New Word Needed, Please

NEW WORD NEEDED, PLEASE….Roger Cohen writes today that the original plan back in 2003 was to have two U.S. envoys to Iraq: Jerry Bremer to run the CPA and Zalmay Khalilzad, a Farsi-speaking Sunni Muslim, to begin forming an interim Iraqi government. Then, suddenly, the plan changed on May 6th and Khalilzad was out:

Alluding to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, Khalilzad continued: “Powell and Condi were incredulous. Powell called me and asked: ‘What happened?’ And I said, ‘You’re secretary of state and you’re asking me what happened!’ ”

Powell confirmed his astonishment. “The plan was for Zal to go back,” he said. “He was the one guy who knew this place better than anyone. I thought this was part of the deal with Bremer. But with no discussion, no debate, things changed. I was stunned.”

The volte-face came at a Bush-Bremer lunch that day where Bremer made a unity of command argument to the Decider. “I put it very directly to the president: you can’t have two presidential envoys running around Iraq,” Bremer told me.

…. Nonsense, Khalilzad believes. “I feel strongly that the U.S. ruling was wrong. We could have had an interim Iraqi government. I argued, based on Afghanistan, that with forces, diplomacy and money, nothing can happen anyway without your support.”

Powell agrees. “Everything was Bremer, the suit, the boots, the whole nine yards.” It was a mistake not to move ”more rapidly to putting an Iraqi face on it.”

….And chosen over lunch. “Unfortunately, yes, the way that decision was taken was typical,” Powell said. “Done! No full deliberations. And you suddenly discover, gee, maybe that wasn’t so great, we should have thought about it a little longer.”

It’s stuff like this that’s kept me from fully buying into Matt Yglesias’s “incompetence dodge” theory, the notion that it’s a copout to think that we failed in Iraq solely because we weren’t competent enough. It’s not that I’m convinced he’s wrong, it’s just that every month or so we discover yet another piece of Bushian incompetence so staggering that you really think the word itself is simply inadequate to the task. Frankly, given everything we’ve learned about the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq over the past four years, it’s remarkable that we aren’t in even worse shape than we are.

On the meta side, of course, the interesting question is: why is Khalilzad speaking out now? Is this some subtle way of trying to get Bush to fire him? Or what?

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