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Flying the Flag, Part 2

Defences of US marines raising the US flag in Baghdad may have been missing the point. Before that statue fell, the topic was war. As soon as it hit the ground, the question is “What next?”

There are some pretty major fights going on behind closed doors in Washington at the moment, it seems pretty clear. Tony Blair seems keen to side with American doves – and the views of France, Russia et al are even more predictable than they are irrelevant.

The question is this: whose flag shall fly over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance? At the moment US troops have that special diplomatic immunity that comes from firing big guns. But when things settle down a little, will they be subject to Iraqi law? Will there be a semi-permanent US forces base established in Iraq, under US jurisdiction? Will General Garner, the designated head of ORHA, be answerable to the Iraqi head of an Iraqi Interim Authority, or will it be the other way around? Most of all, will ORHA have a free reign to root out Ba’athists and stamp on ongoing corruption? These are very important questions, and as yet it seems President Bush has not decided the answers.

If you want a vigourous programme of de-Ba’athification, and if you see a shining future of a liberal, secular, democratic, capitalist Iraq undermining its neighbours’ autocracies with blue jeans and Big Macs, then having the Iraqi government chaperoned by an extended period of benignly authoritarian military administration may be the only way to get there.

If Bush chooses to go this route, and fancies some delicious payback for Schroeder, look to see spokesmen from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute making public comparions with post-war Germany real soon now.

But many Westerners believe that that is unrealistic, that it fails to respect local culture, that it will unite Islamists and nationalists in violent rebellion, and believe that the best the West can do in the Middle East is to tread very carefully and try not to upset the local balance of power. For them, the best the US can do is find a reasonably credible Iraqi to appoint as the next President and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Of course, most adherents to the latter school of thought would never have gone into Iraq in the first place. That’s not to say that their worries are without foundation: a bigger criticism is to ask whether the war was worth the trouble, if only to replace Saddam with a cut-price Saudi prince.

It would indeed be a big gamble to go for the big prize. We could indeed see escalation as Syrian-backed insurgents make Bagdad a perpetual Beirut. But this is the moment of the big opportunity. Maybe it is time to leave our winnings on the table and let it ride.

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11 comments to Flying the Flag, Part 2

  • Russ Goble

    “If you want a vigourous programme of de-Ba’athification, and if you see a shining future of a liberal, secular, democratic, capitalist Iraq undermining its neighbours’ autocracies with blue jeans and Big Macs”

    I think this is what the Bush folks see. Unfortunately, they have to get Blair on board which I imagine is pretty difficult. One thing’s for sure, if the U.N. gets involved in the political process, this vision goes straight out the window. But, Bush and Co. have proven to be first rate gamblers. I think the their plan is to roll the dice. and shoot for the moon.

    And ANYTHING we do will not be good enough for the Arabs, the continentals, or the U.N. We might as well accept it, say to hell with them and let history be the judge. But again, that requires getting Blair on board who I fear is thinking he can get the world back to the way it was and Britain can get back to being the bridge between America and Europe and all those other fantasies.

  • “If you want a vigourous programme of de-Ba’athification, and if you see a shining future of a liberal, secular, democratic, capitalist Iraq undermining its neighbours’ autocracies with blue jeans and Big Macs”

    It isn’t about the blue jeans and big macs; it’s about the families who live by selling those things, and working at those companies. Liberal? Almost anything is liberal by the standards of Iraq one month ago. Secular? Sure. Who needs to be forced into a mosque? Democratic? Absolutely. I’m sick of hearing people whine about “forcing our western culture” and “maybe they didn’t want this.” I do know what they didn’t want: secret police jailing their children for making the wrong comment, or caning the bottoms of their olympians’ feet for refusing to steal equipment. Capitalist? Damn right. Individual liberty is impossible to achieve to any high degree within any other system structure, and I’ve spent some time on this. To the extent that individuals have attained freedom within Communist or religionist structures, they work outside the tenets of their society.

