Debate on Iraq taking place in NYTimes Book Review section

Clive Thompson’s blog, collision detection, has an interesting note about something I missed in The New York Times recently, about the debate being waged through reviews of Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.
Pollack is a former CIA operative and now works at the Council on Foreign Relations. Whether you agree with Polllack’s assesment or not (he favors an invasion), his book is worthwhile and deserves to be part of the debate.

U.S. to pay Russia $10 billion for Iraq backing

Russia gets its money and Qatar survives a coup attempt. Americans hear none of this news.

Careful readers will remember that I said that Russia was dragging its feet at the United Nations on America’s “kick Saddam’s ass” resolution because it was hoping for some guarantee that the $8 billion that Iraq owes Russia would be paid. Well, here is the reassurance. In response to taken questions, a State department spokesperson said that Russia could be compensated for more than $10 billion if they stopped their nuclear cooperation with Iran and allowed their country to become a nuclear waste dump.

One example is the potential transfer to Russia for storage of spent reactor fuel currently held by third countries, much of which requires US approval for such transfer because the US originally supplied the fresh fuel to those countries. If the Russians end their sensitive cooperation with Iran, we have indicated we would be prepared to favorably consider such transfers, an arrangement potentially worth over $10 billion to Moscow.

This kind of deal will lead Russia to ultimately support the United States against Iraq.
Also, some other news that hasn’t been widely reported here in the States: an attempted coup in Qatar! Who knew about this? Anyone? Anyone? Seems that American troops helped put down a coup attempt against Sheikh Hamad Bin Khaleifah al-Thani on Oct. 12. High ranking Qatari army officers were arrested and suspicion immediately fell on an Islamist organization and Pakistani and Yemini army recruits with alleged ties to Al Qa’ida.
The is big. Relations with Saudi Arabia have cooled since Sept. 11, 2001, and Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha is the best alternative. If Qatar were moved out of America’s camp, the United States would have to rely on Incirlik in Turkey and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to fly sorties against Iraqi targets. And most of the aircraft in the south would have to be carrier based, which would cut down on the number and frequency of sorties. It wouldn’t make an Iraqi operation impossible, but it would make it more difficult, I’ll wager.
What’s most worrisome, from a Pentagon war planner’s point of view, is the potential loss of Qatar, the continued refusal of Saudi Arabia to allow the use of its air bases and troubling Al Qa’ida attacks in Kuwait. None of these things is crippling individually, but in a worst-case scenario, America’s entire southern front in a Second Gulf War could crumble.

Turkey preparing to invade Kurdistan?

Turkey has been making noises that the Iraqi Kurds should not get too hopeful about establishing a quasi-independent entity in the three governates they control in northern Iraq. Now, it looks like Turkey is ready to back up their words with force. However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.

Turkey has been making noises that the Iraqi Kurds should not get too hopeful about establishing a quasi-independent entity in the three governates they control in northern Iraq. Now, it looks like Turkey is ready to back up their words with force. (At least they’re consistent.) However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.
On the they-really-mean-it side of the equation, ArabicNews.com is reporting that Turkish deputy prime minister Doulat Bahjali said that his country must reconsider its stance regarding northern Iraq. Since 1991 when it got dragged into Operation Provide Comfort (the allied establishment of the northern no-fly zone to protect Kurdish refugees from the 1990-91 Gulf War,) Turky has gone back and forth in its relations with the PUK and KDP. At times the relationship was warm enough that Barzani and Talabani, the leaders of the respective parties, traveled under Turkish diplomatic passports.
That has apparently ended with finality after the Kurdistan Regional Government convened its parliament in October and introduced a proposal for a federal republic of Iraq with a Kurdish entity in the north and with Kirkuk as its capital. Kirkuk, rich in oil and history is home to Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomen, to whose defense Bahjali is leaping.
“The pressures which are imposed on the Turkomen under Saddam Hussein were great and that they are at the meantime exposed to a new threat by the two Kurdish leaders Masoud al-Barazani and Jalal al-Talabani targeting their cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Arbil,” ArabicNews.com says. (Ed. I changed some spellings of towns in this quote.)
This backs up the it’s-all-politics argument, since the Turkomen are a natural ally of Bahjali’s National Movement Party, and bashing the Kurds is always a surefire way to rally the nationalist faithful. However, Turkish defense minister Sbah Eddin Oglo said Oct. 14 that Turkey intends to establish ‘a security belt’ in northern Iraq and that intelligence agencies have reported that Turkey has increased its troop strength in Iraqi Kurdistan from 4,000 to 10,000 troops.
All of this must be driving the United States crazy. The last thing it needs is a Kurdish-Turkish dispute in northern Iraq just when it’s trying to get its ducks in a row should shooting start. And this is exactly the kind of chaos various pundits have predicted would happen if Saddam is removed and regional rivalries are allowed to flare. But wasn’t that supposed to happen after a war?
Keep watching the Turks. They hold the key to all of this.

Saddam recalls children of diplomats

Saddam orders his diplomats’ children back to Iraq while the U.S. pushes harder in the U.N.

In a troubling piece in the Washington Times, Saddam has allegedly demanded that the children of Iraqi diplomats return to Iraq. U.S. intelligence believes this is an attempt to prevent defections of high-ranking envoys.
If this is true, and the Times piece says that some diplomats haven’t gotten the message so it might not be, this is another sign that Saddam is increasingly nervous over the survival of his regime in the face of pressure from the United States. Further complicating the situation, today at the United Nations, the U.S. pushed its own resolution on Iraq forward, with France indicating a willingness to negotiate. This leaves Russia as the main holdout on tough new language against Iraq, and I’ve been told America is working out a deal to settle Iraq’s $8 billion debt to Russia in exchange for the Bear’s support. Russia is dragging its feet not because of loyalty to an old customer, but because it’s holding out for better terms from the United States. That wiley Putin!
So Saddam is feeling the heat, but what the outcome of this multilevel chess game is, as yet, hard to predict.

