If we want to improve the way things are, we need to understand what is going on – economic determinism, just plain stupidity, limited rationality by everyone doing his best from his own perspective, genuine clash of interests, or what? It is very easy to focus on blaming politicians (and their handlers on Wall St. or wherever) but much more useful to distinguish between those who raped and pillaged because that is exactly what they intended to do and those who got forced into it.
In his study of the French Revolution, Alfonse Aulard plaintively asks how a historian is to plan his analysis of a revolution if those involved did not themselves have any plan:
S’il n’y a ni plan ni méthode sensibles dans la politique des hommes de la Révolution, il est d’autant plus difficile à l’historien d’avoir lui-même un plan et une méthode pour le choix des traits qui doivent composer le tableau d’une réalité si changeante et si complexe. [Histoire politique de la revolution francaise.]
This point bears considering as we attempt to figure out in real time what various politicians, factions, and societies are trying to do today. In brief, is there a plan? We seem to be floundering, but is that the result of confusion or simply due to a general willingness to let things just run along on their own?
Returning briefly to the French Revolution, Aulard is no doubt correct in noting the absence of an overall plan agreed upon either by “French society” or even by the key actors in the revolutionary movement, but to argue that no individuals had plans—that the whole revolutionary process just rolled over a dazed and clueless population would seem overstated. Surely both some of the key actors and some of the nameless demonstrators must either have had or very quickly have formed plans, “burn the house down,” or “protect my estates no matter what,” etc. Aulard’s message is very close to Solzhenitsyn’s implacable “red wheel” of history, not coincidentally, since both the French and Russian Revolutions seemed to have the inherent implacability of an avalanche, smashing everyone who got in their way. But that appearance is misleading: humans may be as helpless as snowflakes in many situations but still, humans also frequently do make choices, and the statistical preponderance of those choices is likely to create an outcome “biased,” if you wish, (not “created,” but at least “biased”) by the statistical equivalent of free choice. [Fernand Braudel made a brilliant career out of focusing on precisely the "snowflake" in all of us, i.e., the great amount of human action that is undertaken by habit rather than conscious choice (note his comment in La Dynamique du capitalisme, 13).]
So, if we wish, for example, to analyze some contemporary political process, we may agree with Aulard that there is “no plan or method” characterizing the whole process but with the reservation that there still are numerous very serious plans and methods being pursued by certain of the participating actors. Solzhenitsyn, in his Red Wheel series on the Russian Revolution, targets this idea by devoting a distinct chapter to each key participant in each event, a brilliant but ambitious approach to writing history that requires him to devote some 100 pages to each day of the period he analyzes and still leaves all the work of putting these pieces (i.e., the minister’s viewpoint, the baker’s viewpoint, the student’s viewpoint, the general’s viewpoint, the Bolshevik’s viewpoint, etc.) together to the reader.
All the above is merely to prepare the way for asking, “To what degree does U.S. foreign policy follow a plan, consciously designed to achieve some purpose as opposed to A) simply being the outcome of a multitude of self-absorbed little political ants scurrying around trying to line their own pockets or B) being the inevitable result of the implacable red wheel of history driven by underlying cultural, economic, biological, geographic dynamics and just rolling over us all?”
Don’t call it “Iraq.” That was never a country and certainly isn’t now. Sometimes it was Turkish; mostly it was Iranian, and so it will probably be in a few weeks. But Iran won’t enjoy its meal unless it gains the maturity to cut a fair deal with the minority Sunnis. Saudi Arabia and Israel will do everything in their power to prevent such a stabilization of the region in Iran’s favor. It is in the US national interest to work very hard to persuade Iran to offer moderate, secular Sunnis a deal they cannot refuse.
Washington needs to coordinate with Tehran to force Maliki out (unlikely) or persuade him essentially to create a multi-sect government of national unity. As long as the Shi’a of Mesopotamia insist on a Shi’i dictatorship that apes Saddam’s old Sunni dictatorship, they have no hope of anything but a Shi’i semi-autonomous province inside Greater Iran–facing constant threat from a crusading Salafi terrorist state extending from the middle of Syria to Fallujah. That is not good for the US, not good for the land of the Shi’i shrines, and not good for Iran. It is not even good for Saudi Arabia because a Salafi victory will certainly backfire on the Saudi state. Only al Qu’aida, some extremist Iranian IRGC generals, and the Zionist rightwing expansionists will benefit (and then perhaps only temporarily).
So Washington needs to cooperate with (not fall in love with, not trust, not bow down to…just work with) Tehran if possible and talk to Tehran every day, calmly and precisely, offering positive-sum deals because it is in the US national interest to do so.
Update: And the very next day the Wall St. Journal reported that the Obama Administration was signalling that Maliki was part of the problem and that an ethnically inclusive Iraqi regime was needed! Meanwhile, Sour Grapes Cheney, who still has of course not been given his day in court, snipes from the sidelines, trying to provoke a repeat of the 2003 disaster. Obama effectively pardoned Cheney, along with the rest of the Neo-Con war gang; the least he could do is admit his wrongdoing.