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Re: [casi] Anthony H. Cordesman's "Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound: US Policy to Reshape a Post-Saddam Iraq"

Dear folks,

Below is an interesting commentary on the Cordesman memo by Counterpunch's
Alexander Cockburn. It's worth recalling that this is the same Anthony
Cordesman who advocated trials without due process and "interrogation
methods that border on psychological and/or physical
torture" for the Occupied Territories (see my November 2000 post to the CASI
list at

Best wishes,

voices uk

Iraq After D-Day:
The Cordesman Memo

Counterpunch, 14 December 2002

Napoleon would sketch out in an afternoon the new constitution and legal
arrangements for one of France's imperial conquests. In Washington today,
there's no such panache, no Jacques-Louis David limning Bush in imperial
drapery and resplendent crown (though surely Josephine's heart beats beneath
Laura's delicious bosom). All over town, lights blaze far into the night as
staffers at the Pentagon, State Dept. and National Security Council pore
over blueprints for invasion and the possible lineaments of a post-Saddam
Iraq. You'd have to go back to Kennedy-era nation-building to find
equivalent hubris and expectancy.

But as the war planners irritably deride Iraq's 12,000-page chronicle,
detailing its abandonment of weapons of mass destruction, a briefer memo
sets forth with sarcastic glee all the reasons that even now Bush and his
inner circle should think again and perhaps shrink back, even as George Bush
Sr. did, from seeking to install an American mandate in Baghdad.

On Washington's carousel, Anthony Cordesman is a prominent fixture,
currently headquartered in the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, prime Republican think tank on K Street, where an elevator ride can
confront you with museum pieces stetching all the way back to Reagan's first
NSC adviser, Richard Allen. Cordesman has held down big jobs in the Defense
and Energy departments, has served as Senator John McCain's national
security assistant and strides confidently before the cameras whenever ABC
News summons him for analysis and commentary.

Unusually, given this sort of curriculum vitae, Cordesman is a pretty smart
fellow. We must ask, therefore, why he felt impelled, from all his dignity
as the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, to issue a "rough draft" memo, dated
December 3 and now sparking its way around town, that derides Operation Oust
Saddam as the recipe for a bloody mess. So? Bloody Mess has been a standing
item on the American imperial menu for more than a century. It's a specialty
of the house. Maybe Cordesman wants an "I told you so" on record. Maybe he's
irked at a setback in his private political agenda. Whatever his motives, he
paints with deft strokes an unflattering record of all those blueprints now
being staffed out in Washington's drafting studios.

Political etiquette requires Cordesman to couch his criticisms in "Here's
how we should plan it better" mode, but it's clear he sees no such
possibility in the offing, as he prods through the plans with his scalpel.

Title of paper: "Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound: US Policy to Shape a
Post-Saddam Iraq". Theme: Operation Oust Saddam is an "uncoordinated and
faltering effort." We should "admit our level of ignorance." "Far too many
internal 'experts'" have scant working knowledge of Iraq, writes Cordesman,
who actually knows a lot about the place.

The sales job for Operation Oust Saddam has been lousy: "We face an Arab
world where many see us as going to war to seize Iraq's oil, barter deals
with the Russians and French, create a new military base to dominate the
region, and/or serve Israel's interest. Our lack of clear policy statements
has encouraged virtually every negative conspiracy theory possible." Rather
unconvincingly, Cordesman adds that we must "prove we are not a
'neo-imperialist' or 'occupier.'" Stigmatizing what he calls "the US as
Liberator Syndrome" Cordesman warns that "we may or may not be perceived as
<liberators.S> We may well face a much more hostile population than in
Afghanistan. We badly need to consider the Lebanon model: Hero to enemy in
less than a year."

He notes "an unpredictable but inevitable level of collateral damage and
civilian casualties" and deplores the arrogance among planners for gaming
out a "best-case war." To the contrary, Cordesman warns, "we may have to
sharply escalate and inflict serious collateral damage."

Given the shape Iraq is in after the Gulf War and a decade of sanctions, one
can easily envisage what that means. Riffling through the nation- and
democracy-building game plans, Cordesman bleakly declares them "mindlessly
stupid." In words that should hang on the wall of every liberal
interventionist, he says fiercely that "Iraq cannot be treated as an
intellectual playground for political scientists or ideologues, and must not
be treated as if its people were a collection of white rats that could be
pushed through a democratic maze by a bunch of benevolent US soldiers and

Forget the carny lingo about building democracy. America's priorities are
already "non-democratic," since "we virtually must enforce territorial
integrity, and limit Kurdish autonomy." There are, Cordesman maintains,
already US war plans that call for an early US military presence in Kirkuk
to insure the Kurds do not attempt to seize it. Long-term efforts to
establish some kind of Kurdish autonomy may go the same way as those early
in the last century, which ended with British planes seeking to enforce the
League of Nations mandate by poison gas. The Iraqi National Congress, he
sneers, is far stronger inside the Washington Beltway than in Iraq.

As for the Shiites in the south, Cordesman seems to imply, no autonomist
momentum should be allowed to develop, nor civil society permitted to
flourish far beyond the existing supervision of the police and armed forces,
which, after necessary purging at the top, should remain in place. Most of
the existing structure of the Iraqi government is "vital." Iraq "is not
going to become a model government or democracy for years."

What kind of economy would the US proconsul be supervising? Cordesman offers
a reality check. Even before the Gulf War and sanctions, Iraq was plummeting
from its peak at the start of the 1980s, when per capita oil wealth stood at
$6,000, as against $700 now. Only twenty-four out of seventy-three oilfields
are working, and anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the wells are at
risk. These days, with a population expected to reach 37 million by 2020 (up
from 9 million in 1970), unemployment stands at more than 25 percent, with
40 percent of the population under 15.

It doesn't take long to run through Cordesman's eleven pages, and the
momentum of the argument is clear enough, as clear as the same arguments
were to Bush the Elder and his advisers back in 1991: Why get deeper into
this mess? Let Saddam keep his security forces intact and butcher the
Shiites. Offer protection to the Kurds and let the place stew under the
weight of sanctions.

Only in one respect does Cordesman part company with reality. He predicts
that "everything we do from bombing to the first ground contact with Iraqis
will be conducted in a media fishbowl." Now, just as it knows how to create
Bloody Messes, Empire knows how to ignore them later.

So will the Bloody Mess in Iraq get bloodier still? I'd say at this point
the odds are even.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Colin Rowat" <>
To: "discussion list Discussion CASI" <>
Sent: Friday, January 03, 2003 3:29 PM
Subject: [casi] Anthony H. Cordesman's "Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound:
US Policy to Reshape a Post-Saddam Iraq"

> Dear list members,
> Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies
> been one of Washington's more sombre commentators on the prospects of a
> full-blown war with Iraq.  His testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations
> Committee in the summer was very cautionary, and possibly reflective of
> concerns of parts of the US military.
> Last month a memo of his began to circulate in Washington.  It's now
> available on the CSIS' website at
>  It's entitled "Planning for a
> Self-Inflicted Wound: US Policy to Reshape a Post-Saddam Iraq".
> Best wishes,
> Colin Rowat
> work | Room 406, Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham |
> Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK | | (+44/0) 121 414 3754 |
> (+44/0) 121 414 7377 (fax) |
> personal | (+44/0) 7768 056 984 (mobile) | (+44/0) 7092 378 517 (fax) |
> (707) 221 3672 (US fax) |
> _______________________________________________
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