Tag: belarus

Did We Miss Out on the Bargain of the Century in Iraq?

Stuart Reid’s Twitter points to this Condi Rice discussion with Katie Couric in which the following exchange takes place over the decision to invade Iraq:

RICE: …I’m also, frankly, just very glad [Saddam Hussein is] out of power. Now, to be frank, we tried to take him out of power without going to war. We tried to take him out of power by – we got a report from an Arab state that shall remain nameless that he would take a billion dollars to lead – to leave. We said, deal. Right? (Laughter.) We tried to (find ?) him –

COURIC: Has that – has that been made public before?

RICE: Yeah, I – it may be in President Bush’s book. I’m not sure. I don’t remember. But we did. We said, if he’ll go, everybody’s happy.

A colleague intrepidly Googled this, and turned up this 2007 article in the Washington Post.  The article reports that for a billion dollars and if allowed to “keep information on weapons of mass destruction,” Saddam Hussein told Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak that he would have been willing to go into exile.  President Bush’s own book, per Secretary Rice’s mention, covers the matter in this way:

…Our last ditch hope was that Saddam would agree to go into exile.  At one point, an offer from a Middle Eastern government to send Saddam to Belarus with $1 to $2 billion looked like it might gain traction.  Instead, in one of his last acts, Saddam ordered the tongue of a dissident slashed out and left the man to bleed to death.  The dictator of Iraq had made his decision.  He chose war.

Lots of people like to make fun of President Bush’s prose style, but even for him (or his ghostwriter) this is pretty peculiar.  First of all, it isn’t clear why “person who cuts off dissidents’ tongues and leaves them to bleed to death” is mutually exclusive with “person willing to take a billion or two dollars and go into exile.”  Saying Saddam cut a dissident’s tongue out doesn’t necessarily bear on his willingness to take a payout and go into exile.

Second, it’s almost certain that this was pursued and didn’t go anywhere, but if there was anything approaching a realistic opportunity to make this happen, we really missed out on the bargain of the century here.  You’re looking at something like 500%-1000% returns, not counting several thousand American and a-hundred-or-so-thousand Iraqi lives saved.

Thirdly: Belarus?

Is Russia’s Gas Behavior Driven by Targets’ Domestic Politics?

Back when Russia was turning off the spigots to pipelines running through Ukraine, Official Washington was in a panic.  Just a few years after the Orange Revolution was supposed to have heralded a new era of freedom and democracy in Ukraine, Russia was using its economic muscle to stifle the growth of that freedom because of the threat it felt a democratic Ukraine posed to the Putin regime’s grip on power.  It was a lot like the “democratic dominoes” argument the neoconservatives deployed in promoting the Iraq war.

As Washington Post editorialist Jackson Diehl stated the case in 2007,

Putin sees the fragile new democracy in Ukraine, and an allied government in the tiny Black Sea nation of Georgia, as dire threats. If Western-style freedom consolidates and spreads in the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe, his own undemocratic regime will be isolated and undermined. What’s more, Ukraine and its neighbors are likely to integrate with Europe rather than remaining economic and political vassals of Russia.

Secretary of State Rice warned that Russia’s behavior on energy constituted “politically motivated efforts to constrain energy supply to Ukraine” as punishment for the former Soviet republic’s pro-Western orientation. In short, the argument was that Ukrainian democracy threat to the Russian regime  Russian gas cutoffs.

Others argued that Russia’s increasingly nasty behavior was less about the internal political contours of its neighbors and more about power politics and making sure the neighbors would be compliant with Russian interests, much like the United States has sought in the Western Hemisphere since at least the Monroe Doctrine.

Fred Hiatt: Lukashenko’s domestic reforms a threat to Russia

So if fear of democracy and liberalism were driving Russia’s behavior back then, then what is causing the current cutoff dispute with non-democratic and unfriendly-to-Washington Belarus?  It’s radio silence from most of Washington, with a notable exception: the exquisitely Russophobic Washington Post op-ed page.  Fred Hiatt and the Gang are sticking to their story, offering the ridiculous argument earlier this week that in fact Moscow was acting to suppress Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko’s incipient liberalism, which was evinced by Lukashenko’s having “released a few political prisoners” and “refusing to recognize the two puppet states that Moscow is backing in Georgia.”

A less ornate explanation would be that perhaps Russia is more fixated on material factors and less on ideology.