The Sharansky Fallacy

On Meet the Press Sunday morning, Natan Sharansky had his head handed to him by Pat Buchanan, a sight both instructive and inspiring to behold. Sharansky’s recent book, The Case for Democracy, has been identified by none other than our president as a primary source of his new and improved Bush Doctrine, which calls for the overthrow of "tyranny" the world over and ties our own safety as a nation to the "democratic" bona fides of Burma, Bolivia, and Burkina Faso. Noting the Israeli legislator’s enthusiasm for capital-D Democracy as a panacea, Pat wondered if that applied to the Gaza Strip: "If you believe in democracy that much, would you allow the fate of the settlers in Gaza to be decided by all the people of Gaza? Let them vote on whether the settlers should stay or go." For a moment, the flow of words from the usually glib Sharansky ceased gushing, and the look on his face – that of a confidence trickster who’s been caught out – was priceless.

Go, Pat, go!

Seeing Pat puncture the intellectual pretensions of the puffed-up Sharansky beats the best espresso as a morning tonic. But we never believed that democratist palaver in the first place. That’s just for the rubes, the deluded GOP rank-and-file who have to believe in something as a Republican president defends federal entitlements, expands the power and scope of the federal government, and leads the charge against civil liberties previously treasured by conservatives. George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisors have no more intention of exporting democracy to, say, Uzbekistan, or Saudi Arabia, or any of the other nations of the Middle East, than the Devil has of going to church. If it’s a byproduct of U.S. actions, then fine, but what’s important is that the Bushies’ geopolitical intention – the division and destruction of Iraq beyond the hope of reconstitution – is well on the way to being an accomplished fact.

It didn’t take a genius to see that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would lead to the break-up of what was, after all, an artificial nation, one created by some British diplomat drawing lines on a map. Iraqis often complain that ethnic and religious conflict in their country is exaggerated by outsiders: but when it comes to politics, sectional interests invariably win out over national concerns, as underscored by the results of the recent election.

The Iranian-backed United Iraqi Alliance list, endorsed by the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Sistani, swept to victory with 48 percent of the popular vote. This will translate into 140 seats in the National Assembly. The united Kurdish slate came in second with 26 percent, good for 75 seats, and the list headed by U.S.-appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came in a distant third with around 14 percent, or 40 seats. The rest of the vote was divided among a collection of small ethnic parties, as well as the Iraqi Communist (People’s Union) slate, which won two seats; the Sadrists with three seats; two pro-Iranian parties, the Islamic Kurdish Society (two seats) and the Islamic Labor Movement in Iraq (two seats); and two secular splinter parties, with one seat each.

The Iraqi political landscape resembles Israeli politics in the sense that the electorate is severely fragmented along religious as well as ethnic and ideological lines: not only that, but in Iraq the divisions are exacerbated by the structure of the "interim" constitution, which will no doubt come in for some sharp challenges by the Shi’ite parties. Even if the Sistani list had polled over 50 percent, the ayatollah’s people still wouldn’t be able to write Islamic law into the constitution, as they would like, because the decisions of the National Assembly are for the most part subject to a two-thirds rule. Under this system, small parties will hold the key: they’ll be able to stop legislation, bring down a government, and hold the entire nation for ransom, just as in Israel, where the minor religious splinter parties wield political influence way out of proportion to their actual vote totals.

This two-thirds rule also applies to the ratification of the constitution, and, in the popular referendum to be held at the end of this year, the document can only be approved "if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it" – which effectively gives the Kurds a veto.

The realization that their dreams of founding an Islamic "republic" are going to be frustrated by the Kurds – and, standing behind them, the Americans – is bound to produce a radicalization of the Shi’ites. We have not heard the last of Moqtada Sadr and his followers. The Sadrists fought the Americans in Najaf and, instead of being hunted down and jailed (as the Americans vowed to do), now have consolidated their power in the south and hold local offices. But this simmering crisis is not nearly as explosive as the upcoming struggle for oil-rich Kirkuk, long considered the Kurdish Jerusalem, and also a center of Arab settlement and major concentrations of Assyrian Christians (Chaldeans).

The elections saw a Kurdish victory in Kirkuk, and they will want to claim it as part of semi-autonomous Kurdistan, which will be mightily resisted by the mainstream Shi’ite parties – SCIRI and Da’wa – as well as the Turkmen Front (backed by the Turkish government) and other religious and ethnic minorities in Kurdistan. Turkey, for its part, has threatened to intervene militarily if the Kurds take over Kirkuk, and that could well be the first major crisis faced by the Iraqi government as they try to navigate the treacherous shoals of Mideast politics while chafing under the burden of military occupation.

