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August 27, 2005


I don't think the American people are praying hard enough.

Pray harder folks!

...or praying too hard (while thinking too soft).

There are about eight billion articles along the lines of this now.

On the other hand, when considering the possibility of the Sunnis actually managing to put together enough votes in three provinces to veto it, all sorts of complications arise.

For one, the prospect looks difficult from here (which is a crap viewing point, to be sure), for a wide variety of reasons, including the fact that they only have one more week to register to vote, that the "insurgents" threaten to kill anyone who registers to vote or who votes, that even though there are three provinces where Sunnis are a majority, they're still not a completely overwhelming majority, and so on and so forth.

Two, assuming they could honestly get the vote, who says it's going to be an honest vote? Who will be administering the vote in the Sunni provinces? Shi'ites and Kurds? Yeah, that would work well. The Sunnis themselves? I'm sure they'd never try to stuff the ballot box or have a dishonest vote.

So who certifies that the vote is honest? Okay, whomever. And when the other side then inevitably declares the vote fraudulent? Fun, fun, fun!

There might be worse outcomes, it looks to me, than the Sunnis passing their veto and everything goes back to scratch, prolonging the agony as that would, but it hardly looks clear to me that that could possibly happen in any sort of "smooth" fashion, if at all, anyway.

On the other hand, I'd be a fool to try to be a seer here. I can dimly imagine some faintly optimistic outcomes, but they could happen. Betting for a bad outcome generally seems the safe bet in Iraq for the short-term, though.

">http://www.10news.com/news/4891310/detail.html"> I see Bush’s obedient Pro-War Radicals are out defending his mistake.

Hilzoy, I've just sent you my favorite picture of Proconsul Bremmer. If the Magnum Photos site is generous, maybe you'll be able to post it. (I'm not optimistic about that, though).

Bremer didn't want minorities to be treated differently? Probably his way of striking a blow against the dreaded multiculturalism.

Better civil war than that!

I'm usually on the same page as hilzoy. But I've got to disagree on this one. Seems to me that Bremer's referendum rules -- which gave the Sunnni a plausible threat of defeating the draft constitution -- has been about the only thing the Sunnis have had going for them to prevent being totally steamrolled. It was also the saving grace for the Kurds -- they were able to at least slightly moderate the super-Sharia provisions that were initially forthcoming from the Shi'a drafers.

Beyond a certain point, the burden of compromise is really on the majority Shi'a, and they're not handling their new found power particularly well. The major push for southern autonomy was a fairly late development in the constitutional negotiatons process and, as the Sadr demonstrations illustrate, not universally embraced among the Shi'a themselves. And draconian de-Ba'athification has always been a non-starter with the Sunnis. At some point, those who suffered so dreadfully under Saddam are going to have to figure out how to involve run-of-the-mill ex-Ba'athist professionals in Iraq's public life.

However, the SCIRI crowd is apparently cynically betting that the Sunnis won't be able to get their folks to the polls to vote "no" -- principally because of the violence and intimidation by the more extreme insurgent groups who think participation in the referendum would otherwise lend legitimacy to the constitution if it passes (or who are simply virulent anti-democracts of the AlQaeda sort). The SCIRI calculation may prove faulty if the infant alliance between Sadr's forces and some of the Sunni groups, such as Muslim Scholars Assoc, takes hold.

The need for support from Sunni leaders would be the case regardless of the Bremer approval rules. Gary Farber's points about who administers the referendum voting are good ones -- there's really no good way to produce a process where the process itself will be viewed as legitimate. So it's the outcome that's either going to be accepted or not by the greater portion of the population in the Sunni triangle. The whole exercise is going to further alienate the Sunni-dominated provinces unless the main features of the constitution can be credibly supported by mainstream Sunni leaders. That prospect appears not to bother the Shi'a leaders who are driving the constitutional process. But I'm sure it's causing nightmares for Zalmy Khalizad and John Abizaid.

What's the Rush

Raed, via Riverbend who hasn't posted since July 16, via Laura Rozen who wonders why. Me too.

I wonder why we can't export, not our constitution, but the procedural concepts, to other countries. So many constitutions are far too detailed and specific.

Write something very vague and ambiguous, but containing mechanisms for conflict resolution and survivable deadlock. Something that will get very near unanimous approval. Allow many violations of spirit if consensus doesn't exist. After ratification, tighten up and define and clarify as social consensus changes. Adjust via legislation instead of amendment.

