May Day again

by John Quiggin on April 30, 2005

Another year, another May Day, reminding me that I still haven’t got round to my long-planned series of posts on labour issues in Australia, especially the replacement of permanent jobs by various mixtures of casual and contract appointments. We have a public holiday tomorrow, and I don’t suppose I’d be breaching the spirit of it if I did some work on this topic then.

In the short term, though, the most important historical fact about May 1 is that it’s the anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on Iraq in 2003. When I wrote about this anniversary last year, I observed

the anniversary of Bush declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year] … The Administration seems to be inching towards the position I’ve been advocating for some time – dumping the policies of Bremer and Chalabi (though not, unfortunately Bremer and Chalabi themselves), and handing over real military power to Iraqis. If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.

How do things look a year later? Bremer is gone, thankfully, and I doubt that there’s anyone left who would suggest that the Coalition Provisional Administration he ran was anything better than a set of incompetent bunglers who achieved less than nothing[1]. Chalabi, by contrast, seems to be the eternal survivor. The Americans dumped him after all, but he promptly switched sides and has popped up as some sort of Deputy Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government and looks set to get the lucrative oil ministry he’s been after for so long.

The last year has been a series of disasters, the only bright spot being the elections. If these had been held in 2003, as was perfectly feasible, the insurgency might never have got properly off the ground, and a US withdrawal might already be under way. But Bremer and Bush, with the almost unanimous support of the pro-war commentariat and blogosphere, killed this proposal, trying to push an absurd plan for rigged regional caucuses designed to set up a Chalabi government. When Chalabi fell from favour they turned over power to Saddam’s former secret agent, Allawi, whose interim government was a waste of space, little better than the CPA it replaced.

Now, three months after the elections, Iraq finally has an elected government (almost). The good news is that Allawi has been kept out. The bad news is that PM Jaafari has reneged on his campaign commitment to demand a timetable for US withdrawal. This is understandable, given that the insurgents are trying their best to kill him and his supporters. But it ought to be obvious by now that the US occupation is providing more fresh recruits for the insurgents than the Americans can kill or incapacitate. They’ll pull out sooner or later[2], and the situation will be even worse than it is now. The best chance is a clear commitment that the occupation will end in a defined period of time.

PS: Rereading the comments on last year’s post, I note that Bush has declared May 1 as Loyalty Day. Readers based in the US might want to consider their position before making comments that might be construed by the Administration as ‘disloyal’ (Hat tip Richard Jones).

PPS (this is getting like Kausfiles): It turns out that Loyalty Day has been around for many years, but the President has to announce it every year.

fn1. On reflection, my doubts are ill-founded. A substantial number of supporters of the war still believe (or did until recently) that the US discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and numerous right-wing bloggers were making claims along these lines up to and beyond the publication of the Duelfer report. So of course there will be plenty to claim that the CPA inaugurated an era of peace and prosperity, a fact concealed from general view only because of the MSM conspiracy to publish only bad news about Iraq.

fn2. Bush may well want to ‘stay the course’. But, on current indications, he’ll be out of office before the insurgency is defeated, and a lame duck well before that.

{ 18 comments }

1

Todd Larason 04.30.05 at 4:07 pm

I’m no fan of Bush or of Loyalty Day, but the one isn’t really responsible for the other — the president is requested, by US law, to proclaim Loyalty Day every year, and has been for at least the last ~50 years.

I assume (but don’t _know_) that Clinton, Carter, Johnson and Kennedy proclaimed it as requested, not just Bush, Bush, Reagan, Ford, Nixon and Eisenhower. Anyone know where to find pre-Bush II presidential proclamations online?

2

Nell 04.30.05 at 5:29 pm

Loyalty??! To what or whom, I wonder?

It’s an unbearable thought that U.S. troops will go on dying (and killing Iraqi civilians) each day from now until sometime in 2009. Right this minute I’m looking at footage on the History Channel of the helicopters taking off from the rooftop in Saigon…
Please God, don’t let it come to that again.

3

John Quiggin 04.30.05 at 6:20 pm

You’re quite right, Todd. Here’s a reference from 1999. I’ll correct the post when I get a bit of time.

