Sunday, December 19, 2004

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.

Collounsbury here:

No, you're wrong. Perle has it entirely wrong. KSA is not on the other side, per se. They may not be happy about a Shiite quasi-democracy, but neither are their interests per se in an Iraqi civil war. Same for Iran, same for Syria. It's a bit of impoverished understanding of the stakes that Perle, and I guess you, think this is the case. The issue is of State interest. All three, under the right circumstances, have a State Interst in seeing something stable come out of Iraq. All three have a lot to lose from a civil war. Zakaria understands this, Will may understand this. Perle and the Neo Con blithers live in a fantasy world.
Hi Col,

That depends I think, on the time horizon employed.

In the short term I agree with you ( I also said Iran wants a successful outcome in my post). Stability is a different issue than democratic stability - and in any case I think instability will be the rule in Iraq for a while.

In the long-term to very long term I'd have to side with the archneocon Perle - though perhaps for different reasons than what you would probably regard as his blithering ( yes, I'm aware of Perle's numerous conflicts and manipulations of ME policy).

The spread of democratization has been subtly but steadily eroding conceptions of state legitimacy in international law for a long time now. It's an accelerating trend to boot. It's really only contested as a premise in a few diehard places and in the nuttiest fringes of the Islamist movement ( even many Islamists adopt at least democratic practice - we can doubt their motivations or sincerity but they are enegaged in the game in many places).

Politics and elections are not enough however. As you pointed out a while back economic growth is a key factor ( Tunisia was your example). I wholeheartedly agree. There is no silver bullet but democratic elections should be at least one of the bullets in the chamber.

I'm too drunk and lazy to respond in detial, but I suppose in re Iraq at the moment I find it hard to look beyond a year horizon. Perle remains wrong in terms of Faride's analysis - this is all about getting the spoilers to buy in for the short ride. The level of fuckedupness in Iraq goes well beyond even spoiler interests. Getting neighborly buy in (a la Iran's buy in for Afghanistan, where while their long term interests are diff, their short term state interests are somewhat alinged) may be ideologically impure, but sure the fuck beats purity in terms of results.
Ah, a tipsy Collounsbury I presume. Wish I was drinking right now myself. Think I will start after this comment.

I have to look ten to twenty-five years down the road because that's where the benefits - if they materialize at all - will arrive in Iraq. It is interesting though, your observation, that things are now so badly screwed up that even the neighboring bad elements might be apprehensive.

On a serious note, I have heard from for the first time in very long while from an acquaintence in Iraq. He " blends" as you would say and is an Arabist. His attitude has recently taken the sort of hard-core turn that indicates to me that some pretty ferocious but stealthy counterinsurgency tactics are now being used rather than conventional army frontal attacks on the insurgency.
Yes, indeed that was me, and me again.

Hmmm, bit too much wine I think.

Regardless, yes, whatever ideological colors the neighbors wear, the nihilistic al-Qaeda types are not loved by ANY. Above all as their own neighbors. State interest.

This is something that has to be leveraged. It's amoral, but there it is.
Jimbo is the name. Anyway, what Iraq's neighbors think is important of course, and they all have groups at home to worry about - Shia in the sheikdoms and Saudia, Kurds in Turkey, democrats in Iran; but the impact on the US, EU and Palestine is also important, and a key role will be played by media perceptions. My fear is that the MSM will discredit the January elections, and there is a lot of material for discrediting there. It is only a consistutional convention, not an administration, that people are voting for. Single list PR voting is a recipe for chaos. So, if the Sunni old guard get shut out, and it looks as if they will shut themselves out with a stupid boycott, the MSM will call the elections illegitimate, ignore Iraqi reconstruction and continue to lavish coverage on the Sunni terrorists. Pressure will rise for the US to get out. The EU will continue to play its duplicitous games, and the Palestinian leadership will be encouraged by EU support and not deal seriously with terrorism. Let's face it, Bush could help himself a lot by getting out and shifting attention to his 'legacy'. Sure, a bloodbath will follow, but maybe the end would be breakup in which the Kurd and Shia successors get the oil and the Sunni get Saddam's palaces. Iraq, or what's left of it, would cease to be a player in the region to the great relief of the neighbors. Everybody wins except Iraqis. The MSM will blame Bush for the bloodbath, but so what. For 2008 candidates Iraq will no longer be an issue.
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