Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Fog of Withdrawal, Part Two

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo Diebold

In the weeks leading up to the January 30th Iraqi election, there were
several articles and op-ed pieces circulating which predicted that interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party would have a strong showing, based on the fact that there was a silent majority of secular Shiites (and even religious Shiites disenchanted with clerical influence) who were going to insure a big turnout for the man the United States was backing. While Fouad Ajami was pretty close in his prediction in terms of the percentage of vote and seats won, even he was seduced by the silent support meme. From an interview with the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page's editor:

PAUL GIGOT: Do you think [Allawi's] going to do well?

FOUAD AJAMI: He will do well. He may even be rescued by the consensus of his country that this is what we need. If the polls are better in Iraq than they were in our election, what they're telling us is Allawi could end up with 15 percent of the vote. Okay, 15 percent of the vote. He could have 40 seats in the Assembly. And yet, he may still be designated as Prime Minister as a consensus candidate. It's conceivable. [emphasis added]
In the end, Allawi did not do as well as expected, and has receded into the background, far from any position of power even remotely resembling the Prime Minister's office. Seymour Hersh's most recent article sheds some light on what may have been fueling some of the fires of Allawi-based optimism (via Needlenose). According to Hersh, and his array of sources, the Bush administration was so concerned with the outcome of the election, with the potential for religious Shiites sweeping to victory, that high ranking members entertained plans to improperly influence the results, or at the very least tolerate others' efforts to manipulate the results, in order to favor the more secular Allawi as well as the US-friendly Kurdish ticket. Funny how potential for a Shiite-based theocracy-lite only occurred to this group after the invasion - or was it that they were caught flat-footed by the shocking discovery that Ahmad Chalabi did not enjoy a popular mandate.

The Administration was confronted with a basic dilemma: The likely winner of a direct and open election would be a Shiite religious party. The Shiites were bitter opponents of Saddam's regime, and suffered under it, but many Shiite religious and political leaders are allied, to varying degrees, with the mullahs of Iran. As the election neared, the Administration repeatedly sought ways - including covert action - to manipulate the outcome and reduce the religious Shiite influence. Not everything went as planned.
According to Hersh, the United States was not alone in its willingness to engage in a little election day chicanery - and some of the efforts of related parties apparently met with tacit approval from the Bush administration. Larry Diamond noted, there was also a strong possibility that Iraqis themselves would attempt voter fraud, with or without assistance from the U.S. According to the government consultant with close ties to Pentagon civilians, the C.P.A. accepted the reality of voter fraud on the part of the Kurds, whom the Americans viewed as "the only blocking group against the Shiites' running wild." He said, "People thought that by looking the other way as Kurds voted - man and wife, two times - you'd provide the Kurds with an incentive to remain in a federation." (Kurdistan had gained partial autonomy before Saddam Hussein's overthrow, and many Kurds were agitating for secession.)

The high-ranking United Nations official told me, "The American Embassy's aim was to make sure that Allawi remained as Prime Minister, and they tried to do it through manipulation of the system." But he also said that there was cheating on the other side. "The Shiites rigged the election in the south as much as ballots were rigged for Allawi." He added, "You are right that it was rigged, but you did not rig it well enough."
This revelation prompted a justifiably snarky response from Swopa:

It's a telling characteristic of the Orwell Bush administration, though, that they so willingly leapt into a competition to see who could out-fraud the others (as usual, vastly overestimating their own competence) rather than trying to create a genuinely fair playing field.
Given the track record, I'm surprised the CPA didn't just rely on old faithful: Diebold. Sure, some districts would have reported more votes for Allawi than there were voters, and some machines might have had to be kept on lockdown while the votes were "tallied" but such concerns could be brushed aside by a dismissive CPA wielding the debate-ending magic phrase "sore losers", right? Calls for inquiries, recounts and/or electoral reform would be drowned outexhortationhortaion to "just get over it." I mean, sore-loserism is so politically unattractive, even for disgruntled Shiites. But I digress, on my tin foil-encrusted tangent.