4

Geoduck 04.30.05 at 10:56 pm

The American army is staying in Iraq indefinitely. The only thing in the near term, say ten years, that could get it out would be a massive popular uprising clear across the Iraqi political spectrum, and even that might not be enough.

Or a massive American uprising, but that’s far far less likely to happen.

5

bi 05.01.05 at 5:19 am

What is this Brainless Jingoism Day and how on earth did it start?

6

KCinDC 05.01.05 at 8:49 am

This badly written, popup-ridden page says that Loyalty Day was started by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to combat the Communist influence of May Day. Apparently it’s also known as Americanism Day — or Americanization Day, according to Wikipedia.

7

Mario 05.01.05 at 11:21 am

John, your post is riddled in simplifications and omissions.

1) “Almost unanimous” support for killing the early elections? There were numerous, numerous blogs that supported them. You had a thread yourself where you asked people to prove they were as prescient as you (perhaps the most arrogant post I’ve read yet on the blogosphere, by the way). And you got numerous responses.

2) The CPA a set of incompetent bunglers? John, this is low. The CPA was not perfect, and many of its policies were colored by an unfitting market ideology, but in making statements like yours you’re throwing out all nuance and analysis in favor of political hackery. If you want to criticize the CPA, do it on a point by point basis (I thought this was an academic blog — you don’t want it to become the left-wing version of LGF).

3) Your emphasis on Chalabi is unwarranted. In the scheme of things, and in the overall progression of Iraqi reconstruction, Chalabi has not played as big a role as you propose. Chalabi is one factor you can use to disparage the reconstruction effort, yes. But how is he in any way more worthy of mention than any of the positive developments out of Iraq? The left’s obsession with Chalabi is difficult to understand.

4) Your calling the last year a series of disaster mitigated only by the “bright spot” of elections proves one thing: you’ve either only been reading Juan Cole (which is about as productive as only reading the neo-conservative view on the matter), or you haven’t been following Iraq at all.

5) Finally, a personal question. Very few people on the blogosphere continue to re-hash the old arguments for the war the way you do. It seems as though you’ve become a bit obsessed with proving you were right about Iraq. You always quote yourself from the past, as though to prove to the world you were correct; and then you continue to write posts, like your opportunity costs post a while back, that simply update a argument we’ve all already heard six thousand times prior to the war’s inauguration. This is symptomatic of something John: you appear to be very insecure about your anti-war position.

8

Publius 05.01.05 at 1:00 pm

Ah, where to begin.

I concur that the elections have been the only bright spot. Alas, they were a year too late.

The CPA’s incompetence is chronicled elsewhere. I suppose citations and links would be the proper way to document that. Off the top of my head, I remember disbanding the Iraqi military, hiring expensive American contractors instead of putting Iraqis back to work (idle hands are the insurgent’s workshop), failing to rebuild the electricity and water infrastructure, *losing* $9 billion of our tax dollars without any explanation or accounting, and… disbanding the Iraqi military.

Chalabi is a crook, a liar, and a spy for Iran. What more do you need? I’m not going to bother to turn up the links because Google should be able to do that for you.

Unmitigated disaster? There are always some small triumphs and good deeds done, no matter how bad any disaster gets. The human spirit will never allow a truly “unmitigated” disaster– even the “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo have managed to pray, to write, to find some joy. Back when it was still safe to do so, our soldiers tried to get out and do a few good Peace-Corps-style deeds here and there. But look at the overall balance sheet: Abu Ghraib, Falloojeh, the seige of Al-Sadr’s people in the south (hell, the closing of Al-Sadr’s newspaper, which was another stupid CPA move), the prohibition of Iraqi farmers from replanting their own seeds (a campaign contribution gift to Monsatan?), the alienation of moderate Muslims throughout the region, and in general the tone of extracting corporate profits from Iraq instead of getting the country back on its feet and on the path to self-determination and democracy. I know of no objective way to weigh all this, but subjectively I’ll call it a loss.

