Saturday, December 27, 2014

How Obama is repeating one of Bush's worst mistakes

In May 2003 - a little over a month after the fall of Baghdad - the newly arrived Paul Bremer released two radical orders: he barred members of the Baath Party from all but the lowliest government posts and he disbanded the Iraqi army.

Those orders are nowadays generally seen as the spark that caused the Sunni insurrection in Iraq. Yet at the time the criticism was limited and even now Bremer and some others defend the orders.

What strikes in this defense is the use of generalizations as in "to the vast majority of Iraqis [the army] was a symbol of the old Baathist-led Sunni ascendancy" and [the army] was "mistrusted by the very Iraqi people it is supposed to protect". In the logic of Bush, Rumsfeld and Bremer there was only one "Iraqi people" and they were happy that Saddam was gone. Somehow they didn't get it that most Sunni and at least some Shiites might not be happy that Saddam was gone. Neither did they get it that many Shiites - seeing the anarchy - might have serious doubts about the new order.

That brings me to Obama. His methods may have been a bit different, but Obama has beaten Bush with the number of regime changes he has achieved. One of those was in Ukraine. Ukraine is still full of US advisors who are very influential. There too there will now be a very comprehensive "lustration". And there too the police and army are cleansed of "pro-Russians".

Other former communist countries had lustrations too. However, these were meant to get rid of a few embarrassing left-overs of communist times. Unlike those in Iraq and Ukraine they were not meant to shift the power balance and to rob a large segment of the population of influence on the future of the country.

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