Requiem for a good idea (…and two predictions)

Well, the Iraqi Governing Council got what they asked for. The question now is can they get their act together long enough to make something out of an opportunity.
The jury is still out but it doesn’t look good.
Talibani’s quote in the WaPo piece is telling…
“This is a feast for the Iraqi people,” said Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who holds the council’s rotating presidency. “This is what Iraqi people were dreaming to have.”
Actually, thanks to the IGC who have spent most of the time since April doing nothing more than jockeying for position, what is really going to happen is that the jackals are going to feast — on a recently liberated Iraq.


The Iraqi Governing Council in general and Iraqi public opinion want the Coalition out. That’s fine, the Coalition doesn’t want to stay a moment longer than needed. The problem is, you don’t wipe away a legacy of corruption, back-room deals and blood feuds with a few classes on the wonders of democracy.
Maybe that sounds paternalistic. But if there were some serious moves across the IGC and the rest of the native Iraqi governing bodies to take more responsibility and actually execute it instead of faking it, I probably would be more positive. Right now, my prediction is Iraq might, might become a democracy, but it will be a peculiar kind of Middle Eastern version of “democracy.” It will probably end up just one or two notches higher than your average run of the mill African kleptocracy.
There are ministries here ready to take over today. They are blessed with some very high quality people of integrity. In some cases they had a reasonably solid foundation upon which to build. Not a problem. Let them run it now. There are other ministries and agencies that aren’t going to be ready for quite some time — if ever.
Please don’t quote me the bit about politics and sausage.
“People will sleep better not knowing how their sausage and politics are made.”
Bismarck

Yes, I know it ain’t pretty watching a country rising from its ashes. The politics and sausage analogy fails because at least, at the end of the day in politics, everyone knows what a sausage is supposed to look like.
We could mandate everyone in Iraq memorize the entire Federalist Papers and we would still never get anything resembling a federalist type of system for a long, long time here. It is not going to happen just because the IGC and the CPA wish it into existence. Here’s only one example of why:
Recently in Kirkuk, the CPA distributed 16 various public offices between these 4 ethnic groups in a by-name drawing of various candidates. Each ethnic group (Kurd, Turkman, Arab and Assyrian) was to get 4 of the offices. Once the drawing was done each administrator then set about using his office to work only for the good if his ethnic group. This is democracy? Keep in mind, these folks had already been through the “democracy training” folks like USAID give.
Let me give you a couple more examples. Remember the Red Cross bombing? In the investigation afterward to find the breakdowns in security that enabled it were these words of one Iraqi security person (not sure if he was Iraqi Police or one of the Facilities Protection Service guards).
“I cannot be negligent because I was asleep at my post at the time.”
Yeah, special, huh? He figured as long as he was at his post he was doing his job.
Tell me exactly how this guy and the thousands like him understand the dynamic of personal responsibility upon which a democracy is actually built. (Hell, tell me how some Americans haven’t figured it out yet either while you’re at it.)
I once listened to a rant from one of our translators who was an Iraqi university student. When the CPA decreed that public sector employees would be fired if they didn’t show up for work for five days in a row, and they wouldn’t be paid for any day they didn’t show up, she was irrate.
She thought asking people to actually work to get paid was outrageous. She thought it was outrageous because at least under Saddam, if these people behaved, they still got paid. She punctuated her points with a lot of wild gesticulating, “These people have families to support! They have nothing! What do you expect them to do?!?”
“Show up for work?” I offered.
She just sputtered some more and stomped off.
That is the type of attitude you are up against here in a lot of places.
So if you think that Iraq is going to turn into some kind of Jeffersonian democracy overnight, forget it. Well, at least forget it now after this decision. That was sort of why we needed to finish the job.
What you find here is, where the Coalition is fully in charge of something, things usually happen. Where the Iraqis are fully in charge of something, there are gaps. Actually, “gaps” is a much more polite term than “chasm,” even though the latter is often more accurate. Usually when the CPA drops the ball on an event or a program, it’s because there is some Iraqi corruption somewhere in the middle of it, as Max Boot found out during a visit here. What are you going to do? Do everything yourself and risk being seen as the arrogant American who doesn’t trust the Iraqis to run their own country? Or, give it to an Iraqi manager and hope he doesn’t stick his hand in the till despite what seems to be a cultural predilection to doing so?
CPA splits the difference. They put an Iraqi in charge and fire him if he sticks his hand in the till. It’s inefficicent as hell, but I suppose it’s a way of doing business as good as anything else over here. If you read Boot’s piece you’ll notice a distinct difference in results between using the CPA approach and using the military approach.
During the winter here Liquified Propane Gas (LPG) and kerosene are the fuels of choice. So it’s a huge deal if there is a shortage. I read one report recently where there was a minor riot at an LPG station in Baghdad. The manager was turning people away saying he had no gas. Only problem was he had 60 containers he was hoarding to sell on the black market. The crowd figured that out and ransacked the place and took all the containers. They also were carrying on about corruption in the Ministry of Oil saying that bureaucrats there were working directly with “retailers” like this.
Which now explains, at least to my conspiratorial mind, why that Ministry recently let go of a large number of its translators.
Police corruption is widespread— still. Despite the fact that these guys are making about ten times more than they ever did under Saddam they still are shaking down people and taking bribes. That is if they aren’t also working against the Coalition outright .
I don’t mean to impugn the bravery of the IPs. Most of them are taking risks far, far above and beyond what we ever call for from our own police. I see the reports everyday of how IPs broke up another attack or were killed fighting terrorists. (Yes, Virginia they are terrorists) But the problem of internal vetting is still an issue. And for a multiplicity of reasons, chief among them clan and tribal loyalties, they aren’t getting rid of corrupt cops. So when there is no authority you respect, exactly how are you going to birth a democracy here? These guys are ready???
I hope I am wrong about all this. I really do. But right now I am going to go take an aspirin. If I could find a fifth of Jack Daniels I’d be taking that too.
Of course, I’m sure someone from the left side of the aisle will raise my blood pressure shortly. The people who carped and moaned about how the U.S. should get out of Iraq sooner rather than later, will now moan that the U.S. is “abandoning” an ally in order to look good in an election year. Especially after they read this quote from WaPo:
“The midyear handover would enable President Bush to head into the 2004 election with a much smaller — and less vulnerable — contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq. “
You can’t win for losing. Or, to quote my buddy here…
“Oy!”

