Monday, June 16, 2008

Tipping Point

In all asymmetric wars there comes a time when the tide definitely turns against one side or the other. History, or the gods of Mount Olympus, get tired of the game and decide to pick a winner.

Military experts call it the tipping point. This does not mean that all fighting suddenly comes to a halt. Nor does it mean that the loser would necessarily throw in the towel. What it means is that after the “tipping point”, the loser has no prospect of restoring the balance of power without which no war continues for long.

In Algeria, the tipping point came in 1995 with its first free multi-candidate presidential election.

The tipping point Iraq, too, came with the election, that produced the country’s first freely chosen government under Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. All terrorist and reactionary forces had pooled their resources to make sure those elections won’t happen. The courage of the Iraqi people proved stronger.

However, in 2005 not many shared this view because the debate over Iraq had sharply divided the world before the war had begun. Unconsciously, many people of goodwill wanted new Iraq to fail, which meant a win for terrorists; not because they loved Al Qaeda but because they hated George W Bush.

Now that the Bush presidency moves towards its close, many opponents of new Iraq, especially in the West and Arab countries, are beginning to admit that new Iraq is not failing.

Some are even expressing joy about the fact that Al Qaeda and Jaish al-Mahdi and other terror gangs have been defeated.

As long as Bush doesn’t get the credit, all is OK. Maybe President Barack Obama will end up claiming credit for the success in a speech in Baghdad, ending with a phrase in Arabic: I am a Baghdadi! Since Obama sees himself as a new John F Kennedy, he would have no qualms about imitating JFK who ended a speech in Berlin with the famous phrase: Ich bin ein Berliner!

Anyway, what matters is that today even the most determined critics of the war are beginning to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Iraq might not be the quagmire they have claimed it was since 2003.

Even Obama now admits that although there are not “many good options” in Iraq, there may be some!

One such good option, of course, is to remain committed until new Iraq’s institutions are solidified, its security fully assured, and its economy put back on track.

All that is the good news.

Now for the bad news; yes, as always and everywhere, there is some.

The elections that gave the new system legitimacy, thus helping bring about the tipping point, is beginning to fade in Iraqi memories. In a democracy, mandates need to be renewed, sometimes faster than the governing elite hopes. The “one man, one vote, once “scheme has no place in democracy.

The Iraqi parliament and government are fast approaching their sell-by date. (Many believe they have passed it).

This should not be taken as a criticism of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki whom history is likely to remember as a courageous leader in a difficult time. However, successful or unsuccessful, the incumbents need to be put to the test of popular will again and soon.

There are several reasons for this.

First, the last two elections were, in fact, census operations on a national scale. They were designed to reveal the relative strength of the ethnic and religious communities that together make up the Iraqi nation. The system of voting for lists of candidates was inevitable in a country that had never had free elections and had lived under the most brutal dictatorship since 1958. People could not know individual candidates because Saddam Hussein had not allowed anyone to acquire a political profile.

Now, however, political parties of all description, from monarchist to communist and passing by nationalist, liberal, conservative, Islamist and socialist, have had five years in which to make themselves known and build a support base. In Iraq today, it is possible to vote for party programmes rather than bloc lists of ethnic and/or religious identity.

Second, the list of candidates fielded last time included a disproportionate number of former exiles. That, too, was inevitable because outsiders had had more opportunities to make a name than those inside Iraq. Now, however, a new generation of politicians, homegrown, younger and closer to the reality on the ground is available, and keen, to play a bigger role.

Third, the system of proportional representation used in the previous elections is no longer suitable.

What Iraq needs is a new system under which voters could have a direct relationship with their representatives. This means a system of single, or multi-member constituencies, so that people know whom they are electing.

In proportional representation, party bosses decide who should stand and who should not. This encourages loyalty to the party, rather than the country. The system, which excludes non-party independents, is even bad for parties because it helps promote “yes-men” rather than those who favour debate and dissent.

Fourth, new elections are needed to cut out some of the deadwood in the political elite.

This elite includes some truly embarrassing figures. There are members of parliament who hardly attended a session, content to pocket the fat salary, get hold of the bulletproof limousine, and secure lucrative posts for nephews and cousins. Some spend more time in London and Paris than Baghdad.

Since Iraq is preparing for municipal elections, it could broaden the exercise by including a general election for a new parliament. The ideal time would be at the end of this year or in the fist week of January while George W Bush is still in office and the US commitment beyond question. Even if John McCain succeeds Bush, the Senate and the Congress are likely to be dominated by Democrats, a party whose engine right now is the anti-war network dedicated to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq.

With a new parliament and government in place in Baghdad, backed by a new and stronger popular mandate, the passionate seekers of defeat in the US would find it harder to impose their weird obsession on the new president in Washington.

submitted by AmIr


Ben Sutherland said...

Nice column.

I do think we have an interest in building a more honest, less partisan debate/discussion with Democrats that deals more with persuading people of needs based on realities on the ground rather than mocking or dismissing them. Andrew Sullivan seems to be coming around, on the need for a sustained commitment, and is an intelligent, good-faith independent conservative voice in this discussion, even as I have disagreed with him on this matter.
We are served better by honest, thoughtful, good faith debate and discussion than we are by mocking or dismissing one another. The more I watch it, the more mindless it becomes to me. Maybe I'm guilty of it, too. I should take a look at that.

