From De-Baathification to Decentralization

Posted by Cutler on October 09, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists

Two items in the news–both discussed in a Sunday post by Juan Cole–warrant some additional attention.

The first item–quite plausible and very interesting–concerns a Reuters report that Cheney and Rumsfeld led the campaign for the fateful May 2003 decision to support Iraqi de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

The second item–totally implausible and quite startling–concerns a London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group “may recommend carving up Iraq into three highly autonomous regions.”

Cheney/Rumsfeld: No Likudniks, They

The report on Cheney and Rumsfeld arises from the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. The Blunkett “revelations” accompany the release of his new memoir, The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bearpit.

Reuters reports:

David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Ba’athist government system.

“We dismantled the structure of a functioning state,” he said, adding that the British view was: “Change them by all means, decapitate them even, but very quickly get the arms and legs moving.”

Blunkett’s account is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the idea that the British opposed de-Baathification, favoring some form military decapitation that would allow for Saddamism without Saddam in post-invasion Iraq.

Second, it suggests that the policy of de-Baathification had the support of Bush administration principals, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Here is Cole on the Blunkett story:

Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed that the idea of dismantling the Baath-dominated Iraqi army and bureaucracy in May of 2003 came from US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (It is often blamed on proconsul Paul Bremer, but it has all along been obvious that he was ordered to do it by higher-ups). A precise timeline for the development of this policy (which had been ruled out at the Pentagon as late as March 15) and a precise account of where it came from has never been published.

It would be important to know what the role of the Likudniks was in this regard: Irv Lewis Libby and John Hannah in Dick Cheney’s office, and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and the neo-plumbers of the “Office of Special Plans“– i.e. Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin and others at the Pentagon. The decision was clearly against US interests, but an Iraq without an army may well have had a special appeal to Rightwing Zionists and their Chalabist allies among the Iraqi expatriates.

I think it has been clear for some time that the policy did have considerable appeal to Right Zionists. No surprise there.

Prior to the Blunkett claims, one might have even suspected that de-Baathification was championed exclusively by Right Zionist deputies who snuck one past distracted principals like Cheney and Rumsfeld.

This has never seemed particularly persuasive or plausible.

But Blunkett’s assertions move the spotlight off the role of the deputies and onto the role of Cheney and Rumsfeld.

As I have argued in a previous post entitled “Finding Rumsfeld/Cheney,” both of these figures had long-established records as Right Arabists, not Right Zionists.

So what were Cheney and Rumsfeld doing supporting de-Baathification?

Blunkett has made some news. But his claims only provoke more questions. On this, I completely agree with Cole: we need a precise timeline and a precise account. None have been written.

The Baker Boys

The London Times report that James Baker’s Iraq Study Group favors decentralization in Iraq simply defies all logic. Given the surprising turns of this administration, however, that may not be enough to render it false.

Nevertheless, I’ll eat my hat if this one turns out to be true.

James Baker one of the towering figures of the Right Arabist Establishment and was the principal most clearly identified with the decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power at the end of “Operation Desert Storm” rather than support rebellions by Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in search of autonomy.

Like de-Baathification, the defenders of decentralization tend to be Neocons and Zionists (Likudniks and Dem Zionists) who favor US alliances with Shiites and Kurds.

Right Arabists in Washington who favor Sunni Arab regional dominance–along with Sunni Arab regimes and most Iraqi Sunni Arabs–have vehemently opposed all policies that would compromise the “Arab” unity of Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the four “participating groups” that formally constitute the Iraq Study Group. Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is the most prominent and vocal opponent of plans that support the decentralization of Iraq.

A look at the Iraq Study Group’s “Expert Working Groups” does little to point toward support for decentralization of Iraq. Right Arabists are well represented (Amy Myers Jaffe, Chas W. Freeman, etc.).

The most prominent Right Zionist involved–AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht–favors Shiite power in Iraq but has also looked hopefully to Shiite nationalists like Sadr to hold Iraq together. In a January 2006 Weekly Standard essay entitled “Devout Democracies,” Gerecht argued:

[T]here remains the huge fact of the Shiite population in Baghdad, which would be excluded from any Shiite semi–autonomous zone in the south. Baghdad is a majority Shiite city. And it simply cannot be compared to any other city in Iraq-certainly not impoverished and broken Basra, the other possible pole of Shiite urban influence. (The impoverished Shiite south of Iraq actually reminds one of Afghanistan.) For the foreseeable future, the centripetal power of Baghdad will remain. The exclusionary, defensive, federalist impulses of the Iraqi Shiite community… can go only so far before they provoke real, paralyzing Shiite resistance from Baghdad. If for no other reason, the Baghdad Shiite factor will likely guarantee sufficient tolerance toward the Sunnis for democratic progress to continue.

If Baker–and his Iraq Study Group–has flipped on this issue, it would represent an immense earthquake within the factional fault lines of the Republican foreign policy Establishment.

The only comparable Right Arabist defection?

Cheney and Rumsfeld’s support for De-Baathification.

Leave a Reply