Saturday, August 20, 2005

Iraqi Constitution? Why the rush?

My lack of expert knowledge regarding the Iraqi constitution would normally prevent me from sharing my opinion on the subject. But this is the blogosphere, where even half-baked opinions can get a fair hearing and, if deserved, a swift rebuke. So, here goes.

We keep hearing on television that it would be a setback if the Iraqi assembly could not come to agreement on their constitution by Monday morning. This, we are told, would provide a second wind to the terrorists. But there would be positive consequences resulting from a deadlock on the Iraqi constitution.

The constitutional assembly would be dissolved and new elections for a new assembly would be held. The Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the first round of elections, would participate in larger numbers in the second round. In the long run, this might mean less Sunni cooperation with the terrorists in Iraq.

"Identity politics" was what motivated most of the Shia voters back in January. The January 30, 2005 elections were chaotic and the political culture was less developed than it is today. It is likely that many nominally Shia Arabs regret voting for the main Shia party list. Why? Because the main Shia party is in favor of a larger role for "political Islam" than are many Shia voters (especially women). Charles Krauthammer warned us over a month ago that the Iraqis needed more time to write their constitution.
This is not the time for constitution-writing. This is the time for finessing. Iraq is too fractured along sectarian lines, too socially ruined by 30 years of totalitarianism, too new to the habits of democracy to be able to record in stone the kind of great cosmic compromises that are the essence of constitutions.
Even America, which had a century of self-government before independence, needed 13 years before it could draft a workable and durable constitution. And even that one ultimately floundered (albeit, threescore and 11 years later) over the then-insoluble problem of slavery.
How many nations have been told that they must develop a constitution that will guarantee peace, prosperity and human rights for all in less than a year? And there is that issue of federalism, which I support. Bartle Breese Bull argues that Iraq is already a federal state and should remain so.
The matter of federalism is also not as simple, or as vexed, as it looks. Iraq is already a federal country, de facto and de jure. Iraqi Kurdistan is already autonomous, and the Shiite south, east and center represent 65% of the population. When push comes to shove and the time for rhetoric has passed, Iraq's Sunni leadership, such as it is, is unlikely to agree with Western critics of Iraqi democracy that a return to the centralized nightmare is practicable. For centuries under the Ottomans, Iraq existed relatively harmoniously in a federal form, with the three vilayets of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul (which was mostly composed of what is now Iraqi Kurdistan) under the loose administration of the Pashalik of Baghdad. That is how it is now, and it will not change by Monday, when the final document is due.
The major downside of delay is that it gives the opponents of Operation Iraqi Freedom something to crow about. This is no small consideration. But when adding up the pros and cons, I would rather that the Iraqis take more time to draft their constitution. Bring on a newly elected Iraqi constitutional assembly.
Update: Amir Taheri writes that the delay in Iraq is a tactical setback, a strategic gain
The postponement was a setback if only because this was the first time that the new leadership was unable to meet a political deadline it has fixed for itself. One cannot begrudge the opponents of the liberation their unique moment of jubilation.

But if this was “a major setback”, as some dons of dilatory deeds have claimed, why did Iraqi lawmakers broke into spontaneous applause after they had voted to postpone the constitutional debate? Did they know something that the serial filibusterers on Capitol Hill didn’t?

The answer is that while the postponement was a tactical setback for the Iraqi lawmakers it represented a strategic advance for the practice of democracy in the newly liberated country. The Iraqis working on the draft resisted intense pressure from all quarters, including Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the Shiite top cleric, and the US Ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad, to brush disagreements under the carpet and come up with “something.” They were told to set aside the contentious issues and offer the assembly the apple-tart and motherhood parts of their exercise.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

How to avoid depression? Do not read newspapers!

Yesterday, 43 Iraqis were killed by three very well coordinated suicide bombs. The first terrorist blew himself up in a bus station; shortly afterwards, a second one detonated himself at the exit of the bus station; the last one went off at the nearby hospital, where the wounded were rushed to. The bus station was mostly used by Sheats heading to southern Iraq. It is another cruel example of Al Qaeda-types deliberately targeting fellow Muslims. They offer no future to Iraqis.

The latest attack took place just before the negotiations about the constitution resumed after the deadline for reaching agreement was extended with one week after missing the initial deadline on Monday. In my newspaper today, the journalist called the delay very bad news for the Iraqi ‘regime’ (he consistently calls the elected government that way, it is a disgrace). The extension would be viewed as a sign of weakness, inciting more violence from the ‘insurgents’. That interpretation is probably the favourite for many journalists.

Another interpretation of the delay is however possible. Just read the following post by Bill Roggio. Despite the, admittedly, disappointing delay, he lists 4 positives:

1) Iraqi’s have followed the appropriate legal and political process to demand an extension;
2) The parties in power have a vested interested in seeking a compromise now;
3) The requested extension of one week indicates there is room for negotiations to succeed in such a short amount of time;
4) The delay was not brought on by any actions of the ‘insurgency’.

