Iraq’s Potemkin Government

Body blow to Iraq’s Potemkin Government?
Posted by Helena Cobban at August 1, 2007 10:54 PM

I’ve been locking myself down writing my new book. (Two chapters almost finished!) But I couldn’t help noticing the reports (e.g. here) about the (mainly Sunni) Iraqi Accord Front having now left Iraq’s Potemkin Government.

‘Potemkin’, because it doesn’t actually do anything that governments by definition do, such as provide solid basic services to the citizenry– especially public security. This body is, however, occasionally pulled out of hiding to “appear” to be doing something. For example, we were told on NPR today that President Bush had a lengthy discussion with “Prime Minister” Maliki by videolink, in which they discussed affairs of state together.

But the fact that the IAF pulled out of the Potemkin Government at the very same time Sec of State Rice and Sec of Defense Gates have been visiting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries, urging them to give a bit of support to the said “government”, shows the degree of ineffectual chaos into which the US’s Iraq policy has fallen.

It is quite clear that no-one in the Bush administration has the foggiest idea of how to identify and pursue any policy in Iraq that has any chance of “winning”. Actually it is far too late for that now. There is no such policy any more.

But still, the exit from Iraq can be managed with either a greater or lesser degree of intelligence, and therefore of orderliness and predictability for everyone concerned– Americans, Iraqis, and neighbors of Iraq. And the way this administration is lurching around the region these days, it seems less and less likely that they will be able to manage even a drawdown/withdrawal of forces without making major blunders.

I think “lurch” will have to be one of the major ways in which the historians of the future describe the tenor of the Bushites’ whole engagement with Iraq. They lurch like cognitively impaired drunkards from one side to another, with no stable center of understanding, realism, or political principle to steady them or help pull them forward. They arm the Shiites, then they arm the Sunnis. They blame the Iranians, then they blame the Saudis. They publicly scold the Saudis for failures in Iraq– and then within hours of that they say they’ll be relying on them to help give political legitimacy to Maliki’s Potemkin Government.

The one constant through all their lurchings around the Middle East? Their propensity to look at every problem as a military problem, and at every relationship as one that can easily be strengthened or manipulated through arms transfers. Hence, their main legacy in the region thus far is one of distrust, tensions, anti-Americanism– and also, massive arming.

Oh well, I need to get back to my book. But before I do that, I’ll just note that, on reflection, it may well be that, inasmuch as the Maliki government is only a Potemkin Government, not the real thing– and certainly not one that controls any functioning levers of state power!– then whether the IAF leaves it or stays in may not actually make any difference. Not because the IAF isn’t important, but because the Maliki government is not the real thing.


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