Wednesday, August 10, 2005

You Don't Always Get What You Want

The Bush administration has made abundantly clear its fundamental war aims in Iraq. The initial goal was to remove from power a regime that had persuasively demonstrated a desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the ability to produce those kinds of weapons and the willingness to use them against defenseless civilians. That regime was also known to aid and abet international terrorist organizations. That was an easily achievable goal because it could be accomplished through the simple application of military force.

A second and more debatable goal was replacing the former regime with a friendly, respectable and viable democracy that would inspire Arabs elsewhere to demand nothing less and thus destabilize in a positive way the schlerotic despotisms that rule Arabs in other countries. This is a noble, necessary and extraordinarily ambitious experiment. However, it is not a goal that can be achieved through brute force. If it is to be achieved at all it must be accomplished by Iraqis with the motivation, influence, commitment and courage to settle for nothing else. America in general and the Bush administration in particular cannot be held ultimately responsible for the outcome in this regard. The best it can do is try to influence the shape of the political battlefield while using its good offices and limited powers of friendly persuasion.

It is therefore important for those who would make at least a pretense of objectivity to try to grasp a few basic facts. American armed forces can help the interim government buy the time it needs to create and deploy security forces capable of defeating the current insurrection. Public order is the responsibility of the Iraqi government.

America can't dictate the contents of the forthcoming Iraqi proposed constitution. While America can offer its advice to the Iraqis who must do the necessary haggling and political camel trading needed to create a constitution capable of winning broad approval, America can't be held responsible for the outcome in that matter either.

It is very hard to predict how things will ultimately play out as America has very little control over outcomes. We should therefore prepare ourselves for disappointment and have enough sense to allocate blame in a rational fashion. In the meantime, there are a number of scenarios that should be considered:
  1. The politicians writing the Iraqi constitution do a superb job by Western standards. The Kurds love it, the Shiites can live with it and the Sunnis can endure it. It is widely embraced and enthusiastically endorsed by the great majority of Iraqi voters.
  2. It's a great constitution by Western standards. While the Kurds love it, Shiites and Sunnis can't live with it.
  3. It is flawed, by Western standards, and asserts that public policy and national laws will conform to Sharia law. It creates a political chasm between moderate Muslims and secularists and a slender Shiite majority.
  4. The proposed constitution fails to win the approval of the required parties and it is back to the drawing board.
There are more possible outcomes than those listed above and America can be held accountable for none of them. The Iraqis must make the political bed that they will all share.

The content of the new Iraqi constitution, if it is accepted, does not guarantee that those elected to form a new constitutional government will honor it. The new government, just like the current interim government, may officially forbid torture and extrajudicial punishment while at the same practicing both. While America may have strived to create an Arab version of Switzerland it may have to settle instead for a replica of Egypt -- a corrupt, autocratic, oppressive, nominally democratic excuse for a modern civil society that is less threatening to our interests than most other Muslim nations.

The best we can do is use our limited influence to help Iraqis get the government that the majority of them deserve. If it proves in time to be a horrid government that isn't our fault. The Iraqis will have had their chance and blown it. So be it.


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