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A few people have

A few people have suggested that the whole brouhaha over the contracts is largely symbolic since even countries that are barred from bidding on the top-tier contracts can bid on the subcontracts. So, in other words, everyone gets a piece of the action and everyone is happy.

That's not what I hear.

The big contracts are where the real money is -- or, more specifically, where you get the comfortable margins and the insulation from risk. Down the food chain, the competition is stiffer, the margins are leaner and the risks are greater -- sort of like in old fashioned capitalism.

This operation really runs

This operation really runs like a well-oiled machine, doesn't it.

Almost half of the 700 members of the first battalion of the new Iraqi army to undergo training have, in the Pentagon's words, 'resigned.'

(Reports last night said close to a third had bailed. But it seems like they're just putting a different spin on the same number: roughly 300 out of 700.)

I thought that when enlisted men hit the road without permission that's called desertion, not resignation. But who knows?

Doh ... Lets try

D'oh! ... Let's try again to get our story straight.

Out-going Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told a press conference today that in a private phone call President Bush told him not to believe reports that Canada would be cut out of the contract bids.

"He was telling me basically not to worry," said Chretien, "so I said 'thank you."'

LATE UPDATE: And there's more ... Responding to Chretien's comments this afternoon, President Bush explained that he was only referring to the subcontracts -- i.e., the ones for which eligibility is open even to the rankest of appeasers!

From this mornings gaggle

From this morning's <$NoAd$>gaggle ...

Q So you're not backing away at all from blocking France, Germany, or Canada?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I made our view very clear yesterday, John, and I also made very clear that if others want to join in the efforts of the coalition and the efforts of the Iraqi people, then circumstances can change.

However, when you look at the president's comments after the Cabinet meeting, he seems to equivocate: No money unless you've contributed troops, but then maybe debt reduction will do the trick too ...

"I asked President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder and President Putin to see Jim Baker, to talk about debt restructuring. 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" Q You seem to be saying that the boots on the ground are the only qualifications for -- but what about the forgiveness of debt? Isn't that a fairly substantial --

THE PRESIDENT: It is, it would be a significant contribution, for which we would be very grateful. What I'm saying is, in the expenditure of taxpayer's money -- and that's what we're talking about now -- the U.S. people, the taxpayers understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq. It's very simple. Our people risk their lives. Coalition -- friendly coalition folks risk their lives, and, therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that. And that's what the U.S. taxpayers expect.

So now the contract ban is a squeeze play meant to get the Euros to forgive Iraq's debts, eh?

Check back later for a discussion of why this leaves two possibilities ... a) whoever is in charge of overseeing this policy is totally disorganized or b) whoever is in charge of overseeing this policy is a complete moron.

Today the President defended

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: “He’s got third base so screwed up, nobody can play it right.” 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 – special part-time job (so conflicts of interest will not need to be disclosed), with plane, staff, and direct report to President – is about renegotiating Iraq’s debt obligations, as if he were restructuring a company’s 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 company’s 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 world’s second leading economy, letting Japan slip into boom and bust from which it is only now emerging.

So Baker knows – as does presumably the vigilant Rove who has perhaps arranged this supplanting of Rumsfeld, Powell, Bremer, and Rice – 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 ‘progress’ 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 President’s re-election, our ‘allies’ naturally will ask for a great deal of….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 Baker’s 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, won’t have much of a stake in the deal. The neo-con vision of a western Iraq reforming the Arab world is, with Baker’s 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; that’s negotiable.

What about the liberal dream of an Arab democracy that entranced many Democratic opinion-makers to support the Iraq war? Elections, in Baker’s 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 Bush’s political fate is in Baker’s 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.

Three members of Congress

Three members of Congress write Condi Rice asking why the US has spent hundreds of millions in an almost certainly fruitless search for WMD in Iraq and almost nothing making sure Iraqi weapons scientists don't sell their know-how to other countries.

See the letter here.

In addition to foreign

In addition to foreign policy moralism and a belief in the necessity and efficacy of the use of American military power, another salient feature of contemporary neoconservatism would seem to be a tendency to make certain statements and then ridicule others as insane when they quote you as making those statements.

(From a clinical standpoint, this tendency is abetted by a lazy press corps and perpetuated with a seeming indifference to the existence of certain widely accessible electronic databases.)

One more example to add to the list. Last week The Weekly Standard ridiculed Wes Clark as a tin-foil-clad conspiracy freak for claiming that articles in the neoconservative press supported the idea of forcible regime change not only in Iraq but in multiple Arab countries and that there was even a plan (perhaps he meant this?) to this effect circulated among political appointees at the Pentagon ...

Does Gen. Wesley Clark Subscribe to The Weekly Standard? Commentary, maybe? Because he seems to know a lot about, as he puts it, the "neoconservative press." Yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," for example, Clark said--not for the first time--that the Bush administration's war plans extend far beyond Iraq.

"I do know this," Clark told Wolf Blitzer. "In the gossip circles in Washington, among the neoconservative press, and in some of the statements that Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Wolfowitz have made, there is an inclination to extend this into Syria and maybe Lebanon." What's more, Clark added, "the administration's never disavowed this intent." ...

Clark has made his charge a central plank of his presidential campaign. Clark writes in his book, "Winning Modern Wars," that in November 2001, during a visit to the Pentagon, he spoke with "a man with three stars who used to work for me," who told him a "five-year plan" existed for military action against not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but also "Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan." Clark has embellished this story on the campaign trail, going so far as to say, "There's a list of countries."

