As I argued in my ZNet essay “Beyond Incompetence,” the decisions to disband the Iraqi army and dissolve the Baathist state in Iraq were part of a larger project of transforming the balance of power in Iraq and the Middle East.
Lots of recent attention has focused on assigning blame for the decision. Paul Bremer has worked hard on several occasions to shift the focus away from himself, most recently in the pages of the New York Times (here and here).
The search is on for more convincing explanations. Fred Kaplan points a finger at Cheney and Chalabi.
I have argued that it makes sense to ponder the role of David Wurmser.
Juan Cole weighs in with another name: Cheney’s national security advisor, John Hannah.
I’d add a… leg to this stool, which is John Hannah and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the AIPAC think tank. Hannah, the former deputy head of WINEP, was one of two officials authorized to receive “intelligence” from Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress. That elements of the Likud Party in Israel to whom Hannah is close, and which had come to have special influence in WINEP, wanted the Iraqi army dissolved is just as plausible as the other elements of Kaplan’s canny theory of the thing.
I totally agree with Cole that it is “plausible” that Hannah favored radical de-Baathification of the Iraqi military state.
But more is required than simply suggesting that Hannah “is close” to “elements of the Likud Party in Israel.”
Cole is certainly correct to think of Cheney’s staff as a field office of the Likud. No need to hesitate there.
But there are clear signs that Hannah didn’t always favor de-Baathification.
At some point Hannah changed his mind. And it was during his role as deputy head of the pro-Israel Washington Institute that he initially opposed de-Baathification.
Consider, for example, a Washington Times Andrew Borowiec article from February 28, 1991 entitled “Sparing Future Turmoil for Iraq is U.S. Goal.”
The lead quote in the article belongs to Hannah:
Most analysts here believe that the victorious coalition should not allow Iraq to fragment and that Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party should be allowed to stay in power. But few see Iraq as capable of exercising significant influence in the Gulf for a long time.
“After years of continuing influence, there is no obvious substitute for Ba’ath,” said John Hannah of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The key figure at WINEP back in 1991 was its director Martin Indyk, not Hannah.
In the same article, Indyk warned against an end to the war that would be “messy, with a collapse of central authority.”
All of this might say more about WINEP and Indyk than it does about Hannah and Likud policies.
Hannah and Indyk were not alone in their fear of a collapse of the Baathist state.
Patrick Clawson–now at WINEP but back in 1991 at the Foreign Policy Research Institute–offered a similar line to Johanna Neuman at USA Today (“Iran, Syria May Covet Iraqi Land,” January 18, 1991).
”It’s a very terrifying question to consider what happens if we cause the disintegration of Iraq,” says Patrick Clawson, strategist for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
But at roughly the same time as Hannah, Indyk, and Clawson were warning agains the destruction of the Baath, Richard Perle and others were already pondering alternatives.
In a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed (“The War to Oust Saddam Has Yet to Begin,” March 29, 1991), Perle wrote:
The principal aim should be to stop the massacre [of Shiite and Kurdish rebels], first for humanitarian, then for political reasons – to encourage a political solution to the rebellion that might yield sufficient autonomy for the Kurds and Shi’ites…
The U.S. administration evidently believes that the dismemberment of Iraq is not in the Western interest. But neither is it in the interest of the West for Saddam Hussein to consolidate his hold over clearly defined dissident areas….
Sharing intelligence and communications devices with the rebels and possibly supplying them with the Stinger and anti-tank missiles that were so effective in the hands of the Afghan resistance should be considered.
At one time, there appear to have been complex disagreements within the “Israel Lobby.”
There is a good bet that some of that complexity remains and that views sometimes change and evolve as the historical context changes.
Michael Ledeen’s changing views on US policy toward Iran constitute another such puzzle.
No answers, here. Just questions.
Is this about factional splits within the Israel Lobby?
Or changing historical circumstances?