Monday, August 27, 2007

The goal is stability, not democracy

In a speech the other day, President Bush had this to say:

"Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him. And it's not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position -- that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy..."

Oh really?

Then why has a high-powered, Bush-connected Republican lobbying firm signed a $300,000 deal to destabilize "good guy" Nouri al-Maliki, and replace him with the firm's new client, Ayad Allawi – a former interim prime minister and neoconservative favorite who has longstanding ties to the CIA? Since when do the lobbyists in Washington, D.C., have a say in who runs Iraq?

The Barbour Griffith & Rogers lobbying contract to provide Allawi with what the firm calls "strategic counsel" is further proof that the Bush team's dream of a democratic Iraq is dead. The much-ballyhooed Iraqi elections have produced little more than sectarian civil war, with U.S. troops caught in the middle; therefore, perhaps the only administration option at this point (and military sources are saying it out loud) is to knock off the democracy rhetoric and find a way to impose, upon the “free” Iraqi people, a U.S.-friendly strongman who can maybe knock heads and curb the chaos.

Hence, Ayad Allawi, who said yesterday on CNN's Late Edition that he wants to "save the American mission in Iraq." (Is it any coincidence that he made himself available to CNN, at virtually the same time that he signed the U.S. lobbying contract and penned an op-ed in The Washington Post?)

His CIA ties date back to the early 1990s; the CIA helped bankroll his political operation, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), and continued to finance him for more than a decade. He also reportedly worked with the CIA on plans to set up an Iraqi intelligence agency. He served as prime minister until the duly elected government took over in 2005. In the view of many American hawks, he looks infinitely preferable to Maliki, a sectarian Shiite who's in cahoots with some of the warlords and thus has proved incapable of taming the bloodshed.

Who knows, maybe Allawi would do a better job on the security front. But it’s hard to imagine that this guy, a Shiite with a pro-American pedigree, would ever rise to the top in a free Iraqi election. So the fact that some Republican lobbyists are shilling for his ascension is stark evidence that the last-ditch GOP dream for Iraq is merely stability, not democracy.

As for that $300,000 lobbying contract, it’s not even Allawi’s money. In his CNN appearance yesterday, during which he shilled for himself, Allawi said that the money was provided “by an Iraqi person who was a supporter of us, of the INA, of myself, of our program, and he has supported this wholeheartedly.” He won’t name his money source, but it doesn’t take a PhD in foreign affairs to figure out that this well-heeled “Iraqi person” is allied with those in America who want to dicate who should run Iraq, notwithstanding Bush's pro forma democracy rhetoric.

And speaking of Bush, does he even run the show anymore? What explains the fact that, at the same time he was voicing support last week for “good guy” Maliki, a powerful Republican lobbying firm was ginning up support for a Maliki rival? (Indeed, the contract is being handled by Robert Blackwill, a former Bush envoy to Iraq.)

There are several possibilities, neither of which is very flattering to Bush:

1. Bush is deliberately deceiving us. He says publicly that he is for Maliki, and that Maliki’s fate hinges solely on the sentiments of the Iraq “democracy,” but he really doesn’t believe a word of it, because privately he’s winking approvingly at the Republican lobbyists’ campaign to undercut Maliki and install a U.S. puppet.

2. Bush is entirely sincere in his support for Maliki, but powerful backstage fixers in his own party don’t take him seriously anymore, and thus feel free to contradict him, and work against him in public – while earning a big paycheck besides.

Take your pick. And while you ponder, let us engage in a bit of nostalgia. For starters, yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of Dick Cheney’s declaration: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

And let us conclude by harkening back to June 28, 2004. That was the day when Ayad Allawi was installed as interim Iraqi prime minister, in a private Green Zone ceremony lasting barely five minutes. Bush got the news from Condoleezza Rice, who passed him a note. Bush then scrawled a few celebratory words in response. Try not to choke as you scan this pearl of presidential wisdom:

“Let freedom reign!”