IPS analysis of ‘Galbraith-gate’

It’s here, and also archived here.
Y’all know the story here already. (Renewed kudos to Reidar Visser for breaking it for all those of us who don’t read Norwegian… Reidar, I know I should have slotted in a quotoid from you there… Sorry that I didn’t.)
My conclusion in the IPS piece is,

    Here in the U.S., Galbraith has long been associated with the “liberal hawk” wing of the Democratic Party, which has argued since the early 1990s that U.S. military power can, and on occasion should, be used to impose a U.S.-defined human rights agenda in various parts of the world.
    Many members of this group have been liberal idealists – though some of those who, on “liberal” grounds, gave early support to Pres. George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq later expressed their regret for adopting that position.
    Galbraith has never expressed any such regrets, and last November, he was openly scornful of Bush’s late-term agreement to withdraw from Iraq completely. The revelation that for many years Galbraith had a quite undisclosed financial interest in the political breakup of Iraq may now further reduce the clout, and the ranks, of the remaining liberal hawks.

When I was researching the piece today, I was intrigued to see that until he took up his UN-Afghanistan position in March, Galbraith was a “Senior Diplomatic Fellow” at the DC-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, which occupies the currently fairly influential, soggy-left end of the spectrum of Washington’s power-connected think-tanks.
I really do hope that the revelation of Peter Galbraith’s sordid– and until recently painstakingly concealed– financial dealings with the KRG and DNO yet further diminishes the influence of liberal hawks in the US power elite and US society.

Good reporting from RFE/RL on Galbraith/DNO

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty is a relic of the Cold War that in the mid-1990s got rebranded by Tom Dine (as you can read in my Nation piece) as a very serious lever of US soft power in the Muslim world.
What RFE/RL does is technically termed “surrogate broadcasting.” The current director-general says what they aim to produce is “something like the same National Public Radio station we have here in the US”– but produced by nationals of the countries to which RFE/RL broadcasts.
Which is another way of saying that though RFE/RL is funded by the S government, it aims to provide quality news coverage to the countries it broadcasts to. Unlike, for example the Alhurra t.v. channel or the Iraq-only Radio Sawa, which were established (under a single, and for-profit umbrella) during the Bush administration: Those latter two provide “news” that is much more propagandistic and/or ill-considered.
So today, I’m following Reidar Visser’s tip and looking at the RFE/RL coverage of the Galbraith affair… And yes, it is very good .
The writer, Charles Recknagel, gives us a concise description of the legal-affairs backstory for last week’s revelation by the Norwegian daily Dagens Naeringsliv that Peter Galbraith had a very significant material interest in the Kurdish Regional Government’s achievement of control over exploitation of new oil fields within its boundaries– at the very same time he was arguing strongly, as a supposed constitutional “expert”, that the new, post-invasion “regional governments” in Iraq (of which the KRG is thus far the only one) should gain exactly that and other new rights, at the expense of the central government.
The RFE/RL account of “Galbraithgate” seems to clearly give the lie to those (like Laura Rosen and others) who argue that last week’s revelation of Galbraith’s strong financial interest in the devolution of powers inside Iraq was timed to embarrass him at a point when he has just had gotten into a very public spat with the (as it happens, Norwegian) head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
Recknagel writes,

    The financial news editor of “Dagens Naeringsliv,” Terje Erikstad, says the discovery of Galbraith’s name was completely unanticipated.
    “We started out the investigation looking at the fine levied against a mid-sized Norwegian oil company, DNO,” Erikstad said. “It is often in the news because it was a pioneer in northern Iraq and its shares on the Oslo stock exchange go up and down with developments there. We were not looking for Galbraith’s name at all, so finding it on [Porcupine’s] founding documents in Delaware was quite a surprise for us.”

Recknagel also gives an estimate of how much money is at stake in the current litigation between Galbraith’s company, Porcupine, and DNO:

    The paper [DN] published a document from 2006 that lists the partners in the Tawke field and shows Porcupine as having a 5 percent interest in it.
    The paper estimates that the total amount of compensation being sought jointly by Porcupine and the Yemeni businessman is some $525 million. A ruling is expected in the first half of next year.
    DNO has the capacity currently to export roughly 43,000 barrels per day from Iraqi Kurdistan [presumably, all of this from Tawke field], worth approximately $30 million annually. However, exports are currently blocked as the KRG and Baghdad continue to dispute the same kind of issues Galbraith once tried to resolve.