Advertisements

18 comments

  1. Scott Wickstein

    It sounds to me rather like the UK was supposed to have been in the 1970s before Margaret Thatcher came along.
    I mean that in the sense that people don’t have any sense of personal responsibility…
    I fear it’s unlikely Iraq will get a leader of that calibre anytime soon though.

  2. David Tiley

    fascinating post..
    but Scott – I was working in the UK before, during and after the transfer of power to Thatcher. I do think the place has a load of amaaaazingly entrenched ideas about class, the right to rule, and “knowing your place’ which ossified the society very very badly.
    I wouldn’t translate that into a lack of a sense of personal responsibility and/or dependence on the state. It was more about a hierarchy which was and probably is unshakable, coupled with the fact that the wealth of empire never got shared around, and a truly titanic amnesia about the decline of britain in the twentieth century. Caused not by internal problems but the fantastic cost of two world wars. Because they ‘won” them, they never had a chance to start again with a clean slate
    And i suspect that the new starters have aged pretty quickly and got a lot less nimble in the last few years..
    anyway, this turned into a rant. you triggered something in my head which interests me.

  3. BARISTA

    awake at the wheel

    Major Sean Bannion is a working US soldier in Baghdad, posting occasionally on SashaCastel. “Remember the Red Cross bombing? In the investigation afterward to find the breakdowns in security that enabled it were these words of one Iraqi security person…

  4. Christina

    They’ve already started. Now the left instead of saying “bring our troops home now” is saying “we are pulling out because of the election”.
    Myself, I don’t think troops are going to be pulled out, we can’t afford to lose this one and I think Pres. Bush is a lot smarter than he gets credit for. The media is spinning this their way but I would hope you don’t lose confidence in the administration until we see what happens. I think there are plans under the surface we don’t know any thing about – yet.

  5. Mithras

    Of course, I’m sure someone from the left side of the aisle will raise my blood pressure shortly. The people who carped and moaned about how the U.S. should get out of Iraq sooner rather than later, will now moan that the U.S. is “abandoning” an ally in order to look good in an election year.
    Actually, Major, we on the left side of the aisle were “carping” about (a) not going into a country which did not pose an immiment threat to U.S. security in the first place, (b) if an invasion was going to happen, that it be done with the troops of a wide coalition of major countries, preferably under the auspices of the UN, and (c) once (a) and (b) were botched, that interim governance of the country be placed under the UN so that we could get our troops out and gain some international support for the whole effort.
    We’re not pushing Bush to “cut and run”, Major. He knows this whole fiasco makes him look like an idiot, he’s desperate to get re-elected, and desperate men do stupid shit.

