Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Our Once and Future S.O.B.

His name was Ayad Allawi. He was a former Ba’athist and certified tough guy appointed by Washington as the interim prime minister of Iraq. Newsweek dubbed him "our new s.o.b.” Rumors abounded of summary executions; some even speculated about a rather Saddam-esque dictatorship emerging in Baghdad.

With the 2005 election and the waving of purple fingers, he went down a memory hole. But Alawi is now very much back in the news, and it’s again become necessary to speculate on who this cagey, obviously ambitious man really is.

The first thing to note is that Allawi is mounting his comeback in Washington, not in Bahgdad. In the past few weeks, he’s penned an op-ed for the Washington Post on his "plan for Iraq” and contracted the DC lobbying firm Barbour Griffin & Rogers, which has long had ties to the GOP. Barbour has recently purchased the domain name http://www.allawi-for-iraq.com/ for the launch of some kind of Internet propaganda campaign, the character of which is still uncertain.

Most likely, Allawi has his heart set on once again becoming PM; he seems to also think that this would be much easier if he could again get Wahsington to appoint him to the post (elections being unreliable).

Allawi’s moves come on the heels of rather sever criticism of the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Some have even forthrightly called for al-Maliki’s removal—most recently, Hillary and French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner have gotten in on the act.. Bush might have called al-Maliki "a good guy” but it seems more and more likely that Washington might want to simply blame him for all the problems and then enact a purge. Sensing the mood, in his Post op-ed, Allawi explicitly states that parliamentary malfunction is all al-Maliki’s fault.

Al-Maliki hasn’t much helped his cause; however, one should be reminded of the rather bad history of Washington’s picking and choosing the leaders of dependent nations. Since Bush is so fond of Vietnam analogies, let’s go there!

In 1945—before Washington was on Cold War footing with Moscow—the OSS supported Ho Chi Minh’s Communist coup d’état in Indochina. A decade later, after French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Eisenhower backed the pro-Western Ngo Dien Diem—a prime minister lacking in democratic legitimacy. Only 10 years later, as Kennedy sent thousands of soldiers into the region, he grew tired of Diem and authorized a plot which eventuated in Diem’s being abducted from Catholic Mass and shot. The story of America’s involvement in Vietnam gets much worse from there…

Allawi remains a tempting option: an avowed nationalist, he promises to rise above sectarian squabbling. But there’s no S.O.B. on earth who could redeem Washington’s strategic failures. Serial king-making often accompanies quagmires.

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