November 30, 2006

My Dog Ate My Car Bomb

Nouri al-Maliki, no doubt, is a man under a lot of pressure. Nevertheless, he has a job, presumably a well-paying one, and in today's Iraq that must be a great consolation. I assume he lives and works in the Green Zone in Baghdad, which insulates him from most of the mayhem, save for the occasional mortar round lobbed in from the surrounding neighborhoods. Under the conditions of contemporary Iraq, I doubt that Nouri really worries all that much about the fine points of representative democracy, which must, in any event, be foreign concepts to him and most of the Shiites with whom he spends his time. After all, the Iraq he has known all his life has either been a police state run by the opposing sect or the current state of anarchy reminiscent of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Either deplorable condition would leave one with the depressing sense that life is uncertain and insecure, but at least now Maliki controls things in a way that the Shia never controlled before. Maliki would be, I presume, extremely reluctant to yield power to anyone else, and most particularly to any coalition of Sunni politicians who might resurrect the apparatus of oppression which held sway over his early life.

Viewed from this perspective, the current manufactured controversy over whether Maliki's no-show at the meet-and-greet with Bush in Amman, Jordan was or was not a "snub" fades into insignificance. One can say two things about his decision. First, it was deliberate, and the post hoc ergo propter hoc justifications for his nonappearance (it turned out a 3 way with the King and Bush wasn't "necessary" or a "productive use of time") are patent nonsense. The head of government installed by American contrivance doesn't blow off a long-planned "summit" with his benefactor because he decides, without consulting Bush, that their meeting would be a "waste of time." This is no rationale, especially when talking about Bush. All meetings with Bush are by definition a waste of time, as he proves over and over again. The purpose of his frequent international trips is to give him something to do, which in his case is to travel the world spreading ill will. It makes him look sort of like a president as he's filmed climbing on and off planes, saluting and waving, having his picture taken with heads of state.

Second, Maliki's lame excuse was deliberately transparent. It was contrived to mollify the "firebrand" cleric Muktada al-Sadr, head of the Mighty Mahdis, who had insisted that Maliki skip the meeting altogether. That was clearly too much. As pointless as the meeting was, you can't just give Bush the finger. So, as a giraffe is a horse designed by a committee, the half-snub was the compromise worked out by Maliki, al-Sadr, and, we suspect here at the Pond, the Bush Administration. Everybody looks pretty good. Maliki makes the point of his "independence." Al-Sadr looks powerful. Bush appears, as always, smilingly irrelevant and ineffective.

Next will come the news reports on "developments" in the "substantive" meeting which Bush and Maliki will hold today in Jordan. You don't need to be Merlin the Magician to predict those. Maliki will "redouble" his resolve to bring Baghdad under control. Bush will pledge U.S. support for his efforts and resist a "time table."

On Friday, another 100 Iraqis will be tortured, killed, dismembered and dumped around Iraq. Another few American GIs will die. The U.S. will add another $2 billion to the national debt. Bush will head to Camp David and Maliki will sneak back into the Green Zone under cover of darkness.

November 26, 2006

The Insurgents Muscle In

"The insurgency is raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes, a report concluded." New York Times, November 26, 2006.

Scene: An upstairs room at the Busharoni Olive Oil Company, New York City. The present.

Don Busharoni (speaking with a characteristic gravelly voice): I want to call a meeting of the heads of the Five Families to discuss this crisis we got. The Halliburtoni, the Bechteloso, all of them. It's like discipline, you know, are we working together or not? Don Dickarini?

Capo Dickarini (speaking with a characteristic growly baritone out of the corner of his mouth): We could go to the mattresses. Assert control. It's our territory, you know? Or we could be smart.

Don Busharoni (impatiently watching Sonny wave his hand): Yeah, okay. Sonny?

Sonny Busharoni: It's like Pop says, is our families working together? It was a deal. We wanted one thing, oil, we didn't care about the rough stuff when we moved in. We didn't start this. We whack a guy, take over, plenty for everybody. Now this.

Don Busharoni: I told the al-Tattaglia family that, straight to Ahmed al-Tattalgia's face. But now this other guy...

Capo Dickarini: Aziz ibn Solazzo.

Don Busharoni: Yeah, Aziz. I tell him that too, there's enough to go around, but this other stuff, the drugs, the kidnapping, the ransom...this we will never do, because then the political support that makes this good life possible, we will not have it.

Sonny: Pop, that's old thinking. We gotta change. If the al-Tattalgia people joins up with ibn Solazzo and takes over these profit making operation in our territory, and we don't revamp...

Don Busharoni (turning to his consigliere, Connie Rice-A-Roni): Please forgive my unruly son. The children these days do not understand when it's right to discuss things in public.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: (nodding quietly) Suppose we were to send an emissary, Don, such as the other Don, Don Rumafellio.

Don Busharoni (shaking his head gravelly, or gravely): I am sorry. It was necessary to have him whacked. He was blowing our political cover.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: Then maybe Jimmy "The Fix" Baccharini. He can talk.

Sonny Busharoni: Talk! That's all we do, Pop! Let's hit 'em hard. They understand that.

Capo Dickarini: And draw attention to the whole syndicate, eh Sonny? Smart move. Right now we control construction, we control most of the oil, we service the military, and overcharge them by building in the protection money. We run the security.

Don Busharoni: That was genius, Dickie. To literally sell them protection.

Dickerini (nodding graciously): There's enough for everybody. So the al-Tattalgias working with ibn Solazzo have figured out an angle to pick up the loose change by selling humans. I say let them have it. We're making a nice living, and the American people front us the money for it. We don't just have government protection for what we do. We are the government. Who ever thought of a better deal than that?

Don Busharoni: Capisco, Dickie.

Sonny Busharoni: We whack 'em! Bada-bing! They don't buy us out. We buy them out. We do the kidnapping! We smuggle oil. We counterfeit money.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: They're counterfeiting American money, Sonny. We'd be counterfeiting our own money.

Don Busharoni (shaking his head): Sometimes brains can skip a generation, I guess. And they're only smuggling the oil we don't steal. My son has been watching too many gangster movies. He doesn't know how to run a real racket.

Capo Dickarini (taking the Don's hand and kissing it): I'm so glad, Godfather, your steady hand is back in charge.