"Realists" and Iraq's crisis of leadership

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The so—called "realist" school of Middle East policy bears considerable responsibility for gotting us into the crisis of democracy Iraq now faces. The exact causal chain eludes many observers.

On Friday the Washington Post featured one Charles Krauthammer's typically fine commentaries, 'Why Iraq is Crumbling'. Krauthammer makes a point that should be obvious but isn't: that success or failure in Iraq is, in the end, the responsibility of the Iraqis themselves.

Watever mistakes the United States may have made are dwarfed by the inability of the Iraqis to overcome tribal, personal, and doctrinal self—interest to form a stable government.

But Krauthammer overlooks one factor in which the U.S. does bear some responsibility:the lack of plausible leadership in Iraq is in no way an accident. The number of individuals in any country capable of leadership in the classic sense —— competent, disinterested, devoted to community values above all — is small and strictly limited. It amounts to a handful in each generation, perhaps as low as 5%, but not possibly higher than 10%. 

Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, utilizing the Stalinist method of killing everyone involved in any given incident, just to make sure he got them all. It's an effective, if wasteful technique. In the process, Saddam certainly killed most of the leadership cadre that Iraq today so desperately needs.

One of the last mass slaughters carried out by Saddam occurred just after the First Gulf War, as a direct result of George H.W. Bush's encouraging the Shi'ite and Kurdish resistance to take down the regime. Saddam reacted with all the force he had at his command (considerable, even after the whipping he'd just taken), particularly air power in the form of helicopter gunships. Tens of thousands were added to his tally, while the U.S. stood by under the specious and transparent excuse that we'd 'guaranteed' not to interfere with Saddam's helicopters. Two months passed before the U.S. stepped in to set up the northern and southern no—fly zones, effectively curtailing the massacre.

How many of those who died in that paroxysm were the leaders we look for today but can't find?

We need to keep in mind is that this episode was the contribution of the realist school, now being touted as the saviors of American Middle East policy. It was their advice and influence that held back the orders to knock down those gunships. Ever enthralled by the mirage of 'stability', the realists did their best to save Saddam Hussein, thus playing a large part in creating the situation we find ourselves in today. 

Several of the principals behind the that policy, chief among them James Baker, are members of the Iraq Study Group, even now working up its final report on possible solutions for the Iraq 'situation'. It would nice to think that the realists have learned from their errors. But the kind of leaks that have been appearing the past few weeks suggest that may be too much to hope for. In judging the findings of the Iraq Study Group, we should, among other criteria, consider whether it's as bloodless, cruel, and futile as the advice they offered in 1991.

J.R. Dunn  11 18 06

The so—called "realist" school of Middle East policy bears considerable responsibility for gotting us into the crisis of democracy Iraq now faces. The exact causal chain eludes many observers.

On Friday the Washington Post featured one Charles Krauthammer's typically fine commentaries, 'Why Iraq is Crumbling'. Krauthammer makes a point that should be obvious but isn't: that success or failure in Iraq is, in the end, the responsibility of the Iraqis themselves.

Watever mistakes the United States may have made are dwarfed by the inability of the Iraqis to overcome tribal, personal, and doctrinal self—interest to form a stable government.

But Krauthammer overlooks one factor in which the U.S. does bear some responsibility:the lack of plausible leadership in Iraq is in no way an accident. The number of individuals in any country capable of leadership in the classic sense —— competent, disinterested, devoted to community values above all — is small and strictly limited. It amounts to a handful in each generation, perhaps as low as 5%, but not possibly higher than 10%. 

Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, utilizing the Stalinist method of killing everyone involved in any given incident, just to make sure he got them all. It's an effective, if wasteful technique. In the process, Saddam certainly killed most of the leadership cadre that Iraq today so desperately needs.

One of the last mass slaughters carried out by Saddam occurred just after the First Gulf War, as a direct result of George H.W. Bush's encouraging the Shi'ite and Kurdish resistance to take down the regime. Saddam reacted with all the force he had at his command (considerable, even after the whipping he'd just taken), particularly air power in the form of helicopter gunships. Tens of thousands were added to his tally, while the U.S. stood by under the specious and transparent excuse that we'd 'guaranteed' not to interfere with Saddam's helicopters. Two months passed before the U.S. stepped in to set up the northern and southern no—fly zones, effectively curtailing the massacre.

How many of those who died in that paroxysm were the leaders we look for today but can't find?

We need to keep in mind is that this episode was the contribution of the realist school, now being touted as the saviors of American Middle East policy. It was their advice and influence that held back the orders to knock down those gunships. Ever enthralled by the mirage of 'stability', the realists did their best to save Saddam Hussein, thus playing a large part in creating the situation we find ourselves in today. 

Several of the principals behind the that policy, chief among them James Baker, are members of the Iraq Study Group, even now working up its final report on possible solutions for the Iraq 'situation'. It would nice to think that the realists have learned from their errors. But the kind of leaks that have been appearing the past few weeks suggest that may be too much to hope for. In judging the findings of the Iraq Study Group, we should, among other criteria, consider whether it's as bloodless, cruel, and futile as the advice they offered in 1991.

J.R. Dunn  11 18 06