A constitution should not be a document that gives any faction an advantage over another, but only provides opportunity. Injustice will happen, but should be temporary not codified.

But Bush wanted a media event, not a stable peaceful Iraqi government.

"What's the Rush"

Here's the argument for it: insurgencies are won partially militarily, and that's always indispensable in any serious one, but mainly, ultimately, politically. The ruling government has to convince the populace that it has legitimacy, not the insurgency.

The only way to do that, of course, is in reality, not with a facade. The only way to do that is to legitimately represent a majority of the populace, as well as meeting to some reasonable, if imperfect, degree, various other criteria including, but not limited to, having corruption under a reasonable level of control, not oppressing the population more than the insurgency does, overall, dealing with the people with some degree of fairness and justice overall, and finally, generally meeting the needs of the people in terms of food, goods, electricity, gasoline, and other necessities, if not necessarily luxuries for a while.

And to do all that, you have to have had a permanent government up and running for sometime. Temporary governments just don't do, no matter how efficient they are, which this one certainly isn't exactly close to, according to all reports. Only permanent governments can achieve legitimacy.

And for that, you need a constitution. Not a punt.

Really, this is all in the lessons of Vietnam, but also everywhere from Malaya to the Phillipines.

Hey all, on the last leg of one family's attempt to float the US economy (advice, buy diaper and Snapple stock, if our purchasing habits are anything to go on)

I'm wondering why it would be so bad if Iraq became a defacto province of Iran, run by a Shia based government. It seems that most of our current problems are based within Sunni/Salafist/Wahhabi conceptions of Islam, and Shia would is generally in direct opposition to this.

I realize that one argument against this is that it is basically hanging the Sunni and the Kurds out to dry, but given the problems that have surfaced, it seems like the least worse option.

"They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and we're not using it anymore."

-Jay Leno, supposedly.

"The only way to do that, of course, is in reality, not with a facade. The only way to do that is to legitimately represent a majority of the populace"

I would actually say that with a foundation document you need at least a super-majority.
And in both the content and process the Shia are showing they have no concern for the consent of the governed.

Pro-insurgent Bob? Riverbend has planted no IED's I know of, and should not forced into a burqa by a mere majority rule.

I have very firm views about minority rights, and believe we no longer have much al Qaeda terrorism in Iraq, but a civil war, and it is looking more like a justified civil war.

Step A for Bush was getting the Baathists under control;step B should have been keeping the Shia under control. Just another in a long list of war crimes.

"I have very firm views about minority rights"

To expand on that a bit, if a completely Republican dominated government were to enact laws banning Democrats, or blacks, or Jews from running for election and holding office, upheld by Republican Justices, it is entirely moral for the minority to start shooting and bombing.

A small minority doesn't really have an effective peaceful option.

I wondered about the origin of that supposedly-Leno quote at my bloglet - if anybody has a clear attribution, I'd be grateful.

"Just one more gift from Jerry Bremer to the Iraqi people. I'm sure they're all very grateful."

Going back to the original post, hilzoy, exactly what are you thinking? In a nation that is 60% Arab Shia, 20% Arab Sunni, and 20% Kurd, and I don't know the details....but do you imagine that a Constitution ratifiable by a majority but amendable only by a super majority makes sense or would work?

I have liked the Bremer plan since I first heard it. In this situation, consent of the governed is very obviously critical.


I'm afraid that it's more like German-Lutherians vs. Quakers vs. Southern slaveowners vs. Deists--and they're all armed to the teeth and know that there is no frontier to slide into. They can't pull a Joseph Smith or a Brigham Young and head for land that "nobody wants" because, these days, we all know that there is no such land. Minority rights in the US got a hell of a lot more complicated once the territories became states, and that took over a hundred years.

The Iraqis in their multiplicity are fighting over a much smaller territory than our country had to, and they know that their neighbors will not probably take them in; they saw what happened to the Palestinians, and the Kurds are even less well positioned to garner sympathy. They have no room for leeway; there is no absorptive frontier, and diplomacy is at this point trying to forestall ethnic cleansing.

As opposed to this war as I was from the outset, I had not really understood how divided Iraqis were.

What the US can try to do now, I think, is to patch up relations with surrounding states. Surely we can appeal upon Turkey not to react to Kurdish autonomy with hysterics? Surely we can bite our tongue, suck it up, and appeal to the EU to admit Turkey in, as a carrot? Surely we can at least enter into negotiations with Iran? (I know that they seem to hold all the cards at the moment, but Iran's leaders aren't completely irrational on the scale of Kim Jon Il or Mullah Omar, I would submit.)

