May 13, 2003
Lessons in Democracy
we're certainly teaching the Iraqi people about democracy – and
as it is actually practiced, which is not necessarily the way those
whose exposure has been limited to civics textbooks might expect
it to be practiced. It features intrigue, behind-the-scenes maneuvering
and positioning among forces who want to win out at some point,
careerism and concern more for the way things can be made to appear
on the surface than on how they are actually working.
a messy and sometimes virtually incomprehensible business, this
democracy, with hidden inner workings that would make the convoluted
struggles in a Byzantine court seem the very model of transparency.
The Iraqis are seeing proconsuls and subalterns replaced almost
weekly. Former Gen. Jay Garner seems to be on his way out earlier
than originally planned, according to the Washington Post, rather
than staying on as new civilian proconsul L. Paul Bremer's Number
Two, although Garner spokesmen denied it and Bremer gave Garner
the kind of vote of confidence that in college and professional
sports can be the kiss of death for a coach when uttered by an owner
or athletic director.
Margaret Tutwiler, who was Secretary of State James Baker's mouthpiece
for a while in the Bush I administration, is said to be on the way
out. Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen, who has been
in charge of reconstruction for the Baghdad region, has been given
her walking papers, along with three other top Garner assistants.
None of this shuffling around, of course, has the slightest relationship
to what the Iraqi people might prefer, if they were in any position
to know about the behind-the-scenes power relationships or to express
their opinion in a way that might actually influence policy. They
are learning that those who say they want to introduce democracy
to Iraq seem not to have their act together very well, but democracy
is a form to be imposed by people chosen thousands of miles away
rather than the substance of informed popular consent.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
might be a good thing. H.L. Mencken used to define democracy as
the theory that the people ought to get what they want and to get
it good and hard. If the Iraqi people come to see democracy in this
more cynical – or realistic – light, it might cause some rethinking
about the virtues and pitfalls of democracy. That might cause some
Iraqis to think creatively about forms of governance that might
actually work in their society and that can be sold to the imperial
overseers as an authentic Iraqi-style "democracy." That
might just be the best hope for a reasonably decent outcome achieved
in spite of what appears to be imperial improvisational bumbling
(though it may be more planned than it looks to an outside observer).
is hard for an outsider to have a realistic idea about whether some
of the traditional structures of governance and impulses toward
stability (at least in the sense of settling disagreements with
minimal bloodshed) have survived Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime.
It is likely that some have. Saddam's regime was in some ways a
variation on traditional tribal or kinship-based forms of governance
that have prevailed with variations in the region for centuries
of the most trusted members of the regime were from the Tikrit region
and at least distant relations to Saddam and his top henchmen. Saddam
and his people achieved power in part by killing and brutally repressing
potential dissidents, but it is also likely that the regime's power
rested in part on coming to accommodations with other tribal groups.
As we have seen, there seems to have been a partly hidden Shiite
power structure ready to jump to the fore when it appears the situation
is fluid and power is up for grabs.
just might be indigenous sources of legitimate authority that could
stabilize the situation if given a chance. Of course there is always
the danger that they might be more interested in seizing big chunks
of power for themselves than in setting up structures that would
give the people themselves control, or respect any rights on the
part of other contending factions.
THE DARK SIDE
course, continued rioting, active complaining, looting and increases
in ordinary crime suggest some serious breakdowns among the forces
of order, breakdowns the U.S. military as much as admits it is in
no position to understand very well, let alone control. So far the
U.S. military hasn't achieved the advertised achievement of the
Mussolini regime in Italy: getting the trains to run on time. They
haven't got the electricity turned on or the oilfields pumping.
(Some historians claim Mussolini didn't actually achieve real efficiency
beyond some Potemkin-like showplaces for foreigners, but that's
a subject for another day.) Hardly anybody on the ground speaks
Arabic, so communications are a constant problem.
Paul Bremer's purported expertise – beyond being a Kissinger protégé
who seems also well-connected among neo-conservatives and in the
Defense Dept. – is in terrorism as a phenomenon rather than in Iraq
as a forced polity or even in the Middle East as a region. It will
be fascinating to see if he even knows how to procure or get advice
from people who might be in a position to understand Iraqi society
and begin to identify potential sources of authority perceived as
legitimate by important sectors of Iraqi society.
seems even more unlikely that Mr. Bremer has much understanding
of or sympathy for the model of a decentralized polity in which
the power of a central governing entity in a multicultural, multi-ethnic
is limited enough that it is neither a serious threat to established
tribal or civic organizations or an essential prize for a power
freak – something like America's early federalist system or the
essentially central-state-less system that has evolved in Somalia
since the "international community" lost interest in the
place. He might surprise us, but it seems likely that Mr. Bremer's
idea of a stable, orderly society is one with a strong central government
able to impose its will on recalcitrant elements in society.
fluid and unstable nature of governance from the top by the military
occupiers in Iraq also seems to reflect shifting power relationships
back in Washington, DC, the Imperial Capital. Was the appointment
of Bremer, a career State Department guy before becoming managing
director at Kissinger and Associates, a sign that Colin Powell had
won a round in the eternal power struggle between State and Defense?
Is pushing Gen. Garner aside a sign of dissatisfaction with what
he has or hasn't done or does it just mean the administration wants
him out of the way before some semi-scandalous or apparently scandalous
relationship of the kind a retired general doing international consulting
work is likely to have in his background comes to light? Is Bremer
a symbol of a resurgence of the old Kissingerian disciples of realpolitik
over Wilsonian nation-builders, or a symbol of a skillful operator
accommodating himself to the new powers that be of the moment?
plenty of speculation about such matters but precious little hard
information. I'm sure there are people closer to things in the Imperial
City who have better insights than I do, and I have calls in to
some who might know. But the ways of those who struggle daily in
the labyrinths of power are obscure to us mere mortals (and to people
who have better things to do with their lives than to chart the
ebb and flow of power among Washington interest groups.
is possible for Business Week to ask "Was the victory over
Saddam proof that the neoconservatives have arrived? Or was the
Iraq war the high point of a confrontational philosophy that may
be too divisive for a President who has an economy to fix and a
reelection to win? Or neither?" In what might reflect wishful
thinking Business Week makes
a lukewarm case for the high-point theory, but it doesn't strike
me as definitive. The neocons still have plenty of influence, although
an apparent division as to whether Syrian or Iran ought to be the
next target of the tender mercies of the building-by-bombing process
might vitiate their influence.
ABOUT THE ELECTION
talked to Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired USAF lieutenant
colonel who spent her last four-plus years in the Pentagon and has
been writing pieces for LewRockwell.com that reflect a suitably
freedom-loving skepticism about the military and other government
agencies. She told me her best guess is that the displacement of
Gen. Garner is part of a general clean-up of the Iraqi team prior
to the American reelection campaign in 2004.
White House wants Iraq to continue to look like a success to American
voters, and it especially doesn't want people with the kind of vulnerabilities
that could be exploited in an election campaign around, beginning
about now. Ms. Kwiatkowski thinks the moves in Iraq, in short, are
about GW hanging onto power rather than much of a reflection of
differing approaches to the problem of how to make Iraq stable,
democratic and an asset rather than a threat in the region. "Those
people haven't planned beyond the war," she thinks. Both the
military and the neoconservatives know how to and are most interested
in destroying things and shaking up old patterns than in building
stable societies, let alone free ones.
moi, le deluge.
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