Yes, isn’t that the crux of the story: That Galbraith was actively working for the KRG to acquire these kinds of revenue-producing powers that were previously in the sovereign domain of Iraq’s central government– at exactly the same time, 2004-2006, that he was already in a business relationship with both the KRG and DNO whereby he stood to reap considerable personal benefit from the new arrangements he was arguing for.
Good job, RFE/RL.
So when will we see some similarly hard-headed reporting in organs of the US mainstream media other than the Boston Globe? The Globe did have a piece about “Galbraith-gate” in today’s paper– but it was not nearly as well researched and written as the one in RFE/RL.

More on Galbraith; Boston Globe runs the story

Reidar Visser has a new report up on his blog, that summarizes the latest revelations about Galbraith and Kurdish oil made in today’s Dagens Næringsliv, from Oslo.
DN (and from them, Reidar) have reproduced a document attesting that the Connecticut-registered company in which Galbraith has, I believe, a half-share did indeed have a 5% interest in the production-sharing agreement for Kurdistan’s new Tawke oil field.
The Boston Globe has a version of the Galbraith story today, too.
They have a quote there from Juan Cole, even though he hasn’t blogged anything about the Galbraith affair. (Unlike yours truly.)
They also, more importantly, have a quote from Galbraith himself, in which he says,

    “The business interest, including my investment into Kurdistan, was consistent with my political views… These were all things that I was promoting, and in fact, have brought considerable benefit to the people of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan oil industry, and also to shareholders.’’

The Globe reporter, Farah Stockman, then immediately makes this somewhat strange comment:

    It is not illegal or unheard of for former US officials to do business with people they worked with during their time in government. But ethical questions often arise when such dealings become public.

It is, of course, illegal for people who are currently in government jobs to engage in business affairs that might in any way be affected by the decisions they make in an official capacity; and in the US there are well-known regulations regarding how long a person must be out of office before s/he can engage in such business affairs. This is basic to the integrity of government functioning, anywhere.
In 2003-05, when Galbraith was rushing round Iraq and the world arguing passionately for a radical form of Kurdish separation from the central Iraqi state, he was not in fact on the US government payroll. He had been, in late 2002, when he taught at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. But in the 2003-05 period, he was presenting himself as (a) a constitutional affairs specialist, and (b) an adviser to the Kurdish leaders, who was providing his advice to them on a contract or sometimes even “expenses-only” basis because of the depth of his commitment to their cause.
In all the articles he published in the US media in and since those years, arguing for the radical devolution of Iraqi governmental powers to the country’s various ethno-sectarian groups (including the Kurds), not once do I recall having seen it say in the tag-line that he had business interests related to the topics he was writing about.
All those editors just took him at his word when he claimed to be this idealistic, quite disinterested “expert.” He was everyone’s favorite liberal hawk.
Stockman also has this about Galbraith:

    Galbraith said yesterday his role in the [Iraqi] constitutional negotiations was unpaid and informal, and therefore he was under no obligation to disclose his business interests to the US or Iraqi governments. He also said confidentiality agreements prevented him from publicly disclosing details of the business.

Galbraith is, of course, far from the only well-placed US citizen who sought to make some fast money from all the “business opportunities” that the US occupation of Iraq opened up to them. But he seems to have realized that the extremely scuzzy nature of this deal would not look good if held up to the light of day. I’m assuming that it was him, himself, whom the “confidentiality agreements” in question were designed to protect.
Anyway, he should now be asked to abrogate those agreements and come quite clean. I mean, Peter Galbraith does believe in good government, doesn’t he?

