After weeks of contentious negotiation, the UN Security Council unanimously passed the fifth version of a U.S.-Great Britain resolution designed to confer legitimacy on the newly formed Iraqi interim administration, and declaring that its June 30th launch would involve a transfer of “full sovereignty” (Hoge, New York Times, 6/9/04). However, the notion of “Iraqi sovereignty” can’t be anything but a fiction, not only during the interim administration, but well past the projected December, 2005 date when an elected government is scheduled to take over.
In his new book Mission Improbable, sociologist Lee Clarke discusses what he calls “symbolic plans” — programs of action that, as he said recently in an interview in the Harvard Business Review, “look good on paper but can be worse than useless when push comes to shove.” Such plans, however carefully written and however sincere their authors, can best be described as “fantasy documents.” The current commitment to give the Iraqis “full sovereignty” is, by Clarke’s definition, a “symbolic plan,” and the UN enabling resolution is a “fantasy document” of the first order.
For a government to have sovereignty, it needs three things: a monopoly on the legitimate means of coercion; the material capacity to sustain a country’s social and economic infrastructure; and an administrative apparatus capable of overseeing and administering policy. By these measures, the
The means of coercion was a central aspect of the UN debate. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, argued that the Iraqis should have a veto over the disposition of U.S. military power: “If there’s a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Falluja in a particular way, that has got to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government…That’s what the transfer of sovereignty means.”
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the other hand, argued for a “partnership” approach: “Obviously we would take into account whatever they might say at a political or military level…. And to make sure that that happens, we will be creating coordinating bodies, political coordinating bodies and military-to-military coordinating bodies, so that there is transparency with respect to what we are doing.”
Though Powell’s position was ultimately upheld, it made little difference, since this was a purely symbolic argument. Neither side was arguing that
Who has the means of coercion?
Does this mean that sovereignty is compromised any time foreign troops are stationed in a country? Well, yes, because the existence of massive means of coercion not under the control of a local government always vitiates the authority and legitimacy of that government. But the degree of compromise is larger or smaller depending on the circumstances. In the case of Iraq, sovereignty is fatally compromised since there are a large number of foreign troops deployed (in 14 soon-to-be-permanent bases), positioned so that they can rapidly intervene in all major regions of the country. For as long as this circumstance exists, no Iraqi government (appointed or elected) will dominate the “legitimate” means of coercion.
This point was forcefully made by conservative columnist Jed Babbin in the National Review. He labeled the troops the most important “hole” in the Bush administration’s plan “to turn
“The president insisted that the’ turnover’ of Iraqi sovereignty would be complete. But how can that be when, as he said, 138,000 American troops will remain there as long as necessary, under American command? If they are not subjected to the law and authority of the new
But what about the Iraqi police and army? After long and tortuous debate, the UN Security Council in its resolution conferred command of these forces on the Iraqi interim administration, not the
But even under these circumstances, the command of Iraqi armed forces by Iraqi officers appointed by the new government remains purely symbolic. Left unmentioned in the UN debate was the modest size of the military (35,000 soldiers when fully trained) and its light armament (no tanks or air power) compared to the American forces. Left unmentioned as well was the fact that the
A sense of how such a system is likely to work can be gleaned from the remarkable raid conducted against erstwhile American darling Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi’s house was invaded by Iraqi police, overseen and operating under the command of unidentified American officers, based on a warrant issued by an Iraqi judge appointed by the occupation authority. The Iraqi police knew — before, during, and after the raid — that the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council would oppose and denounce this attack on one of its members. But they also knew that their American commanders wanted the raid completed, and they therefore “followed orders.”
Until the Iraqi police and army have a separate recruitment and command structure from the occupying army, and until they are paid and supplied by Iraqis instead of Americans, they will continue to be an enforcement arm of the
Who controls the purse?
As for economic and social policy, the central issue for the functioning of
Though Coalition leader Bremer declared as late as March that the
“It would take about $30 billion a year in income for the Iraqi state to run the country properly and repair everything that needs to be repaired, as well as servicing its debts and paying reparations. In the past year,
But when (or if) the flow of oil reaches the levels necessary to generate a discretionary surplus, Iraqi administrators will exercise precious little of the discretion. As Andrew Cockburn documented in an article for Salon.com, the institutional limits on Iraqi decision making are extensive:
*After the fall of Saddam Hussein, management of oil revenues was placed in the hands of the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), a group 10 foreigners and one Iraqi appointed by Bremer. The UN resolution called for this group to continue its work for five more years.
*Even if the interim administration were to wrest control of the DFI from its current incumbents, it is legally prohibited from making changes in oil policy “until such time as an internationally recognized, representative government of
International banking organizations, notably the IMF and the World Bank, will continue to exercise “accounting authority over the spending” of all Iraqi oil revenues. This oversight, which originated because of the Oil for Food Program during the pre-war sanctions era, will continue until a $110 billion Iraqi foreign debt is resolved, a process that promises to take many years.
In light of these encumbrances on future oil funds, the resources for Iraqi reconstruction lie primarily in the $18.4 billion in congressionally mandated
The situation was summed up well by one of Bremer’s top aides, who told the New York Times (
“American troops will act as the most important guarantor of American influence. In addition… the $18.4 billion voted for Iraqi reconstruction last fall by the United States Congress — including more than $2 billion for the new Iraqi forces — will give the Americans a decisive voice.”
Who administers what?
But history is strewn with the wreckage of occupying powers that did not have the administrative capacity to enact their rule. Various American military commanders in
The implicit expectation is that the June 30th transition will be the occasion for transferring administrative responsibility to the Iraqis, even if ultimate policymaking remained in the hands of the Occupation. To do this, however, would mean to substantially vitiate
This possibility too was anticipated by L. Paul Bremer’s men. Already CPA officials have set in place an elaborate system that will allow the new Ambassador, John Negroponte, to oversee and control the developing Iraqi administrative apparatus. The most dramatic evidence of this is the well publicized fact that in his “embassy” Ambassador Negroponte will have the largest staff in American diplomatic history, variously estimated at between 2000 and 3000 people.
Colin Powell’s vision of “cooperation”, quoted above, offers a clear sense of how this “oversight” is expected to work: Whatever Iraqi administrative apparatus is developed will be in constant contact with representatives of the American embassy. A more detailed portrait was given by the Wall Street Journal’s Yochi Dreaven and Christopher Cooper (
The Coalition is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to key political structures like the media:
“The authority to license
And Bremer’s planning extends well beyond the central government. President Bush assured the
In other words, the Bush administration is unwilling to risk that any policies it enunciates might be altered or reversed by Iraqi administrators.
Whose fantasy is this anyway?
The broad sweep of American policy regarding the June 30th transition bears an uncanny resemblance to the governing strategy implemented in
“The genial Mr. Karzai may be
The situation sounds more and more like a case of American sovereignty in Afghan dress when Waldman describes the daily activities of the Ambassador, who meets with President Karzai as often as two or three times a day:
“Working closely with the Karzai government and the American military, Mr. Khalilzad ponders whether to push for the removal of uncooperative governors, where roads should be built to undercut insurgency, and how to ensure that the elements friendly to
The details of Khalilzad’s activities make his governing role crystal clear. He personally intervened to “secure land” for various projects, including a new Hyatt Hotel, an international school, and a top-tier hospital — overcoming substantial opposition from Afghans who felt the resources would be better spent on services aimed at groups who “lack the most basic health care and education.” He ignored the demands of the governor of
It is not surprising that the
And yet reality itself calls into question the elaborate structure of domination currently being erected in
Copyright C2004 Michael Schwartz
Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has written extensively on
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]