Monday, February 07, 2005

After the Elections

The Iraqi elections are over but who won? Randall Parker at Parapundit cites a number of sources who claim that Islamic extremism used the elections to seize power.

Some continued supporters of the war in Iraq are thrilled that Americans are in Iraq because they think America is fighting for democracy. But what gets lost sight of is that democracy is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Democracy does not automatically and reliably produce the sorts of outcomes that most Westerners envision when they think of a democratic society. Classically liberal support for the rights of others - including respect for the right to freedom of speech even by those critical of a government or critical of majority beliefs - is not always a feature of democracy everywhere in the world. The reason is simple: Lots of people do not believe in some of the rights that are recognized in the West and some reject the idea of rights altogether. Take Iraq for instance. The harder core Islamist Shiites want a more Islamic constitution now that they appear to be headed to electoral victory.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in the Weekly Standard, takes the diametrically opposite view.

Not surprisingly, there seems to be an increasing body of American liberals out there who foretell the end of a "liberal Iraq" because religious Shia now have a political voice. It is a blessed thing that Sistani and his followers have a far better understanding of modern Middle Eastern history than the American and European liberals who travel to Iraq and find only fear. There are vastly worse things in this world than seeing grown Iraqi men and women arguing about the propriety and place of Islamic family law and traditional female attire in Iraqi society. Understood correctly, it will be an ennobling sight--and a cornerstone of a more liberal Iraq and the Muslim world beyond.

Gerecht has argues that "the January 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny." The core of his argument comes from the appreciation that Iraq will develop according to its own dynamic; that it will not resume its existence as a kind of zombie controlled from Teheran. But he feels this can only happen if the Iraqis are truly left to govern themselves.

We are lucky that Iyad Allawi's moment has passed. Spiritually and physically, Allawi would have kept the new government in the Green Zone, the surreal, guarded compound in central Baghdad where the American embassy is located. The United Iraqi Alliance will ensure that it is in all aspects pulled out. No real political progress among Iraqis can be made unless the Green Zone becomes a memory of occupation.

Then comes a zinger which, in the space of a few words, critiques of one of the most crucial aspects of counterinsurgency policy.

The United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish slate will probably start to review closely America's and Allawi's army, police, and intelligence training programs. This is all to the good. We have had enormous problems with these programs, in part because we have tried to incorporate Sunni Arabs who were not loyal to the new Iraq. The Alliance and the Kurds will be much more demanding than was Allawi, who built his outreach program to Sunnis in large part on bribery. ... By offering them jobs in the new army, police force, and intelligence service, Allawi led Sunnis to believe their positions in these organizations would not be subject to democratic politics. Allawi actually created the opposite dynamic among the Sunnis from what he intended. The Sunni insurgency was emboldened. Those elite Sunnis who should have felt the need to compromise and come on board did not do so. With the January 30 elections, the Sunni Arabs now know the old order is dead. The Shia and the Kurds will certainly reach out to them--Sistani has been doing so since Saddam fell--but they are unlikely to continue any form of bribery that touches upon Iraq's military services. Washington should welcome any change of tactics in this direction. Allawi's way was not working.

The elections on January 30, if they mean anything, mark the beginning of the end of American occupation, which always in the cards. What events will now show is whether they also signal the end of post colonial regimes in the middle East.

All right. Let us make an analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns: The January 30 elections in Iraq will easily be the most consequential event in modern Arab history since Israel's six-day defeat of Gamal Abdel Nasser's alliance in 1967. ... Responding to the spiritual agony and internal rot of the pan-Arab dream, Islamic activism gained speed throughout the Middle East and has remained--outside of Iraq and now possibly Palestine--the only serious opposition to the vagaries, incompetence, and corruption of princely and dictatorial rule.

If Gerecht proves correct in the coming months, the American story in Iraq will be an example of how tactical setbacks may be offset by correct strategic judgement. The question of whether it was right to deal with Chalabi or Allawi may in the end be dominated by the issue of whether it was right to trust the Iraqi people to select its leader. If that judgement is correct it is possible to be wrong in all else; if wrong nothing will avail. 1990s realpolitik let the international system bestow recognition based on the consensus of diplomats, academics and businessmen. The interesting thing is how many of those ostensible leaders turned out not to be. And even though Gerecht hopes for "the health, well-being, and influence of Grand Ayatollah Sistani" to continue, even he is somehow drifting into the past. Things have gone beyond him. Hopefully.