The ultimate veracity of the various claims put forth by Hersh remains in doubt to some extent, but as the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire. And in this case, the smoke itself could be bad enough.
Eric Umansky:

Hersh says it was Iyad Allawi's party that got the helping hand. Apparently, the hope wasn't that he would 'win' but that he would get enough votes to block Shiites from winning a super-majority (which indeed, the Shiites didn't get).

The fiddling -- even contemplating it -- strikes me as tragically dumb. The cost-benefit ratios were out of whack. Get 'caught'-- even if the plan wasn't ultimately carried out -- and you fuel (maybe accurate) swirling conspiracy theories and the already deep distrust of the U.S. As for the potential benefits: The reality is that the Shiite coalition was always going to win. The only question is whether they would have to include more Kurds in their governing coalition. That's significant but not worth all the bad P.R. the U.S. is about to incur. [emphasis added]
Umansky is correct to point out that the use of these tactics, or the contemplation thereof, has created a potentially nightmarish PR scenario for a Bush administration that is trying to coax an already cynical and distrustful Shiite political apparatus in a direction of its choosing. If true, or perceived to be true by the Shiites, maneuvers such as those exposed by Hersh will likely lead the Shiites to develop a knee-jerk opposition to our proposals (to the extent one doesn't already exist) and in turn, inch ever closer to their neighbor, and our frequent adversary, Iran. More on that in Part Three. For now, I want to examine how the actual outcome of the election has impacted the constitution drafting process which will govern the trajectory of Iraqi political life for years to come (barring violent upheaval which is an all too real possibility).

I Invaded Iraq and All I Got Was This Lousy Theocracy

As I discussed in
Part One of this series, the Bush administration is in the midst of shifting gears in terms of the level of military commitment to Iraq. Citing benchmarks such as the drafting of the constitution on schedule (August 15th) and the subsequent national elections in December, team Bush would like to start withdrawing substantial numbers of troops by early Spring 2006. In an effort to maintain the appearance that such troop reductions will be mirroring the evolution of the facts on the ground, much has been invested in pressuring all parties involved to come to terms with the compromises necessary to complete a constitution by the date in question.

The initial drafts, though, have provided a glimpse into what the Bush administration was so concerned about in terms of the outcome of the January elections. At this point, fears of a government infused with heavy religious overtones appear well-founded.
Peter Galbraith discussed some of the components of the constitution as envisaged by the Shiite majority (via Needlenose):

The majority draft would make Iraq a "federal Islamic republic." Rights of women would be sharply restricted as Islamic law replaces Iraq's relatively progressive civil code on matters of inheritance, divorce, and child custody. The document is anti-Jewish, denying Iraqi Jews rights granted other Iraqis. The Shi'ite majority is even proposing to incorporate the "marjah" -- Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric -- into the constitution, a step that could give the Ayatollah Sistani powers similar to those Khomeini exercised in the first decade of Iran's Islamic Republic.
What would an outcome such as this mean for the domino theory of democracy? The religious revival is not limited to the constitution drafting process however. Over the past two years, there has been a wave of religious inspired violence against symbols of the West and/or modernism -from the murder of hairdressers, to the widespread violence and intimidation of women not donning the veil or otherwise adhering to orthodox religious standards. In an unfortunate example of regression, the Iraqi culture is taking a turn away from the secularism that had been its tradition (even under the odious Saddam Hussein).

But all is not lost, and the Shiite draft is not yet the final version. It should be noted that not all parties involved are pleased with this conception of co-mingling religion and state, as the Kurdish political parties have remained steadfast in their desire to maintain some form of secularism in the governing document. This, predictably, has led to
an impasse.

