September 28, 2005

DOES A CONSENSUS REALLY HAVE TO BE 100%? (via Kevin Whited):

Just Vote No: Iraqis should reject the constitution. (Fred Kaplan, Sept. 27, 2005, Slate)

When Iraqis go to the polls Oct. 15 to vote on the constitution, it would probably be best if they rejected it. Elections for a new parliament are scheduled to take place this December in any case. Let them be for a new constitutional assembly (as current law provides in the event of a rejection), and let the process start over again. Further delay may prolong the chaos, but passage of this parchment will almost certainly make things worse—and for much longer still.

I say this with nothing but dismay. The Bush administration wants to withdraw most U.S. ground troops from Iraq by the end of next year, as do I. The official rationale will be: We've done our job; Iraq has a new government and a new constitution; we'll keep a cadre of troops behind for training and essential security, but otherwise the defense of Iraq is up to the Iraqis. But if there is no new constitution, no new government, a major pullout will be harder to justify.

And yet, the whole point of a constitution is to establish a foundation of consensus, to put forth a rule book that's accepted (even if reluctantly) by all the key factions; in short, to lay the groundwork on which politics can legitimately be played out.

Somebody on NPR was saying the same thing yesterday and how the Iraqi constitution was a mistake because only the Kurds and Shi'ites support it so it's illegitimate. Even if we accept the notion that the 20% of Iraq that is Sunni uniformly opposes the constitution as written, it's striking that the 20% of Americans who were slaves likely opposed ours as well. The biggest difference, of course, is that the Sunni oppose theirs because they don't want just an autonomous region of their own in the central portion of Iraq, while most black Americans were actually deprived of all freedoms.

At any rate, no one has yet made a case for why anyone other than the Sunni should want a constitution that they'd be satisfied with and it seems obvious that such a constitution, rather than being opposed by 20% of Iraqis, would be opposed by 80%.

Heart of Darkness: From Zarqawi to the man on the street, Sunni Arabs fear Shiite emancipation. (FOUAD AJAMI, September 28, 2005, Opinion Journal)

It was the luck of the imperial draw that the American project in Iraq came to the rescue of the Shiites--and of the Kurds. We may not fully appreciate the historical change we unleashed on the Arab world, but we have given liberty to the stepchildren of the Arab world. We have overturned an edifice of material and moral power that dates back centuries. The Arabs railing against U.S. imperialism and arrogance in Iraq will never let us in on the real sources of their resentments. In the way of "modern" men and women with some familiarity with the doctrines of political correctness, they can't tell us that they are aggrieved that we have given a measure of self-worth to the seminarians of Najaf and the highlanders of Kurdistan. But that is precisely what gnaws at them.

An edifice of Arab nationalism built by strange bedfellows--the Sunni political and bureaucratic elites, and the Christian Arab pundits who abetted them in the idle hope that they would be spared the wrath of the street and of the mob--was overturned in Iraq. And America, at times ambivalent about its mission, brought along with its military gear a suspicion of the Shiites, a belief that the Iraqi Shiites were an extension of Iran, a community destined to build a sister-republic of the Iranian theocracy. Washington has its cadre of Arabists reared on Arab nationalist historiography. This camp had a seat at the table, but the very scale of what was at play in Iraq, and the redemptionism at the heart of George Bush's ideology, dwarfed them.

For the Arab enemies of this project of rescue, this new war in Iraq was a replay of an old drama: the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258. In the received history, the great city of learning, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, had fallen to savages, and an age of greatness had drawn to a close. In the legend of that tale, the Mongols sacked the metropolis, put its people to the sword, dumped the books of its libraries in the Tigris. That river, chroniclers insist, flowed, alternately, with the blood of the victims and the ink of the books. It is a tale of betrayal, the selective history maintains. A minister of the caliph, a Shiite by the name of Ibn Alqami, opened the gates of Baghdad to the Mongols. History never rests here, and telescopes easily: In his call for a new holy war against the Shiites, Zarqawi dredges up that history, dismisses the Shiite-led government as "the government of Ibn Alqami's descendants." Zarqawi knows the power of this symbolism, and its dark appeal to Sunni Arabs within Iraq.

Zarqawi's jihadists have sown ruin in Iraq, but they are strangers to that country, and they have needed the harbor given them in the Sunni triangle and the indulgence of the old Baathists. For the diehards, Iraq is now a "stolen country" delivered into the hands of subject communities unfit to rule. Though a decided minority, the Sunni Arabs have a majoritarian mindset and a conviction that political dominion is their birthright. Instead of encouraging a break with the old Manichaean ideologies, the Arab world beyond Iraq feeds this deep-seated sense of historical entitlement. No one is under any illusions as to what the Sunni Arabs would have done had oil been located in their provinces. They would have disowned both north and south and opted for a smaller world of their own and defended it with the sword. But this was not to be, and their war is the panic of a community that fears that it could be left with a realm of "gravel and sand." [...]

We have not always been brilliant in the war we have waged, for these are lands we did not fully know. But our work has been noble and necessary, and we can't call a halt to it in midstream. We bought time for reform to take root in several Arab and Muslim realms. Leave aside the rescue of Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar have done well by our protection, and Lebanon has retrieved much of its freedom. The three larger realms of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria are more difficult settings, but there, too, the established orders of power will have to accommodate the yearnings for change. A Kuwaiti businessman with an unerring feel for the ways of the Arab world put it thus to me: "Iraq, the Internet, and American power are undermining the old order in the Arab world. There are gains by the day." The rage against our work in Iraq, all the way from the "chat rooms" of Arabia to the bigots of Finsbury Park in London, is located within this broader struggle.

In that Iraqi battleground, we can't yet say that the insurgency is in its death throes. But that call to war by Zarqawi, we must know, came after the stunning military operation in Tal Afar dealt the jihadists a terrible blow. An Iraqi-led force, supported by American tanks, armored vehicles and air cover, had stormed that stronghold. This had been a transit point for jihadists coming in from Syria. This time, at Tal Afar, Iraq security forces were there to stay, and a Sunni Arab defense minister with the most impeccable tribal credentials, Saadoun Dulaimi, issued a challenge to Iraq's enemy, a message that his soldiers would fight for their country.

The claim that our war in Iraq, after the sacrifices, will have hatched a Shiite theocracy is a smear on the war, a misreading of the Shiite world of Iraq. In the holy city of Najaf, at its apex, there is a dread of political furies and an attachment to sobriety. I went to Najaf in July; no one of consequence there spoke of a theocratic state. Najaf's jurists lived through a time of terror, when informers and assassins had the run of the place. They have been delivered from that time. The new order shall give them what they want: a place in Iraq's cultural and moral order, and a decent separation between religion and the compromises of political life.

It's easy enough to understand why the Sunni hate the Shi'a and the neocons hate them for Iran's role in terror against Israel, while much of the Right will just never get past the Embassy seizure in '79. What's really strange is how pathologically the Left hates them. You'd think a historically supressed minority might catch a break, but it seems as if the Left has sunk to the point where it just hates anyone who takes their religious faith seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 28, 2005 4:17 PM

People like Kaplan want the constitution rejected for only one reason - it embarrasses the US.

With regard to consensus, can it be that the left has more respect for the Sunni minority in Iraq than it does for the President of the United States?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 28, 2005 4:39 PM

I did not realize that people were seriously making this argument. The Iraqis already voted for a group to write the constitution and this is what they came up with. This is bizarre and I agree that the only reason it could be floated is that they really think the Sunni minority (OJ was being generous with his 20% estimate) should rule the rest of the country and that the baathist terror campaign is legitimate.

Posted by: JAB at September 28, 2005 5:05 PM

Griswald Predicts: That the American Left will soon designate the Sunni faction as an official "people of put-uponness" with unlimited rights to lacrimation.

Posted by: Luciferous at September 28, 2005 5:37 PM

Why hsould the Iraqs(non Sunni) care what the Sunni want? They're in or out. Tough.

Posted by: jdkelly at September 28, 2005 5:39 PM

As Mark Steyn and others have pointed out (and as is evident from a brief look at the actual document), the Iraqi constitution wisely provides an "out clause" for the Shiites and Kurds should the more radical elements among the Sunnis try to pull the entire country down into a sinkhole along with them.

What's curious is why Kaplan thinks they would ever agree to any other arrangement. They didn't fall off the wagon yesterday, you know.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 28, 2005 5:44 PM

1) Of course you are correct in holding that the Sunni minority should not have a veto on the new constitution--that't the kind of thing Loni Guineire would have come up with. Election have consequences and wars have consequences, the Sunnis having lost one of each.

2) Note that the article still repeats the misunderstanding about U.S. "withdrawal" from Iraq. Training Iraqis has something to do with it, but much more important is the centrality of American upper echelon weapons systems to the total force. It is unthinkable that we would give the Iraqis what they need to fight and win. (Air, armor, C3I, remember) The very suggestion is fatuous. I for one find it incredible that any reasonably well-informed person could make this mistake and posit bad-faith, treasonable bad-faith, as a more probable explanation. If you understand that your advocacy of "withdrawal" is made for domestic political advantage only and that such advocacy gives advantage to the enemy, while we are fighting, you are a very bad person.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 28, 2005 5:51 PM

We aren't helpful. we're an occupying force in a friendly nation. There's a reason we didn't occupy western Europe after displacing the Nazis.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2005 5:57 PM

There is a tendency among people to pay attention to the group making the loudest demands as opposed to any "silent majority" that does not engage in theatrics.

One thing rarely mentioned is that if Iraq splits apart, the US itself is not any worse off. The only sticking point is whether the legal acts of separatism can be done in a way that provides diplomatic cover for the Kurds via Turkey, internationally recognized borders, and the status of Baghdad - Sunni, Shi'ite or the always recommended and never achieved "international city." The US does not have a horse in any of these other than being sympathetic to Kurdish demands on Mosul and Kirkuk.

This was all rather predictable, but the international community likes to play games for years to achieve the old status quo rather than accepting a much improve system. Of course, if Iraq does stay united, we're no worse off either. We win any which way.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 28, 2005 5:58 PM

Kaplan has a bad case of BDS. He and other libs who take this line have only one goal -- Embarass Bush; everything else is secondary.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 28, 2005 6:12 PM

What's really bizarre is that the proposed constitution is objectively much better for the Sunni then any subsequent document is likely to be, because it protects minority rights and established a quasi-federal system, giving the Sunni some authonomy in the areas in which they have a majority. The only better deal possible is if we handed them back the keys, which I doubt is a position that Kaplan would push explicitly.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 28, 2005 7:54 PM

Though that does seem to be the Realist and Left position--at least Saadam kept the place quiet....

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2005 7:59 PM

I read Ajami's piece at lunch - it was fascinating. It struck me as a bit archaic, with lots of semi-colons, lots of zig-zags, and even some paradox, but it was excellent.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 28, 2005 9:27 PM