  6. Alene Berk

    Rumsfeld has made it clear that the ‘governance’ track is separate from the ‘security’ track; there is no timeline on the latter. There will be a troop drawdown, using Iraqis if possible, activating additional reserves if needed.
    Major, don’t let the attitude get to you. Actually, I’m less concerned with the absence of a work ethic,which I think can be learned relatively quickly, despite the sullenness, than I am about the tribal/clan culture, which bears the seeds of what we see as corruption. One’s duty is to maximize the welfare of one’s tribe, and that duty comes before loyalty to any abstraction like ‘Iraq’. This mindset has destroyed much of Africa. The task of changing it is multi-generational; we can only hope to find enough Iraqi leaders who recognize the problem and have the power and will to fight against it. From what you say, especially about the IGC, prospects don’t look bright.

  7. D

    I’ve been thinking about this and having same misgivings ever since the announcement for accelerated power transfer. What I eventually decided is this – there is no other viable option. The longest that US public or Iraqi ‘street’is going to tolerate direct rule by CPA is no more than five years. And any longer than the current schedule would probably result in diminishing returns via attitudes.
    Judging by the reports re civilian recostruction it looks like Iraq will be in reasonable (Which is not to say objectively good) shape by June. Which is frankly a miracle to me. the speed of the reconstruction is simply astounding, given the security situation and lack of anything approaching a model for something this massive.
    Distrust of Iraqis’s ability to handle power I think is natural. One can simply look at Eastern Europe and Russia to see how difficult transition from a culture of cleptocracy is. But. It IS their country. How long do we stay in charge? Ten years? twenty? Until a new generation is ready? Neither Iraqi population nor that of US is suited for the acceptance of ‘white man’s burden’ mindset.
    It will not be peaches and cream, obviously, but I’d think there’s grounds to be optimistic based on South Korea or Taiwan. Neither of which are shining beacons of Western style democracy but when one thinks back the manure in which the roots of their current system were sprouted… neither Rhee nor Chaiang were Iron Maggie. They did all right.
    All we can do is give them a start.
    Moreover, I doubt that the administrative system will be swept clean of westerners after the handover.

  8. Steve Pobsell

    I believe there are larger questions that need to be discussed — whether Iraq is a true nation state or three nation states (i.e. Shia, Sunni and Kurd). Ethnic suspicions and motives derived from the current tribal/clan autocracies make democracy in Iraq elusive. Individual nation state might permit governments to more truly represent the people without the ethnic infighting. Fouad Ajami has been discussing this as of late.

  9. Major Sean Bannion

    Alene: I’m not worried about the security versus governance issue. I know that the two are separate and that after the Iraqis take over in full the Coaltion will still be an “invited guest.”
    My concerns are the same as yours. But you are much more sanguine than I. I do NOT see Iraq getting it’s act together economically in the near future. For a bunch of reasons, mostly cultural. Check these books for some of the reasons why I think that.
    Mithras: I’m not going to get too deeply into your post and why I think you are flat out wrong. It would take volumes and I’ve already learned you cannot convert the converted. However, the hallmarks of the political left these days are inchoerrence, inchoate rage and name-calling. Not exactly a substitute for well-thought out policies. Emotion doesn’t trump logic due to the moral superiority of the utterer. I am not going to sit here and say Bush was spot on in everything he did.
    I am going to say hindsight offers perfect vision and the left provided no viable alternatives. None whatsoever. Given that you didn’t stand on “the pile” at the World Trade Center as I did, I understand why your view of the world is a bit more detached on this score. But my emotion over that experience didn’t simultaneously rob me of the ability to look for options that would work instead of options that might work. (I am not referring to you specifically, just the left in general.)
    Once you actually work with the UN for a few months, you actually find they are incapable of making decisions. They have done an exceedingly poor job in both Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti and Iraq dwarfs all those operations in magnitude, complexity and scope. You’re asking us to turn to the UN when they couldn’t even get the smaller game right. “Multilateralism” thus ends up being code for “hem the U.S. in as much as possible.” That is actually fine with me, unless people’s lives are at stake. In which case I’d rather be closer to the Queen’s Lancashire Rifles or the 2d Ranger Battalion than some low-rent, corrupt, marginally trained Nigerian battalion that the UN likes to throw work at every once in a while.
    Steve: I agree with the sentiment behind your question, however, at THIS point (note the hedge) any attempt to divide Iraq into separate ethnocentric states will mean either outright war between the states themselves or a war between their neighbors (“hot” war between Turkey and Kurdistan or low-grade insurgency between the Sunni “state” and the Shi’a “state.”). My opinion only, but I think I am on solid ground here.
    So far, I don’t see any Talleyrands on the horizon to sort it all out.