NYT studiously ignores Galbraith-DNO link

The NYT today carried a substantial article about the dispute over oil rights between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish regional government, including many mentions of the oil lease for the KRG’s Tawke field held by the Norwegian company DNO– and they managed to do that without making any mention of the other big aspect of this story that’s roiling the Norwegian press: namely, the fact that the US “cowboy diplomatic advisor” Peter Galbraith has been revealed to be a mystery shareholder in DNO.
Amazing. How could the NYT not mention this– especially given the amount of space the NYT has given to Galbraith’s own views in recent years, both on the op-ed page and as the subject of news articles, including recently?
There truly seems to be (as Reidar Visser and Steve Connors have noted in the comments section of of my earlier post on this topic) some kind of vow of omerta in the US MSM regarding Galbraith’s investing activities and the sharp conflicts of interest involved therein.
in the English-language media, the only other major people to have picked up on the story so far are Michael Rubin of The National Review (here and here) and the always excellent Paul Woodward of War in Context.
Meanwhile, Reaidar Visser has provided us with a fuller translation of the Oct. 10 article about Galbraith from Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
The article puts Galbraith’s involvement in the context of the dispute that has broken out between DNO, the KRG, and some former DNO shareholders, including the Connecticut-registered company “Porcupine”, of which Galbraith is a significant shareholder.
The DN journos have these quotes gathered from Galbraith, as they confronted him in the Norwegian city of Bergen where he has a home along with his Norwegian wife:

    1. “It is well known that I have worked for companies that invest in Iraq. I have pledged to maintain confidentiality concerning these relationships and cannot provide any more information.”
    2. “I have worked with companies investing in Iraq and of course the Kurdish authorities know about my relationships to my clients. That is all I want to say.”

Michael Rubin had done a little digging round and found some paragraphs about Galbraith and his financial interests in Iraqi Kurdistan in this January 2007 Al Kamen piece in the WaPo (scroll down):

    Former ambassador to Croatia Peter W. Galbraith, testifying last week at a Senate hearing about Iraq, noted that he’d been asked by committee staffers to “clarify my relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    The query probably was sparked by rumors over the years that Galbraith was formally advising the Kurds. His biography is on the KRG’s “Kurdistan, The Other Iraq” Web site, which lists him as an “adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    In his testimony, Galbraith said he’d “been friends of the Kurdish leaders and for that matter, other Iraqis, for a very long period of time, but I am not in a paid relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government.”
    In an e-mail exchange Friday and Saturday, Galbraith wrote that he hadn’t seen the Web site and “to the extent that it implies a formal relationship with the KRG, it is inaccurate.” Galbraith wrote that he had been paid by “two Kurdish clients” for four months in late 2003-2004 for “either an educational program on negotiations or conducting a negotiation” — all outside this country.
    “I do not lobby or represent anyone in the U.S.,” he wrote, adding that he specifically noted this in his recent book on Iraq and explained there that the KRG has “provided security, accommodation and in-country transportation” when he visits.

So, he did not get paid in cash by the KRG. But was he given the shares in the DNO-KRG deal as some form of “recognition” for the work he did for the KRG?
Definitely worth asking more questions.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, over to you?

Peter Galbraith, oil contracts, and Kurds

Reidar Visser informs us today that the independent-minded US “free-lance diplomat” Peter Galbraith reportedly, from 2004 through 2008, held a five-percent share in the production-sharing agreement concluded between the small Norwegian private oil company DNO and the Kurdish Regional Government.
Galbraith, a longtime supporter of Kurdish (and before that Croatian) independence, was most recently working as deputy to Kai Eide, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan. Eide fired him last week for, essentially, insubordination.
Back in 2003-05, Galbraith was an influential adviser to the US occupation authorities as they drew up Iraq’s new, heavily decentralized Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and Constitution, and to various Kurdish political leaders. He was also hailed– and published– by major western news organizations as a credibly neutral (and presumably disinterested) analyst of Iraqi constitutional affairs.
But now it appears that, instead of being the idealist and the brave proponent of the rights of embattled minorities that he had always portrayed himself to be, in reality he was acting as a one-man East India Company, consorting with compliant “locals” (= “natives”) to rip off their country’s resources.
Visser writes,

