Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Maliki probably won't be a national hero

Historian Bashir Nafie writes in AlQuds alArabi about the Maliki government's demand for a withdrawal-timetable as part of any bilateral agreement. And he offers a historian's understanding why this has been met with skepticism.

The demand itself, he notes, is actually the cornerstone of the positions of all the nationalist elements, including those of the armed resistance. That the Maliki administration would take this same position, with seriousness and for the long haul, runs counter to our basic understanding of what the Maliki administration is. As he puts is:
Notwithstanding the assurances given over the past three years of the independence of Iraq and its sovereignty, the fact is that the country is still an occupied country. And the new political class has established a sectarian state, divided internally, and devoted to a multifaceted war with its own people. And as for the display of theft, embezzlement and financial corruption, human history has not known its like. Since it is this same political class that is negotiating with the Americans over Iraqi independence and a schedule for the withdrawal of the foreign forces, naturally many are skeptical about the seriousness of the official Iraqi position, and about the chances there will persevere with it.
This is not the first time in history that occupied countries have tried to set up liberal parliamentary systems without first ending the foreign military occupation, and Nafie set out a basic principle that emerges from the history of these cases:
The formula for building a independent state, having sovereignty, via a parliamentary (and sectarian/ethnic) regime, during the continuance of foreign military occupation, is an impossible formula. Prior imperial experiences show that the parliamentary system has been effectively used to confirm foreign control and to empty the [concept of] national independence of all its actual content.
Nafie contrasts the post-WWI independence movements in Ireland and Turkey--cases where there was a unified resistance speaking with one voice--with the inability in greater Syria of Iraq to do the same, and most of all with Egypt, which Nafie thinks is probably the best example of his point. In Egypt in spite of the importance and popular weight of the revolution of 1919, the British, Nafie says, succeeded in emptying the Egyptian revolution of its content.
Egypt was given formal independence, a kingdom was announced headed by King Fouad, who owed his position to the British, and a constitution was written setting up a parliamentary system. In that way the fight against the occupation was converted from a national fight against the foreign occupation, into an internal Egyptian struggle, among the parties on the one hand, and between the political parties and the court on the other, for influence, power, and decision-making authority. The British were able to become the intermediaries and the center of gravity, and the resort to which the Egyptian struggles resorted to favor the interests of this part or that. The negotiations [with the British] continued... Nafie's point is that a liberal parliamentary system established under the aegis of a continuing foreign military domination, no matter how attenuated, has a tendency not to serve to unify the country and expel the occupier, but only to prolong and confirm foreign control.

That, he says, is the position Iraq is now in, and the problem is that among the new political class there are few who have the ability or the will to come to grips with this.
The problem in the Iraqi situation is that there are few among those who occupy the political field that have shown any ability to conduct a nation-building project. The overwhelming majority of the political leadership is spoiled by its mutual accomodation on the personal, sectarian, and local levels, and this has shrunk their national understanding and narrowed the scope of their ambitions. This is probably what arouses the skepticism about the latest position of Maliki, which some see as a temporary reflection of pressure from his Iranian allies, and an attempt to contain popular pressure--and [this is why the skeptics think] Maliki will, in the final analysis, have no alternative but to comply, and to sign an agreement couched in a vague style that each will be able to interpret as he wishes.

Apart from that, standing up to the pressures and the facts of the foreign military presence would require a new policy with respect to the various Iraqi forces, and [it would require] a new understanding of the meaning of the Iraqi state and nation.


Blogger Unknown said...

... he offers a historian's understanding why this has been met with skepticism.

I wonder if "jealousy" might be a more appropriate word. Some observers seem to have decided that a withdrawal demand is the exclusive property of the self-proclaimed resistance, and appear to be offended that Maliki et al. might steal it. To wit:

That the Maliki administration would take this same position, with seriousness and for the long haul, runs counter to our basic understanding of what the Maliki administration is.

Although the historical analysis provided in the post is appreciated and useful in its own right, hopefully there's room for an equal-time consideration that "our basic understanding of what the Maliki administration is" may be... well. wrong.

The "basic understanding" seems to be based on the somewhat Procrustean determination that one must be either a member of the noble resistance or an imperialist puppet, with no middle ground or gray areas permitted. Among the other possibilities this line of thought excludes is (for example) that of a cynical resistance, one perhaps based not so much on nationalist pride in the face of occupation as a fallout among crooks unable to agree on how to split the loot.

9:32 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I don't think it is procrustean at all. He says there are "few" in the political process with nation-building capacity, not that there are none. And as for the "noble" versus the "puppets" and so on, that is your debating technique, not his analysis.

In any event, I look forward to seeing your fair and balanced "equal time" rebuttal somewhere, if you think it useful.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Bruno said...

[badger] "And as for the "noble" versus the "puppets" and so on, that is your debating technique, not his analysis."

Well put. While I've got little faith in maliki ever chasing the Occupation out, given that I do indeed view him as a puppet torn between Iran and the US, if he did somehow manage to do so, one could only applaud. I think his stance on Occupation is great. The first policy he's advocated that I can actually get behind.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

The imperial occupying power is also a formal democracy whose current governing party is in an election campaign with its alternative. And it's badly in need of a figleaf of agreement to get past December as a "legal" occupying power.

That's the light in which the administration's statement on a "time horizon" has to be seen.

I don't expect Swopa to view the Bush 'time horizon' statement as any real change of position. By the same token, Badger seems entitled to his skepticism about Maliki's real commitment to U.S. withdrawal.

Both governments are in a situation that requires them to appear to have it both ways. It may be that the formula has been hit on.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

On the other hand, the Der Spiegel interview looks like a pretty decisive tilt that makes it hard for the Bush-McCain crowd to pretend they're in agreement...

9:47 AM  
Blogger JoshSN said...

While I am not a historian of post-occupation governments, and Africa is hardly a pretty picture overall, it must be said that French and British troops often return to their former colonies, and (I think) in some cases didn't leave on the day of independence. Are those countries completely free? No. Is the situation the same as during colonial rule? No.

"[T]he new political class has established a sectarian state[.]"

I would take this ignominy away from the Iraqis and give it to the Americans. From the beginning, American rule was predicated on the idea of handing out power proportionately to Iraqis representing the religious and linguistic identities (Sunni/Shia, Kurdish/Arabic, and the smaller groups). Imagine a bunch of red, green and blue marbles. The Americans say they are going to give power to 2 red, 1 green, and 1 blue marble, but only if they really represent red, blue and green. Surely it wouldn't count as a "Kurdish"(blue) seat if all the supporters were Sunni Arabs (green marbles)! There was only one way to get power from the Americans, and that was to prove you represented one of the three major groups that Americans, in their infinite wisdom, had divided almost all Iraqis.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:16 AM  

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