  10. Al Maviva

    Actually, Mithras, I think you have it quite backwards. Based on my experiences in the middle east, the entire corrupt kleptocracy that runs the joint, along with the deranged religious fanatics that make up a substantial (and disciplined) chunk of the population, pose an imminent threat to U.S. security.
    Sure, the religious fanatics don’t have atomic weapons, yet, we think… possibly… depending on how much we really know about Iran and Pakistan… sort of. The point with WMD being that open-market technology is now so sophisticated, that vicious rogues states like North Korea can easily afford to build nukes, and their threats of opening up a nuclear bazaar to service the Middle East are colorable. That’s the big threat.
    The “small” threat is a big threat too. As 9/11 demonstrated, you don’t need nukes to cause mass casualties. The leverage of technology allows a small band of dedicated fanatics to kill thousands in the blink of an eye. Even in the case of the most unsophisticated zealots – the suicide bombers in Israel, Iraq, Morocco, Indonesia – it just takes a few maniacs with access to modern technology to kill dozens or hundreds. Never mind the maimed…
    There can be no questioning the threat posed. It exists, and it is real. Where you and I differ, I believe, is in our conception of how the threat can be met. I presume that you believe occasional surgical strikes, criminal prosecution, and handholding with the EU and nominally cooperative Middle Eastern tyrants should be enough to limit our casualties – a dozen here, maybe a hundred there – and we’ll treat terrorism like a crime, and just police it up after it occurs.
    I happen to believe it’s not just a crime, that it’s a symptom of a broken culture lashing out. Moreover, I believe that the only number of acceptable casualties from terrorism is 0, and if the thugs who run the Middle East for personal profit don’t take the problem seriously, then we must. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be bled slowly, until such time as the fanatics can drive a larger stake in our heart with a WMD strike on New York, or Washington, or LA.
    My overall point being that the Middle East, and the Islamofascist culture that grew up there, is an Augean Stable desperately in need of cleaning out. Iraq was the first stall, and we aren’t done shoveling yet, even in that stall. To further extend the metaphor, it’s better to clean out that stable, before its excrescences overflow and splatter the rest of us.
    Again.

  11. Major Sean Bannion

    You ‘da man, Al. My vocabulary gets better every time I read you. Got an email account yet?

  12. obliw

    I’m confused about your post, Al. You say that battling terrorism as one does crime is to condemn oneself to a slow bleed. But we’re not Hercules; we have no handy river of infinite force to turn to our ends. All we gots is shovels. Or in other words, mucking out the stables is gonna take a damn long time. To establish a stable Western-friendly democracy in Iraq may be impossible and even the attempt will take years — half a decade would be my lowball guess, but I wouldn’t want to bet a lot on that number. So how does it solve the problem of Islamist terrorism faster? I can see the argument that it will ultimately solve the problem more completely, but not faster. And if it is not faster, then how is the issue of time vis-a-vis WMD solved better? Indeed, how is it affected at all?
    I agree with you about this — “it just takes a few maniacs with access to modern technology to kill dozens or hundreds.” The means of terrorism are are thousand-fold, the opportunites almost infinite — all you need is a crowd — but the motive is singular. You cannot elimintate the means or the opportunity. Therefore, should the motive not be the focus of attack? You can argue that that’s what Iraq’s all about — make it peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic, and you will have dimished palpably the appeal of the fanatics. On the other hand, fuck up Iraq — if we leave and there’s a civil war — you will have done more to increase the recruiting pool for Al-Qaeda then any Osama tape ever could.
    The question we face now, it seems to me, is where the middle gets us — if, in a year’s time we’ve got an ongoing insurgency, a squabbling transitional government making a half-hearted attempt at a constitution, and still tens of thousands of troops on the ground. Do we decide then that Iraq is far enough along to leave? If not, how many years can such a situation persist, before it tips one way or the other? And is it likely, after so many months, to tip in favor of the foreign troops occuping the country?
    Texas Hold ’em, all in. And Iraq the ante.