This may be an optimistic view, but like Roggio, I bet the pessimists didn’t think Iraqis would now be at this stage of the political process either. So wait and see.

The above shows again that, if it weren’t for the blogosphere offering a competing view, we would have to rely on the MSM’s coverage alone. It goes without saying that we would all be very depressed by now by the continuing reports about car bombs. But luckily there are bloggers, like Arthur Chrenkoff (he will retire soon now, but others will follow his footsteps), who bring the good news. Their message reaches a lot of people in America, creating a lot of debate about the MSM’s coverage, as this story shows. But we cannot underestimate the role of US soldiers in this as well. If even they, vulnerable to the enemy’s bullets and IED’s, say that morale is high, things can’t be that bad, can they? It seems that journalists live in another universe, blinded by their prejudice, as the following exchange between a journalist and a captain again shows (hat tip: Chrenkoff). After the journalist was told by the soldiers that morale was high, disbelievingly, he chose to pursue this:

LAUER: Don't get me wrong, I think you're probably telling the truth, but there might be a lot of people at home wondering how that might be possible with the conditions you're facing and with the insurgent attacks you're facing... What would you say to people who doubt that morale could be that high?

CAPTAIN SHERMAN POWELL: Well sir, I'd tell you, if I got my news from the newspapers I'd be pretty depressed as well.
So Americans may be offered a competing view, in Europe things are a little bit different as European countries have no or relatively few (compared to the US) soldiers on the ground who can communicate their experiences and as the blogosphere doesn’t have the same influence like in America: we haven’t pulled off a Rathergate or an Easongate, yet. Like in many other areas, Europe is lagging the US in countering the MSM’s information monopoly. Hopefully, we will catch up quickly.

"…a moment of promise and hope":

This is how U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan characterizes Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, describes this event as “the beginning of the end for Israel…” With the U.N.’s well-established antagonism against Israel I guess you could say, in a sense, both statements are compatible. P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said, while reviewing Palestinian forces in Gaza: "We are telling the entire world, today Gaza and tomorrow Jerusalem. Today Gaza and tomorrow and independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Debbie Schlussel illustrates the msm’s historical spin on Gaza: “* In news stories of the Gaza surrender, how many times have you heard reporters say, "giving Gaza back to the Palestinians"? I counted at least ten such reports on TV, radio, and in print--and I was barely noticing (that includes Monday's NBC Nightly News report by Martin Fletcher, who stated, "and handing the land BACK to the Palestinians"). Yet, what was Gaza before Egypt attacked Israel in 1967? It was EGYPTIAN land. NOT Palestinian land. The idea that it is now being "GIVEN BACK" to the Palestinians is a LIE. It was never theirs in the first place. And, by the way, where was that pressure from the State Department on Egypt to give the land "back" to the Palestinians for the decades that Egypt held it? Only when Israel does so.”

Many people are wondering why Ariel Sharon is handing over Gaza to the Palestinians (btw- Jews used to be included in that title), lock, stock, and barrel. M.E. expert Daniel Pipes reminds us that “Sharon won the prime ministry in early 2003 by electorally crushing an opponent who espoused unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon declared back then: ‘A unilateral withdrawal is not a recipe for peace. It is a recipe for war’.” Pipes compares the disengagement to “French appeasement of Germany in the 1930s” and “American incrementalism in Vietnam”.

Anybody who has studied Ariel Sharon’s past surely knows this is completely out of character for him. So what gives? Is he just wimping out. Is he tired, feeble, or has he found the entrance for the “road to peace” and believes concessions will calm Palestinian rage.
Militant Arabs have always perceived any offer of concessions as weakness. And terror groups will probably race each other with weapons in hand and bullets firing in the air to stake their claim as victors against the Zionist occupiers as the last settlers leave Gaza. Here are some possible strategic outcomes from this bold undertaking…(IMO):
· Security resources used to protect .6% of the population from the 99% who hate them will no longer be needed.
· The U.N. will have to acknowledge Israel’s unilateral good-will attempt.
· The U.N. will have to acknowledge the subsequent violence from the Palestinians.
· The “whirled [sic] community” will witness yet another failed consequence of appeasement.
· The consequent surge in violence will shore up the resolve that’s been diminishing recently among the IDF ranks as well as civilians.
· Tightened boundaries will be less vulnerable.
· The “occupation” in Gaza will no longer be an issue.

Ariel Sharon may be just digging in his heels for an all out confrontation knowing that the status quo will never buy peace for Israel. Perhaps he’s now just bringing the rest of the family back into the relative safety of circled wagons. Hamas may hold back major aggressions until after the national elections scheduled Jan. 21, in which they have much popular support. “Just make my day, punk…” may be Sharon’s ensuing policy and sentiment once the disengagement has completed.

Any other theories on Sharon’s intentions and possible scenarios?