Instead of solving Iraq’s problems, "democracy" is bound to make them far worse than they have to be. In a country riven by deep ethnic and religious conflicts that go back thousands of years, putting your fate in the hands of your neighbors may not always be the best idea. Aside from the inherent limitations of majority rule in such a context, however, the fake "democracy" set up by the U.S. occupation authorities has certain extra built-in features that guarantee disaster. The promise of self-rule and national self-determination cannot and will not hold up against the reality written into the interim constitution, which gives a minority – the Kurds – veto power, and renders the National Assembly effectively powerless except as a sounding board.

The complex alliances and rivalries that will play out over the next year, leading up to the referendum and new elections in December, will take place against the backdrop of a growing Sunni insurgency and the near-complete alienation of about 20 percent of the population from the political life of the nation. The great unifying act of voting together in a national election never happened: the much-vaunted turnout rate was only about 59 percent, out of some 14.2 million eligible voters. This was no great shakes. As the Christian Science Monitor pointed out, this was

"Low for a transitional election, and reflected wartime conditions and a boycott by many Sunnis. In elections surveyed by the Monitor that marked a shift from dictatorship to democracy and were sometimes held under war conditions over the past 15 years, turnout has averaged 77 percent. Only Bosnia’s parliamentary elections of 1996, which were boycotted by many Serbs, had lower turnout, with just 46 percent. In the last transitional election, in Afghanistan, turnout was 80 percent."

But Iraq is worse than Bosnia or even Kosovo, where the final ethnic cleansing of the Serbs from the land they still claim as their ancestral homeland is nearly complete: the Sunnis are the Serbs of the Middle East, but are not likely to go as quietly. Kosovars, with their lumpen-Muslim militance and majority status, are the Shi’ites of central Europe. A month from now, it will have been seven years since the bombing of Yugoslavia began, and still American troops are keeping the blood-stained and tyrannical "peace" of Kosovo – with no end in sight.

If anything, Iraq poses a much greater challenge, and promises to impose an even heavier burden, one the U.S. military – and the American economy – cannot long sustain. The year-long "transition" period envisioned by the global social engineers in the Pentagon isn’t sustainable, either: the genie is out of the bottle, an elected government exists in Iraq, and it is bound to break the chains imposed on it by the occupiers. The Americans will soon be fighting on two fronts instead of just one: not only against the military insurgency in the infamous Sunni Triangle, but also against the political insurgency that will rise up out of the process they themselves started. Why, after all, should the National Assembly operate according to rules set down by the occupiers and enshrined in a document that no Iraqi ever voted on? Surely the Assembly will try to write its own rules, and it will be interesting to see how the Americans propose to stop them.

Juan Cole has an updated version of the results, with a more precise minor party breakdown, and makes the point that the Sistani list will have no trouble recruiting from the smaller groups to form a working majority. He also has a somewhat different take on the two-thirds rule. In any event, the main problem for the Americans remains the same: containing the Sistani juggernaut, even as our policies seem to encourage a Baghdad-Tehran axis of Shia.

The elections were a big mistake. Brent Scowcroft is right that they could plunge the nation into a civil war: not just Shi’ite versus Sunnis, but a three-sided struggle also involving the Kurds. The Americans want to have it both ways: they want to be occupiers and they want to be liked, even loved, as "liberators." But to occupy a country is to rule it, and no country can have two rulers, not even in "transition." It is either occupation, or "democracy" – but not both. That is why we must get out, head for the exits – before the war spills over the border and we see the beginning of a regional war.

A BIG THANK YOU

Boy, it was sure scary there for a while: I really didn’t think we were going to make our fundraising goal this time around. But I’m glad to see how wrong I was. All it took was making it clear what we wanted and why we needed it: and, as in any relationship, once the terms of the situation were clearly defined, things got better.

How can I thank you, our faithful readers and supporters, except to announce all this on Valentine’s Day. I’m really feelin’ the love, and for that I am eternally grateful. And to show my gratitude, I’m giving you a Valentine’s Day present – this great search machine. You’ve got to try it: it’s amazing. Many thanks to our resident whiz Mike Ewens for his hard work on the database and search engine.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I have an article in The American Conservative, entitled "Radical Son," an examination of the Dostoyevskian themes in the president’s recent inaugural address. You won’t want to miss this one. The revolutionary (and leftist) origins of the neoconservative foreign policy vision are to be found not only in the warmed-over Trotskyism of Max Shachtman and Christopher Hitchens, but also – surprisingly – in the nihilistic doctrines of Sergei Nechaev. Go find it on your newsstand, or, better yet, subscribe to TAC, which, I maintain, is the best and most consistently interesting magazine of opinion coming out today. Okay, I’m biased – they made me a contributing editor, and I write for them as often as I can – but if you enjoy my columns, you really should subscribe.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].