Iraq is headed into civil war, given the incentive for neighboring states not to absorb militant refugees. At the very least, we need to make sure, as best we can, that the disaster doesn't turn into a regional war.

In my daydreams, the Sunnis all go to Saudi Arabia, and Iran ends up modernizing under the pressure of a two-front war between Kurdish militants in its borders and independent Shi'ites who've slipped centralized control. But there are so many bodies from now to then, and so many of them are innocents...

Gary, I'm skeptical of the weighting you give to temporary versus permanent governments here. I have in mind the experience of postwar Japan, which had a constitution handed to it a year after the war ended, got a government under that a year later, and didn't regain real sovereignty until five years after that. Nonetheless, the postwar era went fairly well. There's stuff that should have happened that didn't, like a thorough purge of war criminals in the zaibatsu, but I can understand why it didn't, and there was even so a goodly amount of justice and civil order.

That's the key, I think: a well-run occupation, that's basically honest and open in its relationships with the occupied people, and which is clearly moving in the direction of a return to self-governance. Which I do know you're in favor of too - this isn't a covert poke or anything, just saying "this other good should be a higher priority".

Rilkefan: George Carlin? I first saw it on Juan Cole (8th August) but he had quote-marks on it but no name, suggesting he didn't know the origin.

Can't be Leno, he hasn't said anything funny for years now.

I don't think this is Sunnies vs. Shia & Kurds struggle; it seems more geographical than sectarian, considering that Al Sadr is on the anti-federalist side of things. I'm pretty sure that eventually Sunnies and Shia will find a compromise and it'll turn into traditional 'Arabs vs. Kurds' model.

Gary, I'm skeptical of the weighting you give to temporary versus permanent governments here. I have in mind the experience of postwar Japan, which had a constitution handed to it a year after the war ended, got a government under that a year later, and didn't regain real sovereignty until five years after that. Nonetheless, the postwar era went fairly well.

First of all, I may not have made it clear that in my last comment in this thread, I wasn't presenting my argument; I was presenting the argument for the Constitution Now case, as I understood it.

An entirely different question is "will that plan work?"

And my answer is, this minute (ask me again in five minutes): no idea, but I'm not a raging optimist at this point.

That is, I do think there's some abstract validity to the argument I presented (which is not mine). But success or failure depends upon the circumstances and specifics on the ground, and as we know, those are lousy. On the flip side, insurgencies, in fact, have been supressed a number of times in the last hundred years, under lousy, horrific, circumstances, and, yes, democracy has been introduced to countries (or, at least, an insurgency was suppressed; which it is depends where).

On the other hand, I'd say, Bruce, that Japan (and Germany) make pretty darn lousy comparisons to Iraq. The main differences are that both countries were utterly laid waste and utterly defeated, and most of all, in Japan, the Emperor's authority was completely preserved, just made subservient to SCAP, to MacArthur as Supreme Commander Allied Pacific. So there was simply no question of any significant Japanese resistance to the orders of the Emperor; if you didn't like it, you killed yourself.

Obviously, the situation in Iraq is wildly different.

Okay, Gary, I missed your purpose in the previous post. (There's a reason I try to flag "this is me attempting to present someone else's case, as I understand it".)

I agree that the situations in Japan and Germany were quite different, and intended to suggest by the longer timetable in Japan than Iraq that even more going slow is in order now, but, um, I didn't actually say that. Oops.

What I was thinking when I wrote this was: clearly, it would be best, by far, for there to be a constitution that everyone agreed to, where 'everyone', ideally, means not just the people on the drafting committee, but the people they (supposedly) represent. Next best option, I think, is that all the people on the committee buy into the constitution, and thus have some incentive to try to sell it to their respective communities, which would be easier because they had bought in, since that would make it at least a little harder to portray the constitution as just a Shi'a/Kurd constitution (or whatever.) Worst is for someone to walk away.

The question I was thinking about when I wrote this was: does the fact that the Sunnis can veto the constitution if they can get 2/3 of the voters in 3 provinces make any of these options more likely, or less? I thought: it probably encourages the Sunnis not to compromise. (Parenthetical note: I am not sure which of the parties is being intransigent here. I suspect that some one of the parties could compromise more, but I don't know which.) It also makes it possible for them to delay Iraq's getting a constitution, which is bad in its own right. And it will certainly lead to more violence in the Sunni provinces, I think.