    Norway’s most respected financial newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN), has been focusing on the operations of DNO,… especially reporting on unclear aspects concerning share ownership and its contractual partnerships related to the Tawke field in the Dahuk governorate. One particular goal has been to establish the identity of a hitherto unknown “third party” which participated with DNO in the initial production sharing agreement (PSA) for Tawke between 2004 and 2008, but was squeezed out when this deal was converted to a new contract in early 2008, prompting a huge financial claim of around 500 million US dollars against DNO which has yet to be settled. Today, DN claims to present proof that one of the two major “mystery stake-holders” involved in the claim was none other than Peter Galbraith, who allegedly held a five-percent share in the PSA for Tawke from June 2004 until 2008 through his Delaware-based company Porcupine… DN has published documents from Porcupine showing Galbraith’s personal signature, and today’s reports are complete with paparazzi photographs of Galbraith literally running away from reporters as they confront him in Bergen, where he is currently staying with his Norwegian wife. He refused to give any comment citing potential legal complications.
    If proven correct, the implications of this revelation are so enormous that the story is almost unbelievable. As is well known, DNO has been criticised for the way its operations in the Kurdistan region interfere with Iraq’s constitutional process. To their credit, though, DNO are at the very least perfectly forthright about their mission in the area: They are a commercial enterprise set up to make a maximum profit in a high-risk area currently transitioning from conditions of war. Galbraith, however, was almost universally seen as “Ambassador Galbraith”, the statesmanlike former diplomat whose outspoken ideas about post-2003 Iraq were always believed to be rooted in idealism and never in anything else. Instead, it now emerges, he apparently wore several hats at the same time, and mixed his roles in ways that seem entirely incompatible with the capacity of an independent adviser on constitutional affairs.

Visser then notes the multiplicity of “hats” that Galbraith was wearing as he strode around post-invasion Iraq in the early years of the US occupation– including “ABC News consultant” (a generously compensated gig, that one usually is), and a compensated consultant for “Kurdish clients”, as well as a constitutional adviser in general and a fairly prolific author of pro-partition analyses.
Visser gives an excellent, detailed analysis of the influence Galbraith claimed he had, and the influence he almost certainly did have, on the drafting of the ‘Transitional Administrative Law’ (TAL) that was imposed on Iraq by Bush appointee Jerry Bremer in March 2004– quoting Galbraith’s own words from the book he published in 2006 that was notably titled The End of Iraq:

    Galbraith urged the Kurds to be maximalist about their demands: “The Bush administration might not like the Kurds insisting on their rights, I said, but it would respect them for doing so (163)”. Then, leading up to the TAL negotiations in the winter of 2004, Galbraith worked specifically for the Kurds in framing their demands. It is very easy to see how the Kurdish gains in the TAL and not least in the 2005 constitution are based on this contribution from Galbraith. Galbraith writes, “On February 10 [2004], Nechirvan [Barzani] convened a meeting at the Kurdistan national assembly of the top leaders of the PUK and KDP. I presented a draft of a ‘Kurdistan chapter’ to be included in the interim constitution [i.e. the TAL]… Except for a few matters assigned to the federal government (notably foreign affairs), laws passed by the Kurdistan national assembly would be supreme within the region. The Kurdistan Regional Government could establish an armed force…The Kurdistan Region would own its land, water, minerals and oil. Kurdistan would manage future oil fields (and keep revenues) but the federal government in Baghdad would continue to manage all oil fields currently in commercial production. Because there were no commercial oil fields within Kurdistan as defined by the March 18, 2003 boundaries, this proposal had the effect of giving Kurdistan full control over its own oil…The permanent constitution of Iraq would apply in Kurdistan only if it were approved by a majority of Kurdistan’s voters (166–67).” Subsequent achievements noted by Galbraith as personal successes include staging the informal 2005 referendum on Kurdish independence (171).
    The influence of Galbraith can be discerned already in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law (where the principle of residual powers for the provincial entities was put in place), even if Galbraith was dissatisfied with the relatively long list of powers accorded to Baghdad and blamed the “centralising” policies of Paul Bremer and the Bush administration generally for this “defect”. But his hand is even more evident in the 2005 constitution, which combines residual powers for the regions with the supremacy of local law (albeit not if it contradicts the constitution, a “shortcoming” Galbraith later tried to gloss over), and which also specifically mentions the regional right to local armed forces…
    While he was advising the Kurds on the principles of federalism and trying to persuade an American Democratic audience about the virtues of partition as an alternative to the Bush administration policies in Iraq, Galbraith supposedly held a 5 per cent stake in an oil field whose profit potential was directly governed by the constitutional and US policy decisions Galbraith was seeking to influence (his suggestions also included the idea of a permanent US airbase in Kurdistan).Under any circumstances, this new development is likely to strengthen the tendency among Iraqis to be more critical about the details of the 2005 constitution and not least the historical context in which it was conceived – a criticism that even Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki articulated during the run-up to the last local elections. Seemingly, Maliki’s ideas of rectifying this towards greater centralism (i.e. removing some of Galbraith’s pet projects from 2005) have met with success among voters so far.
    Another problem related to this issue is the close association in the past between Galbraith and the apparent Iraq tsar of the current Obama administration, Vice-President Joe Biden…

