What happened yesterday?
That’s the topic tonight on PBS’ News Hour, with Jim Lehrer, and one of the guests is, to my delight, Juan Cole, whose rational, clear-eyed analysis has provided a welcome alternative to the party-lining neocons, shouters, and dithering mandarins who populate the world of televised commentary.
The election, said Cole, was a triumph of the Iraqi spirit. It was their day. The Americans weren’t enthusiastic about one person one vote elections, due to the Balkan experience. He reminds the audience that the original plan was not to have direct elections. This was something that the Iraqi people wanted, and they carried it off.
Question: How important is ethnic-religious identity?
Juan debunks the idea of separatism culminating in partition as a political program on the ground in Iraq. Except perhaps iin the case of some of the Kurds. Iraqis will lecture people about over-emphasizing ethnic and religious divisions, and there is a sense of Iraqi nationalism. But when you look at their political behavior, you can see sectional interests coming to the fore. Most Shi’ites voted for the Sistani list. Most Sunnis stayed home.
Q: What effect will the elections have on the insurgency?
The insurgents want to chase the Americans out and make a coup. They are relentless. The election won’t stop them. They want to kill the emerging political class. This is like the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. But it cannot win, and will, he said, die down.
Me: Well, yes: if we let it. However, the amount of “blowback” that is being generated by the U.S. military in Iraq, and the continued military operations, may be enough to keep the insurgency going well beyond its natural lifespan.
In any case, Cole’s emphasis in the interview was on the growing capability of the Iraqis to take up the task of building their own nation — or, rather, rebuilding it — even going so far as to venture that U.S. troops are not needed in Basra, which is being run with reasonable efficiency without outside interference. The Iraqi armed forces, he is confident, will remain loyal to the elected government.
Adeed Dawisha, a professor at the University of Miami, appeared with Cole on the same program: in answer to Lehrer’s question about an exit strategy, he practically pleaded for some kind of “a ballpark figure,” if only to appease Arab “conspiracy theories” that suspected the Americans of planning a permanent stay.
Yeah, they’re “paranoid” alright: I don’t know why they are wondering about those 14 “enduring” bases — I mean, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re, like, permanent … does it?