    Don’t cut democracy/capitalism/whatever America has down just because we wear blue jeans and eat big macs. We wear what we want, we eat what we want — and the people who own the stores and franchises we visit depend on our cash. America speaks with its collective wallet. It wouldn’t be this way here if we didn’t want it to be. Heaven send the Iraqis the opportunity — the democracy — to do the same.

  • “At the moment US troops have that special diplomatic immunity that comes from firing big guns. But when things settle down a little, will they be subject to Iraqi law?”

    US troops stationed in foreign countries are not subject to local laws. They’re only subject to their own Uniform Code of Military Justice (although exceptions may be made).

    Isn’t this true for British troops as well? I thought it was normal for troops in foreign countries to be subject only to their own laws.

  • Perhaps it would be wise for the PM to remember the old saw, in for a penny, in for a pound, and stay the course with the President for the foreseeable future. It would strengthen PM Blair’s hand in dealing with the old ?uro-weenies, perhaps bringing them to heel.

  • cb

    While Blair may be a problem, I suspect the bigger problem is with Powell and the State Department. State wants to go back to being buddy-buddy with France and the rest of the UN.

    State is busily undermining the INC and the Dept. of Defense. http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110003317

  • Or perhaps we could carve it up. Brits or whatever Tony Blair wants in the South, Americans in the middle and the Kurds up North. And we can see which system works best.

  • D Anghelone

    Couldn’t the U.S. take guidance from what was done in post-war Germany and Japan? Better yet, IMO, whatever was done in Italy.

    Ken:

    “US troops stationed in foreign countries are not subject to local laws. They’re only subject to their own Uniform Code of Military Justice (although exceptions may be made).”

    Haven’t some U.S. troops been prosecuted under Japanese law?

  • Doug Collins

    There may be a path between the charbydis of completely remaking the country and the scylla of a quick bugout: Institute those parts of free societies which are pivotal and which will be difficult to eradicate, then leave and watch the effect.
    Two examples which occur to me are:
    1. A particularly appropriate anglo american institution – the jury trial. There have been a number of articles about the difficulties of setting up a legal system to try the Baathists for their crimes. Not enough judges, what legal system to use, will it look like an american or iraqi kangaroo court, should we use tribunals etc etc. All these problems will become secondary if the final verdict is irrevocably put in the hands of 12 good iraqi men and true. And none of the foolishness we have in America, of judges setting aside jury verdicts, or directing jury verdicts. At best, a judge should only be able to allow a retrial as a remedy for an outrageous jury guilty verdict.

    2. I am a thirty year veteran of the US domestic oil industry, and I can say from painful personal experience that if you want to really put the iraqi oil wealth in the hands of the iraqi people, the way to do it is to actually do so: Institute widely disseminated, PRIVATELY OWNED subsurface mineral rights. If I were setting up the system, I would divide up the country into tracts consistent with the population and assign non-saleable, inheritable ownership to each iraqi. If someone – iraqi, french, russian, american, whatever – wanted to drill a well, they would have to negotiate a lease from the appropriate mineral rights owners, no ifs ands or buts. These rights might be saleable eventually, but there should probably be a period of education and experience so people would learn what they are worth and not be victimized. Existing oil fields should have royalty income distributed to current iraqis as has been done in Alaska for a number of years. If the oil income is needed for public works, then pass a tax and get it that way. This would establish a middle class with an interest in stable government as quickly as anything else I can imagine. And guess what would happen the next time some extremists start talking about an oil embargo?

  • Malcolm,

    Perhaps those questions about this flag-raising thing would be answered if it was known that the actual U.S. flag raised in Teheran was the one flying at the Pentagon on 9/11.

  • “Haven’t some U.S. troops been prosecuted under Japanese law?”

    Probably… I’ve heard that troops are sometimes turned over to local authorities in the interests of good relations, although I don’t know of any specific cases–that’s what I meant about exceptions. The media only covers incidents where troops _aren’t_ handed over in high profile cases, because they tend to involve photogenic demonstrations.

  • Blair and Bush agreed to some UN resolutions to ratify the future administration of Iraq. However, they did not specify if it would be to set it up or to ratify what was carried out, two years down the line.

    There’s plenty of flexibility here and they have probably resolved this issue.