kerry on Iraq

Kerry has an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, in case you missed it. There’s a lot of crap in it, but there was a bit of good stuff. Highlight:

In recent weeks the administration – in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts – has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. The United States can bolster Brahimi’s limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq’s transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police.

We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers. The events of the past week will make foreign governments extremely reluctant to put their citizens at risk. That is why international acceptance of responsibility for stabilizing Iraq must be matched by international authority for managing the remainder of the Iraqi transition. The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility.

Pretty spot-on, really. I am surprised he was so bold.

What’s most depressing about the situation in Iraq is that the steps most likely to peacefully resolve the situation in Iraq seem to be the ones least likely to be undertaken by the Bush administration.

Let’s talk about elections. UN Security Council Resolution 1511, which the US sponsored, calls for “a timetable and a programme for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution”. While the “interim” constitution was cobbled together and announced with much fanfare, there’s no sign of planning for elections anytime soon in sight. In fact, the constitution itself doesn’t call for elections until January 2005. Why?

Well, the answer from the US seems to be that the infrastructure isn’t in place. There’s no reliable census information, and an attempt to administer elections would result in chaos. (This, despite several novel ideas for quick and accurate census of the population, which were summarily ignored by the CPA.) The underlying current, however, appears to be a strong fear that direct elections, if held now, would result in a Shiite-dominated theocracy – “another Iran”. Despite the very real logistical obstacles to hold elections, you can’t escape the feeling that elections are stalling because the CPA if afraid of how they’d turn out.

Yet, this assumption itself may be false. Elections held recently in Dhi Qar for local officials results in overwhelmingly secular results. The hysterical assumption that direct elections in Iraq would result in an oppressive theocracy may be entirely wrong. Nonetheless, it should be the people of Iraq that decide, not the CPA. The rhetoric of Democracy loses its novelty when it’s not reinforced by the real deal.

But Sistani is certainly operating on the assumption that direct elections operate in his favor. His discontent is centered around the lack of free elections, a fundamental tenet of his cooperation with the CPA.

Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr, while he may be a violent criminal (Juan Cole calls him a millenarian), is a popular one. Writing him off as a “thug” with “minority support” neglects to consider what “minority support” in a country dominated (60%) by Shiite muslims means. With even 10-15% support, that’s 1-2 million people willing and able to provide logistical support and a recruiting base (which overwhelmingly violent use of force by the US also helps to increase). However, from what I gather, Sistani could easily rein in Sadr if he wanted, by force if necessary. The fact that he hasn’t thus far seems to indicate two possibilities:

  1. Sistani wants to send a message to the CPA, and is doing so by letting Sadr gain steam. Namely, that they don’t have control of the country without his cooperation.
  2. Sistani and Sadr have an agreement in opposition to the US occupation.

It goes without saying that if scenario 2) is the case, the US is seriously screwed, but I consider 1) to be more likely. So we have two mutually opposed forces here: Sistani, who wants immediate, free elections, and the US/CPA, who doesn’t.

The answer to all this seems fairly simple to me, and it’s just as Kerry outlines: We need to transfer authority and control, in a very big, symbolic way, to the United Nations. Even the United Nations itself doesn’t currently think that elections are viable, but at least in the UN’s presence, doubts or fears about delayed elections are quelled by the legitimacy of an international presence. The people of Iraq are losing faith in the intention of the United States to bring true Democracy to their country, and with good reason. The United States could correct the course of its actions, but I think it may be too late to stem the tide of anti-US sentiment in Iraq.

This, then, is why the situation is depressing. The Bush administration is now evidently not above asking for help, even from our reviled nemesis, France. However, ceding actual authority seems to be a near impossibility, purely because of the symbolic show of weakness/defeat that it is percieved to show. The Bush administration has proven that they will always be the last to admit they made a mistake (if ever).

I am having trouble imagining a rosier scenario in Iraq until Kerry is elected here. But November is a long way away.