Friday, September 10, 2010

US undermines 'democracy' in Iraq (despite lip service)

Starting with the ongoing political stalemate in Iraq. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and two days with no government formed.

The elections were (falsely) hailed a sign of progress. But progress would be the 2010 elections resulting in a government being formed more quickly than following the 2005 elections. That is not the case clearly. Anthony Shadid and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report on what we've already called out, the US pushing for the country's Constitution to be ignored. Instead of pushing for the legal process to be followed (it has not been followed which is why this has dragged out for over six months), the US government has made their main concern keeping Nouri in power. Shadid and Gordon report that the US is pushing for Nouri to stay on but some "curbs" on his power to be put in place.

This is offensive. Think for a moment of the US 2008 elections. John McCain lost. But what the US is proposing is very similar to installing McCain (as George W. Bush was installed in 2000 despite getting less votes). It doesn't matter if Ayad Allawi's slate is ahead by 1 vote or 1 million, they came out ahead. Iraqiya has the legal right to have the first crack at forming a government. That is the Constitution. Instead of demanding that the law be followed, Joe Biden and the administration have worried about how to keep Nouri in power. (Nouri has assured the administration he will not oppose plans for the US military to remain in Iraq past 2011 if he retains the post of prime minister.)

Joe Biden was lecturing on the importance of democracy in the interview he did with Michael Gordon. So, Joe, why don't you promote democracy? Democracy is following the laws. Democracy is following the laws on the books, not creating new 'processes' to keep whomever you want in power. Asked by Gordon about Iraq and democracy, Biden replied, "It is important that it become a democracy because that is the only vehicle by which you can hold together such a diverse population that has such a history and inclination to actually be at each other's throats. Otherwise, what you do is you end up having something in the form of an authoritarian government that just builds hostility, and eventually it will explode, implode. And so that’s why the democracy is important, in my view, here in Iraq, because there are, you have the Sunni-Shia split, but you got the Arab-Kurd split. You have got further sub-splits within the Kurdish region. And so what happens is if they all think they have a piece of the action, if they all think they are better served by being part of this larger whole, then from the Kurds and their inclination and desire to sort of rectify 1921 to the Sunnis, who feel they, that they are a minority in Iraq, but a majority in the region ... All of those inclinations get, not subsumed, but get buffered when it is a democracy. Democracy in the sense that there is a political outlet for their aspirations, not a physical need for an outlet. That is kind of how I view it." Reality: Outsiders cannot make a democracy in another country.

But they can undermine one. How? By ignoring the established laws thereby sending a message to the emerging government and its people that when there is conflict, you don't refer to the establish process, you just create a new one. If you don't have a society built upon laws and the belief in precedents, you're not going to have a democracy or anything short of a dictatorship. That's how dictators operate: They make a show of respect for laws but when the laws conflict with their own desires, they ignore them. That's what the White House is encouraging Iraq to do and you start down that road and there's no turning back.

Shadid and Gordon note: "American officials assert that they do not have a preferred candidate for prime minister. But the proposal is intended to make Mr. Maliki, or a strong-willed successor, more palatable to the rest of a broad-based governing coalition. The redefined authority would be codified by new legislation but would not require that the Constitution be amended."

Yesterday we noted the prison break. Today Janine Zacharia (Washington Post) reports, "In an embarrassing and potentially dangerous foul-up, four Iraqi detainees with alleged links to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq escaped from U.S. custody at a Baghdad detention facility late Wednesday." And if I wanted to provide a belly laugh today, I would link to the outlet that calls Ahmed Chalabi a "secular" politician. Ahmed? Justice and Accountability Ahmed? What are they smoking in Baghdad? We will note Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) who provides this context:

American officials transferred the site to Iraq’s Justice Ministry on July 15 as part of an agreement paving the way for the exit of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. Iraq renamed the site Karkh Prison and asked U.S. forces to retain custody of about 200 detainees there, most of whom are alleged to be members of al-Qaeda.
This week’s incident was the second escape from the compound in about three months. Days after the handover, four men broke free, including al-Qaeda’s so-called local ministers of finance and interior, state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television reported at the time.

In overnight violence, Alsumaria TV reports that two assailants disguised themselves as women in Baquba to gain access to a home where they killed a police recruit's wife and they note a missile attack on a US Army base in Kirkuk.

TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Jackie Calmes (New York Times), Michael Duffy (Time magazine), Karen Tumulty (Washington Post) and David Wessel (Wall St. Journal) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "
"Recalculating: News and Politics in the Age of GPS." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Sam Bennett, Kellyanne Conway, Darlene Kennedy and Patricia Sosa on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is about ending sexism in politics. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stations -- but check local listings -- and it explores the Fort Dix Five and "preemptive" prosecution. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

21st Century Snake Oil
"60 Minutes" hidden cameras expose medical conmen who prey on dying victims by using pitches that capitalize on the promise of stem cells to cure almost any disease. Scott Pelley reports. (Double-length segment) | Watch Video

Steve Kroft profiles the superstar singer on the road and backstage where she explains what makes her one of the world's most successful entertainers. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio note, today on The Diane Rehm Show (begins airing at 10:00 am on most NPR stations and streaming online), the first hour (domestic) finds Diane joined by Steve Roberts (George Washington University), Byron York (Washington Examiner) and Kate Zernike (New York Times); on the second hour (international), Diane's joined by Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Martin Walker (UPI) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy).

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