- This week US civil administrator for Iraq, L. Paul (Jerry)
Bremer, was called suddenly back to Washington for consultations on the
obviously worsening security situation in Iraq. Bremer's return was accompanied
by grumblings from the Bush core team (Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the
President) about the apparent ineffectiveness of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Since the beginning of November more than forty American combat deaths
have occurred; U.S. forces have lost three helicopters: American forces
have gone to a warlike footing in the Sunni Triangle, and at least two
direct attacks have been made on Bremer's headquarters. Meanwhile, the
CIA predicts that the situation will get worse, an appraisal that Bremer
is reported to share.. It appears indeed time to review the bidding.
- One hopes that in this hastily called review, the situation
and outlook for Iraq would be looked at squarely. Up to this point, the
chances for that occurring, however, have appeared slim, because the administration,
and by extension Bremer's team in country, has appeared fixated on carrying
out the Bush scheme for transforming Iraq into an American style democracy.
The habit up to now has been to look right by what US civil and military
forces are doing in Iraq and to focus merely on how the Iraqis are reacting
to the occupation and specifically on their growing resistance to the occupation.
The answers to those questions are, of course, terribly important, but
they will be useful only if they cause the US to review and modify its
- On the face of things, the US agenda has changed several
times already, from protecting the United States from a monster with weapons
of mass destruction, to ridding Iraq of a brutal tyrant, to "liberating"
the Iraqi people, and finally to creating a democracy in Iraq as the first
stage in democratizing the entire region. This transition, perhaps better
called a policy retreat,, has convinced many governments and people that
the US does not know what it is doing. The notion of quickly or ever transforming
Middle Eastern countries into western democracies bespeaks at best a superficial
appreciation of the peoples and the problems involved, but even worse,
it reveals a severe lack of understanding of how our system actually is
working these days.
- American democracy today is in serious trouble. At the
national level, the process of electing a president, or representatives
and senators has become so expensive that only the wealthy or candidates
supported by them can play. The process has been co-opted and corrupted
by increasingly concentrated ownership of media and business, including
banking, transportation, manufacturing, and energy. Legislative programs
and goals largely focus on catering to the large organizations and the
wealthy contributors. Our system was designed to work on a basis of majority
rule, but effective control by a shrinking pool of elitists who also control
both parties through contributions, has led to a situation in which not
even the majority, albeit often invoked for political discussion, can decide
any important issue.
- In the meantime, majority rule has become an obsolete
concept of governance in any complex society. Majority rule was a great
step forward from absolute monarchy or despotism, but it is an inadequate
concept for our time. Small but powerful groups have preempted the system.
Consultations downward are > weak and often superficial. Many minority
and even majority interests are being pushed aside for benefits to elites.
Therefore what we are trying to export is really a theoretical concept
that does not work in this country. How can we expect it to work in Iraq
or elsewhere in the Middle East? > Majority rule poses special problems
in Iraq, and these have already been well identified. Since the majority
of the people (around 60%) are Shiites, the fear of Sunnis, Kurds, Christians,
Jews, as well as advocates of secular governance is that rule by majority,
especially a fundamentalist one, would result in suppressing their interests
and beliefs. Saddam Hussein sidestepped this problem by running a secular
government, but he also played a preference game that made his Sunni compatriots
(about 30% of the population) a defacto majority for governing purposes.
- Bush's administration is behaving like a minority government
with majority acquiescence. Conservative Christians, media and business
elites, and the Israelis are setting the tone and calling the tune for
a government that is systematically undoing generations of social legislation
that was targeted on the American population at large. This approach,
more than any other posture of the Bush administration, makes it clear
that neither he nor his key team members understand or necessarily care
to know what the problems of instability and conflict in the world are
- The Bush argument is that "democratizing" Iraq
will make the world a safer place. There is no evidence for this assertion.
People who are left out of the political and economic mainstreams in countries
such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, India, and numerous others are
the principal sources of the world's terrorists. A system of governance
that depends on the will of the majority that elected it, and therefore
focuses preferentially on the needs and wishes of that majority is exactly
the troublemaker we already have. People who are not served by the system
fight back however they can.
- In our own system, key players have become totally preoccupied
with the process. If you watch the President, you will readily see that
his main business is to keep his party in power and to raise money for
the next election. Since election, even in a time he avers is a crisis,
he has spent easily a quarter of his time as President cultivating funding
sources for elections, not only his own campaign but also for the campaigns
of other Republicans. American taxpayers, of all political persuasions,
paid the bill for this President to raise money for his reelection and
for his own party by providing the best equipped airplane in the world,
Air Force One, and the staffing infrastructure to support him, and of course
paying his presidential salary while he is at the ranch raising money for
the party. Other presidents have done this, but not as fulsomely as Bush.
- The point here however is that our system at present
is too occupied with the process of getting people elected, and not nearly
enough with the business of running the country. The two are not one and
the same, and no other country should copy this process, because it is
fundamentally flawed in ways that make it incapable of providing government
of all the people, by all the people and for all the people. Our system
of governance grew up to meet the needs of an essentially white European
society with differing religious and political views. Up until recently
it appeared to be coping moderately well with the order of diversity the
country now encompasses.
- This discussion puts entirely aside the perverse notion
of our insisting that the Iraqis or others must adopt our system of government.
Democracy by fiat has never been the principle of our system. Forcing
a system of government on another state is a peculiar application of the
idea of popular governance.
- Iraqis in particular have experienced centuries of rule
by outsiders from the arrival of the Osmanli, the Ottoman Turks, in the
16th century to the > departure of the British in the 1950s. Iraqi nationalists
threw out the British to form their own government only to discover all
too soon that they were under the thumb of an indigenous tyrant. The Iraqi
Governing Council is handicapped because it is tagged as a US tool. As
such, it is unlikely to prosper unless it hands authority over to leaders
chosen by the Iraqis. The longer that handover is delayed the more violence
will occur, and the lesson of early this week in Nasiriyah with the death
of 17 Italian soldiers will be repeated. The CIA Station Chief in Baghdad
appears to have delivered this message loud and clear.
- The real message of the situation in Iraq is that broadly
representative government, most likely chosen by traditional tribal and
other community means, is the next vital step. The situation is simply
too toxic to embrace an outside idea. Some new representative forms of
governance are also needed to deal with Iraq's ethnically, educationally,
religiously, and economically complex society. Ironically the secularism
introduced by Saddam had that potential and still does. But new forms or
accommodations of each community's wishes must grow out of the traditions,
customs, religions, felt needs, and preferences of the people seeking to
be governed. The forms cannot be transplanted en masse or quickly.
- There is no one size fits all, e.g., western democracy,
solution to the problem. Thus there is no real solution the United States
can provide other than early departure and a will-from outside-to help
the Iraqi people find their own way. The argument against early American
departure is that, if we leave, chaos will reign. With conditions as bad
as they are, that is a hollow argument. Since outsiders and associated
nationals are the main targets of much of the violence, things could actually
calm down if the Coalition withdrew. In that event, perhaps the United
Nations-with US and broad international support--could be persuaded to
take on monitoring and development support functions, if those were acceptable
to the Iraqi people.
- Obviously the United States can and should promote representative
government in the Middle East. But it is incapable of directly providing
a workable model for Iraqi governance. The growing chaos shows clearly
that US efforts to do so are unlikely to be accepted.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org