What's Noise, What's News: Thursday August 23

What's Noise:

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is helpless to make Iraq a functioning nation-state again.  Um, memo to U.S. intelligence agencies: Any American-backed leader will be helpless to make Iraq a functioning nation-state because American backing will instantly delegitimize that leader.  Of course, that won't stop Washington from trying to install a different American-backed leader.  Which brings us to…

What's News:

The U.S. democracy project in Iraq is finished.  Either the former prime minister Iyad Allawi will become a new American-backed strongman, or there will be an American-backed military coup.  Let's connect the dots, starting with a dispatch from CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad:

A workable democratic and sovereign government in Iraq was one of the Bush administration's stated goals of the war.

But for the first time, exasperated front-line U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic governmental alternatives, and while the two top U.S. officials in Iraq still talk about preserving the country's nascent democratic institutions, they say their ambitions aren't as "lofty" as they once had been.

"Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future," said Brig. Gen. John "Mick" Bednarek, part of Task Force Lightning in Diyala province, one of the war's major battlegrounds.

That sort of talk neatly coincides with an orchestrated campaign by a Washington lobbying firm to diss al-Maliki:

BGR, the firm started by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, has been promoting Ayad Allawi, the one-time Iraqi interim prime minister who over the weekend published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the parliamentary overthrow of current PM Nouri al-Maliki. The piece amounted to a trial balloon for American support for a second Allawi-led government, promising non-sectarianism and stability. Allawi has decades-old ties to the CIA, making him a known quantity to U.S. officials during a time of extreme frustration with Maliki.

But frustration alone doesn't get governments to fall. That's where BGR comes in. On August 17, the firm purchased the domain name Allawi-For-Iraq.com (the site's not yet live). Following publication of the op-ed, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) called on the Iraqi parliament to hold a no-confidence vote on Maliki. BGR circulated Levin's comments around Washington — and particularly to Congressional staffers — using the e-mail address DrAyadAllawi@Allawi-for-Iraq.com.

Still, Allawi's return to power is not a fait accompli.  Says Prof. Juan Cole:

A rumor is circulating among well-connected and formerly high-level Iraqi bureaucrats in exile in places like Damascus that a military coup is being prepared for Iraq. I received the following from a reliable, knowledgeable contact. There is no certitude that this plan can or will be implemented. That it is being discussed at high levels seems highly likely.

"There is serious talk of a military commission (majlis `askari) to take over the government. The parties would be banned from holding positions, and all the ministers would be technocrats, so to speak. . . [The writer indicates that attempts have been made to recruit cabinet members from the ranks of expatriate technocrats.]

"The six-member board or commission would be composed on non-political former military personnel who are presently not part of the government OR the military establishment, such as it is in Iraq at the moment. It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes."

Whatever comes to pass, I repeat: The U.S. democracy project in Iraq is finished.  Washington has deemed rule by thugs to be once again acceptable, as long as the thugs are pro-American.