Clark's proof? None. He never saw the list. But, the general recently told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "You only have to listen to the gossip around Washington and to hear what the neoconservatives are saying, and you will get the flavor of this."

Matthew Continetti
"Wesley Clark's Conspiracy Theory:
The General Tells Wolf Blitzer about the Neoconservative Master Plan"
The Weekly Standard
December 1st, 2003

As it happens, among other publications, Clark may indeed have been referring to Commentary ...

The best-case scenario is that Bush will eventually come to grips with the reality that Afghanistan and Iran are far from the only countries in the Middle East where "reform" is not enough to bring about the actions he has called upon all of them to take. In other words, as in Afghanistan and Iran, changes of regime are the sine qua non throughout the region.


The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as "friends" of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Ararat or one of his henchmen.

There is no denying that the alternative to these regimes could easily turn out to be worse, even (or especially) if it comes into power through democratic elections. After all, by every measure we possess, very large numbers of people in the Muslim world sympathize with Osama bin Laden and would vote for radical Islamic candidates of his stripe if they were given the chance.

To dismiss this possibility would be the height of naivete. Nevertheless, there is a policy that can head it off, provided that the United States has the will to fight World War IV--the war against militant Islam--to a successful conclusion, and provided, too, that we then have the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties. This is what we did directly and unapologetically in Germany and Japan after winning World War II; it is what we have indirectly striven with some success to help achieve in the former Communist countries since winning World War III; and it is George W. Bush's ultimate aim in World War IV.

Norman Podhoretz
"In Praise of the Bush Doctrine"
September 2002

Or quotes from others ...

"We need to be more assertive," argues Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "and stop letting all these two-bit dictators and rogue regimes push us around and stop being a patsy for our so-called allies, especially in Saudi Arabia." Hopefully, in Boot's view, laying down the law will be enough. But he envisions a worst-case scenario that would involve the United States "occupying the Saudi's oil fields and administering them as a trust for the people of the region."

Joshua Micah Marshall
"Practice to Deceive"
The Washington Monthly
April 2003

Neocons versus Nexis, the next great struggle ...

Read this lede from

Read this lede from an article in the Times and tell me with a straight face that these guys have any idea what they're doing ...

President Bush found himself in the awkward position on Wednesday of calling the leaders of France, Germany and Russia to ask them to forgive Iraq's debts, just a day after the Pentagon excluded those countries and others from $18 billion in American-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects.

White House officials were fuming about the timing and the tone of the Pentagon's directive, even while conceding that they had approved the Pentagon policy of limiting contracts to 63 countries that have given the United States political or military aid in Iraq.

I mean, it defies ridicule <$Ad$>(what will I do?). The tone? How were they supposed to sugar-coat it?

Please ...

Clearly, we need to come up with a new executive branch foreign policy appointee, someone whose job it would be to coordinate all this stuff, who could make sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, someone who could ride herd over interagency disputes.

Ideally, that person would work out of the White House.

We could call the new post the National Security Coordinator or maybe the National Security Advisor. Something like that.

Just a thought.

And you wonder why they're bringing Jim Baker into the mix? Forget about Rove's phone records. I want the last month's phone records between Dubya and pops ...

Lets put together a

Let's put together a calendar for next spring in Iraq.

Under the current plan, the US occupation authorities will hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government on July 1st 2004.

It seems reasonable to suspect that the month or two before that date (i.e., May and June) would be prime moments for the insurgents to up their attacks in order to throw the new government off balance and kill it (or at least its efficacy) in the cradle. However you want to define it, for all sorts of reasons, late spring next year looks like a window when the insurgents can use demonstrative violence most effectively to achieve their ends.

Indeed, the top US commander on the ground in Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez, says "We expect to see an increase in violence as we move forward toward sovereignty at the end of June."

But look at what else is happening at just that time.

From February through May, the Pentagon will cycle out almost all the troops now serving in Iraq -- 130,000 will be pulled out and 118,000 will replace them.

That means that at more or less precisely the time when you can predict there's going to be a maximum effort on the part of the insurgents to destabilize the new government and the process of handover, those insurgents will face US troops who, in almost every case, will have just arrived in the country.

Add to that the fact that April and May marks the onset of the hot season in Iraq, and that a lot of the military's attention at that crucial point will be focused on the logistics of cycling the troops.

There are good reasons why the US military now cycles troops out in units rather than individually. We have little choice but to rotate out the troops that are currently there --- many of whom will have been in the region for well over a year by next spring. And our options are now sufficiently narrowed that there aren't a lot of good options for working our way out of this bind.

But taken together the confluence of events amounts to a mammoth failure of foresight and planning. There's simply no other way to describe it. And the reason is fairly clear: the key decisions which got us into this box were made up on the fly over the last six months or so in response to exigencies which were widely predicted but which the planners of the war chose not to believe.

Reuters is reporting that

Reuters is reporting that the Pentagon is delaying rolling out the tenders for Iraqi reconstruction contracts -- the ones which barred bids from countries like Germany, France and Russia, and which kicked up a storm of protest around the world today.

It seems unclear, as yet, whether the controversial restrictions are the cause of the delay or whether it's something else. And if it is the cause, is this Baker's influence already being shown?

Whatever you think of Baker and his potential role in all this, he is nothing if not competent. I had lunch today with a fellow who's worked with Baker in a pretty tense international crisis and he told me there was no one in the world he'd rather have next to him in a foxhole than James Baker --- that tough, etc.

So, as I've said, I have some real questions and concerns about just what Baker's agenda is going to be as the grand dealmaker. But at least it won't be amateur hour.

And at this point, boy, that ain't no mean thing.