Sunday, 21 August 2005
Topic: For policy wonks...
Down to the Wire: "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?"
Late on Sunday, August 21, the Associated Press was reporting that the day before the deadline for the new Iraq constitution, Sunni Arabs were asking the United States to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq. The final talks? Monday morning. Kamal Hamdoun, one of the negotiators for the Sunni minority - "I am not optimistic. We either reach unanimity or not."
AP puts it dryly -
Well, Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet the new, second deadline - they will present a final document to the National Assembly, but that is dominated by Shiites and Kurds. The Sunni folks don't get much say - they may be twenty percent of the population but they hold only 17 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly. That's what happens when you boycott an election, isn't it? The Shiites and Kurds have more than enough seats in parliament to push thought this draft constitution without the Sunni folks getting any say - but that just looks bad.
A Sunni Arab backlash could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.
So now the chief government spokesman is "suggesting" another delay may be necessary. This is not easy. They have to amend the interim constitution one more time to extend the deadline, or they have to dissolve the government and start over - new elections and all that, and more purple fingers.
The AP summary of the issues: federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power-sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.
The Jordanian government had no immediate comment, but their police have detained a few Iraqis and other foreign suspects regarding that rocket attack Friday the 19th - the one that barely missed one of our ships docked in Aqaba
- Some radical groups within the insurgency, notably al-Qaida's wing led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, oppose any constitution as an affront to Islam and have vowed to kill anyone who votes in the referendum. Sunni clerics, however, have urged their followers to register to vote.
- Also Sunday, the Iraqi government said neighboring Jordan has allowed Saddam's family to fund a network seeking to destabilize Iraq and re-establish the banned Baath Party.
Things seem a tad unstable.
But one thing about the Iraqi constitution has been settled. We're getting a theocracy of sorts according to this from Reuters:
Maybe, and maybe not. So we get a fundamentalist theocracy with limited rights for women. It's a little concession. Heck, the evangelical right in this country want just that here, for Jesus, so what's wrong with one over there, for Allah?
U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S. pressure.
U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.
But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam "the", not "a", main source of law - changing current wording - and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."
Bill Montgomery here:
That item has a rather complete analysis of the details of the law as it will be in Iraq.
Actually, if it staves off civil war long enough for the Pentagon to withdraw the bulk of the troops from Iraq, then I'd say it's precisely what the American people want.
Outside the neocon and neoliberal elites (plus the Republican true believers, who support whatever they're told to support) the American public never has shown much enthusiasm for Bush's revolutionary aspirations in the Middle East, and it has even less of an appetite for grand historical transformations now that it has a better idea of how much they cost. Which means the firm of Democracy Unlimited, Inc. ("Shouldering the White Man's Burden Since 2003") is going into liquidation. And, as always, the least valuable assets are being discarded first, meaning women's rights in the Iraq are bound for the bottom of the scrap heap.
... It is increasingly clear, though, that whatever the original face value of Bush's promises of liberation, the American public is no longer willing to pay the price to redeem them. The enterprise is busted - as broke as Arbusto Energy and Spectrum 7 ever were. All that's left in the corporate till now are the lies that will now be used to obscure the birth (in all but name) of the Islamic Republic of Iraq.
Juan Cole, that professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan adds this - "... the idea that Americans in Iraq aren't just giving up on women's rights, but actively participating in the elimination of those rights is stunning. The only thing worse than Americans thinking they can control other people is an American ambassador encouraging the abuse of more than half the people in the country."
Well, he kind of did that. But we need them to meet the deadline. How else are we getting out?
The curious reaction to this compromise on the right comes in the National Review from Andrew McCarthy. Something is changing in the conservative ranks when he, there, says this is where I get off the bus -
But that seems to be just where we find ourselves.
For what it's worth, this is where I get off the bus. The principal mission of the so-called "war on terror" - which is actually a war on militant Islam - is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.
... Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution - which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana - the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.
... But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm's way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace.
Digby, on the left, over at Hullabaloo
, is in alignment
, sort of -
His argument is that establishing an Islamic theocracy in Iraq furthers the goals of the violent Islamic fundamentalists, which is a big "no shit." But, of course, the war itself, from the very beginning, has furthered the goals of violent Islamic fundamentalists. This is just frosting on the whole fetid cakewalk.
What this really does is put the coda to the last phony cassus belli - that by bringing freedom and democracy to a country in the heart of the middle east we would plant the seeds for a thousand flowers to grow. Now, along with the other rationales, we can throw this one on the "no longer operative" pile.
I got an e-mail from someone I respect asking me why I made such a big deal out of women's rights being denied when there are so many other freedoms at stake. It's a legitimate question I suppose, but I think the question answers itself. The fact is that under Saddam, in their everyday lives, one half of the population had more real, tangible freedom than they have now and that they will have under some form of Shar'ia. The sheer numbers of people whose freedom are affected make it the most glaring and tragic symbol of our failed "noble cause."
Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than forty years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman - which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have "liberated" millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.
This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians - or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.
And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.
It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.
It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.
Yes, the emphases, in bold, are mine. The right and the left have suddenly agreed on something? Well, this is just one conservative, one Republican who stood behind Bush. Chuck Hegel was always a maverick and you expect him to say things like the longer we spend time in Iraq, the more that conflict starts looking like the Vietnam War
, as he did on national television Sunday, August 21 - he got his two Purple Hearts there and a few other medals and he remembers too much. One wouldn't expect a big conservative bailout on Bush over this.
Still there is Stephen Bainbridge saying this
It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly five decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority?
