Sunday, October 22, 2006

Prediction: Democrats will roll over for a continuation of the federalism/partition strategy

It could come as a disappointment to Democratic activists working their hearts out for a Democratic breakthrough on Nov 7, but the coming debate on Iraq policy risks being a debate about nothing, no matter what the Democratic Party input. Having ridiculed the major Iraqi nationalist groups as "ex-Baathist dead-enders", "followers of fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr", not even sparing the mainstream Sunni political parties, to the point where they can't be treated seriously, the Bush administration has set the table for the almost-inevitable continuation of a federalism/partition policy. Not only are major players scrubbed from the media accounts, there isn't any chronology either.

Take Ramadi. In the US media, this is another case of armed groups fighting one another. While US forces would like to stop the fighting, they are unable to do so. Likewise in the South, with Sadr and the SCIRI forces doing the fighting and the UK trying to restore peace. There isn't any real chronology or structure to the events, because in the US government/media view there doesn't need to be. It is the same thing repeated over and over.

In the Arab press, on the other hand, there are nationalists, and there is a chronology, and some of its main points are the following:

Weekend of October 1: Rumors of a Sunni coup. US forces arrest a bodyguard of one of the main Sunni political leaders and accuse him of plotting with an AlQaeda person. Several Sunni political-party leaders accused of connections to "takfiiri" (extremist Sunni terror) groups. Government leader boasts of cooperation from Al-Anbar tribes in fighting AlQaeda in that province (pointedly not mentioning any participation by the Sunni parties). The honor of the Sunni political parties and their leaders is impugned.

October 11: The bill setting out procedures to set up regional-government units is pushed through parliament by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Kurds, with the cooperation of the US, in the face of a boycott by the nationalist groups, including the Arab Sunni parties and Shiite groups including the Sadrists and the Fadhila party. There are many alleged irregularities in the completely secret voting process. Not only the honor, but the political relevance of political Sunni groups is impugned. Sadrists too feel sidelined.

The Sadrists and other anti-SCIRI Shiite groups in the South prepare to fight for preservation of their spheres of influence on the ground, ahead of the menace of SCIRI-dominated federalism. Weapons prices in Basra skyrocket.

October 19: AlQaeda parades through Ramadi in Al-Anbar province, to mark the declaration of an Islamic Emirate of Iraq (to include all of the Arab Sunni provinces). Local tribal leaders say they have the cooperation of former Baathist army officers for a confrontation with AlQaeda, but needed supply of weapons and vehicles from the Iraqi government is in doubt. The government-Sunni connection has been put in question, pitting in ad-hoc fashion tribes, Baathists and others on the one side against AlQaeda on the other.

October 20: In the South, Amarah exlodes as the Sadrist Mahdi army moves to take back from SCIRI a traditional sphere of influence. The federalism vote has had the effect of re-igniting Sadrist-SCIRI violence.

(The above-mentioned events and their background is all covered to some degree in previous postings here, starting with "Significant political timing in Baghdad coup allegations" on October 2 and working forward to yesterday. Leaving out, obviously, the postings that don't relate to Iraq).

You could say Bush's Kurd-Sunni-Shiite tricycle has lost two of its wheels. The credibility of the Sunni political parties has been trashed, ending any pretence of inclusive central government involving the Sunni parties. Among other results, this set the stage for the AlQaeda confrontation with ad-hoc local alliances including Baathists in Anbar. And in the Shiite south, the Sadrists also saw their political influence reduced to zero, so that the question of spheres of influence in the South was also taken out of the political arena and back onto the streets.

The federalism scheme failed politically, driving the Sadrist and Sunni parties out of the political process. But that won't be part of the coming "Iraq-policy debate", because the underlying facts haven't been adequately reported, or else not reported at all. And that sets the stage for the easiest of conclusions: "The strategy wasn't bad, but there was poor execution. On with the federalism/partition project".

For nationalists and others in the region, US policy is synonymous with breaking up and cantonizing the region in an overall divide-and-conquer strategy. In this, the US government is planting the seeds of enormous resentment. It would be a shame if the Democrats didn't think about that, and instead roll over for the continuation of the federalism/partition project just out of sheer ignorance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the tough question is: what is the alternative?

