In his recent “outburst” on Fox news, President Clinton talked about “All of President Bush’s neo-cons.”
Clinton had less to say, on Fox, about his own neo-cons.
But Clinton–and “Dem Zionists“–are not quite always so hostile to neo-cons.
The politics of the war in Iraq do not really divide on partisan lines.
That is one reason to suspect that Democrats who have refused to embrace a populist anti-war position during the Bush administration are likely to renew major elements of the Right Zionist project in the Gulf if they are empowered to do so in upcoming elections.
Take, for example, the crucial question of dismantling the Iraqi army in May 2003.
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has called the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army the Bush administration’s “worst mistake” in postwar Iraq.
That, at least, was his sense of things back in November 2003, according to a Washington Post article from that time–“Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?”
The old article worth reviewing again because the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi state is back in the news with the claims of David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary during the runup to the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Rumsfeld were the driving forces behind that decision.
Today, Zinni’s criticism has become the “common sense” regarding the war. Almost everybody agrees with Zinni; if there are major disagreements they involve ways to fix the problem now that the damage has been done.
Almost everybody agrees with Zinni.
But even after the rise of the Iraqi insurgency there were two US foreign policy figures who continued to explain and defend the rationale for de-Baathification.
Feith Leads the Way
The first figure is now quite infamous: Douglas J. Feith.
Feith served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and is the Bush administration Right Zionist most closely identified with the manipulation of pre-war intelligence and the failures of post-war planning.
His infamy was probably secured when General Tommy Franks–who commanded US forces in the invasion of Iraq–referred to Feith as the “dumbest [expletive] guy on the planet.”
In a May 28, 2003 press conference, Feith defended the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.
Q My name is Saeb Erekat from al Quds Newspaper. Mr. Feith, in the last few days, we have witnessed increased attacks on American forces in Iraq. Do you attribute this to the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces? And was that wise to do? And in retrospect, do you think that the policy — not in retrospect, in effect, the policy of applying de-Ba’athification to the entire bureaucratic infrastructure in Iraq is really wise in terms of getting Iraq back on its feet since you would need a lot of this talent and ability and technical capabilities and so on? Thank you.
MR. FEITH: We view the de-Ba’athification policy not only as wise but as indispensable to the effort to create a free Iraq… There was — we got a lot of Iraqis coming forward and saying that people would not feel comfortable cooperating with us, talking to us, working with us, if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba’ath Party elements. And it is — it is clear that the future of Iraq as a free country depends on people in the country believing and seeing that the Ba’ath Party is gone and that it’s not going to come back, and that the remnants of the Ba’ath Party are not going to be in a position to control the administration of the country or to physically attack the people who are going to be creating a free Iraq…
Apart from Feith defense of the policy–which came in the very early days after the decision was announced–is there anyone else who defended the policy?
Feith’s Fellow Traveler: Walter Slocombe
During the Clinton administration, Walter Slocombe occupied the exact same post that Feith would later occupy during the Bush administration.
Slocombe served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1994 to 2001.
But Slocombe is far less famous/infamous than Feith. To date, the poor fellow doesn’t even have his own wikipedia entry.
Nevertheless, he is a crucial figure for understanding the partisan contours of Iraq war politics.
According to that old Washington Post article, “Wrong Turn at Postwar Crossroads?,” from November 20, 2003, Slocombe played a major role in the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army.
The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.
Of course, all the “other” Right Zionists players were involved. And nobody should try to pin the deal on Slocombe as a way of deflecting blame from the Bush administration.
However, it is also worth noting: long after Slocombe had left the service of Paul Bremer, whose Coalition Provisional Authority was in full retreat from its earlier policy and was now re-Baathifying as quickly as it could–Slocombe continued to make the case for de-Baathification.
And Slocombe’s explanation for the policy is far more candid about the geopolitical stakes than Feith’s. Slocombe emphasizes that his focus was on the contours of Sunni-Shiite political power in Iraq.
Slocombe’s line was the same during his service as it was later.
As a government official, Slocombe explained the policy–and warned against a tilt toward re-Baathification–in a November 5, 2003 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “To Build an Army.”
[I]t’s being argued by some that… the United States could and should have relied on Saddam Hussein’s old army and saved itself the trouble of creating a new one. Some even say we should try to do that now by recalling the old army to service some six months after its defeat.
It’s an argument that doesn’t add up. Given our objective of replacing Hussein’s regime, and not just its leader, it would have been a mistake, I think, to try to convert an army that was a principal tool of his oppressive system into the armed guardian of a new democracy…
Some observers… say that we should have called the departed soldiers back. Hussein’s army, however, consisted entirely of conscripts below officer level, most of them Shiites, who were badly mistreated by the overwhelmingly Sunni officers. Those conscripts were delighted at the opportunity to escape the abuse, corruption and misery of the old army. They certainly weren’t going to heed the call of their officers to return, and we were not about to send press gangs out to round them up.
Thus any recalled “army” would have consisted almost entirely of officers from the absurdly top-heavy senior ranks.
Slocombe supported dismantling the Iraqi army as one element of a larger campaign to depose the Sunni governing elite.
In April 1, 2004 remarks entitled “Inside Iraq” delivered to the Commonwealth Club after he had left the Coalition Provisional Authority, Slocombe continued to emphasize the Sunni-Shiite political dynamic.
[The Iraqi army] was a conscript army. Most of the officers – well over 80 percent – were Sunni; most of the enlisted – probably 80 percent, higher than the population percentages – were Shia. And the conscripts went home. They liked the idea that they were formally excused from their obligations. They were not paid, so they hardly became unemployed. They were a lot more useful for the society home with their families. There was no question of getting them to come back.
We could have gotten a lot of officers. The Iraqi army had 11,000 general officers… The sensible thing to do was to start from the bottom and build up.
As Slocombe explained in the November 2003 Washington Post article “Wrong Turn at a Postwar Crossroads?“:
“This is not something that was dreamed up by somebody at the last minute and done at the insistence of the people in Baghdad. It was discussed,” Slocombe said.
For Slocombe, disbanding the Iraqi army was a political decision. It didn’t “mistakenly” alienate the Sunni officers. It did so intentionally, as part of a larger project of transforming the regional balance of power.
My hunch is that Dem Zionists will join Slocombe in defending this project long after the Republican party has returned to its Right Arabist roots.