"When the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal, instead, is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."
– George W. Bush, second inaugural address, Jan. 20, 2005
"No people in the world accepts occupation and nor do we accept the continuation of American troops in Iraq. We regard these forces to have committed many mistakes in the handling of various issues, the first and foremost being that of security, which in turn has contributed to the massacres, crimes, and calamities that have taken place in Iraq against the Iraqis."
They’re finding their own voice in Iraq, but will they use it to ask U.S. troops to leave? This piece in the London Times would seem to answer that question in the affirmative. It looks like Mr. al-Hakim, who heads up the Shi’ite election list endorsed by the Ayatollah Sistani, is going to be in charge after next week’s elections, and there’s lots more on his agenda that isn’t going to please the Americans:
"In comments certain to raise eyebrows in the United States, al-Hakim spoke of a role for Iran and Syria both regarded in Washington as enemies in the war on terror along with Iraq’s other neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait, in the security of the country.
"’These countries have past experiences and good security forces, and with good relations we can solve this problem together,’ he said. ‘Should the security problem continue, it will not end at the border of Iraq but extend to their countries.’"
One has to allow for a certain amount of posturing there is, after all, an election campaign going on in Iraq and al-Hakim is no doubt trying to position himself as an independent nationalist. In speaking to the Guardian, he was a bit more circumspect:
"As a matter of principle it is very clear that no nation accepts an occupation. It should be the Iraqi government that sets a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces. The Iraqi government and the occupation forces should cooperate together to find a suitable timetable in which they can work to have Iraq clear of any occupation forces."
The Sunni parties, on the other hand, are calling for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal prior to holding elections. Clearly the rival parties (Kurds excluded) are competing for the "honor" of who is the most anti-American. (Remember when they were telling us that the Iraqis would welcome their "liberation"? The gratitude of the "liberated" is positively touching.) On the other hand, al-Hakim recently told Reuters:
"We don’t see how postponing the elections would help or add anything. We respect the views of all Iraqis, but we believe having the elections is the best way to quicken the withdrawal of the foreign forces. Through elections we bring a strong government that has the capability of making decisions in the name of Iraqi people, but there is no logic in postponing the elections until a timetable for the withdrawal is set. No one wants foreign troops to stay, but setting a timetable for withdrawal must be done through strong Iraqi government."
In other words: leave it to the Shi’ite-dominated government sure to be ushered in at the end of January. We’ll get rid of the Americans and their allies: trust us. With Sistani’s imprimatur on al-Hakim’s electoral list, a nation that is perhaps as much as 70 percent Shi’ite is primed to turn out in overwhelming numbers on the basis of this trust. Allah help al-Hakim if he fails to deliver in a reasonable amount of time, or betrays that trust outright. The Sadrists would rise, and the Shi’ite community would split: the result could be a three-way civil war.
Iraqis are not used to democracy, and therefore aren’t fully acquainted with an axiom well-known in the West: campaign promises are made to be broken. Several opponents of the war, notably Brent Scowcroft, have predicted that the election, far from leading to national reconciliation and peace, could signal the start of an all-out Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. This administration disagrees. If a timetable for withdrawal is not announced shortly after al-Hakim takes the reins of power, however, Scowcroft’s worst suspicions will very likely be confirmed.
Both Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski envision an American extrication from Iraq accomplished after the UN and the Europeans are brought into the equation, while admitting that the latter are unlikely to come across. But the Iraqis have other ideas. As al-Hakim correctly avers, the war against the insurgency exacerbated by the U.S. presence is already spilling over the border into neighboring countries. By pointing out that these neighbors clearly have a legitimate interest in preventing this, he is clearly implying that they should therefore take part in assisting the newly installed Iraqi government with its "security problem." That means money from the Saudis, Iranian troops, and Syria’s cooperation as the price for ridding the region of the Americans.
Sounds like a plan to me, although I rather doubt the administration is going to go for it. But they may not have much choice, in light of an increasingly vociferous opposition to the war at home and rising calls for an early exit.
As it stands now, the timetable for writing and approving Iraq’s new constitution, and holding new elections, extends all the way into this coming December. The task of the national assembly that will take office shortly is supposedly limited to electing the president and two vice presidents, and hammering out the details of the new constitution. In the meantime, the president and his two deputies will choose a prime minister, who will have control over the armed forces: this is almost certainly going to be al-Hakim.
Once the genie of "democracy" is let out of the bottle, it is hard to see how the Shi’ite majority will be constrained from taking the initiative and expressing the popular will. Furthermore, once al-Hakim is made prime minister if he lives that long he will be granted sweeping powers: he could simply ask the Americans to leave. What then?
We have arrived at a plastic moment, during which we can jump out of the Iraqi quagmire in a single bound and leave the Iraqis to "make their own way," as our president put it the other day. Whether we take it or not is a fateful decision that will put George W. Bush’s words to the test. Are we prepared to see Iranians and Syrians substituting for American troops if they are invited in by the elected government to keep "order" in Iraq? I doubt the Kurds will be too keen on al-Hakim’s invitation to the Turks.
We are fated to hear all sorts of reasons why we shouldn’t leave, and can’t leave, not the least of which is bound to be "the betrayal of the Kurds." (Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair‘s resident peshmerga, can always be counted on to wave the bloody shirt of Kurdish revanchism). The most recent explication of the "Bush Doctrine," as enunciated by the burning Bush himself, is to light "a fire in the mind" that will "warm" our friends and "burn" our "enemies." This dubious doctrine, which proclaims solidarity with "democratic" forces worldwide, in practice means subsidizing and ultimately coming to the rescue of various arsonists Kurdish nationalists, Shi’ite theocrats, "Prime Minister" Iyad Allawi‘s party, and the embezzler Chalabi, all of whom are charitably described as either thuggish authoritarians, or, in Chalabi’s case, dangerous opportunists.
That "untamed fire" Bush boasted of spreading is not the fire of "freedom," but of militant nationalism and religious fanaticism: that is what the war and subsequent occupation have unleashed on the Middle East. The question now is: will we get out in time to avoid getting burned ourselves?
The neoconservatives, back in the saddle, are unlikely to go along with a withdrawal: they have other plans for the Middle East that require an increased U.S. military presence. Iran, Syria, and even Saudi Arabia are in the War Party’s sights, and they are encouraged and emboldened by the president’s pledge to support "democratic" movements worldwide. Just as the last ideological empire that wanted to "liberate" the earth founded an international apparatus to export the Revolution, so America in the grip of a mad millennialism will follow suit if the neocons have their way planting the seeds of protracted conflict throughout the Middle East.
The Ukrainian template will fit neatly in Syria and Iran, perhaps even Saudi Arabia. Funding and supporting "democratic" movements in those countries, while threatening military intervention if they fail to "liberalize" while under siege: the neocon game plan is a Western adaptation of an old Commie tactic subvert from within, while always holding the sword of direct military intervention over the intended victims’ head.
This plastic moment will soon pass: in the next few weeks we either commit ourselves to a long, bloody course of empire in the Middle East, or we withdraw with honor and our dignity intact. Which will it be?
We have a very eventful month ahead of us, and in this fast-moving environment Antiwar.com will be updating you with the latest and freshest news and commentary as usual. So stay tuned.