Visser concludes by noting,

    It is of course somewhat ironic that these revelations should come at a time when Galbraith seems to possess the high moral ground in another controversy also involving Norwegians and Middle Eastern conflicts: The ongoing dispute with UN diplomat Kai Eide over Afghanistan’s elections result.

Personally, I don’t think that Galbraith does occupy the moral high ground in his dispute with Eide. It was a matter of insubordination– by an arrogant American– to his boss within a duly authorized and well-run UN mission. If he disagreed with Eide (as he evidently did) there were things he could do other than try to make end-runs around him.
Anyway, do go read all of Visser’s excellently argued piece there at Historiae. You cannot leave any comments there– but you can at the linked post on his blog. Or, of course, you can leave them here, with a very good chance that Reidar will read them here, too.
By the way, Dagens Næringsliv is apparently going to be publishing follow-up pieces on this matter.

Some good news on Iraq

Okay, it’s still way too early for any celebrations. But just as the US announces the acceleration of its troop withdrawal from Iraq, the careful analyst Reidar Visser has had three intriguing posts on his blog (1, 2, 3) that bring us modestly good political news from inside Iraq.
(Of course, it’s worth exploring the causal links between these two phenomena… )
In the first of Reidar’s posts, he probed the oil dimension of the changing balance of power between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional center, Arbil, in these months as the Kurds’ longtime protectors and enablers from the US military decrease their footprint and power in the country.
He concluded:

    With Iraqi nationalism on the rise since the last local elections it would be prudent of the Kurds to gradually climb down from the maximalist policies that brought [the small Norwegian oil-exploration company] DNO and other smaller foreign oil companies to Kurdistan in the first place. There may still be a role to play for foreign companies in the north, but it seems increasingly clear that any such project will need a green light from Baghdad in order to be sustainable.

In the second, he looked at the Kirkuk dimension of the shifting Baghdad-Arbil balance. He writes,

    Iraqi public opinion has gradually coalesced around the view that Kirkuk is an integral part of the Iraqi state and even constitutes an Iraqi microcosm through its multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian demographic character. In turn, the shift towards stronger Iraqi nationalist currents has led to greater criticism of the post-2003 Kurdish attempts to define Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” and its policies to strengthen the Kurdish population presence in the city centre, which historically had a closer connection to the Iraqi plains and was culturally dominated by Turkmens…
    Reflecting this greater concern for Kirkuk’s status in Iraq and the perceived need to protest the policies of Kurdification (and specifically the possibility of elections being manipulated), a group of nationalist parties known as the 22 July trend last year secured the insertion into the provincial elections law of special clauses that excepted Kirkuk from the local elections pending agreement on interim arrangements that could ensure a more just procedure for choosing the governorate council. The attempt to find a solution stalled, but the point had been made: For the first time since the fateful mention of Kirkuk as a “disputed territory” in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, Iraqi politicians had effectively managed to reverse some of the tendency towards ever greater fragmentation in post-war Iraq.

And in the third post, he links to one of his longer Historiae studies which, he writes, shows that,

    In terms of Iraq’s maturation from a sectarian to an issue-based kind of politics, Maliki’s list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for…

All this seems to me to be good news, even if still only modestly so. Iraq’s people have suffered so much from the intense social and political fragmentation precipitated the US invasion of March 2003– and in many cases almost directly instigated by the occupation forces– that moves like these that seem to strengthen the peaceful political interaction and sense of shared national fates and national interest of the country’s different groups can only be welcomed.
(Another, smaller piece of good news from Iraq is that the blog-based book— “blook”– that Faiza Jarrar and two of her talented sons, Raed and Khalid, published last year about the first year of the US occupation of their country has now won an award. Congratulations, the Jarrars! I plan to write more about the book when I can. But first– my big confession– I need to buy and read it… They are all such wonderful, humane observers and great writers, and during those early months of the occupation I was strongly reliant on their blogged reports of what life was really like for the Iraqis under occupation.)

