PERLE'S (of) WISDOM
I seldom have the time or patience these days to watch much television but this morning I was puttering with my coffee and I turned on ABC's This Week
program and was pleasantly surprised that they had two heavyweights, Fareed Zakaria and Richard Perle, discussing Iraq's upcoming election with George Will.
Will, who turned critical on Iraq some time ago, sought to make the case ( a little intellectual preemption here by Dr. Will) that unlike El Salvador's election under fire twenty years ago - which I believe Will at the time hailed as a decisive turning point - the election in Iraq would change little. (This of course, begs the question of why the Iraqi insurgency then is so desperate to prevent voters from going to the polls but no one pointed that out on the show).
Zakaria correctly and immediately responded that an elected Iraqi government would have real legitimacy and that would make it more effective internationally and in terms of dealing with the insurgents. Zakaria also criticized the Bush administration for not engaging the international community, in particular KSA, Egypt and even Syria, in working toward a successful outcome to the election and contrasted that with how Afghanistan's election was handled diplomatically.
Richard Perle then observed of those Arab countries ( I am paraphrasing) " That's because they are on the other side ".
Think what you may of Richard Perle and neoconservatism's prescriptions for grand strategy but he certainly can discern the heart of the matter. The only governments that have an interest in seeing Iraq's election come off as a success are those of the United States, Britain, Israel and Iran and all for different reasons. Even the provisional Allawi regime, since it is likely to lose at the polls, is better off with chaos ensuing on election day because that would give the regime a new lease on life to cancel the results as tainted and try again in six months or a year.
As a practical matter, Germany, France, the UN kleptocracy and possibly China would like to see the elections fail in order to further rein in America and discourage future " unilateral" regime change adventures on the Iraq model. They want a veto over future Leviathan activity in order to safeguard their own Gap interests. An undemocratic but stable Iraq that will cut special, exclusive, deals with them on oil concessions is vastly preferred to a democratic Iraq that will adopt a market mechanism on oil.
More important however is the clash of Rule-Sets going on here. By insisting on real elections in Iraq the United States is upending an important Rule-Set that under international law the legitimacy of a recognized government to exercise sovereignty has nothing to do with that nation's internal affairs. This is more radical a proposition for the diplomatic set than it seems at first glance.
The de facto connection between democracy and legitimacy is a longstanding international trend than goes back for decades and accelerated circa 1989 but the United States has amplified this trend into an emerging Rule-Set principle that ultimately threatens the existence of all undemocratic regimes. The justifications of tyrants, UN resolutions, mystical appeals to the authority of God or the Nation or the Race or the Working Class- none of these things can sanctify power with the respect that transforms it into authority. Legitimacy, we are saying, rests only with " the consent of the governed".
Iraq's Arab neighbors will be the first to feel the effects if the election succeeds but they will not be the last.