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April 20, 2004
The CPA Memo: We Need To Take Forceful Action

The Village Voice published an article earlier today based on an e-mail from the Coalition Provisional Authority which was forwarded to them. The memo, which dates back to March, foresaw civil war if the CPA and the US did not start exerting its authority in Iraq, and specifically mentions a renegade cleric named Moqtada al-Sadr. The Voice, typically, takes the small mention of civil war and explodes it into the entire point of the memo. The subhead of the article, in fact, reads "A Coalition memo reveals that even true believers see the seeds of civil war in the occupation of Iraq".

However, in reading the actual memo, the author points not to an inevitable civil war but instead to the numerous opportunities surrounding the CPA to improve its performance and its position with the Iraqis, the vast majority of which want to see the US succeed. The anonymous writer leads his missive with unabashed support for the US effort in Iraq and its continuance:

I want to emphasize: As great as the problems we face, and the criticisms back home, and mindful of the sacrifice that almost 600 Americans have made, what we have accomplished in Iraq is worth it. While Iraqis joke, Americans go home and take us with you. The gratitude which they express is sincere and unsolicited, and not limited to a single political class.

However, in the next breath, he underscores what he sees as the primary obstacle in stabilizing Iraq:

The political bickering back in the United States has worried Iraqis, who fear that a Kerry victory will mean an American withdrawal, short-term civil war, and long-term empowerment of the most radical elements of society throughout the Islamic world.

The Voice never mentions this as the trigger for a civil war, even though they describe numerous other "triggers" instead. It becomes very apparent that the writer's concern about mission failure has nothing to do with being a bull in a china shop, or breaking stuff in a Pottery Barn, as Bob Woodward described the analogy; his primary concern is that we will do a half-assed job by being too timid about enforcing security and pushing for true democratic reform. As an example of this issue, he specifically mentions the British laissez-faire approach in the south where they have faced little armed opposition, but only because the British are too busy looking the other way:

We have made the most progress in Baghdad; the south may be calm, but it seems the calm before the storm. Iranian money is pouring in. British policy is to not rock the boat, and so they do nothing that may result in confrontation. This is a mistake. We are faced with an Iranian challenge. Whether Iranian activities are sanctioned or not by the Iranian actors with which the State Department likes to do business should be moot, since those Iranians who offer engagement lack the power to deliver on their promises. In Bosnia and Afghanistan, we were likewise challenged by the Iranians. In both cases, the Iranians promised their intentions were benign. In Bosnia, we rolled up the Qods Force anyway, and Bosnia has remained pro-Western in its orientation. In Afghanistan, we wrung our hands and did little, worried that the Iranians might respond to confrontation as if we did anything to enforce our word. This projected weakness.

The author recommends, instead of conducting sensitivity seminars, forceful action to stem the Iranian influence in the south and better security in Baghdad and other areas that had not yet become compliant with the central authority:

Then again, as I wrote in a memo earlier this week to some of you, the interim constitution is just an exercise in Governing Council and CPA masturbation if not enforced. The fact that we do nothing to roll up Muqtada al-Sadrs Jaysh al-Mahdi which is running around Najaf, arresting and torturing people, and trying Iraqis before their own kangaroo courts signals to Iraqis that we lack seriousness. It also telegraphs weakness not only to Muqtada al-Sadr, but also to others who realize they cannot win legitimacy through the ballot box, and therefore will seek to grab it through violence. Yes, we would have violence for two or three days after arresting Muqtada (whom, after all, has had murder charges leveled against him by an Iraqi prosecutor), but that would subside. Since so many of us have gone through it, allow me a metaphor to the small pox vaccine: Getting the vaccine results in a pustule which is unpleasant, but the vaccine also prevents the potential of thousands of other pustules. Arresting Muqtada would signal [al-Sadr's] weakness, and would make other populist leaders think twice.

And as for the other popular notion on the Left -- turning Iraq over to the United Nations -- the writer clearly predicts a catastrophe if that policy is adopted:

It would be a very grave mistake to transfer authority to the United Nations. Kofi Annan once said that Saddam Hussein is a man I can do business with. Not only can we expect such a tape to be aired often on Iraqi television, but also we can expect further revelations that Kofi Annan was speaking literally and, not just figuratively. ... Already, the audit has uncovered serious wrongdoing in banks, and discrepancies of billions of dollars. Anger is rising at just how little Iraq got for its money under UN auspices, when the UN oversaw contracts that inflated prices and delivered substandard if not useless goods. While the Western press has focused on officials like Benon Sevan who, according to documents, received discounted oil, the real scandal appears to be in some of the trading companies which would convert such oil shares to cash. For example, Sevan cashed his oil share with a Panamanian trading company, which, it turns out, was controlled by Boutros-Boutros Ghali.

The Village Voice cherry-picked a bit to write its analysis, but give them credit for releasing a near-complete text of the memo for everyone to analyze on their own. In truth, people use bits and pieces of this memo to support a number of political stances. However, when one reads the memo in its entirety, the inescapable conclusion is not that the writer has given up on American efforts in Iraq, but that only American efforts will solve the problems. One can only assume that the writer would be applauding the current efforts in Najaf and Fallujah to finally assert CPA authority and to demonstrate the overwhelming force at their disposal, so that the small bands of insurgents cannot force the general population to cower. We need to step in, clean up the corruption, expand our presence in Iraq much wider than the Green Zone, eliminate the Iranian-influenced radical militias, and get control of the borders.

Read the entire memo.

UPDATE: Orson Scott Card's opinion piece from April 11th makes a good point:

And Iraq always required exactly the solution that we have been imposing for the past year. This is why President Bush's father did not take out Saddam when he had the chance back in 1991: without Saddam's repressive regime, every would-be dictator in Iraq would have made his play for the top spot then, just as they're doing now.

So we couldn't get rid of Saddam until we had the national will to stick with the job until a strong government with popular support could fill the power vacuum.

It is not a "failure" of our policy that Iraq is suffering from attempted rebellions -- the best hope for Iraq's future is for these warlords to make their play while our troops are still there to slap them down and clean them out.

Yup, and better there and now than later and here. (Hat tip: Mal.)

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers!

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 20, 2004 6:10 PM

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