Saturday, April 24, 2004

Ahmad the Irresponsible

Reacting to Paul Bremer's address yesterday, Ahmad Chalabi claimed that allowing former members of the Baath party to return to their positions was "like allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War II". In one respect, he is quite correct: the Baath ideology is identical to Nazism, except that the favored race is Arab rather than "Aryan". In fact, according to this article by David Brooks, Baathism's founder Michel Aflaq was influenced by precisely the same philosophers who inspired Hitler:

    "He won a scholarship to study philosophy at the Sorbonne sometime between 1928 and 1930 (biographies differ), and there he studied Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Mazzini, and a range of German nationalists and proto-Nazis. Aflaq became active in Arab student politics with his countryman Salah Bitar, a Sunni Muslim. Together, they were thrilled by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, but they also came to admire the organizational structure Lenin had created within the Russian Communist party."

Brooks identifies several other similarities between Baathism and Nazism including:

1. A Nietzschean/Hegelian idea of a transcendent historical destiny.
2. A Darwinian notion of racial superiority.
3. A focus on inevitable future glory, rather than present practicality.
4. A sense of grievance over present humiliation.

So the parallel Chalabi makes is probably sounder than he knows. However, his objections to Bremer's policy go beyond the reasonable caution that ought to greet any such proposal and border on hysteria. Further, his comments distort the actual proposal and irresponsibly raise the specter of governmental collapse.

Before we deal with Chalabi's demagoguery, however, let us look at how the Allies actually treated the Nazis after the Nuremburg trials. According to the German Culture web site:
    "The Allies did not seek merely to punish the leadership of the National Socialist regime, but to purge all elements of national socialism from public life. One phase of the denazification process dealt with lower-level personnel connected with the Nazi regime. Their pasts were reviewed to determine if the parts they had played in the regime were sufficiently grievous to warrant their exclusion from roles in a new Germany's politics or government. Germans with experience in government and not involved in the Nazi regime were needed to cooperate with occupation authorities in the administration of the zones."

So, in a sense, Chalabi is right again; the current policy is very similar to that practiced by the Allies after WWII. But if that is the case, his analogy breaks down when he predicts the collapse of the Iraqi government and possible Civil War. After all, such things did not happen in post-war Germany. The key to understanding his hysteria is found in his characterization of Bremer's comments. According to the Reuters article:

    "Chalabi said U.S. Governor Paul Bremer discussed with the council on Thursday how to reinstate junior public workers, such as teachers, who were nominally Baath members, but did not mention Baathists taking part in a new government."

This clearly implies that the new policy will in fact be in allowing Baathists into positions of authority, contrary to the prior agreement. However, Bremer said no such thing. I could not find a transcript of Bremer's address, but here is a summary on the US Department of Defense web site by Senior Advisor, Dan Senor. (There is also a video feed on a sidebar of the Reuters article.) Senor clearly states that there has been no change with regard to

    "There is no room in the new Iraq for Ba'athist ideology or for Ba'athist criminals. Banning the party and removing from public life those who used it to commit crimes was necessary when we and the Governing Council implemented this policy earlier, and it continues to be necessary.

    As many of you know, Ambassador Bremer signed the de-Ba'athification order in May. It was the first order he signed. To this day, that policy is the single most popular policy we've heard about in Iraq, in the thousands of conversations we've had from Iraqis. That was the case back in May. It remains the case today."

Senor goes on to discuss the problem of educators being unnecessarily excluded from their former jobs. As he makes clear, the new policy simply expedites the process of reviewing the appeals that were already procedurally in place. He makes similar remarks with regard to allowing former Iraqi military officers to resume their commissions:

    "They would have to also come from the ranks of the former army, and that would entail bringing some senior-level officers back into the new army, again, subject to a very strict vetting process and subject to ensuring that they did not have blood on their hands. That was our policy 10 months ago. That continues to be our policy."

Unfortunately, it appears that Chalabi's hysteria has already done its damage. The article goes on to quote Adnan al-Assadi: "It will help security deteriorate further, disappoint Iraqis who have trusted the coalition to manage the political process and lead to civil war."

Even worse, Naseer al-Chaderji raises objections that the new policy was specifically designed to address:

    "Naseer al-Chaderji said there were former Baathists who had joined the party without believing in its ideology, but such people would have to be chosen by Iraqis who best know their record if they were to serve in the new government.


    "The United States have turned Iraq into a guinea pig without giving Iraqis a say," Chaderji said."

To quote a final time from the statement of Mr. Senor:

    "The decisions made by local de-Ba'athification appeals committees at the Ministry of Education will be effective immediately. That is what Ambassador Bremer announced in the speech today. This will allow thousands of teachers to return to work."

Sadly, these inaccurate views are now being expressed by other Iraqis and by international commentators. One further danger that I foresee is that this change in policy will be misunderstood as a concession to the recent uprising, which they explicitly were not.

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