Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everybody Rolls with their Fingers Crossed

For years I have been seeking to dispel the notion that the Sadrists are "vassals" of Iran, whereas Maliki's Dawa Party and ISCI (both either formed by, aided by and/or housed in Iran for most of the 80s and 90s) were independent from, if not hostile to, that nation. The origin of this misinformation dates to the moment that the Bush administration gauged (incorrectly apparently) that Dawa/ISCI would be amenable to its long term objectives in Iraq (permanent bases, preferential treatment on oil concessions). From that point onward, Dawa/ISCI's long historical ties to Iran were whitewashed, while the expunged "sins" of those parties were gathered up and then applied, with a broad brush, to a caricature of the Sadrists.

It got so bad that a plethora of conservative pundits (even Vali Nasr!) took to characterizing the recent anti-Sadrist operations undertaken by Dawa and ISCI as a victory by the Maliki government over the forces of Iran (despite the obvious subtext of longstanding rivalry between Shiite rivals, as well as the Sadrists historical antipathy to Iran). Charles Krauthammer, in typical fashion, didn't let pesky facts interfere with a self-serving narrative:

[The Sadrist trend's] sponsor, Iran, has suffered major setbacks, not just in Basra, but in Iraqi public opinion, which has rallied to the Maliki government and against Iranian interference through its Sadrist proxy.

It should be noted that the above cited Krauthammer column is directly contradicted by...an earlier Krauthammer column in which he describes Maliki government stalward, ISCI, as the Iranian cat's paw, and "Shiite Menace":

Of course there are telegenic elements among the Shiites who would like fundamentalist rule by the clerics...many of whom are affiliated with, infiltrated by and financed by Tehran, the headquarters for 20 years of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI].

These Iranian-oriented Shiite extremists are analogous to the Soviet-oriented communists in immediate post-World War II Italy and France. They too had a foreign patron. They too had foreign sources of money, agents and influence. They too had a coherent ideology. And they too were highly organized even before the end of the war. They too made a bid for power. And failed.

Now that Maliki has been making it increasingly clear that he is not on board with the Bush/McCain vision for Iraq, the pendulum is swinging back toward Krauthammer 1.0. Some people are feeling had. Although others, like John Derbyshire, are claiming that they were in on the fix all along:

Nothing in any of Maliki's "inartful" statements is the least bit surprising to a "To Hell With Them" Hawk...

Now that our American blood and money has seen off most of the enemies of Maliki and his Iranian pals, it is perfectly natural for them to believe they can finish the job themselves, without further assistance from us.

That's tantamount to an admission that Maliki and his "Iranian pals" have used the Bush administration quite deftly to dispatch their enemies - which, for the record, include the Sadrists to some extent. One wonders why Derbyshire has kept this piece of heretical insight to himself over the past few years? Andy McCarthy pleads non-ignorance as well:

As I've mentioned before, Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa Party which opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place, has long-standing ties to Iran and Syria — and has expressed support for Hezbollah. The only thing that surprises me about this story is that anyone is surprised. [emphasis added throughout]

Got that folks: It was obvious all along that Maliki and ISCI were Iran's chief proxies in Iraq. Yet, oddly enough, anyone out there questioning the strategy of helping Iran's proxies to consolidate control over Iraq's government were "defeatists." John McCain, for example, has frequently argued that removing US troops would "boost Iranian influence in the region." But did we do something different by offing the enemies of "Maliki and his Iranian pals"?

Swopa, who has always accurately described this dynamic, chides those on both sides of the divide that believed, as the Bush administration did, that ISCI/Dawa would be willing to go along with the plan to make Iraq a major US military outpost in the Middle East:

As Abu Aardvark wrote today, “I know that I’m not the only one who has generally assumed that Maliki and most of the ruling elite preferred McCain’s vision of endless, unconditional American military support.”...

I think that the key mistake many observers...[make is that t]hey forget that the government Maliki represents wasn’t created by the Americans — it came about following popular elections demanded by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who also established the coalition to which Maliki belongs and lent his considerable prestige to ensure its victory. And Sistani probably didn’t go through all that trouble just to be known as the guy who rubber-stamped a permanent U.S. occupation.

Back in Febuary 2004, Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post wrote a profile of Sistani that has long influenced my writings on Iraq; it describes the grand ayatollah as primarily motivated by memories of 1920 — when Shiites rebelled directly against the British, and were rewarded with 80 years of Sunni/secular domination — and determined not to let his followers miss this opportunity.

It’s always seemed to me that his solution was to cooperate initially with the U.S. invasion, use the American military as a contractor of sorts to help cement a Shiite-led government’s power, then nudge us aside when the task was more or less complete. Maliki’s newfound spine, if anything, just means that they think that time is drawing closer.

At times when describing the Bush administration's decision to target the Sadrists, I emphasized the fact that the Bush administration thought it would get a better deal from the ISCI/Dawa tandem than the Sadrists, and that this lay behind the decision to side with ISCI/Dawa against Moqtada. On occasion, I was not careful enough to point out that even though this was the Bush administration's assessment, it might have pinned false hopes on an unlikely champion (ISCI/Dawa).

Ultimately, the differences for many on the progressive side of this issue came down to the question of timing: Many (including myself) believed that the Shiite power structure would eventually want us out, but that ISCI/Dawa, and even Sistani, were not yet approaching the levels of confidence that would lead them to push for a departure of US forces. They were too vulnerable and unpopular to be willing to lose their enforcer just yet. Or so the thinking went.

But as Swopa has been quick to remind me: Even under the so called "immediate withdrawal" plans, the process will take years. Maliki et al seem ready to at least begin that process. So much so, that they've decided to strike a severe political blow to John of 100 Years.

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