-Blake Hounshell

3:18 PM  
Blogger badger said...


Thanks for coming by, it was getting a little lonely over here.

I don't have the answer to that question my fingertips, and surely nobody does, but my point is there is an important interim step. If you're the Democrats, and you study this forthrightly, you will see that the Bush policy, the thing that hasn't worked, has been to try to partition the country. It would be logical to study the alternative. I don't think the Democrats are going to do that, for reasons of inertia of many kinds. That's what I'm worked up about. They're just going to play along, being too lazy to figure out what's been going on, a stance that hasn't worked out too well for them in the recent past.

And secondarily, there is a scam waiting to happen here. Iraqis know that the Bush policy hs been partition, but Americans don't. So Americans will be sold on the idea of an invigorating "policy-change", while the Iraqis will know that it is the same old thing.

I'd like to try and promote some discussion of this, especially after Nov 7.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Hurria said...

Dear Badger, I would like very much to comment on this and other things, especially after Nov 7. Unfortunately, it is exactly on November 7 that I will be travelling for several weeks to Pakistan and Oman, and my access to and time for the internet will most likely be limited, though I will have my laptop with me, probably mostly as extra weight to carry.

In brief, I do believe that whether or not Democrats "win" this election it will make very little difference to the Iraq situation. For the most part members of both parties are equally clueless, and equally driven by the same things, which have virtually nothing to do with doing the right thing for Iraq and Iraqis. Someone - I forgot who - once said something to the effect that all politics are domestic (or local, or something like that). Politics is a self-corrupting system. Basically, it is all about winning, and then keeping one's position by any means whatsoever. Nowhere has this been more obvious than with the Bush administration with the utterly ruthless sociopath Karl Rove guiding it politically. Even the most sincere and idealistic person eventually either becomes corrupted by the need to maintain her/his position, or quits politics in disgust.

I saw it over and over again in Iraq. It goes like this: Idealistic young man/woman has ideas for his/her country that he/she knows will improve the life of the people, and advance the interests of the country. Idealistic young man/woman works toward and finally obtains some position of influence and/or power, and works to realize his/her goals for the betterment of all. At the next stage our idealist begins to understand that in order to have a chance to implement all the wonderful idealistic programs it is necessary to retain or increase his/her position of influence and/or power. Eventually, it becomes purely about keeping the position, or in some cases, as in Saddam's regime, simple survival. Thus the ideals are lost in the constant struggle to keep power politically, and in some cases, as with Saddam's regime, to survive and to protect the family from harm.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous The Lounsbury - l'Aqoul said...

Unfortunately, it would rather seem that there isn't any real room for optimism for any kind of solution. Iraq went over the cliff into a self-reinforcing feed-back loop to civil war at least a year ago, and now it clearly has too much inertia to stop (ex a truly massive injection of forces and some good old school Ottoman style brutality mixed with old school Ottoman deal-cutting).

So, defacto balkanisation of Iraq as it goes through a "Lebanese episode" really is sadly inevitable. The only hope is to have a rump center hold such that something vaguely moderate (that is not genocidally murderous w respect to other communinities, taking communitarian politics as the default) emerges.

The Americans are fucked, one way or another. And the dynamic is such that the Iraqis will have to do what the Lebanese did, beat the living bloody fuck out of each other until all sides are so bloodied as to get heartily sick of it.

Grotesque and there was no need for it to get this bad, but such was the incompetence of the Americans. Afraid change of party probably will not do much there.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous J Thomas said...

US politics leave us only two choices:

1. Support the administration policies, whatever they are.
2. Oppose the administration policies.

We don't get:

3. Change administration policies to something else.

Congress can provide money to fund the iraq adventure, or threaten not to provide money and require a withdrawal. There really isn't a third choice, beyond posturing to affect voters in 2008.

So assuming the public decides that it isn't working to the point some change is needed, presumably the change would be that we pull the troops out of iraq except for quick-reaction forces that stage quick raids, and we give money to whoever we say is the government "for security and reconstruction". And we'll do precision pinpoint bombstrikes on whichever city that government asks us to. And that will keep on for a couple of years or until there's nobody left in iraq that we're willing to recognise as the official government,whichever comes first.

