Here’s why the ban of the nearly 500 candidates is such devastating news to the unwaveringly clueless American misadventure in Iraq. It can’t be ignored. We can no longer pretend that just because violence has dropped everything is cool. It’s a huge blow to the triumphant narrative of the Surge–so much so that WMD wizard Kenneth Pollack, along with think tank warrior Michael O’Hanlon, took to the NYT Op-Ed page today, calling for President Obama to personally intervene to prevent the “entire political fabric of Iraq” from unraveling.
(Their essay also begs the questions: was the “political fabric” here just a temporary illusion, and how consistently wrong does one have to be in predicting foreign affairs to get published on the Times Op-Ed page?)
Despite the tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, as well as the hundreds of Americans killed here during the push of 2006-2008–of all Joe Lieberman and John McCain’s recent crowing that Iraq will be a “model democracy”–Iraqracy, as feared, appears to be on its way towards being a sham.
For months, American officialdom was able to ignore the troubling signs, or at least pass them off as no big deal. Violence is down! Success is indisputable! We can declare, at last, victory! Last one out turn off the lights!
They could ignore the massive high profile bombings, the assassinations, the politically motivated detentions and the marginalization of the Sons of Iraq, the movement of Sunni fighter that allied themselves with the Americans to fight Al Qaeda. They could pass off as inconsequential–as was done by a U.S. military official in a press conference here last week– the fact that “only” 43 of the 800 leaders of the Sons of Iraq had warrants out for their arrest, or were in jail. (Those 43 making up the the most important leaders, btw.)
Yet you can only keep your head in the sand for so long: the fact that the Sunni Minister of Defense, who has served since 2006, and Saleh Mutlaq, who has been an active politician since 2005, are getting pushed out of politics does not bode well for democracy’s future here. It’s a naked power grab. And they are just two of the hundreds on the list.
The Shiite dominated government in Baghdad–the government whose power we consolidated during the Surge, with the hope that a stable government would be able to provide “breathing room” for political reconciliation–isn’t interested in reconciliation. They’re interested in consolidating their power even further–with breathing room, they want to strangle their opposition completely.
This raises the question: If the Iraqi government is willing to put the squeeze on their opponents while there are still 110,000 U.S. soldiers in the country, along with the biggest US Embassy presence in the world, what do we think is going to happen when we have even less influence on the “nascent” democratic process?
In other words, if the sectarian/Islamist/Iranian Shiite contingent is willing to act so undemocratically(which should come as no surprise, and they are following the “rule of law” in that the laws they claim justify the bans were first announced by the CPA in 2003)while the Americans are in overwatch, what hope is there that the Government of Iraq will become more democratic after we leave? When they’ll be even more powerful and have less incentive to accommodate those they view as their enemies? Do we think they’re going to ban their political opponents in this election, but in four years from now, say, hey, you, Mr. Sunni, Mr. Secular,you should really participate in the political process! We want to share power with you! We know we called you a Baathist before, but that’s all water under the bridge!
As we approach the middle of the final chapter before the Americans leave Iraq, the story gets karmically(ironically?) sweeter. The man the U.S. is blaming for the ban is Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Justice and Accountability Commission, according to Pollack and O’Hanlon. Yes, that’s right, the same Ahmed Chalabi who Washington used to love, who provided the intel that war supporters based the war upon in the first place. He’s now considered an Iranian agent who is working to undermine democracy in Iraq.
Pollack and O’Hanlon are crossing their fingers for a last minute political compromise. That might happen, of course, and it would likely be the result of some kind of American deal making. (Though what leverage the Americans have left is open to debate.) Still, even if the USG can temporarily check these sectarian impulses, the long term prognosis doesn’t look good.
And let’s be honest: the Obama administration pays lip service to a democratic Iraq, but really, they’ll settle for stability. They’re more interested in the getting-the-hell-out-of-here-before-it-collapses-project than the democracy building project. As Obama once said, he’s for a more “realistic” foreign policy, which means they’ll take stability over democracy.
To sum up: An Iraqracy produced by an undemocratic invasion, re-enforced by an undemocratic and brutal counterinsurgency campaign, will now be capped off with another undemocratic election. Should we be surprised?
Things in Iraq will sort themselves out eventually, a relative and permanent stability is likely, but the country will have very little resemblance to any of the imagined U.S. foreign policy goals that Iraqis and Americans were asked to sacrifice their lives for.