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Consider the Source
Michael Ubaldi, December 29, 2003.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's startling Sunday report in the Washington Post, reporting the Coalition Provisional Authority's desire to scale back liberalization after favorable conditions were spoiled by the insurgency, turned more than a few level heads. Glenn Reynolds has been gauging truth to the rumor, partially by comparing it to other observations, none of which contain the cliff-edge Chandrasekaran describes; he also remarks that "The ultimate storyline, of course, is that if we don't chicken out, things are likely to turn out well - and if we do chicken out, things are certain to turn out very, very badly." He's right. All that has been sacrificed in Iraq will be for naught if the country isn't made pluralistic and liberal, politically and economically.

And it'd be a shame if the general public began to worry about a chickening out that wasn't. I don't know Rajiv Chandrasekaran's politics, but I do know that his reports over the past eight months have been reliably bleak, or at least largely contributed to by killjoys and grumblers. A couple stand out. Remember when the accusation of mass looting of Iraq's historical treasures was beaten over the military's head for a few days before the whole thing was deemed, at best, a mean-hearted hoax? Chandrasekaran was there, quoting all the hand-wringers. He was also one of the first to focus on Iraqis, who we know are of a solid minority opinion, pointing their fingers Westward.

As the Post goes, Chandrasekaran is no Walter Pincus - which is to say, he doesn't bring a new meaning to "Rainesian." But his glass tends to be half-empty. As I said to Glenn, I'll be waiting for other sources (read: Winds of Change, do your stuff!) to agree that CPA's reforms are being nixed.

SOMETHING ELSE TO CONSIDER: Chandrasekaran uses at least one anonymous source as a basis for his report. One quotation carries some weight, as it's from L. Paul Bremer himself:

[T]here has also been a noticeable dampening of some early ambitions to remake Iraq. In June, as he returned to Baghdad aboard a U.S. military transport plane after speaking at an international economic conference, Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold. "We have to move forward quickly with this effort," he said. "Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands is essential for Iraq's economic recovery."

Asked recently about privatization, he said it was an issue "for a sovereign Iraqi government to address."

But when one actually reads some statements of Bremer's from this past summer, he was by no means preparing to implement all free-market reforms before transition. From July:

"Privatization is obviously something we have been giving a lot of thought to," Bremer told reporters. "When we sit down with the governing council ... it is going to be on the table." Bremer said although he has the authority to change Iraq's legal code, in place since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in April, foreign investors need some assurance any legal changes could survive once an elected Iraqi government takes over.

"The governing council will be able to make statements that could be seen as more binding and the trick will be to figure out how we do this," Bremer said.

"On the table." "Should consider." Determined, yes; "fervent," as the Post article puts it, no. A general vibe taken away from a press conference isn't good enough. How much more of this article is based on the way Chandrasekaran heard things?