6:30 AM  
Blogger badger said...

You all honor me with your comments.
And I agree that Bush policies in the last three and a half years have left no easy alternatives. But my point is this:

(1) If we understand how Bush got us here, we (read: Democrats) will be in a better position to understand the situation and act intelligently.

(2) How Bush got us here (after the actual invasion) is by marginalizing the nationalist, anti-federalist groups. This culminated in the rigged Oct 11 federalism vote, which alienated Sunni parties and Sadrists from the political process entirely and ratcheted up the violence and confrontation. (As I note too often, you can read materials on that right here). This was essentially a Rovian wedge policy on a grand scale.

(3) This is where the Biden and Holbrooke and the others resort to pure bullshit. They say we should switch to a "loose federalism" approach. For the love of all that is holy, we have had a federalism/separation/divide-and-conquer policy, and that is what brought us to where we are. If we are going to switch, it would be to a nationalist/strong-central-government approach. It will be objected we have no credibility in the promotion of that.

But credibility is just my point, because

(4) A divide-and-conquer reputation is what has most discredited America in the eyes of Iraqis. What the Democrats should do is to differentiate themselves from that policy. Instead, the Biden-Holbrooke approach, while it can be made to look to Americans like a change, will look to Iraqis like more of the same. It would be a fraud on Democratic activists who think they are working for change.

(5) You can debate how this would play out in America and in Iraq. I only know one thing: It will be less of a tragedy for Iraq and (in the long run) for America if, for a change, a US party takes a position based on common sense, ordinary decency, and a clear and principled rejection of the Bush-Rove program.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous J Thomas said...

Badger, I see! You aren't talking about actually getting a different policy, but about stating a different policy, that iraqis etc could see was different from the policy in place.

And that stated policy could involve commitment to a strong central iraqi government provided that iraqis also supported such. It could involve a strong statement of principle that a sovereign iraqi government has the sovereign right to do whatever policies they want, with US support for the ones we like and no effective opposition to ones we don't want.

It could involve a solid commitment to fair and free elections for representatives, with fair and free voting by those representatives. An iraqi democratic government *must* represent the will of the iraqi people, particularly a strong central government must, or else be overthrown.

When there's a strong majority then minorities tend to be left out of the government process -- as note blacks in the american south. Sunnis and kurds may be concerned about that, with 60% of the population being arab shias. But the shias have shown they're deeply fragmented themselves. All it takes is a third of the shias siding with a kurd/sunni alliance and they have 60% while it's the other 40% of the shias who're out. Insurgencies are likely to end when their members have a solid chance to win politically. One voter, one vote is a fair approximation to one gun, one vote -- and much cheaper and safer. And if the result is totally unacceptable you can pick up the guns later.But it has to be an honest political process. If you get silenced or the votes are a cheat then why accept it?

So democrats could be the party of honest elections, honest parliamentary procedure, and iraqi sovereignty. Support partition if the iraqis vote for it, it's their sovereignty. Support whatever they want including US withdrawal if they choose that. Democrats could accept islamists in iraqi government in precisely the way they'd accept fundamentalist legislators in the USA. If they win a fair election then it's theirs.

It could be good politics and a good start for diplomacy in 2009.

2:13 PM  
Blogger badger said...

You got it !

But the key part and the hard part is you'd have to confront the Republicans and abandon bipartisanship on this during 06 - 08, and you'd have to do it on the basis that what we've done in Iraq and what we're continuing to do is exactly what the Iraqis say we're doing (divide-and-conquer) and it's wrong. When we take the country back in 08 we're going to bring back foreign policy decency too. Pretty hard to see them doing that, but I think it's what progressives should be pushing for.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second The Lounsbury. The Iraqis don't need the Decider's help in partioning the country. If the failure of Operation Lightning wasn't convincing, then Forward Together, Balad, Amara, et al should do the trick. The US no longer has an ability to control events.

If a house is ablaze, and the firemen don't believe they can save it, they train their hoses on the surrounding structures to keep the fire from spreading.

10:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home