Friday, August 31, 2007

More foolishness in Iraq

David Ignatius wrote a column in yesterday's WaPo detailing how the Bush Administration wasted an opportunity to help positively influence the 2005 Iraqi elections. One main source for the article is former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, who has his own agenda. Nonetheless, off-the-record sources confirmed to Ignatius that in the face of Iranian attempts to influence the elections both through advertising and sneaking Iranians across the border to vote (with fake ration cards to prove their "legitimacy"), the Bush Administration pulled a CIA plan to counter the Iranian efforts.

To counter this Iranian tide, the CIA proposed a political-action program, initially at roughly $20 million but with no ceiling. The activities would include funding for moderate Iraqi candidates, outreach to Sunni tribal leaders and other efforts to counter Iranian influence. A covert-action finding was prepared in the fall of 2004 and signed by President Bush. As required by law, the program was briefed to senior members of Congress, including Pelosi.

But less than a week after the finding had been signed, CIA officials were told that it had been withdrawn. Agency officials in Baghdad were ordered to meet with Iraqi political figures and get them to return whatever money had been distributed. Mystified by this turn of events, CIA officers were told that Rice had agreed with Pelosi that the U.S. couldn't on the one hand celebrate Iraqi democracy and on the other try to manipulate it secretly.

Ethically, that was certainly a principled view. But on the ground in Iraq, the start-stop maneuver had the effect of pulling the rug out from under moderate, secular Iraqis who might have contained extremist forces. (Asked about the withdrawal of the intelligence finding, spokesmen for Rice and Pelosi declined to comment.)

Rice's reaction is simply stupid. As Salvor Hardin noted [Isaac Asimov, Foundation] "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." The US cannot celebrate Iraqi democracy and then allow the Iranians to undermine it. That's like saluting the election results from Venezuela in 2001 as free and fair -- it denies reality to satiate a desire to achieve an ethical ideal without concurrently seeking to achieve the ethical ideal. Pure UN thinking at its worst.

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