... if Iraq's alleged WMD programs were the casus belli, why aren't we at war with Iran and North Korea? Not to mention Pakistan, which remains the odds-on favorite to supply the Islamofascists with a working nuke. If Saddam's cruelty to his own people was the casus belli, why aren't we taking out Kim Jong Il or any number of other nasty dictators? Indeed, what happened to the W of 2000, who correctly proclaimed nation building a failed cause and an inappropriate use of American military might? And why are we apparently going to allow the Islamists to write a more significant role for Islamic law into the new Iraqi constitution? If throwing a scare into the Saudis was the policy, so as to get them to rethink their deals with the jihadists, which has always struck me as the best rationale for the war, have things really improved on that front?
... While we remain bogged down in Iraq, of course, Osama bin Laden remains at large somewhere. Multi-tasking is all the rage these days, but whatever happened to finishing a job you started? It strikes me that catching Osama would have done a lot more to discourage the jihadists than anything we've done in Iraq.
... In sum, I am not a happy camper. I'm very afraid that one hundred years from now historians will look back at W's term and ask "what might have been?"
Make that another Bush guy bailing out.
On the other hand, on the same Sunday morning Chuck Hegel was invoking Vietnam, Reuel Marc Gerecht was on Meet the Press
- a spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and one of the fellows from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Heck, you don't get any more Cheney-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Bush neoconservative use-the-military-to-change-the-world than that. And he says this issue with women's rights is no big deal. Check the transcript
In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective.
In his words, "Actually, I'm not terribly worried about this."
Well, an Iraqi Susan B. Anthony could come along in a decade or two and force matters. It happened here, and Iraqi women could then get back to where they were back in 1955 or so. Of course there is this account of the constitutional agreement
from the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat
An agreement was reached that Islam is the religion of state, and that no law shall be enacted that contradicts the agreed-upon essential verities of Islam. Likewise, the inviolability of the highest [Shiite] religious authorities in the land is safeguarded, without any allusion to a detailed description ... A Higher Council will be formed to review new legislation to ensure it does not contravene the essential verities of the Islamic religion.
Think about that. Osama hated Saddam because Saddam's Iraq was a secular state and just insufficiently fundamentalist - that's why there was little if any cooperation between them that anyone could, eventually, find - and now?
So who won this war?
And what do we do now?
Here Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly asks the questions
Is it time to announce a withdrawal plan for Iraq? Or is there still a chance that an open-ended commitment there will eventually create a semi-stable, semi-liberal, semi-democratic state?
I don't think there's any question that we owed the Iraqi people a sustained and intense effort to rebuild their country. We are, after all, the ones who invaded and occupied it in a war of choice. But several months ago I concluded that we were chasing a lost cause in Iraq, and that's why I started talking openly about withdrawal back in June.
This is followed by a long story of his life in software development, his previous career, where sometimes after a lot of time, money and effort, you had to abandon a project, because it just wasn't worth it. Good managers know this, and accept the obvious.
... One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide.
So: we can wait until things get even worse and withdrawal becomes even more painful, or we can announce a plan now that makes the best of a bad situation and encourages the best outcome still plausibly open to us. We can put specific goals and specific timetables in place, do our level best to meet them, and then leave. Or we can wait until disaster forces us out. But don't let minor events fool you. One way or another, we'll be gone soon. Shouldn't we do it on our terms?
Maybe so. The trends are against us.
Drum cites many experts saying we should publicly announce a firm plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Why? The open-ended presence of American troops is helping to fuel the very insurgency that we're trying to fight. Well, duh
None of these people is suggesting that we should withdraw immediately. Neither am I. But if we announce a plan for withdrawal based partly on hard objectives - not vague "when the job is done" pronouncements - and partly on a hard end date of, say, 2007, that would mean that we had spent nearly five years occupying Iraq and three years training Iraqi security forces. Quite aside from operational issues that will require us to start drawing down our troops before then anyway, let's face it: if we haven't achieved success in five years, we're never going to achieve it.
That being the case, why not give ourselves a leg up by announcing our plans now? Not only would it put us in control of our own destiny, but there's a good chance that it would also splinter apart a substantial fraction of the insurgents and their supporters, some of whom are motivated by a belief that we plan to be a permanent occupying force. A firm, credible plan for withdrawal would at least partially pull the fangs of the insurgency and probably increase our chance of eventual success in Iraq. Why not take it?
Why not? Here's why.Refusal to See Sheehan Is Second-Guessed
A Decision Characteristic of Bush Has the Potential to Be a Consequential Act
Mike Allen, The Washington Post
, Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page A05
Off topic? After a review of all the Sheehan business:
Bush aides said that, beginning on Monday, he will try to bolster support for his Iraq policy by giving three speeches in military settings over the next two weeks. They said he will argue that just as "the greatest generation" saw World War II through to victory, the nation must be patient while today's military combats terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citing the approaching fourth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush will contend that the ideology of terrorism and the willingness to kill innocents link the insurgency in Iraq to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and to last month's bombings in London.
Some of Bush's aides acknowledge now that they did not anticipate the reaction to turning Sheehan away, but they also are not expressing any regrets about it. These aides maintain that one of the strengths of this White House is a willingness to resist "what appears to be the easy PR route," as one aide put it, and to have the discipline to stick to long-laid plans.
"One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide."
Is facing the facts - every reason for this war has, one by one, turned to dust, and we're getting a mini-Iran for all our efforts, and our being there makes things worse by the day, and leaving is an awful choice too - are those facts worth considering? Or would that too be bowing to PR pressure, and you can't do that?
In response to an accusation of inconsistency, John Maynard Keynes is often reported to have said, "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?" It seems the administration prefers to ignore the facts.