Personally attacking the blogger and questioning his motives is an ad-hominem attack, and therefore suspect. Why does he remain negative on this whole war of conquest? I don’t know. I can tell you why I do, however: it began with lies and opportunism, and remains driven by lies and opportunism.

9

John Quiggin 05.01.05 at 4:53 pm

Mario, I think publius has answered all the substantive points pretty well.

On the personal point, call me obsessed if you like, though posts on Iraq are a pretty small portion of what I write. I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about what’s happening in Iraq and about the general issue of when war is justified. The fact that so few of those who supported the war have subsequently admitted they were wrong to do so increases the likelihood that there will be another one.

10

derrida derider 05.01.05 at 8:35 pm

Personally, I will keep flogging the dead horse of the Iraq misadventure whilever the people who caUsed it refuse to concede it is dead. When Blair, Bush and Howerd are out of power is the time to relegate it to blogosphere history.

11

ry 05.01.05 at 9:05 pm

There is a factual problem with Mario’s post. THe ‘Peace Corps’ activites continue(as in: as we speak). Anyone doubting can start a pen pal arrangement with soldiers actually over there. I get my stuff from a friend who serves in the USMC 3rd Marine Air Wing that just rotated out a few months ago. Being an electrician he spent many hours working on all kinds of civilian infrastructure. So that point is complete hackery. Of course you could get in touch with the Sea Bees or Army Corps of Engineers too.

Also, the ‘balance sheet’? Anyone who cares to can look up a NY Times report from a bit back showing that the ‘Sunni Triangle’ wasn’t hokum, but fact. 80% of the country is stable(i.e. that the insurgency acts in only a small geographical area). So on a ‘balance sheet’ this is doing okay. Not spectacular. Not terrible. But okay.

Compare it to the reconstruction of the Balkans and Somalia. Way ahead of both in terms of reconstructed infrastructure and order(go to strategypage.com, globalsecurity.org, http://www.cfr.org, for the data to do the comparisons with. Or go the Geneva orgs that monitor conflict the world over if you want ‘authoritative’ data.).

Neither of these points speak to the justice/injustice of going to Iraq in the first place, but if you’re going to complain about it ,and use after the fact ‘I told you so’ reasoning, you should at least get the facts correct.

12

Mario 05.01.05 at 10:35 pm

RY: I think in your post you meant to refer to Publius (regarding the factual error).

Publius: Yes, the CPA screwed up all those things. But do keep in mind that Sadr’s army was successfully defused, and he was brought into the political sphere. Also it wouldn’t hurt to pass at least half the blame for the CPA’s problems on the likes of Sadr and the various jihadist instigators. It may be a lame argument to employ, but it isn’t easy getting a war-torn country back on its feet. I suppose what bothers me about the these arguments is the anti-war crowd militantly attacked (and attacks) the CPA at every corner without ever paying much attention to the other players on the ground, like Sadr. It’s a perspective commonly advocated by John Quiggin — I recall a post he wrote (perhaps a year ago) that placed nearly ALL the blame of the Sadr uprising on the United States! (correct me if I’m wrong). As for the other CPA failures you mentioned, a few are suspect. Disbanding the Iraqi army seemed like the correct thing to do at the time — after all, remember the left’s furor when a former Baathist was considered usable to retake Fallujah? Neither solution was ideal, disbanding or not. Both were condemnable. At least acknowledge this when criticizing the CPA.

These days war supporters will happily acknowledge that the CPA was flawed, Chalabi was corrupt, and so on. But they will not see this as a damnation of the war effort. Put it in a historical perspective like RY is doing. By any such standard Iraq is not a failure; unless, of course, you discount the great difficulty of supplanting a tyranny with something more open.

13

neil 05.01.05 at 10:56 pm

I don’t understand the hostility to Allawi. He risked his life opposing Saddam. That should count for something especially amongst liberals who generally think highly of those willing to risk harm to fight for democracy and who disparage “chicken hawks”.

It is possible that had elections been held earlier things might have gone better but this is far easier to see now than then and many, including the UN, were arguing that it was too soon – not an unreasonable point of view even if wrong in hindsight.

