The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

AXIS OF EVIL

From the Guardian:
An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.
Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.

According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.

The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.

The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war.

"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."

Larry Johnson, a former senior counter-terrorist official at the state department, said: "When the story ultimately comes out we'll see that Iran has run one of the most masterful intelligence operations in history. They persuaded the US and Britain to dispose of its greatest enemy."
Hmm, goodbye Great Satan, hello Gullible Satan?

Okay okay, let's put that dumb joke aside. If all this is accurate -- Chalabi denies it, but his credibility level resides somewhere between that of Jayson Blair and OJ -- then it certainly reframes the measured cooperation the Iranians have been giving the UN and others since the start of the Iraq war. "Sure, yeah! Bring your people in to look at our stuff, what do we care, you're already giving us more than we could have ever hoped for!"

The only reason the Iranians aren't publicly laughing it up right now is because their plan is not yet complete. If we actually manage to create of legitimate representative democracy in Iraq, then yes, we will have made the authoritarian regime in Iran worse off for its trouble. The problems we face in our self-assigned task are large mountains to climb: History and demographics, both of which Iran sees as their greatest advantages. Iraq has no significant history of democracy, and you have to go back maybe to Hammurabi for a real rule of law there. Furthermore, the strong Shi'ite majority in Iraq means that even a repesentative government has the potential to be Shi'ite dominated.

The Iranians must be salivating at this situation, and said salivating is only bolstered by continued perceptions in Iraq of America being an occupier not immediately interested in democracy.

This brings us to a problem inherent in Bush's speeches on Iraq, particularly last night's. Both Kevin and Matt are concerned with Bush's repeated use of the phrase "full sovereignty", given that we'll still have around 150k troops there (Bush gave us a 138k figure last night). It wont be just the Iraqis who notice this disconnect; the neighboring Iranian Shi'ite population will be more than happy to point out, and amplify this discrepancy. How hard will it be for them to present the situation as it actually is, and say "this is 'full sovereignty'?"

Of course, maybe appealing to Iraqis wasn't what Bush had in mind last night. Kevin ponders the domestic implications:
It's true that Iraqis won't be fooled by this, but for that reason they aren't going to be disappointed either. Americans, however, are going to be fooled by it, and that's all Bush cares about. A hundred million people are going to hear that we're handing over "full sovereignty," and maybe 1% of them will read or hear an explanation of why that's not true. So it's a win for Bush.

The real danger is that it sets up Americans for disappointment, not Iraqis. The Iraqis will shrug their shoulders and continue to agitate for American withdrawl, and Americans will be left wondering why the Iraqis continue to be so ungrateful even though we've turned over full sovereignty to them just like we said we would. Of such things is American self-delusion born.
There have been whispers of this before, but Bush's speech last night, despite its strong, base-happy rhetoric, begain to lay the groundwork, oh so subtly, for shifting the blame for the mess in Iraq to the Iraqis on the whole. When Bush says "full sovereignty", repeatedly, to an American audience, it can potentially be translated as "That's what I'm givin' Iraq, and if they don't like it, it's their loss". It doesn't help our cause in Iraq to downplay the level of influence the American occupation will have on Iraqi sovereignty, when your average Iraqi can walk out his-or-her front door and see an American troop presence. It only makes sense if the "full sovereignty" statements are meant to convince the domestic audience that we're giving them more than they think we are.

At this point you might be saying "well duh, this new set of Bush speeches is meant, and has been advertised, to be a counteroffensive of perception, to build American confidence in the war and cultivate the belief among Americans that George W Bush has a plan for success in Iraq".

Well yeah, that's true. But actual seriousness about success in Iraq requires actual evolution in policy, considering where the existing ones have left us so far, and Bush seems either unwilling or unable to change course or even offer specifics. (His "plan" was essentially a speech-ready reorganization of the vagueries we already know) Since Bush is still unwilling to recognize that he is a mortal, fallible man who makes mistakes (despite his 2000 characterization of himself as "a lowly sinner"), the only option he has left himself is the following:

1) Do everything exactly as he has said all along, neverminding how screwed up things are right now.
2) Close those eyes, plug those ears, go "lalalala!" and hope for the best. Either
--2A) It works out, due to circumstances changing independently of Bush policy, and Bush cruises to re-election, or
--2B) It doesn't work, and Bush looks at the Iraqis as if they were Pete Sampras down two sets and a break in an early round match at the Australian Open, and says "gee, I guess they just didn't want it enough". After all, we did give Iraq "full sovereignty"

(by the way, the link on "makes mistakes" goes to an interesting analysis of Bush's speech by Bill Saletan, here's that link again)

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