Friday, January 28, 2005
Iraq's Jan. 30 elections will have two key outcomes: the creation of a Shiite-dominated government and a major escalation of violence. The first will require a period of intense negotiations involving the Transitional National Assembly, the Interim Iraqi Government and the Sunni principals. While this is going on, however, the normal state of violence in Iraq could descend into sheer anarchy -- at least in the short term.
The heart of the letter is a warning that the election will not produce a clear and immediate result in the way that U.S. elections did (at least before 2000), but that it will set off a period of politicking among the various forces vying for power in Iraq. Violence will be a part of that.
The Stratfor letter also distinguishes Iraq's prospects from Afghanistan's, and suggests that the success of elections in the latter is not a reason to have hope about the former.
When contrasted with Afghanistan's path toward regime-change and democratization, the problems Iraq faces appear particularly pronounced.
Whereas Afghanistan's teeming jihadist armies and their local allies were eventually neutralized, Iraq's jihadists only consolidated themselves after the Saddam Hussein regime was ousted. Afghanistan was the global headquarters of al Qaeda-led jihadist forces until the U.S. military ousted the host Taliban regime in November 2001. Since then, no major al Qaeda activity has been reported in Afghanistan, while the Taliban have experienced a major degradation in their capabilities as a result of counterterrorism operations and internal factionalization. In Iraq, on the other hand, the Sunni guerrillas who make up the bulk of the insurgents -- and who reportedly are coordinating with fighters under the command of the country's al Qaeda chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to derail the political process -- have grown stronger over time.
Additionally, Iraq's various ethno-nationalist communities, which had been living in relative accommodation with one another, are now teetering so close to conflict that the state's viability has come into question. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the long-warring ethnic factions have, through the democratization process, agreed to some extent on the rules of the game and are beginning to channel their rivalries into the political system.
The situation in Afghanistan remains under relative control for two main
reasons: There are fewer American troops to shoot at and the ethnic groups to a great degree are geographically separated. That said, the expectation threshold also was much lower for Afghanistan than it has been for Iraq.
Oddly enough, the Afghan process is showing much more promise than that in Iraq, despite the fact that Afghanistan has a history of monarchical rule, Marxist stratocracy and Islamist civil war. Iraq, although under the autocratic rule of the Baath Party for the last 35 years, retained some semblance of a political culture.
Stratfor and its founder, George Friedman, have long argued that the Iraq war was important to the war on terror because it had the prospect of improving our ability to coerce Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran to our side. Indeed, he believes that we have accomplished that objective. He is very critical, however, of the effort to promote democracy in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. In Friedman's view, it is counterproductive "mission creep" that now threatens to undermine our gains (for more, see his new book America's Secret War).
We shall see.
UPDATE: For a very different view, a reader points us to Christopher Hitchens' most recent essay in Slate.
The extraordinary and undeniable thing is that, in a country that was dying on its feet and poisoning the region a couple of years ago, there is now a real political process that has serious implications for adjacent countries. The way back to Baathism and personal despotism is blocked, and the task of the clerical fanatics is in the long run an impossible one. (Ask yourself: When was the last time you read about Muqtada Sadr's supposedly unstoppable "Mahdi Army"?) Crudely but firmly, the coalition forces are meanwhile acting as the militia for those who have no militia. Whatever happens next week, this is some cause for pride.
Friedman's current prophesy is entirely consistent with his prior prediction -- surprise surprise -- which is a product of cynicism and delusion. If the Iraq festivities we egaged in were successful, how can it be mission creep to ensure that Iraq is now stabilized? The concepts don't fit well. Unless of course you beleive we did the right thing in 1991 - liberate Kuwait from Saddam but leave Saddam in power.
When you wage war, you have to finish the job. The country must be left secure and governed, not in chaos. Presumably, it should also be aligned with the victor in some way.
Friedman's complaint really does not hold water. A Christopher Hitchens piece from Slate, and reprinted in the New York Sun, has a better perspective I think.
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