Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The real transition 

Juan Cole predicts the real significance of the coming transfer of power in Iraq:

On June 30, the real transition will be from Defense Department dominance of Iraq to State Department responsibility for Iraq.

The State and Defense Departments have a long history of conflict dating back to the early stages of the Cold War. In the course of the intermittent power struggle between the two agencies, the power of the State Department has gradually declined, while the Pentagon has taken on new responsibilities and gained additional influence. Over the past decade, the Defense Department has expanded enormously in scope, obtaining supervision of many programs not of a strictly military nature, such as nation building, intelligence gathering, and homeland security. As a result, it is predominantly the Pentagon, rather than the State Department, that controls the occupation of Iraq.

Prof. Cole is of the opinion that the State Department, had it had more control over U.S. policy in Iraq, may have managed to avoid many of the costly blunders committed by the Defense Department. State Department officials, for example, have long advocated negotiating with Muqtada al-Sadr, whereas military officials precipitated a long and bitter struggle, perhaps an unnecessary one, by stubbornly insisting that capturing or killing al-Sadr were the only options. Let's hope that Cole is right both that State will assume more power in Iraq after the June 30th transition, and that it will use its power more wisely than Defense.
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