  13. Tripp

    Major,
    I appreciate your thoughtful analysis. I suppose to you I am on the ‘left’, but I’m not interested in pointing fingers.
    I opposed going to Iraq not because it was a bad thing to do, or because I had any support for Saddam. I hate the bastard.
    But I really couldn’t see how we could pull this off. As someone above stated, the ME is an Augean Stable, and much as we would like to think we are half god, and up to the task, I fear we aren’t.
    Last year many of the Middle East people thought the WT Towers attack was done by Jews. Doesn’t that show at least a little of what we are up against? It is a HUGE task.
    I wish you, and us, the best. But I’m worried.

  14. Mithras

    Major – I am going to say hindsight offers perfect vision and the left provided no viable alternatives. None whatsoever.
    All due respect, Major, that’s crap. The left said before the invasion of Iraq that there was no proof Saddam posed any sort of imminent threat and that containment seemed to be working against him. And the results of the invasion – no WMD and no link to al Qaeda – have proved us right on that score. (Containment was costing us about $1 billion a year, by the way, not the $1 billion a week we’re now spending.)
    If you’re talking about the overall strategy in the “war on terror”, then you’re right, it’s a much more involved discussion.
    Al – Based on my experiences in the middle east, the entire corrupt kleptocracy that runs the joint, along with the deranged religious fanatics that make up a substantial (and disciplined) chunk of the population, pose an imminent threat to U.S. security.
    First, my response to the Major applies: Saddam was neutered and had no truck with the religious fanatics. Second, the problem is both the fanatics and the non-fanatics who sympathize with their aims. The former group has to be found and killed, whether or not anyone else likes it. The latter group is much more tricky – they need to be convinced, not intimidated or bullied. All this “overawing the natives” stuff that the U.S. has been engaged in is self-defeating. You have to show them that the U.S. is the good guy, you can’t just proclaim it and then invade wherever you like based on scant evidence of a threat.
    I presume that you believe occasional surgical strikes, criminal prosecution, and handholding with the EU and nominally cooperative Middle Eastern tyrants should be enough to limit our casualties – a dozen here, maybe a hundred there – and we’ll treat terrorism like a crime, and just police it up after it occurs.
    Actually, first I would first like to see real cooperation from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are the real rat’s nest of terrorist sympathizers. Why is Bush “holding their hands” while invading a secular, weak Iraq? Second, yes, we need a common security strategy that is made in cooperation with our allies in the UN. Do we face the same threat, or not? Obviously, terrorism is not “just crime,” but it’s also not “just war”, either. As I said above, we are engaged in a political struggle. We can’t kill our way out of the situation.
    Finally, yes, we need to accept that there will always be a risk of terrorism. We can’t say that if 1 death from terrorism occurs, that a given strategy is a failure. That would be like saying that if one crime occurs, then the law and police have failed. Other nations around the world have learned how to live with the threat of terror, and we would do well to learn what we can from them.

  15. Alene Berk

    Oh and Mithras, to say Saddam was neutered ignores the realities in place and
    deteriorating since at least 1998. First, there was the necessity of maintaining
    a presence in Saudi Arabia. Then there were those horrendous sanctions
    (killing what–5000 children a year?–I’m sure you objected to those, and
    blamed us, not Saddam, for their effects). And finally there was the fact that
    the effectiveness of the existing sanctions was decreasing, and that the chief
    opponents of the war, with others, were pressing to lift them entirely,
    simultaneously resisting our efforts at reinstating inspections.
    In short, the existing situation was not sustainable; this neutered Saddam
    was shortly going to grow a new pair, unless we assured he could not.
    Dangerous? Yes. A gamble, certainly.
    Probability that the result would be an improvement over the future
    clearly visible absent regimechange–high. Better covers a broad range, though.

  16. Mithras

    Major, you’re grasping at Feith’s straws. Give it up. If even David Kay can’t spin the facts to make them seem threatening, then neither you nor Feith surely will.
    Alene, the no-fly-zone operation was costing us $1 billion a year. This war is costing us $1 billion a week, with no end in sight.
    Then there were those horrendous sanctions (killing what–5000 children a year?–I’m sure you objected to those, and blamed us, not Saddam, for their effects).
    Actually, Saddam had more than enough revenue from the oil-for-food program to feed his people and get them medicine. He just chose to build his military and his palaces instead. (There is no parallel to Republicans, I swear. None.) I argued this forcefully to my Arab friends, who did and do blame us.
    And finally there was the fact that the effectiveness of the existing sanctions was decreasing
    Proof?
    the chief opponents of the war, with others, were … resisting our efforts at reinstating inspections.
    France? Germany? You think they resisted letting inspections continue? Are you from a parallel universe?