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From the Department of Desperate Measures

Iraqi government in action
Would you want to steal this car?

Eli Lake of the New York Sun sure sucked up to the right people scored quite a scoop yesterday:

A commission formed to assess the Iraq war and recommend a new course has ruled out the prospect of victory for America, according to draft policy options shared with The New York Sun by commission officials.

Currently, the 10-member commission — headed by a secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, James Baker — is considering two option papers, "Stability First" and "Redeploy and Contain," both of which rule out any prospect of making Iraq a stable democracy in the near term.

. . . Mr. Baker in recent days has subtly been sounding out this theme with interviewers. On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," Mr. Baker was careful to say he believed the jury was still out on whether Iraq was a success or a failure. But he also hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was "democratic" and one that was merely "representative."

"If we are able to promote representative — representative government, not necessarily democracy — in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success," he said.

What sort of representative, um, non-democracy might Baker have in mind?  Consider what David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post this morning:

As the security situation in Baghdad has deteriorated over the past month, there has been growing talk among Iraqi politicians about a "government of national salvation" — a coup, in effect — that would impose martial law throughout the country. This coup talk is probably unrealistic, but it illustrates the rising desperation among Iraqis as the country slips deeper into civil war.

The coup rumors come from several directions. U.S. officials have received reports that a prominent Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlak, visited Arab capitals over the summer and promoted the idea of a national salvation government, suggesting, erroneously, that it would have American support. Meanwhile, top officials of the Iraqi intelligence service have discussed a plan in which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would step aside in favor of a five-man ruling commission that would suspend parliament, declare martial law and call back some officers of the old Iraqi army.

Frustration with Maliki's Shiite-led government is strongest among Iraq's Sunni minority, which dominated the old regime of Saddam Hussein. But as sectarian violence has increased, the disillusionment has spread to some prominent Shiite and Kurdish politicians as well. Some are said to support the juntalike commission, which would represent the country's main factions and include former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi — still seen by some Iraqis as a potential "strongman" who could pull the country back from the brink.

Ignatius has often been a mouthpiece for Allawi, so he probably knows whereof he speaks.  And a report in the Dubai-based Gulf News on Thursday is an example of the rumors, saying of Allawi (the long-running second-favorite U.S. candidate for puppet dictator, after Ahmad Chalabi) that "Many believe he is the right man to control the deteriorating security situation in Iraq."

On his blog, journalist Robert Dreyfuss responded today to the Ignatius column by saying, "My sources (Iraqi ones, and not pro-Iraqi government) are telling me that a coup d'etat is a live option for Iraq. I'm hearing the same thing from U.S. sources."  A week ago, Dreyfuss offered a roundup of hints that the Bushites are indeed grappling with this temptation, between barely-veiled frustration at Maliki's failure to crack down on quasi-official death squads and repeated claims that something dramatic needs to happen by early December:

According to recent reports, the United States appears to have given Maliki a deadline: two months. . . . Vice President Dick Cheney and the battered coterie of neocons might see toppling Maliki as their one last chance to salvage the U.S. enterprise in Iraq.

By the "U.S. enterprise," Dreyfuss of course means not the mission to build an Arab democracy, but installing a government more friendly to American corporations interests.  Dreyfuss quotes the recent comment by Republican senator John Warner in the Washington Post:

"I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take?" Warner said. "And I wouldn't take off the table any option at this time."

Dreyfuss notes, "By 'any option,' I’m assuming Warner means withdrawal. Others, like Cheney, might see it differently."

The madness of contemplating a coup, though, is that the same Shiite religious hierarchy which swept Allawi out of power through general elections in January 2005 has feared such a coup as their nightmare scenario all along, and so would almost instantly call for a popular uprising that would put the U.S. in helicopters-on-rooftops departure mode.  But that's not all.  Here's what I had to say two months ago on the subject:

But can they really be fantasizing about an anti-Shiite coup? Aside from the fact that it would multiply the U.S. occupation's enemies well past the ability of our military to handle them, what would be the point?

Since nearly all of the relevant power in the country is essentially outside of government control already, or at best only paying lip service to it, staging a coup in Iraq would be like trying to steal a car that's already been stripped for parts and is sitting on wooden blocks. Or maybe like trying to hijack a flight-simulator game in an arcade.

But as we know all too well, just because it doesn't make a lick of sense doesn't mean the Bushites won't give it a try.  If you need any added motivation to vote on November 7th, just think of the importance of putting a leash on these bozos before they do something even stupider in Iraq than what they've already managed so far.

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (