Pottery Barn, Baghdad

baghdad-smashBremer’s directives should have made it immediately obvious that leaving quick, if at all, was not the plan. Today Hitchens writes in Slate, eulogizing Amos Elon, of a story he was told adding more delicious back story to the notion of a purposefully failed state.  The “you buy it” is understood as the consequence, not the intention. Imagine if the best way to get it is to just break it?

His lifetime as an Israeli journalistic insider gave him the most extraordinary sources. One day in Washington several years ago, as it became obvious that things in Baghdad were becoming hellish for the American-led coalition in the Iraq war, he told me the following story. In the run-up to the intervention in Iraq, the United States had approached the Israelis and asked how many citizens they had who spoke “Iraqi Arabic”—i.e., who had lived in Iraq before they had left or been expelled and who understood the local idioms and vernacular. The answer was that there were still quite a few. A group of these was put aboard an AWACS plane that flew high over Iraqi airspace and asked to listen in to radio traffic between Iraqi officers as the date of the Bush ultimatum to Saddam drew nearer.

When debriefed, all the former Iraqi Jews were of one opinion: Saddam’s army would not fight, and many of its soldiers had already decided to melt away when the attack began. I thought this was a mildly interesting anecdote and indeed told him so, on the Watergate balcony where we happened to be standing. He was exasperated with me. “Don’t you see?” he said. “This means that all the ‘shock and awe,’ all the damage to Baghdad, all of that, was completely needless? We could have brought down Saddam without smashing Iraq.” I have been brooding on this ever since.

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