Thursday, March 05, 2009

NUPI/Iraqi Report: Read it

If it were possible to reverse six years of sectarian political culture in a single year, the report released on Tuesday by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI, where Reidar Visser works) shows you what steps would have to be taken, and it explains why such steps are necessary. The report is a consensus compilation of the views of a number of Iraqi contributors (who are named in the intro), and although relatively short, it covers the problem in an encyclopedic way: from origins of the problem, development of the problem, why it can be fixed, how to fix it.

But amazingly, following the presentation Tuesday at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington by Visser and the other Norwegian organizers of this (Iraqi contributors planning to come reportedly couldn't get visas), the coverage was as follows:

Corporate media--zero
Major general-politics blogs--zero
Major Mideast-policy blogs--zero

On the analogy of "non-persons" in authoritarian regimes, this was clearly a "non-event" in the Washington environment, so one wonders why.


In order for American institutions to pay attention to the report, they would have to:

(1) Understand that there is a problem

(2) Become convinced that solving that problem would be in the interests of the United States, and

(3) Agree with at least some of the specific recommendations.

(1) The problem is with the 2005 Iraqi Constitution--which doesn't even set out clearly the powers of the central government in the matter of taxation, not to mention the jurisdictional problems with oil, federalism, etcetera--and the various steps taken by Bremer that set in motion the principle that the perks of power are allocated by sect and race. That is not a problem at all if the aim is a splintered Iraq; it is less of a problem if the aim is a weak but territorially united Iraq; and it is only a pressing problem if the aim is a strong and united Iraq (for instance, capable of withstanding undesirable pressure from neighbors including Iran).

So the apparent lack of interest could reflect weak problem-consciousness.

(2) The report goes out of its way to stress that Iran is likely interested in the preservation of a sectarian Iraq, because such a setup would give it more leverage. So the pitch to the Americans is that you should deal with this, otherwise Iran will win.

Here the apparent lack of interest in Washington could reflect something else: It could be that the American administration and its epigones think in their heart of hearts that a weak Iraq, while it might be somewhat in Iran's interests, it would be in their interest too. After all, Saddam was a problem; why should we help create another strong and independent-minded (=trouble-making) regime.

(3) Finally, on the specific proposed measures, the report couches its recommendations in the language of "process", but it seems that at least some of the objections at the USIP presentation were to the effect that recommendations were too intrusive in the sense of pre-ordaining specific political results (for instance a revised constitution with stronger central-government powers) hence undemocratic.

Here I think the objections were more than a little hypocritical, given what has undoubtedly always been going on by way of American political activities in the Green Zone, backed up by what Alyssa Rubin recently told us is the largest CIA station in the world. Rather, I think the lack of interest reflects points (1) and (2). Either the policy people really don't "get" why the Bremer system is such a bad idea from the point of view of stability; or else they think that to the extent it is a problem for Iraq, it is a plus for America as a manipulative power. (Or perhaps being in Washington they have lost any concept of other ways of organizing a political system: who knows?)

In any event, if you read the recommendations, you will see that in order to pull this off, there would have to be a very, very determined effort not only by the US, but it would have to enlist the enthusiastic support of allies as well. In other words, this would not be a course-correction, but a 180-degree turn in a number of different areas, and the motivation would have to be correspondingly strong. So possibly this has little hope.

Still, there is one thing that has me completely baffled. As I have noted in previous posts, there have been a number of indications that Americans close to the administration have been seeking out not only former army officers, but generally Iraqis who are not in the political process (see particularly the two columns of Haroun Mohammed which I have referred to several times), reportedly trying to convince them that the US administration is interested in radical change in the political culture (to put it in the most neutral way). Getting their views, listening to them, and getting ready to put together a policy of some kind in that direction, much in the way that this NUPI/Iraqi project has apparently done.

So if there is some movement in the Obama administration behind this, what is it? It could be leverage, in the sense that Maliki and his ilk should be made to understand that those outside Iraq and/or otherwise disaffected with his sectarian politics are not entirely unorganized, moreover that they have international backing of some kind: They need to be taken seriously.

But I don't know. It's like that line in the Westerns: It's quiet out there--too quiet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

abu m posted about it. some odd comments.


9:56 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Badger, I wanted to let you know I created a blog a few days ago. It's a blog about philosophy and philosophy of technology mainly, but it will have some posts on politics and media.

I was thinking about putting up a post at some point about Palestinian graffiti on the Israeli wall, and trying to say something about the significance of that (and other forms of political expression, especially in the Arab world).

If you have any suggestions or anything (related to the importance of media, since you seem to understand the importance of news and other media pretty well) please let me know.

2:33 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Okay. That's an interesting project. I do have some stray thoughts along those lines, which I'll try and summarize over at your place once I get them organized.

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger, thanx for providing another missing link. Your reasoning is as always spot on - essential reading.

juan moment

6:06 AM  

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