Friday, November 09, 2012

If Nouri only had a brain . . .

A popular and easily misunderstood saying is "A leader makes decisions."  Easily misundersood?  Some, especially those driven by paranoia in all its latent manefestations, 'understand' that to mean that, as leaders, they make a decision and then it's set in stone, that leaders cannot change their mind.  So many times you will find these types painting themselves into a corner and then spending the rest of their rule with their backs against the wall and forever on the defensive.

Nouri al-Maliki is among the most paranoid of recent minor despots.  He rules as if he misunderstands the saying.  Time and again, he takes an unwise and unpopular stand and, in the face of massive protest, refuses to re-evaluate as if to do so would show weakness.  That's what he and others like him don't get.  If you are rethinking or responding to public concerns (or can paint it that way), you are not a flip-flopper but someone capable of reconsidering.  If you can find a way to laugh about it, even better because who among us isn't fallable?  We all make mistakes.

Unless, apparently, our name is Nouri al-Maliki.  The Iraqi prime minister is facing tremendous uproar over the announcement by his spokesperson Tuesday that the food-ration-card system will be cut.

Alsumaria reports that today, during Friday prayers, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared his objection to gutting the program.  The statement noted that the government justifications for ending the program are neither logical nor acceptable and that those of faith in Iraq must object to the push to end the program due to the fact that it will increase the burden on the poor.  Further,  al-Sistani noted that the price of food cannot be left up to the merchants because each month of Ramadan has seen prices soar with the increased demand and the government has been powerless to do anything about it.  To the insistence by Nouri supporters that the program must be gutted to fight corruption, al-Sistani responded that if the government has failed to prevent corruption, that is no reason to punish the citizens for its own failures.  The statement ended with al-Sistani noting that his words were neither a political nor economic stand but instead an expression of the beliefs and hopes of the Iraqi people.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is a higher official that Nouri or most elected ones.  That's in part because of his role as a spiritual leader and in part due to his biography.  On the latter, he never fled Iraq.  Under Saddam Hussein, he was persecuted.  But he stayed in Iraq.  The people know he will stay in Iraq.  Unlike many of Nouri's now former Cabinet ministers, for example, he won't flee the country (those ministers often have accusations of theft attached to their names).  Unlike many, he doesn't hold dual citizenship.  He is an Iraqi who commands a great deal of respect in the country and that goes beyond Shi'ite and Sunni divisions.

Kitabat covers al-Sistani's statement and notes others objecting as well including Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  All Iraq News reports that people flocked into the streets of Najaf following morning prayers and took part in a mass demonstration against cancelling the ration cards.  Participants included Imams.  The people are calling on their provinical government to argue against dropping the ration cards.  Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai declared  in Karbala during morning prayers today that the decision must be reviewed because it is unacceptable and is rejected by religious authority.     All Iraq News notes that the Kurdistan Alliance has issued a statement denouncing Nouri's decision and insisting the ration card system is needed.  Kitabat reports that Moqtada al-Sadr is no longer just objecting to the cancellation, he's now demanding that the Cabinet make public which Cabinet ministers voted to cancel the program.

With words turning to demonstrations, a smart leader -- especially one as fearful of demonstrations as Nouri -- would be dropping the plan.  It wouldn't be difficult to turn it into a 'win' for Nouri.  All he would have to do is make a statement -- and better coming from him than a spokesperson -- that the ration system was clearly a program near and dear to the Iraqi people, that their message was heard and he has made the decision to listen to the people and attempt to find a way to fix the corruption in the system.  That's all he would have to say.  He would be seen as heroic and since he's already working on the provincial elections, it couldn't happen at a better time.

But a lot of leaders are dumb, really stupid. They think that to reconsider or admit a mistake means defeat.  So they paint themselves into a corner.

This was always a stupid decision.  The reality is that with or without objections right now, a year from now, this decision will be unpopular.  You cannot take something away from the people without paying a price.  (Something Barack Obama might want to try to remember before he attempts to gut the US' safety net.)  Iraq's a young population.  The median age is 21-years.  The bulk of Iraqis do not know a time when the ration system didn't exist.  And now you're taking it away?

To put in place a system where money is handed out and prices rise?  At a time of global economic unrest?  At a time when most experts are predicting food prices will be soaring?  You want to be the one when people are angry and hungry that's responsible for gutting the ration card system?

It was never a smart decision.

The complaints and protests are actually a gift for Nouri if he's smart enough to receive them.  They are his way out of a very stupid decision.  Stupid in many ways.  Stupid in terms of the voting because the ration cards are used both as voter registration and voter i.d.  Stupid in terms of the effects it will have on the Iraqi people.  But stupid in terms of his own political self-interest.  Nouri is paranoid.  We've noted that since his first term.  The US government has noted that.  Paranoid people usually care a great deal more about their own self-interest and survival.  Somehow Nouri missed the personal costs to himself in gutting a popular program.

The ojbection is a gift if he's smart enough to receive it and use it and maybe someone in Nouri's circle can explain that to him.

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