Thursday, March 31, 2005

Iraq War: Democracy and support for the US

Sometimes the most interesting part of an article is buried in the middle or final paragraphs.  Sometimes its an aside that's unintentionally informative.  Both are the case in this article: U.S. Avoids Political Fight Among Iraqis by Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post 03/31/05.

Most of the article I took with a huge dose of skepticism.  She claims that US officials are observing strict neutrality in the formation of the Iraqi government, on orders from President Bush.  This is too much to swallow.  An occupying power has to have some influence just in the nature of things.  Even a decision to remain technically neutral is a decision to affect the process in a certain way.  Plus staying pristinely neutral is just not the Bush administration's modus operandi.  I don't buy it.

In fact, out of design or incompetence or both, the constitution that the occupation authority left the Iraqi government included two provisions that have caused major problems in forming a government.  One was the decision to have the party representation in parliament based on the proportion of the nationwide vote.  Having votes by geographical district would have insured that in the Arab Sunni areas where the actual turnout was very low that there would have been a number of Arab Sunni representatives more proportional to the percentage of the population.  This in turn could have opened up more opportunities for governing coalitions.

The other provision was the ones requiring a 2/3 majority to form a government.  So far, that's proven impossible.  In fact, it's beginning to look like a recipe for gridlock and delay.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Bush administration isn't calculating on a longer rather than a shorter period of maintaining their man Allawi in power at the head of the Interim Government.

The one-sentence paragraph that really caught my eye, though, is this one:

A variety of Iraqi politicians involved in the government-building talks said this week that they had detected no active U.S. role, which all sides say would undermine support from a public greatly resentful of the two-year-old U.S. military occupation.

The constituencies represented among the elected Iraqi representatives seriously under-represents the hostile Arab Sunni areas where most of the insurgency is currently based.  The Shia and Kurds are less hostile and the moment, the Kurds presumably being much more well-disposed.

Yet all sides among these elected Iraqis say that any overt sign of endorsement by the United States would be a big political negative in a public greatly resentful of the US presence.

This is one of many reminders that democracy in the Middle East doesn't necessarily mean democratically-elected regimes would be more supportive of US foreign policy in any kind of short run.  Dan Murphy discusses this issue in New Arab rallying cry: 'Enough" Christian Science Monitor 03/31/05.

There's no question that the freedom rhetoric of the US and President Bush has helped crack the door for political activism in the Middle East. A look behind the slogan, however, reveals a complex web of secular and Islamist activists who say they share Bush's zeal for democracy, but expect real political change will lead to a repudiation of the US.

He proceeds to give several examples illustrating the point.  The most telling to me was the experience of the democratic movement in Egypt, known as Kifaya (Enough), which took its current form by involvement in protests against American policies:

The nucleus of what calls itself Kifaya today began organizing five years ago in response to the Palestinian uprising and picked up steam in March 2003 when about 10,000 Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo to protest the US invasion of Iraq. That protest quickly evolved into an anti-Mubarak demonstration, the first in his 25-year rule.

While those causes might seem far afield from demands for change inside Egypt, the country's activists see them as inextricably linked.

The US has provided about $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt since its 1980 peace agreement with Israel, and Egypt's activists see in the unpopular peace treaty and relative Egyptian silence over the invasion evidence that the country's foreign policy "has been colonized by the US,'' as Mr. Qandeel puts it.

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