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, “benchmarks”

Excellent analysis, as usual, from Reidar Visser on Biden’s latest trip to Iraq.
Noting that this is Biden’s second visit to Iraq as Vice-President, Visser writes,

    If anything, what these visits have demonstrated twice is that US leverage is quickly disappearing from Iraq. Biden today informed the press that no further “benchmark legislation” would be passed this side of Iraq’s parliamentary elections scheduled for 16 January 2010 (hopefully that statement was offered as a prognosis, since this issue supposedly is for the majority of the Iraqi parliament to decide!), whereas Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki used the opportunity of his joint press conference with Biden to coolly steer clear of any reference to national reconciliation issues…
    Biden’s frank assertion that he expects no major national reconciliation initiatives prior to the elections is useful in two ways. Firstly, it is good news in itself. It is often not realised that to leave these issues in suspense during the elections could actually have a positive impact on Iraqi politics in that voters may get the opportunity to discuss basic constitutional issues in Iraq in a less sectarian and confused atmosphere than that which prevailed during the two 2005 elections and ahead of the constitutional referendum that year…
    Biden’s comments are also useful in that they highlight the limited window that remains for the Obama administration to exercise diplomatic influences in Iraq’s internal political process. If Biden is correct, not much more will be attempted this side of the 16 January 2010 elections. On that day, it is possible that the Iraqi people will reject the SOFA in the referendum that will coincide with the parliamentary elections, in which case the Maliki government will notify Washington that they have one year to leave the country and the logistics of getting out will likely become the preoccupation of the Obama administration. But even if the SOFA is accepted by the Iraqi people, the time that remains for the US between January and the end of 2011 is in practice highly restricted. Combat forces must be out by August 2010, and Washington has already factored in a couple of months in the post-election period to secure a stable transition – meaning that by the time a new government has been formed and serious discussion of national-reconciliation issues can recommence, probably no earlier than April 2010 if past experience is anything to go by, the mechanisms of withdrawal will probably occupy most of the Obama administration’s attention. On top of this, the first batch of constitutional revisions will be passed by a straightforward majority decision in the Iraqi parliament; any crisis over Kurdish objections will erupt only after a subsequent referendum, probably in late 2010 at the earliest…

I always thought Washington’s earlier attempt to impose political “benchmarks” on a– supposedly already sovereign– Iraqi government was patronizing, colonialist, ham-handed, and unrealistic. Now, it is being rapidly buried (and no-one in Washington is paying much heed, at all.)
It is intensely depressing, though, to see the Obama administration now ginning up an effort to define political benchmarks for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Have they learned nothing from the fate of the “benchmarks” defined for Iraq?
It is also as though people who live in the Washington policy bubble have zero awareness of how their actions are viewed by that 95% of humanity who happen not be American. Including, of course, Afghans and Pakistanis.
Erm, guys, I would like to introduce you to this thing called “the printing press.” Also, the “wireless telegraph.” And I’ve heard tell, too, of a device called “The Inter-Tubes.” Of course, if you’re still living in the days of the quill pen and the pony express, you could perhaps imagine that people living outside the US might not learn of your plans for colonialist-style arrogance.

IPS analysis of Iraq and related regional tensions

… is here. Also here.
One of the points I make there is this:

    One notable aspect of the political tempests now swirling around Iraq is that neither in Iraq nor in the U.S. has there been any significant movement calling for the U.S. to delay or reverse its continuing pullout.

