May 26, 2004

Social imperialists and Brahimi's back-seat driver

By Stephen Gowans

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is putting together a plan for a transitional Iraqi government that will take the reins from the Coalition Provisional Authority on June 30th, and will hand them over to an elected government in January. At least, the official line has Brahimi in the driver's seat.

But most times Brahimi's name pops up, so does Robert D. Blackwill's. He's Condoleeza Rice's chief deputy for Iraq.

Blackwill, according to the April 16th New York Times, "has been working side by side with Mr. Brahimi in Iraq," which kind of makes you wonder whether Blackwill's the designated back-seat driver, telling Brahimi which route to take and where to turn. That would make the UN plan American, and Brahimi a front.

Then again, Blackwill may truly be working side by side with Brahimi, but even so, the question remains: Why? Isn't this supposed to be a UN, not a US-UN, plan?

Recently, Brahimi (and Blackwill) -- or is that Blackwill (and Brahimi)? -- have been scoping out the talent, trying to find suitable candidates for key posts in the interim government.

And while they've been interviewing the hopefuls, a debate has been going on. Should a sovereign Iraqi government have veto-power over the US-led military force that remains in Iraq after June 30th (and will probably remain indefinitely, that is, unless the resistance drives it out -- an outcome that should be fervently wished for), or should the occupying army have carte blanche to do whatever it pleases?

You don't need a program to figure out which side Washington comes down on, although figuring out how the interim government could, in any way, be considered sovereign, calls for some sort of instruction manual.

Still, the debate may be largely academic, for what if the interim government is perfectly amenable to being bossed around by the US military commander?

Turns out Hussain Shahristani, who Brahimi thinks would make a bang-up interim Prime Minister (and so we can assume Blackwill and therefore Rice and therefore Bush do too), has no problem with bowing to the US.

Indeed, it's a pretty safe bet that "willingness to take direction" is one of the principal selection criteria on the Brahimi-Blackwill candidate checklist, along with "shares the same values, goals and objectives, so will probably do what we want him to do anyway, without having to be asked."

Shahristani "supports the continued presence of international troops in Iraq to help the country's fledgling security forces deal with insurgents and terrorists," according to the May 26th Washington Post.

So if Shahristani gets the nod from Brahimi, whose head may be rocked gently to and fro by Blackwill, and it's decided the Iraqi government can exercise some authority over US forces, it will hardly matter. Either way, the US remains in charge.

We hate Bush, so we'll vote for his double

With filmmaker Michael Moore's head having swelled to near bursting after winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes for his new film Fahrenheit 9/11, an exploration of the Bush family's ties to the bin Laden's, it's doubtful the Wesley-Clark-as-peace-candidate-backer will regard his election year flip-flops as anything but sheer brilliance.

Who cares that he's returned to the embrace of the Democratic Party, with gushing apologies to Al Gore, after abandoning the party four years ago, complaining bitterly that it had become a facsimile of the Republican Party.

Has the micro-thin gap between the Republicans and Democrats suddenly opened up into space you can drive a Hummer through? How about a Volkswagen? A bicycle?

The Washington Post doesn't think so.  A May 9th headline declared, "Despite Rhetoric, Bush, Kerry Agree On Many Issues." Two weeks later, on May 26th, the New York Times echoed agreement: "Candidates' Iraq Policies Share Many Similarities," though "share many similarities" put the matter far too mildly. "Virtually identical" is closer to the mark.

So similar are the two candidates' positions on Iraq that the newspaper of record could only find one difference: "Mr. Kerry has called for NATO to take a major role in Iraq," though under US command.

And even that is not so much of a difference. The newspaper noted that "Mr. Bush has left open the possibility of a larger role for NATO, but has not pressed hard for such a change."  It seems the French and Germans aren't champing at the bit to plunge their troops into the quagmire, and Bush knows it, so he's not wasting his breath issuing an invitation. Funny that this has eluded Kerry.

So if the Democrats remain a facsimile of the Republicans, why has Moore done a volte-face? Maybe he's personalized a systemic drive to war as "Bush's drive to war" and so figures that if you get rid of one you get rid of the other.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Ralph Nader, who Moore exhorted progressives to vote for four years ago, is calling for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. That's pretty well on target with what the antiwar Left wants. So you'd wonder why war-hating Lefties revile Nader, the candidate many of them backed four years ago, and back Kerry, the candidate who represents the party they said was little better than the Republicans four years ago, and remains no better today.

The Kerry-backers say they're just being practical. They don't like Bush, so they're forming a kind of Left imperialist bloc to back the only candidate who has a chance of beating Bush, even though their candidate is as unreservedly imperialist as Bush.

Who says Lenin's obloquy "social-imperialists -- socialists in words, imperialists in deeds," is out of date?

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Stephen Gowans