Today, the President defended the <$Ad$>decision to bar NATO allies France and Germany from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
"If these countries want to participate in helping the world become more secure, by enabling Iraq to emerge as a free and peaceful country, one way to contribute is through debt restructuring," the president said.
Now, along these lines and the Baker mission, once in a blue moon, TPM runs a guest post. And this is one of those cases. The following is from someone whom, after some lengthy negotiation, I've agreed to call a 'former high-level Democratic executive branch appointee.'
Here's this person's take on the Baker mission ...
Aspiring to the light touch under dire circumstances, perhaps we can say of Iraq what Casey Stengel said about one of his Mets third basemen: âHeâs got third base so screwed up, nobody can play it right.â Iraq is the site of so many mistakes, who can the Administration call on to win the game?
The answer is, as so often before in Bush Family history, Jim Baker. Only the naive can think his mission â special part-time job (so conflicts of interest will not need to be disclosed), with plane, staff, and direct report to President â is about renegotiating Iraqâs debt obligations, as if he were restructuring a companyâs balance sheet. This company is deep into chapter 7. It loses vast sums of money a day. Its few, severely impaired assets have been spoken for many times over. Its employees are impoverished and barely working. Its political liabilities are burgeoning: indeed it is the principal risk to the parent companyâs future. If Iraq could be liquidated, it would be. But instead the proprietors need to abandon it.
Finding a way to separate Bush and the United States from Iraq is this latest, and hardest, of the Baker rescue missions.
Of the many skills of Jim Baker, one is to assess a problem realistically and solve it ruthlessly and effectively. This is the same person who contrived to devalued the dollar at the Plaza Hotel in 1985, and thereby cunningly put the banana peel under the worldâs second leading economy, letting Japan slip into boom and bust from which it is only now emerging.
So Baker knows â as does presumably the vigilant Rove who has perhaps arranged this supplanting of Rumsfeld, Powell, Bremer, and Rice â what it will take to get this Administration out of Iraq. Baker has to pull off a trifecta: (1) involve Europeans (and perhaps Indians) in an indefinitely long occupation of a country they did not want invaded, (2) bring in enough non-American troops to create an appearance of stability by next summer, and (3) enable President Bush to announce with a straight face at the Republican Convention next September that âprogressâ will permit him to withdraw virtually all American troops soon after his second inauguration.
This deal will be as much appearance as substance. In return for playing their part in the Presidentâs re-election, our âalliesâ naturally will ask for a great deal ofâ¦.money.
Billions of dollars, currency exchange ratios, and trade concessions are the ways Baker will buy his deal. Think of this as the Plaza Accord redux: this time America will weaken not its dollar but its whole economy in order to extend the Administration. The foreign soldiers we bring into Iraq might seem akin to mercenaries, but such cynicism is a virtue in Bakerâs way of thinking. In any event, the deal will not be nearly as unseemly as the Middle Eastern swaps of the 1980s that an overlapping band of American politicians used to arm their friends in Central America.
Iraq, the country that we are supposedly building, wonât have much of a stake in the deal. The neo-con vision of a western Iraq reforming the Arab world is, with Bakerâs appointment, pretty much finished. Perhaps the United States may end up with an airfield in one of the more deserted areas of the sad desert land of Iraq, but perhaps not; thatâs negotiable.
What about the liberal dream of an Arab democracy that entranced many Democratic opinion-makers to support the Iraq war? Elections, in Bakerâs experience, are not about fairly casting and counting votes; they are about who gets to rule. If a fair election was an indulgence not appropriate in Florida 2000, certainly Iraqis are not going to be allowed to vote for a freely chosen self-government in 2004. For that matter, we cannot be sure that the United States will have a fair vote count in 2004. You never know what exigencies may arise in a close election.
Support for the Dean-Gore campaign shows that much of America already understands that Iraq has been a calamity for America as well as for Iraqis. The Baker mission shows that someone in the Administration also understands that third base needs a sure-handed veteran, in a hurry. So, again, a Bushâs political fate is in Bakerâs hands.
As I've said over the last couple days, I have mixed opinions about Baker's mission. I have no doubt that much of the aim is political -- gaming US politics, rather than Iraqi politics. But Baker actually knows what he's doing. And at this point things are so screwed up so that that's something we could really use.