I truly think this is significant. The adamant refusal of just about all (non-Kurdish) Iraqis to ask the US to rescind or reverse its withdrawal plans surprises me not one jot. But I do think the fact that no-one in the US is calling for the US to “do something” to prevent further carnage inside Iraq is particularly notable.
I say this as someone who has always said that the American military is the organization that’s just about the most ill-suited in the world to be able to “help” Iraqis if political turmoil overtakes their country…. This is a part of my deep opposition to “liberal hawkism” in all its manifestations.
So fundamentally I’m really glad there are no significant American voices calling for the US to use its military to try to “help” Iraqis right now.
(Of course, it also helps that it was the Bushies who signed off on the Withdrawal Agreement. So the republicans are not now able to raise the whole question of the advisability of a US withdrawal from Iraq as an ati-Obama partisan issue.)
But I am still, also, more than a bit mystified. Where have all the people gone who, before the Bush administration’s conclusion last November of the Withdrawal Agreement with Iraq, were ominously warning that the US “could not” withdraw with anything like a fixed timetable from Iraq because afterwards Iraq might “spiral into bloody chaos”, or whatever?
Where are those people now?
What I’m sensing is that– perhaps especially after the economic collapse of last fall– most Americans have turned their back on their previous fondness for exotic foreign military adventures. Both Iraq and Afghanistan turned out to be not nearly as much “fun” as they used to be for those people.
This is mainly good– especially if it means there will be far fewer loud calls within the US political elite for foreign military interventions, for allegedly ‘humanitarian’ or any other purposes, over the years ahead, than there have been throughout all the years since the end of the Cold War.
But it’s also a bit worrying, if it means that Americans have become much more inward-looking and xenophobic.

Visser goes 2.0

The wise and well-informed analyst of Iraq affairs Reidar Visser has responded to the pleadings of the masses (well mine, anyway) and created a blog, Iraq and Gulf Analysis, on which he’s posting his shorter research notes as well as links to his longer analytical pieces.
Mainly, this past week, he’s been writing about the ISCI succession and the newly reconfigured Shiite bloc, the INA. He’s also loaded onto the blog all his past pieces, which are thereby now handily archived and accessible for us.
Thanks for doing this, Reidar! Now all your work will show up in a timely way on my Google Reader.

