. Even better was the description someone used above of Sadr wanting to “economically develop” Iraq. I think Sadr must have been about 15 when Rummy was arming Saddam, Sadr isn’t 40 even now, is he?

  24. PrQ,
    I suggest you read the book. If accurate, the Chinese were always going to intervene if it looked like North Korea would not conquer the South. Only Stalin’s death forced the eventual settlement, which was only status pro quo ante by coincidence.
    On Fallujah – of course invading armies are subject to international law. So, the question then is whether the closing of the newspapers and the other actions were legal. Under certain circumstances they might be. To call these “war crimes” without them being tested in court is a touch premature. Alleged war crimes would be appropriate – but it is not quite as dramatic, is it.

  25. One of the major theses argued by G.Kennan in the source I quoted above is that thirst for “victory” is highly counterproductive for a lasting postwar settlement. Kennan argues cogently that moderate war aims and compromise in settling a war are far more likely to produce postwar stability than demands for unconditional surrender and total victory. In this context, he refers to “…the American bad habit of assuming that there is something final and positive about a military decision – that it is the ending of something, and the happy ending, rather than a beginning” (p.122). I think Prof. Quiggin and Kennan would have agreed.

    But of course Kennan’s analysis, though (I think) correct in its own terms, is narrow. It doesn’t take into account the domestic context of US diplomacy and foreign relations – and of war itself, for that matter, particularly a colonial war conducted without any risk to the civil population of the colonial Power. To the extent that the Iraq war was seen by Bush supporters as a way out of declining popularity at home, total victory would doubtlessly be the most desirable outcome, and indeed it did wonders for his popularity for a time. It is only now, when continuing post-war unrest is putting at risk the other major reason for war ( I mean control of oil), that we see the force of Kennan’s argument.

  26. How would Keenan explain the postwar stability in Germany and Japan in light of their unconditional surrender and the allied total victory?

  27. Avaroo, good question. So far as I can see, Kennan doesn’t really address that issue. He tends to think that, if the US had been more sensible and moderate in its pre-WWII policies, war with Germany and Japan might have either been avoided or shortened – though at one point he says that “…Hitler was a man with whom a compromise peace was impracticable and unthinkable, and that, while ‘unconditional surrender’ was probably not a wise thing to talk a lot about and make into a wartime slogan, in reality there was no promising alternative…”. Writing as he was at the height of the cold war, Kennan devotes far more space to discussing the US attitudes to the USSR, where his essentially diplomatic viewpoint leads him to deprecate the (to him) hysterical attitudes underlying the Truman Doctrine and the creation of the National Security State. That is where he concentrates his conclusions.

  28. Avaroo, a quick Yahoo on “George Kennan Germany Japan” yields quite a lot, so you might want to find some gems yourself. It would appear that he was a major supporter of rebuilding both countries after WWII.

  29. I would have bet that Keenan doesn’t address the Germany/Japan issue, gordon. Probably because it massively disproves his theory. The Korean situation would also disprove his theory, as there was no unconditional surrender and no total victory by one side, well, we can all see how well that worked out.

  30. Well, Avaroo, I’m not an expert on the life and work of George Kennan. I have recently read the interesting book which I quoted above, and since Kennan’s view that the consequences of even a “victorious” war are not always all that the victor hoped seemed pretty close to Prof. Quiggin’s view that the consequences of the Iraq invasion and occupation are not particularly wonderful from the US point of view, I thought people might be interested. I suspect Kennan is not the first to make this point.

    Specifially on Korea, the book I quoted was the published version of lectures delivered in 1951. There is only a passing reference to Korea, in the sense that the utter defeat of Japan left the US as the only Power able to combat Russian influence in the region, and maybe because of that the utter defeat of Japan wasn’t such a brilliant idea in every aspect – from the US viewpoint. But Kennan devotes maybe fifty words to this issue in the book.

    Maybe there is a thorough analysis of the post-War situation re: Germany, Japan and Korea elsewhere in Kennan’s writings. Maybe somebody who is expert in the life and work of George Kennan will tell us about it. In the meantime I think Kennan’s views are apposite to the Iraq situation, and in that statement I include his views on the shortcomings of the US foreign policy process. Kennan was well aware of the domestic pressures I mentioned in my earlier comments, saying at one point “…I think the record indicates that in the short term our public opinion, or what passes for our public opinion in the thinking of official Washington, can be easily led astray into areas of emotionalism and subjectivity which make it a poor and inadequate guide for national actionâ€?. He talks about problems with “…the machinery of decision-making and for the implementation of policy in our governmentâ€?. He discusses the need for greater professionalism and even change to a Westminster system of government (!) as possible but unachieveable solutions, then goes on to discuss problems with the conceptual formulation of foreign policy issues. It’s a pity he doesn’t identify “intrigueâ€? as a continuing problem, but after raising it in the context of the Spanish-American war he drops it again. It’s an interesting issue; if public opinion can be “easily led astrayâ€?, the next question is surely “Who is leading it, and why, and how?â€?

    As well as in the context of Iraq, which illustrates one of Kennan’s main arguments pretty well (see earlier comment), all this is of interest to me in the more general context of exactly how and when and in what circumstances the US government (and perhaps the US ruling class as a whole), abandoned themselves to the Imperial dream.

  31. I wouldn’t think you’d need to be an expert on the life and work of George Kennan to determine that his theory about victory being counterproductive to postwar settlement is incorrect. All you have to do is look at history.

    We’ll know if Keenan’s views are as wrong with regards to Iraq as he was with regards to Korea, Japan and Germany sometime in the future. When we are actually postwar.

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