About That Iraqi Democracy: Forget About It

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 19 2014 @ 5:32pm

One might be forgiven for thinking that the catastrophic war in Iraq was designed to bring democracy and sovereignty to that nation after a brutal, foul dictatorship. That, after all, was what we were told from the get-go, along with the alleged threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Many service-members died to bring that democracy about; almost 200,000 Iraqis died in the bloody transition. And they elected a prime minister; and re-elected him in fair elections. And yet now, courtesy of the CIA’s unofficial spokesman, David Ignatius, we hear that Maliki is nonetheless going to be deposed by the US:

President Obama sensibly appears to be leaning toward an alternative policy that would replace Maliki with a less sectarian and polarizing prime minister — and then begin using U.S. military power on behalf of this more broadly based government. The White House is already mulling a list of alternative prime ministers.

So the whole pretext of Iraqi democracy was a sham, and we now know this without a shadow of a doubt. The next leader of Iraq will be IRAQ-UNREST-VOLUNTEERSpicked in Washington, and not by the people of that country. And the right of an elected government to choose its own policies and direct its own governance – for good or ill – has been effectively rendered null and void. There’s never any welfare reform with imperial welfare. They are to be dependents for ever. And, of course, the CIA’s previous regime changes in the Middle East – Iran, anyone? – do not even merit a mention. Just because they have screwed it up every single time doesn’t mean they don’t have the absolute right to screw it up again. Because the residue of their own disasters can be used to justify yet more ones. Just ask Fred Hiatt.

As with most imperial projects – and what other word can be used to describe the embedded assumptions in Ignatius’s column? –  Washington will use local power-brokers to implement its designs. Ignatius is perfectly candid about the rawness of the imperialism involved:

The people who will pull the plug on Maliki are Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and other Iraqi kingmakers. The United States should push them to signal unmistakably that Maliki is finished. And they must do so in coordination with Iran, which will effectively have a veto on the next Iraqi prime minister, whether we like it or not.

Notice the lack of any subjunctive. The Kurdish leader will do what he is told; the Sunni tribes must cooperate with Iran. This is the mindset of the CIA, a beyond-the-rule-of-law organization that has done more damage to this country’s interests and values than any other organ of state. The contempt of these imperialists (who brought torture into the American bloodstream) for the autonomy of any other country is a striking as their contempt for American values.

So Ignatius admits that this illegal intervention needs “political cover”from other interested parties in the region (all of whom have ulterior motives and almost all of whom have contributed to this burgeoning sectarian warfare). And the goal now is to intervene simultaneously in Syria’s civil war, to the tune of training up to 10,000 “Syrian moderates” (try not to laugh out loud or burst simultaneously into tears).

And the entire point of this exercise is to get another war up and running – and soon – in Syria and Iraq:

Targeting ISIS perhaps could begin with its safe havens and infiltration routes along the Syria-Iraq border, where there’s less chance of hitting Sunni tribesmen. “We know where their base camps and training camps are, which is where we can start — and it’s important to start,” says U.S. Central Command adviser Derek Harvey.

Yes, “it’s important to start”. Sure, we don’t know where any of this could lead – but the one thing we have learned this past decade and a half is to launch a war first and figure out those questions later. Intervening in two sectarian countries just adds to the challenge, I guess. It’s so good to know someone advising Central Command has absorbed the lessons of the past so well.

I’m distressed by the news out of DC and alarmed by Obama’s presser, but I haven’t given up on the president yet.

Ignatius is voicing the CIA’s agenda, as usual, not necessarily the president’s. In his presser today,

Mr. Obama insisted that the United States would not press for Mr. Maliki’s replacement by a new leader. “It’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders,” he said. But he added, “Right now, there’s too much suspicion, there’s too much mistrust.”

And yet 300 military “advisers” and the possibility of air-strikes is how wars start. And the president has been woefully supine when it comes to confronting the lawless incompetence of the CIA for the past six years; and once military strikes begin, we’re back to square one, trying to control a country we do not understand and cannot master, taking the bait of all sorts of interested parties, who will use us as they have used us in the past to promote their own agendas. The president also signaled he is leery of Ignatius’ utopian notion of 10,000 “Syrian moderates”:

He cited the difficulties in deciding whether to arm members of the opposition. “If you have former farmers or teachers or pharmacists who now are taking up opposition against a battle-hardened regime,” he said, “how quickly can you get them trained?”

And how do you know that after they’ve been trained and equipped, they won’t turn around on a dime like the Iraqi army just did? This is the Arab Middle East. There is no trust there. And there are no reliable allies.

In my view, this is not a conflict in which you can half-intervene. By some miracle, we extricated ourselves at great loss. And yet the breezy tone in Ignatius’s column and the decision by Obama to send Special Forces advisers to Iraq suggest something more ominous still. So let me reiterate something: in my view, the one thing Obama pledged never to do he must never do. For me, re-entering the Iraq war – which is what US-targeted airstrikes with Special Forces on the ground against ISIS would do – is a deal-breaker. In one move, it could obliterate Obama’s entire foreign policy legacy of deleveraging the empire and effectively treat the American people as irrelevant. It would also instantly make the United States a prime target for these religious fanatics.

So this is truly a test of the president’s mettle. Will he stand up for the American people and follow his own instincts or cave to the CIA and the hyperventilating Beltway? His presser today both reassured but also worried me. I worry because I have learned the hard way that the elites in Washington like to treat the world as a garden to tend, they have never seen a crisis they don’t think they can solve, and they love to imagine themselves in the vanguard of the good and the true, even if all their recent interventions have led to mass murder and lies. This goes for Democrats as well as Republicans. And when the imperial complex sees a new opportunity to enlarge its power and money and relevance, they tend to have their way. Because they always have their way, and until we elect someone with the spine to rescue us from this eternal, corrosive, imperial quicksand, they always will.

 

UPDATE: A couple of sentences in Ignatius’ piece have been changed. Details here.