Thursday, March 16, 2006

Democratyia's interview with Kanan Makiya

from Part II of Democratyia's interview with Kanan Makiya,
Alan Johnson: You have called the inter-agency process—the co-ordinated efforts of the White House, State Department, Department of Defence, and CIA—'the great albatross of our lives'. In your opinion 'Many of our problems afterwards in Iraq are a consequence of … squabbling within the U.S. administration'. You said to one journalist that '[t]he enemies of a democratic Iraq lie within the State Department and the CIA, who have consistently thwarted the president's genuine attempt … to do something very dramatic in this country. Fortunately they have not totally succeeded.' What was the basis of these inter-agency disputes and what were their consequences?

Kanan Makiya: The little story of the Future of Iraq project unfolded against the backdrop of a much larger problem in the preparations for war. There was tension—I would even call it warfare—between the different branches of the US government. This has still has not been written about properly. Deep internal American conflicts hobbled the whole enterprise from the outset. Matters reached the level of hatred between and among Americans. Iraqis were portioned off by different agencies. Some were close to the Department of Defense, some to the CIA, some to State, and so on. The warfare at the heart of the Bush administration was shaping the agenda rather than any positive plan.

The change in the United States government's position that brought about such tensions within the administration goes back to September 11 - a transforming moment in American political culture. From that day a small minority of influential people in the United States government emerged who said that the way forward was democratic change in the region, starting with Iraq. They argued that US foreign policy towards the Middle East had rested for 50 years on support of autocratic regimes (like Saudi Arabia, like Saddam in the 1980s, like Mubarak's Egypt) in the interests of securing oil supplies, or whatever it might be. This policy had led to a level of anger at the United States inside the Arab world that provided fertile breeding ground for organisations like Al-Qaeda.

So, at the strategic level, what needed to happen was a dramatic change in US policy. The US should reach out to peoples not governments, to focus on democratisation as opposed to stability, and so on. That school of thought emerged in the Pentagon,led by people like Paul Wolfowitz. It ran headlong against the State Department's traditional accommodationist policies. The conflict was between those agencies that were wedded to the policies of the past and those breaking new ground. The former were often in the State Department - people who knew that part of the world in a very particular way. They had been Ambassadors, they had hobnobbed with the Saudi ruling families, and they had developed certain preconceptions about how the Arab world worked. By contrast those who were pushing for a dramatically new policy, like Paul Wolfowitz, were not shackled by such a past, nor burdened by the weight of those prejudices. But they did not necessarily know the Middle East as well. They were not Arab linguists, and these people tended to reside in the Pentagon and in parts of the White House.

In this struggle the CIA was close to the State Department. The Pentagon was close to the White House (though the White House had no single view). The struggle could have been a healthy one resulting in a plan of action for post-2003 had there been sufficient control of these divisions from the top. There wasn't. Bush just laid down a policy and was not a man for the details. And the National Security Council did not opt clearly for this or that way forward. Instead they set up something called the 'inter-agency process'. This involved representatives from the different warring agencies who would sit down and compromise over every single decision. The result was not that there were no plans, as people say, but that there were too many plans that were no longer coherent because they were picked apart in this inter-agency process until they were a little bit of this and a little bit of that. For instance, the Pentagon was for a provisional Iraqi transitional authority rooted in and stemming from the Iraqi opposition. The State Department was dead set against that. And its intense dislike of the Iraqi opposition drove them to support what I think was the worst possible strategic formula for the transition: an American military occupation of Iraq with all that that entailed in terms of responsibilities for the minutest of details in the post war period.

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