Fayyad, Maliki, the Americans

Over the weekend I finished reading the 37-page program that Salam Fayyad, the PM in the Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority (PA) produced for the new, and still western-funded ‘government’ that he heads in Ramallah.
Readers can find the text of the program here. (HT: John Knight.)
It is a typical technocrat’s document– lengthy, larded with Jargon-of-the-Month formulations, and resembling nothing so much as the overly wordy “workplans” that people applying for grants from western funding organizations are required to submit to them. (Wonder why?) Much of it even sounds very admirable: lots of emphasis on things like “accountability” and “good governance” and other equally worthy goals.
But to note only that is to completely miss the point of this document, I think. Despite the strong emphasis on technocracy, this is an intensely political document. Indeed, the skirting of the most evident political issues facing the Palestinian people is, in a sense, the main point of this document. It embodies the politics of “anti-politics”; that is, it aims to provide an alternative to the division between Fateh and Hamas that currently– along with, of course, Israel’s continued massive campaign against all manifestations of Palestinian rights or interests– plagues the Palestinian people.
That is what we should expect, perhaps, of Fayyad, a personally decent man who made the choice to be parachuted into Ramallah as, essentially, the tool of the Americans back in 2005.
He’s been playing a complicated game ever since. He is not a man with a history in any branch of the extremely lengthy and hard-fought campaign of resistance to Israeli occupation. He comes without his own political network, and has to rely almost completely on the US-mobilized funding that comes to him as PM of the PA in order to try to build support from Palestinians.
In the 2006 parliamentary elections, he and Hanan Ashrawi were the only two people elected to the parliament from the list that they’d formed. Hamas won those elections handily, of course. Fayyad and all other non-Hamas people were warned strongly away from participating in the Hamas-backed government. However, in the National Unity Government formed in March 2007, he was named Finance Minister– indicating, presumably, that he had the confidence of both Fateh and Hamas at that time.
But in June 2007, when the US-backed forces of Fateh/Contra leader Dahlan launched the disastrous coup that broke up the NUG, Fayyad was the US-backed figure who was thereafter installed in Ramallah as ‘Prime Minister’, in a completely unconstitutional way.
So for him now to speak of “accountability” and “good governance”, etc is inherently non-credible.
He has, however, been trying to pull off what we might call the “Nuri al-Maliki move”. Over in Iraq, Maliki was installed as Prime Minister as a result of elections administered by the occupying US military and according to constitutional “rules” that had been largely dictated by the US occupation. Nonetheless, Maliki has tried to carve out a space for independent Iraqi decisionmaking that is not totally dominated by Washington; and he has had some success in that, I think.
Most notably, during the tough negotiations of last fall over the SOFA agreement long demanded by the Americans, Maliki succeeded in transforming the SOFA into a Withdrawal Agreement; and he got written into it a date certain for the complete withdrawal of all US forces from the country, which the Bushites had never wanted.
So the first question has to be: Is Maliki’s success in that regard replicable by Fayyad (or anyone else) in Palestine?
There are structural differences, to be sure. The US, when it intervenes in Palestinian politics, does so not as the direct occupying power– as it has done in Iraq– but as a sort of proxy for the Israeli occupying power. The consequence of this is that regardless of what Keith Dayton or other Americans who work very closely with Fayyad might want to do, actually the IOF is a far bigger presence. And though the Americans might want to see Fayyad “succeed” as a PM, there’s a large chunk of opinion in the Israeli political elite that really does not want to see any Palestinian administration “succeed” anywhere west of the River Jordan, whether in Ramallah or Gaza City.
That’s one big difference.
Another difference that stems from the fact that in Palestine the US is really a proxy for the real occupier whereas in Iraq it was the real occupier is that in Iraq, the dynamics of the situation got around to the place where even the people in the Bush administration ultimately judged that it was in the US’s interest to withdraw from the damaging and expensive confrontation in Iraq, and therefore from Iraq itself. So they had, if you like, an increasingly strong incentive to see Maliki (or someone!) succeed in building something of a sustainable indigenous governing capacity there.
In Palestine, however, the US is taking no losses in blood or even, in any direct way, treasure, from the continuation of the occupation. Hey, they and the Israelis even got the Europeans to pick up most of the tab for running the apparently endless occupation! (And the occupying army’s own forces, meanwhile, are suffering almost no casualties there.)
But this indicates that the US has correspondingly less strong of an interest in “withdrawing” from its role in Palestine, and therefore less of a motivation for seeing a sustainable indigenous government “succeed”. It becomes more optional for them, if you like.
Though in the broader regional and international context, I would say that the American people’s interest in seeing a fair and sustainable resolution of the Palestine Question is quite compelling. But that’s a broader argument; and maybe it doesn’t hit the decisionmakers in the Obama White House with quite the same urgency as the need to stanch the erosion of US blood and treasure in Iraq but getting the heck out of the country has done to them, and even before them, the Bushies.
So, can Fayyad pull off the “Nuri al-Maliki move”?
Other factors, I think, intervene as well. Maliki had two distinct advantages when it came to arm-wrestling with the Americans who’d installed him. (And we should remember that he wasn’t even their first choice. He was imposed on them back in early 2006 by a situation in which the Americans already demonstrated their inability to control all the key levers of political power inside Iraq.)
The first of his advantages has been the parliament there. despite all the evident problems in the electotal system, nonetheless the parliamentarians developed some real capability as a force overseeing some of the key actions and initiatives of the Maliki government. As I understand it, it was largely the very nationalist-minded pressure from the parliamentarians that stiffened Maliki’s spine on the SOFA issue and resulted in him winning the Withdrawal Agreement.
Fayyad, for obvious reasons, looks unlikely to be able to rely on allies in parliament to act as a counter-weight to US pressure.
And the second of Maliki’s “advantages” in his relationship with his country’s occupiers– I put that word in scare-quotes, advisedly– has been the strong influence that Iran won inside the Iraqi political system from the very moment that the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein. I am not privy to the extent to which Maliki (like most other figures inside the current Iraqi political firmament) has become reliant on Iranian help in, often, even the most basic aspects of personal and political survival. But the fact that the Iranians have been able to sustain webs of significant influence throughout just about all the different parts of the reconstituted Iraqi forces means that most Iraqi pols today are not completely reliant on the Americans for their physical survival. Which of course, has made it easier for them to “stand up to” the Americans on key issues like the WA.
Iran’s influence deep within Iraq’s security structures is, however, a very mixed “blessing” for many Iraqis: one that will most likely cause deep problems within the country for many years to come.
Fayyad, for his part, has no such “counter” to any pressures the Americans and Israelis might put on him…