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Morning Cuppa Building the 51st State

In all the discussions of the new book on the Bush Presidency, the most talked about anecdote has been Bush’s clumsy attempt to rewrite history by misremembering his role in signing off on the fateful decision to disband the Iraqi Army. That was the decision he approved that put tens of thousands of trained/armed and disenfranchised fighters on the streets with no jobs and no income, creating a hotbed for the Sunni insurgency. It’s been downhill since.

Hardball’s Chris Matthews observed last night that the decision eventually led to the US Army becoming the de facto Iraqi Army. The attempts to create a new genuinely Iraqi Army or a national police force have essentially failed, because the recruits are often little more than militia members in new uniforms, but still loyal to their sects, local tribes or militia leaders and not to the national government. The only army loyal to the idea of a national, united Iraq is the American Army. But we’re becoming more than that.

Acccording to this Washington Post article, it also appears the US Army is also becoming the local representative of the elusive national government. In its zeal to maintain the allegiance of Sunnis, Petraeus’ Army is now providing essential government services, both because the national government is essentially non-functional, and because the Sunnis simply don’t trust what they perceive as Iranian-backed Shias in Baghdad. In effect, the US Army is creating a dependent client state in Western Iraq:

The United States turned over sovereignty to an Iraqi government in June 2004 after a 14-month occupation. But for many Iraqis, the United States remains the only source of basic services, protection and infrastructure — functions the new government was supposed to perform. The result is a dilemma for U.S. officials and particularly the reconstruction teams that are the cornerstone of the rebuilding effort. When Americans step in to provide services that the government does not, they foster dependence and undermine the institutions they want to strengthen.

“It’s always a dilemma. Should we do it? Or should we let the government do it? We are the government for them,” said Tatem, of Reston, Va. “But what happens after we leave? Does it all fall apart for them? And will this allow the insurgents to gain control by giving them what they need?”

Since April, scores of reconstruction teams have been dispatched across Baghdad and other volatile areas to help stabilize Iraq. Made up of aid workers, diplomats and military officers, they include experts in agriculture, economics, engineering and other fields. They help create small businesses, generate jobs, support agricultural unions and work with local and provincial governments to provide essential services in areas where the dominant power is the U.S. military.

“We can fire the police chief, we can get the mayor removed if we want. Iraq is a sovereign country, don’t get me wrong, but I wonder how much they would get their act together if our presence was reduced,” said Maj. Craig Whiteside of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

“It’s impossible to put the American military somewhere and not have everybody, when they have to make a decision, ask, ‘Is this okay, boss?’ ”

In this region, where Sunnis and Shiite groups are battling for power, U.S. reconstruction efforts are largely focused on Sunni areas ignored by the Shiite-led government. U.S. officers say the Iraqi government is unwilling to spend money on Sunni areas because the United States is doing so.

So the US military and reconstruction teams are creating a culture of dependency in the Sunni areas where the surge is making so much “progress.” We are the providers of essential government services, not just security; we’re the police but also the political ward captains for the water department, the electric utility, the schools, the hospital. Is this just like the old fashioned Democratic Ward captains in Chicago?

As long as the Americans are willing to do this, there is no incentive for a Shia-dominated national government to emerge to fill this role; why should they help the Sunnis, especially if the Americans do it, pay for it, and keep a lid on? And there is no incentive for the Sunnis to encourage those Iranian-loving Shias to come replace the Americans. Without their own oil resources or power in the Shia government, the Sunnis must rely on the Americans for economic development.

This is what Petraeus and Bush are calling the new measure of progress. George Bush can’t/won’t stop this, because maintaining the allegiance of the Sunnis in al Anbar Province and other mostly Sunni regions and pretending that this represents a viable “bottom up” strategy for “success” is the only thing he has to show for four years of war, $650 billion, 3740 US soldiers dead and over 28,000 wounded. And the Republicans will hold on to that because they’ve got nothing else.

Al Anbar: the 51st State. Wonder what our new flag will look like.

Extra: KO has a special commentary on Bush’s strategy for staying in Iraq. Logan at C&L has the video and transcript.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley