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Monday, April 28, 2003
A section in a NYT/AP article about Bush's speech in Michigan nicely illustrates the ambiguous problem we're facing in Iraq right now:

Helping craft an "Islamic democracy," as a White House spokesman pledged, is dicey business. The United States has promised democracy for Iraq, but has ruled out the kind of Islamic government that democracy could yield. With Shiite Muslims forming more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, a free vote could produce an Islamic-oriented government with close ties to the historically anti-American Shiite clerics who have governed Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States will not allow a religious government like Iran's to take hold in Iraq. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said Rumsfeld's position "demonstrates the kind of quagmire that we are potentially going to be in Iraq." [and added] "If you talk about a democracy, which means that people vote and select the political leadership that they desire, then you can't say, `But there are certain segments of the population that are off-limits."'

Tricky, isn't it? What isn't mentioned is that there is a growing liberal opposition movement in Iran right now, but the existence of that movement (and the decent amount of power it has been able to accrue) can be traced almost entirely to the fact that its opponent is an Islamist government. That is to say: a legitimate republican/democratic movement, the kind liberals want, can develop organically and naturally, but it will do so most easily in the presence of an oppressive fundamentalist regime, which pretty much everyone in America(miraculously) agrees is bad. So, therefore, the thing most likely to develop in the face of a democratic, western-style government is a popular Islamic movement. This all implies that the best long-term solution for Iraq would be to turn it over to the mullahs for a while, but obviously this solution isn't palatable to anyone likely to actually make that decision. One of the few good things about Sadaam, after all, was that he didn't ally easily with his Islamist neighbors.

The fact that the administration isn't making any of its plans public at a time when making them public would clearly be the best move (Bush's line about the debate taking place inside Iraq is obviously disingenuous, given that the U.S., an outside influence, has already ruled out one of the most popular options) indicates to me that they don't really have a plan yet, and the best idea they have right now is to fall back on the American tradition of installing a nominally pro-Western leader (read: the Shah) that suppresses the kind of popular movements democracy would seem to require. I don't mean this to sound overly critical--like I say, I think we're all stuck in a bit of a Catch-22 here, where the best solution logic would suggest (letting the majority install the kind of government we're opposed to) would get the administration roundly pilloried in all quarters.

I know that fostering a real republic in Iraq is going to be very difficult, and I think Sen. Graham is being a bit glib--actually getting a functioning democracy always requires a certain amount of intolerance and squashing dissent if that dissent is anti-democratic. But I simply haven't heard a plan yet that seems to have any chance of actually succeeding. I would like to see some serious, public thought given to ways that we could actually turn the current situation, where an oppressed minority recently liberated would almost inevitably turn to its traditional mode of governance, into one more favorable to freedom and democracy. Any ideas?

Or should I speak the unspeakable and actually suggest that letting the Islamists run the country for ten years will be the best thing for all involved? That's probably not true, right? Oh, it's all so ambiguous...