Friday, February 21, 2003
I hate to say this, but I'm falling off the wagon with respect to Ahmad Chalabi. I guess I'm showing the extent of my realist as opposed to neo-con colors.
Chalabi has been a hero of the neo-con Mideast cause for a decade now, having led the Iraqi National Congress for years in the wilderness. His cause is supposed to be part of the moral case for war, and the liberation of the Iraqi people is supposed to culminate in his installation as a freely elected President of a new Iraqi Republic (or a strong Prime Minister of a restored Iraqi monarchy, or something).
But, having finally paid attention to his public statements, Chalabi sounds . . . well . . . just as naive as his State Department critics have made him out to be.
He babbles on about the wonderful ethnic and religious diversity of the Iraqi people. He claims that democracy is natural to them, that this diversity in fact makes them an ideal laboratory for Arab democracy (which is, in fact, the opposite of the truth - take a look at Lebanon if you want proof). He is the only significant factor in the opposition with essentially no armed forces under his control, yet he confidently claims to lead all the factions and to have brought them to some kind of consensus. He sounds like a saloniste liberal, not like a symbol of his people. The contrast to the heir to the Shah's throne, and how he comes off, is particularly instructive in this regard. Phalavi speaks from a position of natural authority, even though he has no power, and he can speak as the symbol of a nation. When he talks about democracy and a vision for Iran, his words have some weight. One can imagine him as a Juan Carlos of a future democratic Iran. Chalabi is, so far as I can tell, speaking for Chalabi. And I have a hard time believing that his people will treat him as their natural leader. Among other thigns, he has not, like Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa, suffered along with his people under oppression.
Amir Taheri thinks it would be a serious betrayal to install a military government for 2 years in Iraq. He identified several reasons not to do this: it would mean the temporary "eclipse" of the Iraqi state and exacerbate border disputes with its neighbors; it would mean either disenfranchising the Kurds or institutionalizing their independence from central authority; it would mean American arbitration among Iraq's factions over how to share oil wealth and rebuild the country; and it would be a betrayal of the Iraqi opponents of the regime.
None of these arguments are persuasive. Iraq's border disputes will be no more exacerbated by an American military government than by an Iraqi Congress government. Would the Turks or Iranians be more likely to make a move against an American general or Ahmad Chalabi? To ask the question is to answer it. As for the Kurds: does Taheri really think Afghanistan is a good model for Iraq? Does he think Chalabi will do a better job of keeping the Kurds in Iraq and subject to central authority? Everyone's talking about a federal structure for a post-war Iraq, with a Catalan-scale autonomy for the Kurds in the North. Why is that more achievable without an American military government? Taheri doesn't say. The same applies to the economic questions; does Taheri really think that an American military governor will do a worse job keeping factions from fighting each other over this stuff than Chalabi will? Because that's what it comes down to.
And here's the worst part that Taheri and Chalabi try not to acknowledge: Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein is overwhelmingly concentrated among ethnic and religious minorities that are themselves geographically concentrated. The Arab Sunni opposition is overwhelmingly in exile. Taheri points out that there's a lot more opposition to Saddam than there was to Hitler or Tojo. But there's a good reason for this: Germany and Japan were nations. Their citizens were patriots, mostly, who did not want to see their country defeated. Iraq is not a nation. The opposition is not, by and large, a patriotic opposition like Poland's Solidarity or the French Resistance. Taheri says that there is a notion of Iraqi statehood and even nationhood. Maybe there is among the exiles. Is there one in the Kurdish north? In the Shiite south? Is there even an agreement between the exiles and those who have suffered under Saddam about what Iraq is?
Moreover, in Japan, Germany and Italy - as well as in post-Communist Eastern Europe - a significant percentage of the bureaucracy never really passed from the hands who once served the totalitarians. By contrast, Taheri and Chalabi both assume that de-Baathification means removing everyone associated with Saddam's regime from the levers of power. Installing Chalabi means not just decapitating the existing Baath party state but driving a huge number of people out of power and installing a bunch of exiles who will be immediately resented by the whole population. Meanwhile, the ethnic and religious factions will be overwhelmingly concerned with getting more for their own tribes, not with forging an Iraqi nation. It's a recipe for disaster.
The only way I can imagine keeping the country together is to have a strong central authority that everyone recognizes it is unwise to challenge. That's either another Saddam - that would really be a betrayal - or an American military governor. Then, over a couple of years, you structure an autonomy arrangement for the Kurds, work out a Constitution, maybe bring back a Hashemite figurehead, and hand the majority of power to Iraqi civilian authorities.
I think that's an optimistic case. The notion that we could simply "liberate" Iraq and leave them largely to their own devices as soon as Baghdad is taken - apart from lots of aid, of course - strikes me as simply bizarre. And the notion of Chalabi demanding that the Americans - upon whom he is entirely dependent for any hope of rescue for his people - do this or that or not do this or that strikes me as more arrogant than DeGaul, and with far less justification. Baghdad will not be liberated by the Iraqis. That's the key fact. The exiles are in no position to demand anything. If they are truly patriots, they will serve an American military government and prepare the country for transition to civilian rule, not make demands for power before an American bullet has been fired in their people's defense.