Monday, April 21, 2003

So let me get this straight. On the one hand, Americans are expecting to get out of Iraq quickly:

"I don't think it has to be expensive, and I don't think it has to be lengthy," a senior administration official said of the postwar plan. "Americans do everything fairly quickly."


Even officials at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, the umbrella group headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner that will lead the postwar effort, said they expect to measure their time in Iraq in "months, not years," though Garner suggested in an interview Saturday that the United States would persevere until democracy is established.

But on the other hand, quoting the same article:

Treasury Department officials are ... thinking big, hoping to encourage the adoption of a codified system of property rights and a rule of law for business operations, a transparent system of budgeting and taxation, the promotion of an entrepreneurial economy and, ultimately, the privatization of centrally planned state enterprises.

John B. Taylor, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, said the department hopes to create "a well-functioning market economy that is growing, creating jobs and is promising a future" for the Iraqi people. He said the course Treasury would like to set "most importantly undoes the changes of the last 25 years," recreating the conditions that existed before Saddam Hussein's central planning and three costly wars.

Surely these are matters which a democratic government, should we choose to actually establish one, would decide for itself. But then again, the Pentagon's own plans seem to dictate future Iraqi policy, well past when they expect American rule to be over:

American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

That story goes on to quote "officials" as saying that "access is all that is required" -- but doesn't explain why they think they can "require" anything of the future sovereign government of Iraq at all.

Of course, there is a way to square this circle -- the Americans really do expect an extended occupation, one which would allow them to dictate everything from the school curriculum to the cell phone network, but they don't expect to pay for it; instead, they expect it to be run by a nominally independant authority, run by ideologically reliable satraps nominated by America, but paid for out of Iraq's own oil revenue. Or, as undersecretary Taylor puts it:

Taylor said that [his free-market] ambition does not conflict with the Pentagon's rapid timetable, because defense officials envision a phased withdrawal from Iraq. The functions that Treasury is leading may be among the last governance efforts transferred to the interim authority, he said.

So, we transfer the responsibility of paying for the government back to the Iraqis first, and transfer the responsibility of deciding what it will do last. And in the meantime, we get to decide policy while having our colony protectorate pay for it. Brilliant!

Of course, in purely financial terms, this plan might well be a disappointment; returning to the original WaPo article:

Iraq experts warned that the administration could not count on Iraqi oil to foot the bill. James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of state who directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand Corp., said Iraq's current production capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day is enough to cover humanitarian relief under the United Nations' oil-for-food program and to pay war reparations to Kuwait and Iran that are not likely to be forgiven. Concerted foreign investment could raise production to 3.5 million barrels a day, Iraq's historic high, but that would take as long as five years, he said.

But even if that plan did make financial sense, it still wouldn't go down well with the Iraqis themselves, as the recent spate of demonstrations shows. But hey, who gave them a vote?

Meanwhile, there's a really peculiar sideshow going on with the acolytes of Ahmed Chalabi, the neocon pet Iraqi exile who the Pentagon flew into the country, with a few hundred handpicked followers, as the hard fighting was winding down. One of Chalabi's cronies, having declared himself "governor of Baghdad", claiming to have been "elected" at a meeting of which no one knows anything, is already apponting an OPEC delegation, so sure is he of his power. Even Jay Garner demurs, refusing to recognize the "governor." Meanwhile, Chalabi himself, who I just heard interviewed on the BBC, is more circumspect, claiming not to be a candidate for anything, though at the same time he is amazingly willing to speak ex cathedra about what "the Iraqi people" desire and believe...

Update: Rumsfeld has now denied the portions of the New York Times report that talk about permanent basing arrangements -- but the press reports I've read don't have him denying that the US might try to "require" that it have "access"...


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