JQ’s belief that the insurgency would end if the US announced a specific date for withdrawal shows a misunderstanding of the conflict. US troops will, and should, remain as long as it takes to ensure the nascent democracy is safe from those who don’t want it. Any sign of the US withdrawing beforehand would only incite more violence from anti-democratic forces.

14

John Quiggin 05.01.05 at 11:37 pm

Mario, you say “But do keep in mind that Sadr’s army was successfully defused, and he was brought into the political sphere. ”

At the time of the Najaf fighting I wrote

The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before.

. To put it mildly, this did not attract any support from pro-war commentators, a string of whom called for Sadr’s group to be crushed without mercy.

You complain that I feel the need to refer back to previous posts, but this is a fairly typical example of the reason I do it. In this case, as with the elections, the Administration and its supporters are now claiming credit for outcomes they vigorously resisted at the time. The result is that they continue to pursue wrong policies, most obviously with plans for an indefinite/permanent US presence, without any recognition of how wrong they have got things in the past.

To answer another point, the same post says of the bloodshed in the Najaf campaign “Sadr bears his share of the guilt for this crime. The US government is even more guilty.” and I’m happy to stand by this.

15

Mario 05.02.05 at 3:47 pm

In this case, as with the elections, the Administration and its supporters are now claiming credit for outcomes they vigorously resisted at the time.

So you’re criticizing the administration for claiming credit for outcomes it made happen. This doesn’t make much sense to me. Allawi pushed for reconciliation with Sadr, and the US and Bremer did not stand in his way — this is well documented. Allawi deserves credit. You’re mixing up the opinions of the administration with the opinions of the uber-hawks on the blog circuit, who wanted to crush Sadr.

As for the elections, Paul Bremer has a good piece where he rightly criticizes the “armchair experts” who “carp that we should have moved even faster.” I don’t take it as fact that elections one year ago would have turned out as well as elections a few months ago. Iraq was a different place then. (link to article is here: http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110006631
)

Finally, Sadr was an opportunist who wanted a Shiite-dominated Iraq. He was willing to risk civil war, and tens of thousands of lives, for this cause. God knows what he would have done with the Kurds and the Sunnis. The US, at the same time, was trying to craft an interim constitution to protect civil liberties, ensure separation of powers, and give voice to the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. Does this gulf in motivation not enter into your judgement when blaming the US for another’s uprising? If you say the US is guilty for killing those civilians, you must also acknowledge it is “guilty” for pre-empting Sadr’s tyranny in Iraq, and that is a guilt I am proud to share.

16

John Quiggin 05.02.05 at 5:26 pm

I’m glad to see you don’t endorse the views of the blogospheric supporters of the war. I’d note that the people with whom I was arguing were not extremists of the LGF variety, but mainstream supporters of the war like the Winds of Change group.

As regards your main claim, Sadr is in the same position now as he was before the fighting started in April, with the proximate cause being Bremer’s suppression of his newspaper and threat to arrest him.

He has effective control of Sadr city, he’s still denouncing the occupation, and his militia has almost certainly made good the losses of the fighting. Politically, he probably came out somewhat stronger on balance. All the Administration achieved in the two rounds of bloodshed was to restore the status quo ante

Your suggestion that it’s OK to kill people who favour fundamentalist domination of politics and oppose civil liberties and the separation of powers has some obvious ironies. More to the point, the idea that any country with enough power is entitled to invade any ohter country where people with ideas like Sadr’s are in power, and kill all who oppose them is a recipe for endless war.

17

Mario 05.02.05 at 11:43 pm

It’s true, a strong belief in liberalism contradicts itself: after all, liberalism must defend itself against enemies. It is not easy to resolve this contradiction; sitting back and letting the likes of Sadr topple liberal government certainly isn’t the solution. Fighting with some sense of proportionality is more appropriate, as the US did.

In other words, I’m not suggesting that it’s “OK” to kill anyone with fundamentalist tendencies — but it is OK to kill those who actively seek to kill liberals and impose tyranny through violence.

18

bi 05.03.05 at 5:51 am

Replace “liberalism” with “libertarianism” or “freedom” and get endless fun.

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