In the meantime, thanks for the source, Courtney. I'd never encountered it before and it's an excellent one. I'm glad to add it to my daily reading. Good stuff in there. And a nice thoughtful conservative (is that right? I'll keep reading; definitely has that flavor, right now) daily in lieu of the periodic, but not daily, updates of the Economist.

Ben Sutherland said...

By the way, Courtney, have you seen the documentary Obsession, yet?

It's excellent. I'm watching it, right now. It features Daniel Pipes and Carolyn Glick (I'm actually not a huge fan of Carolyn's arguments on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, but she offers some interesting analysis for this documentary).

Highly recomment it, Courtney. I think you'd really like it. Very much brings the danger and ugliness of radical Islam home.

Nikki said...

Great post! I am going to give this a headliner on my blog! LOVE the Iraq topic as it is turning the corner and it is making certain candidates squirm. And "President Obama" that freaked me out a a lot! :)N

Wayne Smith said...

You said: "In proportional representation, party bosses decide who should stand and who should not. This encourages loyalty to the party, rather than the country. The system, which excludes non-party independents, is even bad for parties because it helps promote “yes-men” rather than those who favour debate and dissent."

Under any system, it is party bosses who decide who should stand and who should not. A proportional voting system allows voters to hold those parties and party bosses accountable.

Debbie said...

I agree with you on the political system and current leaders, some weeding out of the chaff is necessary. The role that Sadr and his followers will have, the roll Badr and his followers. They both want spots of their own, but I don't see it.

I got the following from Sadr's diplomatic contact with the U.S. I'm sorry, but diplomatic speak is gibberish to me. It's almost like, tell everybody what they want to hear and hope for the best:

"16 June 2008

Al-Obaidi’s statement of this date, clarifying that the fall election boycott does not really mean an election boycott, but rather a recasting of Sadrists as independents, references. Within this context, I excerpt yesterday’s message:

The rationale: to preempt the PM on any measure particularizing the movement, Sadr holding that he can re-cast/ field Sadrist candidates as independents. While continuing to position the movement within the National Reform Movement as in support for National Liberation from foreign occupation.

Talks with SCIRI continue with two objectives: possibly fielding a joint slate of candidates in fall and to explore feasibility/ desirability of aligning JAM and BADR in common cause. As I have stated, intra-religious amalgamation shall lend itself to inter-religious alignment. That would provide the basis for national reconciliation, at the nexus between the non-governmental and the governmental. Let’s see if we can align cousins Amar and Mookie in common cause. Wouldn’t leave al-Maliki much of a leg to stand on. Father Hakim already embarrassed by us having won Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani over to our side. As I said, we have been working on him.

As said, we’ll play ball in Amarah. Under the weapons buy-back programme, offered by the PM, we’re getting 6 times the amount the weapons cost us in the first place. Meanwhile, our boys, courtesy of U.S.A. are trading the M-16 for the Kalashnikov. Which makes me somewhat weary, as it will leave us vulnerable to U.S. on munitions. Alas, we’ll revisit, once we’ll know which way Anbar Awakening is turning their weapons. Meanwhile, let’s test the Iraqi Army in their ability/ willingness to go after Iranian-led rogue JAM. As I said during the dinner, we’re the one’s taking out the Iranians, not the Iraqi Army! And let’s make Amarrah another smashing success for the Iraqi Army to advance the argument in favor of advanced “redeployment without replacement.” I continue to state, the sooner we have a timeline for a troop reduction down to 100,000 the better for all sides involved.

Please note: neither did “Open War” mean open war, nor does “election boycott” mean election boycott. Nor does “SOUs will attack U.S. Army” mean to attack U.S. Army. SOUs, which through 5 December were under my command, shall continue to be guided by the August 2007 order. If only, but for once, the boys cleared the final version of their statements, prior to them making the statement. We would not constantly have to clarify the statement for them, ex post facto! lol

I affirm, yet again, as I said in my Farewell Letter to the United States Army of 5 December 2007:

7. (!!!) Between those elements of JAM, who are being quietly integrated into the Iraqi Army and Security Forces, those elements of JAM who, loyal to the Hoyatoleslam, are stood down, and those, who, not loyal to the Hoyatoleslam, are being dispensed with, JAM is being co-opted, compromised and equalized/ neutralized, the order of 29 August 2007 being extended, indefinitely, presupposing continued full cooperation with the U.S.A. The Hoyatoleslam appreciates that for JAM to lay down their arms is a prerequisite for the Sadrist Movement’s evolving political role in a post-Liberation Iraq. JAM is disquieted by talk of long-term basing rights and Anbar Awakening talking about getting even with JAM.

I am pleased with the work rendered. I shall assume that there’ll be no gloating on the part of certain senior members of the Administration about JAM standing down. Any gratuitous comment, on the part of the United States, about what’s now in progress, could be deemed provocative and prove counter-productive.

Looking at who is currently being arrested, I continue to be apprehensive about someone wanting to execute the warrant out for Mookie’s arrest. That would be a bad move. Bad, defined as in bad, bordering the really bad.


Debbie said...

Oops,that last comment was by me,

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth