Thursday, December 29, 2005

Democratic Iraq is a Baby In Bloody Swaddling Clothes

AUSTIN BAY has it right about the Big Story of 2005 --
"The great democratic revolts are profoundly promising history. They are the big story of 2005 -- and, for that matter, the next three or four decades."
I agree with the estimated time frame. Here at Philippine Commentary that point has been made several times this month in the following posts covering the recent Iraqi Parliamentary elections, which are even seeing the emergence of a telling democratic trait -- AN ELECTION PROTEST (reported upon by Mohammed at Iraq the Model). But what we have witnessed in Iraq this past month is momentous in ways not yet obvious except to those who remember other such moments in history.

Our Love Goes To Democratic Iraq!

Democratic Iraq -- First and Only in the Arab World

Iraq is a Project Like Japan or Germany

But raining on the news of the Iraqi Parliamentary elections, with its huge turnout and subsequent democratic turmoil over charges of voterigging and cheating, was the New York Times igniting of a US domestic wiretapping controversy which was also the subject of several posts here at Philippine Commentary:

Big Wiretapping Controversy in America

Bush Addresses the Wiretapping Issue

The wiretapping controversy is on-going and can be followed easily enough in such places as Memeorandum, as well as the GREAT DEBATE the is already underway in America over Iraq. Some of the most thoughtful and substantial Left Liberal thinking comes in the form of Informed Comments by JUAN COLE (Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) who lists the Top Ten Myths About Iraq in 2005: (with the clear implication of many more for future "Informed Comment")
1. The guerrilla war is being waged only in four provinces.
2. Iraqi Sunnis voting in the December 15 election is a sign that they are being drawn into the political process and might give up the armed insurgency.
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces.
4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country.
5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran
6. There is a silent majority of middle class, secular-minded Iraqis who reject religious fundamentalism.
7. The new Iraqi constitution is a victory for Western, liberal values in the Middle East.
8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get.
9. The US can buy off the Iraqis now supporting guerrilla action against US troops.
10. The Bush administration wanted free elections in Iraq.
But I was little disappointed. Most of these Top Ten do not rise to the level of MYTH at all, but are mostly the stuff of journalistic speculation and disagreement with the the incumbent Republican administration -- a polemic over headlines, propaganda and perceived ideology. Or they are strawmen for future "informed comment." Nor do I disagree entirely with Juan Cole's choices and descriptions. But I was struck at Prof. Cole's Myth Number 7 --
7. The new Iraqi constitution is a victory for Western, liberal values in the Middle East. The constitution made Islam the religion of state. It stipulates that the civil parliament may pass no legislation that contradicts the established laws of Islam. It looks forward to clerics serving on court benches. It allows individuals to opt out of secular, civil personal status laws (for marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance) and to choose relgious canon law instead. Islamic law gives girls, e.g., only half the amount of inheritance received by their brothers. Instead of a federal government, the constitution establishes a loose supervisory role for Baghdad and devolves most powers, including claims on future oil finds, on provinces and provincial confederacies, such that it is difficult to see how the country will be able to hold together.
Did not America herself have a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution -- perhaps more to Prof. Cole's and our own rhetorical tastes -- that coexisted with centuries of SLAVERY and RACISM and MALE CHAUVINISM whose enduring traits and consequences are still observable in the America that is the world's shining hope and best example of what revolution and evolution can do?

Democratic Iraq is a Babe in Bloody Swaddling Clothes. Her greatest moments as a Democracy are still in the future--in the redemptive corrigibility of democratic societies practicing freer and freer elections to choose utilitarian leaders and policies for their common polity. Where Juan Cole sees failure in the fact that 20,000 Sunnis have demonstrated against election fraud in the historic parliamentary elections this month, I see the predictable exercise of civil rights and the hope that in the future Iraqis will make progressively better and better choices. Their INITIAL CONDITIONS in 2005 are no worse than America's were in 1776.

In my opinion, the biggest MYTH of all is that DEMOCRACIES are born fully formed and perfect from the beginning. America's own troubled youth outlasted the centuries -- yet Professor's of History in Ann Arbor conveniently forget that history, when it suits their own MYTH-MAKING.

Perhaps the characterization that IRAN won the IRAQI elections contains a grain of truth in it, but I should hope it is not the stentorian claim that THEOCRACY has won a victory there through the democratic system. The Iraqis will have to work on all that, much as America worked out the meaning of IN GOD WE TRUST.

Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye thinks this was Juan Cole's best post of the year. I must say, Juan Cole's work is not the usual formulaic drivel one encounters in some weblogs of less substance, whether one agrees with his overall point of view or not.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS (The TPM Cafe) has a big discussion of possible electoral issues that the Democratic Party could use in the 2006 and 2008 US elections. Here is his advice --
In this sense, I don't see much opportunity for the GOP in the mid-term elections, barring a Democratic call for a wholesale pull-out. Iraq is a no-win situation; unlike Vietnam, it sits on vast oil reserves, next to a major, unstable and unfriendly regional power. We can't leave. We all know that. (And I would argue that's why the administration was so cocksure to get in there in the first place.) We've got to ride it out.

Likewise, there is no Democratic advantage to be had in calling for a pull-out, because that would be seen as a strategic retreat by the public and the GOP would charge on the issue, quite rightly. The public accepts the status quo in Iraq in the same grudging way that you accept a chronic ailment--it's not popular, but you have to live with it. Offering a pull-out would be seen as a quack cure, ineffective and unserious, and would be electoral suicide.

To throw the GOP on the defensive, the Dems should instead browbeat the GOP with the idiocy of getting in there in the first place--as well as the duplicity--but what the next elections will all come down to will be, Who is the better dung sweeper? Who is more competent to manage the mess on the Tigris? Well there you have a real case to be made.
Although Matthew Yglesias realizes that America cannot CUT AND RUN I'm not sure I like the characterization of Iraq as "dung heap." Americans would be better off treating Democratic Iraq with the utmost seriousness of an infant child in bloody, swaddling clothes, whose existence simply cannot be denied, nor its needs for survival and nourishment -- whatever one thinks of the legitimacy or wisdom of its creation.

Democratic Iraq should become a project similar to post World War II Germany and Japan. That was also another moment in history when America said to itself, (for her own good and the rest of the world as it turned out), "We can't leave." And if one looks at it, America never has left Europe or Asia after rehabilitating her worst foes of World War II in Germany and Japan. But do we call this a QUAGMIRE -- to democratize the entire Middle East?

The "problem" in Iraq is as undeniable as having an unwanted child. But abortion is no longer an option, because there lies Democratic Iraq, ugly, bloody, unpredictable. Yet America is a great nation, and Americans, a great and noble people. It is inconceivable to me that even IF they were to turn the Republicans out for in the elections to come, that they would at the same time turn their backs on Democratic Iraq. There are those who would rather cut and run because they had nothing to do with the decisions that created this "war child." But most will answer the call of history not with cowardice or irresponsibility, but with renewed vitality to make the world better. Germany and Japan were projects that had such a far-seeing eye to guide them to the once distant shore that we already take for granted. To say the situations were different can't be denied -- after all 60,000,000 first perished before historic acts of reconstruction after WW2 were undertaken.

The vision of a democratic world is not just America's anymore, but the impetus felt in every human heart -- even Iraqi and Arab and Muslim. Only if you believe that Liberty is God's gift to man, and not America's can we rise to the awesome challenge that now faces us in the Middle East of Eurasia. It is the same America that will or will not take the suggestions offered by the Left and Right Wings of the global mind, as the America that decided, through its President and Congress to overthrow the dictator Saddam Hussein. The blame game may win elections, but the reality on the ground must not be sacrificed to such ends. Every democracy advances in a series of successive approximations to universal ideals by the process of free elections, where the citizens make renewed choices in policies and leaders. Yet do America's choices bear great weight in the world. The challenge to Americans on both sides of the political divide, is to realize that pursuing purely selfish interests does not increase the homeland's security or the world's. Not until they solve the problem of mass transportation to Mars. In fact, in his post that inspired this one, it is BOB KERREY that Austin Bay quotes --
In April 2004, I interviewed former U.S. Sen. (and 9/11 commission member) Bob Kerrey. The subject was Iraq and the War on Terror in "historical terms." Kerrey had argued in a speech he gave in late 2003 that "20 years from now, we'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says it wasn't worth the effort. This is not just another democracy. This Iraq is a democracy in the Arab world."

[Pictures for this collage are courtesy of the various weblogs and websites mentioned here. Thanks to them. These are historic photos that people will treasure in years to come! All reports confirm a HEAVY TURNOUT of Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and other skeins of the newly emerging Iraqi national tapestry. It has had a bloody birth, but Iraq is the first and so far the only Constitutional Democracy in the Arab World.]

PAJAMAS MEDIA points to continuing coverage at Iraq the Model of developments on the ground in Iraq following a hotly contested and protested parliamentary election.


Major Tom said...

Iraq is virtually a litmus test for the world---enabling us to test the waters in a heavily conflicted area---whether or not democracy and freedom in general can prevail ...

Amadeo said...

Very incisive approach to the Iraqi situation, which should continue to be a thorny concern especially for the US since a good part of the "free" world has found it convenient and comfortable to simply straddle the fence of indifference, way after this Republican president shall have completed his term.

But I wager that this present president need not worry about his legacy with regard to that troubled part of the world. His bold initial moves, regardless of the outcomes in the short haul, will guarantee him respectable credit and honor.

And as far as academia is concerned I need simply to take with lots of grains of salt protestations emanating from it.

For proof, one needs only look at the public records of their august professors with regard to their political leanings and where their political contributions go.

A very lopsided majority of them are definitely liberal, and thus quite left-leaning.

But what's new in the current US political milieu is the visceral dislike and hatred for this sitting president, which has been shown to have trumped most reasonable and dispassionate discourses on the valid political issues confronting this beleaguered country.

When this wiretapping issue broke out with razor-sharp timing after being held back by the NYT for about a year, immediately the opposition went into attack mode, articulating special counsel and possible impeachment.

Jon Mariano said...

Iraq will always be full of strife. But it's interesting to see how the US's adventure will turn out.

One thing going for that country is it's huge oil reserves. Once a semblance of peace and order is achieved they will have a huge source of funds to use for rebuilding.

Rizalist said...

A Warm Welcome everyone. So far the discussion Stateside is within predictable bounds. The elections are already in the sights of the thinkers and various positions are being staked out for the coming battles. Jon, you are quite right about Iraq at least having resources for reconstruction. Internally her biggest problem is building a workable consensus everyone can live with, even after peace and order is more certain. But I'm actually feeling optimistic, as who isn't with every kicking, breathing infant?

AmericanPainter said...

American political races have always been very steamy and this one in 2006 will be no different. But that is what democracy is all about, getting the public to sway to one parties side and against the other.

I agree that no matter which side wins, we’ll stay the course in Iraq. It’s the right thing to do.