Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, April 12, 2004
The latest news from Iraq is relatively positive, with negotiations in the Shia south, a ceasefire generally holding in Fallujah, and hostages reported released. However, there are new reports that a group of Russians have been taken hostage.

Beyond today's developments is the reality that Iraq appears to be spiraling out of control. It is certainly possible to defeat the Mahdi militia of al Sadr, it wouldn't even be very hard. But when the Army of a pro-Israel, primarily Christian occupier fights the forces of a local religious leader, it is almost impossible to prevent the great majority of Iraqis, even those who dislike al Sadr, from perceiving the conflict as a battle of Us vs Them. And as long as that is the case, we are fighting a hydra - every time we kill one fighter, two more spring up. There's almost no way short of genocide to solve this problem. And if there is a solution, it would take a leadership that was resolutely practical, creative, and flexible to find it. What we have is an administration that in its stubbornness, xenophobia, and religious extremism is nearly a mirror image of its enemies.

Just as disastrous is the new tactic of kidnapping. The CPA has sought to gain popularity by national reconstruction that would improve the lives of ordinary citizens; but the willingness to target the international technicians and volunteers that make nation building projects possible means that they will come to a virtual halt, only functioning to the degree that they can be operated entirely by Iraqis - and even Iraqis will be nervous about being seen as collaborators. So forget about the vast majority of projects aimed at improving daily Iraqi life, and even moreso attempts to build civil society. If power plants or construction projects have to replace foreign workers with Iraqis, there are plenty who have the technical skills to do those jobs. It may in some ways be positive, given the very high unemployment rate. But after decades of Ba'athism, there are no Iraqis with experience conducting free elections or organizing civic groups.

And the handover of sovereignty, now only weeks away, continues to be a mystery. There is no legitimate government to grant sovereignty to, no apparent way to create one in the next two months. Worse, there aren't adequate police or miltary forces ready to assume control, and the bureaucratic resources also probably aren't ready to take over. It seems likely that the new government July 1 will assume a very nominal 'sovereignty' with primarily American forces running the armed services and police. And if attacks are made, and they surely will be, against our forces, Bremer has pretty much said that we will determine the time, place, and extent of retaliation. So whoever takes over , being appointed by us rather than elected, and agrees to assume 'sovereignty' with no authority over the main military force in the country, is liable to be seen as a puppet. To overcome that, they will have to take strident anti-American positions, delay or rig any elections, or quite possibly both. And we'll be stuck supporting them under the usual concern that the opposition would be even worse. (Presumably, like the dictators we support in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they will crack down harshly on any pro-democracy stirrings while being tolerant of radical anti-Western and Islamist movements, the better to remind us that we have no alternative.)

Anybody out there want to bet that Iraq will become a true democracy any time in the next few years? I'm willing to give good odds.