Members of the drafting committee had been warning for weeks that although 90 percent of the document was completed, the 71 members could not agree on a handful of key issues, including federalism, the role of Islam, distribution of national wealth and the name of the country.
Once again, the acerbic wisdom of Swopa:

Okay, so aside from the country's name, the basic form of its government, whether ayatollahs will have power over it, and who gets the oil money, they're home free. Thank goodness there's broad agreement on what size the paper should be and the size of the typeface (umm, assuming they're not arguing over whether to print it in Arabic or Kurdish).
Here's the catch though, because the Bush administration is so intent on preserving its timeline of withdrawal (with "stay the course" being a distant, if not ironic, memory), it is exerting so much pressure on the parties to reach a compromise on the constitution in a matter of days that in the process we are undermining our allies - the Kurds - and ignoring the more reactionary elements of the Shiite draft. Rumsfeld himself recently flew to the region to reiterate to the parties involved that they must meet the required date. Galbraith again:

No constitution can be approved unless the Kurds go along, and the Kurds want to be in the position to walk away from a constitution that is illiberal and too centralized. But, instead of support from the Bush administration, they feel intense pressure to make compromises so as to meet the Aug. 15 deadline.

While the Bush administration professes a hands-off policy toward constitutional deliberations, it has been lobbying hard against a provision that would give Iraq's regions control over natural resources. Having been dependent on payments from Baghdad in the past, the Kurds know that meaningful self-government requires control over their own petroleum. The Bush administration apparently believes a Shi'ite region in the south would be less favorable toward US oil companies than the Shi'ite-run Oil Ministry in Baghdad, but in reality there is unlikely to be a difference. To the dismay of the Kurds, there has been no similar American engagement with regard to the anti-Jewish or antiwoman provisions of the proposed constitution.
Forced adherence to such an artificial timeline is perhaps the most recent "masterpiece" composed by the resident genius-in-chief. The counterargument is that Iraqis will delay forever unless we hold them to some sort of deadline. But consider, for a moment, the magnitude of the endeavor. This document, the constitution, is supposed to establish the delicate power-sharing and religious balancing that will insure the continued existence of a unitary, stable and relatively peaceful Iraq for centuries to come despite the deep-seated religious and ethnic cleavages which include historical grievances of profound depth. Iraq as a nation, after all, is little more than an arbitrarily drawn border drawn around three disparate ethnic/sectarian groups. Furthermore, consider that Iraqis are just now participating in a form of political process (debate, compromise, coalition forming) that is alien to their political and cultural history - all against the backdrop of a raging insurgency and fresh from the trauma of "shock and awe" which in tandem resulted in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of civilian deaths. And in the background we are impatiently tapping our foot wondering what is taking these truculent Iraqis so long. But democracy is not easy, it does not spring up miraculously out of thin air nor can it be rushed. Here is Colonel Pat Lang, a Middle East expert discussing one aspect of the political meanderings bedeviling Iraq (via JB):

Islamic history reflects the patterns of traditional Islamic social structures and even religious discourse. In all these fields the emphasis is on unity, cohesiveness and consensus. Almost nowhere is there any real value placed on the kind of devolution of power or diversity of opinion, or authority implicit in the Western idea of federalism.

"Ta'ifa" (faction) is a word in Arabic that has few positive connotations. It is generally associated with divisiveness, selfish self-interest and the weakness that struggles over the division of power are thought to produce. [...]

Federalism in Iraq? It is a way station on the path to dissolution on the model of Yugoslavia, and that is the way most Arabs see it.
Historically speaking, it's not as if America hammered out its Constitution in an expedited fashion - without a series of mishaps and months of debate. Would the finished product have been any better in America had a country such as France threatened to open the flood gates to loyalist factions backed by England if our Constitution drafters didn't meet some otherwise meaningless deadline.

Too hasty a resolution, with the parties forced to glide over the sizable differences while leaving their main objectives to fester unaddressed, is like sowing the seeds for civil war and fragmentation. Real compromises will take time and patience - to the degree they are even possible - and we must give our allies, the Kurds, the opportunity to force the hand of the Shiites in order to establish a more inclusive and tempered document. Unfortunately for Iraq, as far as the Bush administration is concerned, the constitution is being fixed around the timetable, rather than the other way around.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?