Probably, it also gives them increased leverage in negotiations. Does this outweigh the various bad things listed above? It's not clear to me that it does. (Another parenthetical note: I have read, in various places, speculation about why the Sunnis are holding out against a federal system. If it's because they want there to be a unified Iraq for them to govern, that strikes me as a bad reason. I can't, offhand, think of reasons why a federal system wouldn't be good for a geographically concentrated minority.)

But I wasn't trying to argue e.g. that it's not important for people to buy into the constitution. I was just wondering: does Sunni veto power make that more likely, or less? And if it's beneficial, does that outweigh the point about increased violence in the Sunni provinces in the runup to the election?

"think of reasons why a federal system wouldn't be good for a geographically concentrated minority"

Lack of resources as bargaining chips.

IIRC, the Sunnis don't even have decent agricultural possibilities. If the Sunnis controlled the nation's water and electricity they could exchange for oil revenues, they would be in a better position.
Unless you trust the Shia and Kurds to fairly and disinterestedly distribute oil revenue and jobs. I don't. Famous ME line:"Corruption is what we call family values."

For blue staters, incidentally, this may say something about the value of control of urban areas and administration,technical, etc assets. Moqtada is very concerned for his poor urban base. If this is historically how the Shia have behaved, attempting to monopolize assets, which before oil would have been the produce of the river basins, I can understand how the Sunni could form coalitions and rule for 700 years.

"not important for people to buy into the constitution. I was just wondering: does Sunni veto power...

More likely, if the Shia compromise. I believe the Sunni need to rule only if not ruling is catastrophic, which appears to be the case. We see some of this in our own country:the Republicans believe that 51% gives them absolute, unchecked unquestionable power. If they persist in this attitude we simply must make sure they never gain that power again, for it will end in violence.

"Consent of the governed" not majority rule makes for civil society.

Command Post on Moqtada

"I can't, offhand, think of reasons why a federal system wouldn't be good for a geographically concentrated minority."

Because the Sunni area has next to no oil, and thus would be an impoverished little powerless region, somewhat better off than the Gaza Strip, but not all that much.

"Unless you trust the Shia and Kurds to fairly and disinterestedly distribute oil revenue and jobs. I don't."

Of course, one of the prime reasons the Sunni representatives have all rejected the Constitution is that there's no guarantee in it, as they've demanded, that future, as well as current, oil revenues have to be distributed evenly, rather than just to the region they're pumped from.

LAT nadezdha and Ackerman on Sadr building a coalition

Gary: yes, but that will be the case regardless of what they agree on. I would have thought that at least a system that gave more power to regions and less to the federal government would protect them from attempts to Shi'a-ize the whole country.

I also would have thought that the point about the distribution of oil revenues was distinct from the federalism, or lack thereof, of the government.

Okay, let me be brutal, for I do believe Irq can be made to work.

Historically, the Iraqi Sunni have had a asset that allowed them to compete:their Arab Sunni allies. Like the Ottoman Empire.
Americans, by taking the side in this civil war of the Iranian backed Shia, and calling the Sunni's terrorists and insurgents, by making the Kurds invulnerable and indifferent to the Arab disputes, by attempting to interdict Syrian etc support for the Sunni, have disturbed the balance of power and made peace impossible.

OTOH, history tells us that, for whatever reason, the Sunnis usually end up winning this thing. So if Americans would get out of the way, but step in if either faction looks like it might become dominant, and tell and show the Kurds that they are dependent on the outcome, after much violence I do believe a unified Democratic Iraq could be possible. There is no other option.

I realize the withdrawal faction thinks this outcome would result from withdrawal (except Yglesias, who thinks the Sunni will be chattel for a generation), but I think true withdrawal would actually result in another Sunni dictator.

Brad Plumer

Plumer discusses and links to the Krepinevich analysis floating around. Drum and Gilliard are also discussing Krep today.
Plumer also links to Jason Vest on counter-insurgency strategies.

Willful Ignorance

Forget where, but I read recently that the Kurds won't die for "Iraq", and the Shia won't die for "Iraq", and the Sunnis will only die for an "Iraq" that they rule. I simply don't believe that the Kurds/Shia can possibly create an "legitimate" Iraqi government, that there is currently no such critter, that there won't be without the Sunni, and so we do not have an insurgency.