Saddam’s rule showing signs of cracking?

A street protest in Baghdad offers the tantalizing possibility of an organized domestice reistance to Saddam.

John Burns has another dynamite story from Iraq, detailing how Saddam’s freeing of thousands of prisoners from his network of gulags may have backfired.
A street protests erupted and didn’t immediately disperse. Mothers demanded an accounting of their sons from government officials. While calm was restored, often roughly, the question I’ve asked my people over there is whether this is the crack that might bring the whole regime down, but I’ve not yet heard from them.
The protests are unprecedented and Wamid Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University called them “very, very important and unusual” in the Washington Post (How did the Post get sources at Baghdad University, I wonder?) Other diplomats caution that this might be an isolated event, however.
I wonder. Nadhmi proffered a tantalizing idea that the protests weren’t spontaneous. “To have a demonstration means there must be some sort of organizations behind it,” he is quoted as saying.
We know there is an Iraqi resistance operating outside of the country, but inside it? It’s possible, and most likely probable, that the United States is helping out local underground resistance movements. Could this have been their work?

Regime change equals “a regime that has changed.” Huh?

In a press conference yesterday President Bush made a cryptic comment that if Saddam Hussein complies with the UNSC resolutions, then that means “the regime has changed.” He also signaled a newfound respect for diplomacy.

“We’ve tried diplomacy,” Mr. Bush said when asked about the issue today. “We’re trying it one more time. I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully.”
At the same time he said, “The stated policy of our government, the previous administration and this administration, is regime change — because we don’t believe he is going to change.”

“However, if he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I’ve described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed.”
Those were the last words of the brief Oval Office appearance, and aides shooed reporters out before they could ask follow-up questions.

At the same time that the U.S. is trying diplomacy “one more time,” it is growing increasingly impatient with the Security Council on resolutions authorizing force against Iraq if — when? — it fails to meet demands.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thoroughly confused by all of this.
Which may be the point. A little ambiguity, some might call it madness, in foreign affairs can sometimes be a good thing. Nixon was said to be very good at this, convincing the Russians and the Chinese that he was so damn crazy he might just blow the hell out of them. But this is a different time and shouldn’t the American people be kinda, you know, informed every once in a while? Seeing as we’re a democracy ‘n’ stuff.
Or it may be that Bush keeps raising the hurdles for Saddam so that the dictator is bound to fail. Open up the country to weapon inspectors? Got it. Release some prisoners? Yup. Now, I don’t want to feel sympathetic for Saddam Husein. I don’t want to think, “Poor guy, he can’t win for losing,” but Bush’s drumbeat of war booms steadily, and the policy toward Iraq shows the same inflexibility and doubletalk that characterized Bush’s economic policy (which, according to The Onion, involves overthrowing Saddam.)

Mixed signals from the United States

The United States is talking a confusing game about the future of Iraq, but the real losers might be the Kurds.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reports that the United States is assuring the Kuwaitis that there will be no democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq because the 60 percent Shi’ite population would quickly establish dominance:

Kuwaiti rulers seem to think, based on assurances from U.S. officials, that Shi’ite domination is potentially so destabilizing that democracy is not even an option for Iraq. As Kuwait sees it, the possibilities range from a Tommy Franks viceroyalty to the installation of a Sunni Hashemite king, some relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Jordan already seems to be quietly lobbying for this outcome. “Democracy is just not in the cards there,” one Kuwaiti official said.

But this is in direct conflict with statements from national security advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell:

The US will be “completely devoted” to the reconstruction of Iraq as a unified, democratic state in the event of a military strike that topples Saddam Hussein, said Condoleezza Rice, US national security adviser. [Financial Times, Sept. 23, 2002]

and

Powell … told the House International Relations Committee that the United States would seek to persuade Iraqis that an assault on the Hussein regime would bring a “new era” defined by “a government of Iraqis governing Iraqis in a democratic fashion.” [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2002.]

So what gives here? Will we support democracy on won’t we? Are we willing to put up with the unpredictability of the ballot box? In a column in the National Journal (available only to subscribers, sorry,) Tish Durkin interviews a number of Iraqi opposition figures in Damascus and comes to the not unreasonable conclusion that any puppet installed by the United States, even a democractic puppet, would be “a disaster.”
The Kurds certainly think a democracy is in the cards, what with their proposed constitution and all. Fowzi Hariri, the smooth, British-educated deputy head of the KDP Bureau of International Relations, told me in July that “We want Baghdad.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he went on to explain that the Kurds want the chance to hold the office of chief executive in a Federal Republic of Iraq. “We want a direct say in government,” he continued. “Whenever we have relied on other systems or people, we have ended up with a dictatorship.”
That was a thinly veiled barb at the on-again, off-again support from the United States. My suspicion is that we’re at it again, telling the Kurds they will have a place at the table in order to lure them into committing to a fight against Saddam while we tell the Kuwaitis, Turks and Syrians that a messy, unpredictable democratic Iraq is “not in the cards,” as the Kuwaiti said to Kristof. And when the hammer hits the anvil, I think we’ll hang the Kurds out to dry.
Again.