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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Not-So-Hidden Agenda in Iraq

Following Brad's 'promo' of my recent Iraq piece Barry Ritholtz of Big Picture has mailed me about a background report entitled titled "Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East, a Pre War Analysis," he published three hours before the war commenced. In harmony with my recent strictures about being right both before and after the event I am posting this to give credit where it seems credit may well be due. Clearly Barry is not the only person who suggested that the WMD argument was not an adequate account of US strategic thinking at the time, but he does present and clear and reasoned discussion of what the thinking actually might have been. He does also anticipate that the subsequent war would be both protracted and costly, a judgement which seems to be only too painfully borne out by current experience.

Where I do have my reservations about the report though is in connection with its assumption about the viability of any long term US military presence in Iraq, at least in it's present form. Amidst all the 'noise' of the pre-war debate, one key argument seems to have been neglected in the Bush-Blair camp: the need for any new regime to be seen to have international legitimacy. Iraq was always going to be different from Kosovo or Afghanistan, since the objective in Iraq was not to dissuade and dismantle but actually to change something. Max Weber's idea of legitimacy seems to have some paramount importance here: it is essential that any post-war regime be transparent and legitimate internationally. Many opponents of the war here in Barcelona were not opposed to intervention in principle, but to intervention on a unilateral basis. If in the best case of having this multilateral component the post war future of Iraq would be be difficult, without it it could easily become a nightmare for the US soldiers on the ground and a bed of thorns for US foreign policy. Even while I write events in Baghdad and Israel show that others too are aware of this vulnerability and are determined to exploit it. Derailing the Israel-Palestine peace process and making life hell for the UN in Iraq seems to be a high priority somewhere.

The 'coalition of principle' (Spain, Bulgaria, Japan, Turkey) which is assembling itself behind the 'go it alone' strategy surely will only make matters worse. I fully endorse Barry's point that the war both was and was not about oil. It was not about oil in the most primitive conspiracy theory version. But this doesn't mean that inside Iraq it won't be seen as being about oil in the most simple (robber barron) version of the story. Looking at how ready some people here in Spain are to imagine that Aznar is going to be paid in oil I have no difficulty in imagining that on the streets in Iraq demogogic politicians will have little difficulty getting a sympathetic ear. Put another way: the current US obsessions with deregulation (which, of course, I'm not against) and privatisation which are the product of a unique history will hardly be seen in the same like in a society which is just emerging from an entirely different mind and problem set, if the crucial role of Haliburton is not well understood even in Princeton , the situation is unlikely to be better in Basora.

I have already made reference to the tragi-comic dimensions of this story. Another example of this was to be found in the scenes of fighting in the Japanese parliament when the change in Japanese law necessary to permit the participation of Japanese troops came to be signed. And the thought went through my head, just why are the Japanese so eager to send troops (and just how will they be seen by the Iraquis)? My cynical response was that this might be an attempt at winning a more sympathetic ear for the Japanese preoccupations about the value of the yen. And so on, and so on, and so on..........But now, enough of me and over to Barry:

We have undertaken a strategic assessment of the War and its economic impact, using “open source” materials. Based upon that, we have reached several unexpected conclusions: First, the explanations proferred by the nation’s leadership for military action is inadequate to explain the US commitment to any invasion. Second, by “reverse engineering” the strategic and military decision making process, we discover there are, indeed, several compelling reasons for invading and occupying Iraq. We surmise these rationales are what persuaded President Bush to approve the military conflict.

These same surprising findings lead to the conclusion that we are at the beginning of a large scale, continuing US military operation. We expect the subsequent occupation of Iraq to last several years, and may continue for as long as a decade. The cost for this effort starts at ~$200 billion dollars, and may scale up to one trillion dollars by 2011..........

This analysis starts with a simple premise: The U.S. has offered numerous explanations as to why a military incursion into Iraq is a necessity. These reasons have morphed over time: initially, the goal was destroying weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Subsequently, that shifted towards ending Saddam's support of terrorism. Protecting neighboring countries and oil supplies has also been used as a pretext. The laudable goal of freeing the Iraqi people from their oppression was also mentioned. Finally, there have been general calls for a regime change in Iraq................

The reasons given to the public for an invasion fail to withstand close scrutiny; We do not, however, believe the President of the United States (POTUS) would put half a million American troops in harm’s way on mere whim; We therefore made two key assumptions: first, that the President and his advisors are rational, and second, that there are significantly more compelling explanations for military conflict than has been publicly discussed. The logician in us acknowledges that rejecting the “Dr. Strangelove” scenario is an assumption, and as such, a vulnerable point of this thesis.

Moving beyond the abstract, we make the intermediate conclusion that other more compelling reasons must exist for this military action. The next step in the analytical progression is to “reverse engineer” the military and strategic decision making process. To determine what these reasons may be, we reviewed the issues strategic planners may have presented to the President and his advisors. What threat scenarios might they have considered that compelled the invasion of Iraq as a matter of necessity?

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