Bob McManus:

"Famous ME line: 'Corruption is what we call family values'"

Actually famous throughout the world; probably a human trait. New Jersey does a pretty good job of it; as does Tom Delay and the current dynasty of Bushes.

Interestingly and very generally speaking, the hard Communist systems and the U.S. meritocracy, such as it is, both managed to
smash this type of corruption. Of course, "family values" found its way back into the Communist systems pretty quickly, as people desperately needed to take of their own. And I have a feeling that as we take the social safety net apart here, folks will again become more "corrupt" to lend the less fortunate members of their families a helping hand.

I certainly would.

Billmon on Hamilton vs Hakim

"By contrast, the Baghdad experiment (think of Frankenstein and his monster) is about consolidating the gains of the victors from the American invasion and sticking it to the losers. Maybe such a result was inevitable, given Iraq's tortured history and the hovering presence of the global hegemon. But it means that instead of a peace treaty, the resulting document looks more like a declaration of war -- a war which American dollars will have to fund, and American soldiers will have to fight." ...Billmon

Best to blow this "Constitution" off and start over.

"Gary: yes, but that will be the case regardless of what they agree on."

Certianly not in terms of what the Sunni deem acceptable, and reasonably understanably so (if we're still talking about distribution of oil revenues). It's important to keep in mind that many Sunni still believe their population is the majority in Iraq, as well as the general sense of extreme entitlement, well beyond the fact that the Shia and Kurds are, indeed, trying to stick it to them as best they can. They're both paranoid and have real enemies.

"I would have thought that at least a system that gave more power to regions and less to the federal government would protect them from attempts to Shi'a-ize the whole country."

I don't have any understanding that that's so much a primary or urgent consideration for the Sunni just now, although I could be all wrong. But my impression is that the sense of being a majority I just mentioned, and the sense of entitlement I just mentioned, give them a relative lack of worry about that, for now. Notice how the Sunni leaders immediately appealed yesterday to "the Arab League, and the UN," to save them. They ain't coming, honey, but these folks are deluded enough to think it's likely, maybe even inevitable, some of them; it's not a realistic view of things, which is always a bit of a problem in a negotiation; I may be all wrong, but I suspect you're imputing more rationality to the Sunni actors here than is justified (the other two sides have tendencies in that direction to, but less so, because they have more real power).

And realistically, I think Shia-ization is a serious threat in the near term; the country has too many practical problems, and the Sunni too many weapons, and the Shia enough internal fights and incoherency and lack of experience at a non-Saddam government, for that to be something to worry about for now. And the Shia are in even less position to threaten the Kurds, who have it relatively together, after about 14 years practice.

So, no, I don't see the Sunnis as seeing a benefit there, and I think they're correct. (I could be all wrong.)

"I also would have thought that the point about the distribution of oil revenues was distinct from the federalism, or lack thereof, of the government."

It could be. But it isn't under this Constitution, as I understand it. The Shia will form a Southern Shiastan Autonomous region, and the Sunni worry they'll be left to rot. A not unreasonable worry, strengthened by the very rejection they've received over this constitution. But if oil revenues don't have an Autonomous Region to get trapped in, things are at least considerably more muddied, and thus a little less more clearly awful for the Sunnis.

This is how it pretty clearly looks to me, anyway, but last time: I could be all wrong; I've gotten things about Iraq wrong before, he said with chagrin. (In 1991 I advocated containment of Iraq; with the post-war revelation of the WMD, that was obviously wrongheaded of me, because the war became retroactively justified for me by the fact that without it, Saddam would have had nuclear weapons within a couple of years, and I regard that as worth the 1991 war [there are more reasons, but that's the short version]; and, as we know, I gave tepid support to this invasion, despite my utter distrust of President Bush, completely misunderestimating the way he and his appointees would completely screw it up; I made the mistake of assuming they'd leave it to the professionals in the military and State; boy, was I an idiot. So I feel pretty cautious about urging my views on Iraq on anyone at this point: there's pretty good evidence that you should ignore my opinion on the subject.)

A lá CB, or maybe not, I just wanted to be the first to type, "Don't stand in the path of the insurgicane".

Oooh, there was a time-stamp in the preview...

I just wanted to be the first to type, "Don't stand in the path of the insurgicane"

Western Hemisphericentrist. Since it was democra-nami, it has to be insurgi-phoon.

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