Friday, August 13, 2004

Juan Cole and Collounsbury have weighed in on the fighting against the Sadr militia in Najaf.
My comments are as follows:

First al-Sadr should have been neutralized, politically, legally or otherwise in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam. Not having done that was stupid. The previous campaign to suppress the Sadrists, poorly-timed with the Fallujah debacle, resulted in the U.S. looking brutal yet ineffective. I'll shed no tears when al-Sadr is gone but *how* we went about doing this was less than smooth, to say the least, and once started we cannot afford another stop order that makes the U.S. look bewildered and uncertain.

My impression about the current fight is that the United States government is now following the advice of Daniel Pipes ( see here, here and here) and is trying to create a " democratically-minded strongman " in Prime Minister Allawi. In crushing the Sadrists militarily, a strategy is being followed that is eerily similar to that of Ngo Dinh Diem who consolidated his rule over South Vietnam by destroying the Binh Xuyen, Hoa-Hao and Cao-Dai private armies. The difference is, that Diem had the strength on his own to destroy his non-communist rivals, Allawi is having the U.S. military do it for him which sort of negates the strongman image.

The fact is the most powerful military forces in Iraq today are the U.S. military followed by the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni insurgency, then the Sadrists and probably a few other militias. Allawi's Iraqi police and militia are not politically reliable or militarily effective at the present time.

For Allawi to stand strong, everyone else must be brought low.
I have to disagree that what is needed in Iraq is a strongman, democratic minded or otherwise. The truth is that local elections have been going on and those shouting out in the streets for Khomeni style Islam do not seem to be doing all that well in the balloting. In fact, a cold hearted analysis of the numbers by those who have them seems to provide a universal and pleasant surprise that the Iraqi taste in leadership is strong on moderate secular technocrats. If that's what we've got, I say go with it. It certainly is better than the first election in Romania which had the neo-communists come back into power complete with street violence. Romania eventually got its act together and the neo-communists mellowed into something slightly less odious.

If Romania can be an EU candidate and a NATO member a decade and a half later with that kind of electoral history, Iraq's technocratic impulse and lively party debates seem to be well past the point where an Ataturk/Chiang Kai Shek figure is required to safeguard democracy from an electorate that isn't really ready for it.

I wish one of the Iraqi bloggers would provide the raw voting data and an ideological scorecard for the local elections. I think it would calm down a great many people, perhaps even Daniel Pipes.

But bringing low the independent forces is something that is entirely separate from the need for a strongman. The State must have a monopoly on legal violence or it disintegrates. While I'm all in favor of the state disintegrating if the result is an improvement in peoples' lives, this is unlikely in Iraq where military adventurism could come from Iran, Syria, and Turkey in very short order. Alawi must hand over an Iraq where the militias are either gone or in the process of being absorbed into the Iraqi armed forces.
Actually, I'm not in agreement with Pipes proposal either, I just see a correlation between his ideas and the current policy of the Bush administration, whose ear Pipes has to a small extent. When Pipes first began pushing this idea on HNN and in his column I wrote in response, in part:

"We are there. Everyone knows America is there and why. Let's get to the business of letting the Iraqis form a government of their own devising within the liberal democratic- capitalist parameters we set for a constituent assembly. Make no bones about the fact that Iraqis accepting democratic norms as the key to our departure, give time and encouragement to civil society to form counterweights to thr religious parties and be happy if the Iraqis can manage a government no less chaotic than say that of Italy. If we accomplish this feat that alone would prove to be a marked improvement on almost every standard of governance prevailing in the Arab-Islamic world. "

Unfortunately, the CPA in both the Garner and Bremer incarnations gave them impression of having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward Iraqi self-government via democratic elections. Without minimizing the difficulty of administering post-war Iraq I think it's fair to say much valuable time and potential gains were wasted.

But that is now spilled milk. As you said, the state needs a monopoly on force which Allawi does not have. Getting to that point, at least, would provide the stability for effective, secular and hopefully democratic government to emerge in Iraq. I think the chances for that however are now far dimmer in the short-run than a year ago but perhaps in 2013 things will look as remarkable for Iraq as they did for West Germany in the late 1950's and 1960's.
Ah my dear Pipes. Always glad to see he manages to be wrong, always.

Of course most of that is posturing.

Hi Col,

Very dispiriting how things have turned out in Iraq. It was always going to be hard at best but at every turn any advantages, real and latent, were tossed out the window by the CPA to retain the absolute control needed to procrastinate indefinitely. Or at least until all goodwill had been squandered.
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