Wednesday, August 27, 2003

In his latest column, Tom Friedman makes two observations. First, this:

Let's start with mentality. We are not "rebuilding" Iraq. We are "building" a new Iraq — from scratch. Not only has Saddam Hussein's army, party and bureaucracy collapsed, but so, too, has the internal balance between Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, which was held together by Saddam's iron fist. Also, the reporting on Iraq under Saddam rarely conveyed how poor and rundown Saddam had made it. Iraq today is the Arab Liberia. In short, Iraq is not a vase that we broke to remove the rancid water inside, and now we just need to glue it back together. We have to build a whole new vase. We have to dig the clay, mix it, shape it, harden it and paint it. (This is going to cost so much more than President Bush has told us.)

All true, to the debatable extent that the powers that currently be in Washington and Baghdad take the project seriously at all. Particularly the parenthetical about the price. Second, this:

... we need to get the 25-person Iraqi Governing Council to do three things — now. It must name a cabinet, so Iraqis are running every ministry; announce a 300,000-person jobs program, so people see some tangible benefits delivered by their own government; and offer to immediately rehire any Iraqi Army soldier who wants to serve in the new army, as long as he was not involved in Saddam's crimes. It was a huge — huge — mistake to disband the Iraqi Army and put all those unemployed soldiers on the streets, without enough U.S. troops to take their place.

Which would at least attempt to address a huge problem which said powers that be seem reluctant to acknowledge -- the illegitimacy of our current occupation.

Compared to Friedman's usual output, this is an astoundingly sensible piece of work. There's just one problem. Well, two:

To the extent that the governing council is perceived, inside and outside Iraq, to be nothing more than America's catspaws, giving them power will do nothing to add legitimacy to the occupation.

And to the extent that they really are independant, and show themselves to be, the combination of their empowerment with the commitment of American funds would effectively give these folks, with no real experience of governing, many of whom have fundamentalist leanings, and some links to known terrorists, a blank check on the United States Treasury.

But as I said, compared to Friedman's usual output, this is an astoundingly sensible piece of work...


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