- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

The United States should administer Iraq decisively with United States and international civil servants protected by a muscular Unites States military. A democratic dispensation should be shelved until its economy is thriving and domestic tranquility is unworrisome. The creation of the Iraqi Governing Council, composed of 25 unelected and fractious Iraqi grandees, to assume administrative powers and to arrange for a new Iraqi constitution within 18-24 months was ill-advised and should be abandoned.

At present, what counts for most Iraqis is less their form of government than that it is well administered. Their peeves pivot on erratic utilities, a languishing economy, and a feeble administration of justice. Few are clamoring for immediate elections or the luxury of democratic paralysis or irresolution to be expected from an Iraqi assembly. Self-government, furthermore, would be a novelty in Iraq. Human nature anguishes more over a loss of democratic freedoms than a deferral of their birth.

As the inimitable sage Sam Johnson lectured, a man is never so innocently occupied as when he is making money. The stimulation of economic expansion in Iraq is thus urgent to its reconstruction and eventual democratic blossoming. That requires domestic and foreign investment and open markets earmarked by freedom of contract. But long-term investment is frightened by political imponderables that could make a $100 million plant worthless overnight with no legal remedy. Political constancy and a legal system delivering speedy and reliable justice are indispensable to economic growth and climbing employment.

For the foreseeable future, only a United States authority and administration can promise both to excite investors. Reinforced by our peerless military, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, could guarantee unchanging American political control and free market economics for a period of years commensurate with long-term planning by private enterprise. Ministries could by manned by seasoned retired U.S. or international civil servants, as has been done in Kosovo, East Timor and Bosnia.

In contrast to Iraqis, these ministerial officials would be untempted by political ambition or personal loyalties to compromise an evenhanded discharge of their duties. Investors and entrepreneurs would be buoyed by confidence in bureaucratic regularity and predictable administration. Hong Kong’s miracle is instructive. It dwarfs Communist China in wealth and economic magnetism largely because of the honesty of its civil service.

What is thwarting an Iraqi economic boom and fueling popular restiveness is the uncertain political landscape caused by the untested Iraqi Governing Council. According to a report in The Washington Post last Saturday, aides to two of its members said that the 25 appointees would name Cabinet ministers and establish a committee to commence drafting a constitution in two weeks. The aide to Adnan Pachachi, an erstwhile foreign minister for Iraq, explained that the council aimed to accelerate a transition from United States occupation, which he opined could end by 2004.

But those twin prospects will alarm and deter would-be investors. Members of the Iraq Governing Council are rivals whose ambitions clash and vault. Their popular political bases are thin. They will be inclined to employ their ministries to reward political friends and to punish political enemies. Corruption and personal connections will replace competition as the touchstone of marketplace success. The policies and administration of one ministry may war with that of another. Investors and entrepreneurs will eschew Iraq because of such fluky and unsavory regulatory, licensing and government contracting decisions.

They will be further chilled by the monumental uncertainty unloosed by entrusting to 25 fissiparous Iraqi appointees responsibility for organizing a constitutional convention to craft a new dispensation. None of these putative architects of a democratic Iraq has ever organized free and fair elections that would satisfy western standards. None heads a grass-roots political party governed by democratic rules, such as open primaries or conventions to select nominees or party leaders. None commands national respect or homage. None has displayed a willingness to sacrifice personal ambition for the welfare of the Iraqi nation. No consensus obtains regarding the application of democratic principles to a land bedeviled by tribal, ethnic, and religious divisions and vendettas.

In all of these respects, the Iraqi Governing Council resembles the loya jirga in post-Taliban Afghanistan entrusted with democratizing the nation and plucking order from chaos. That Afghan experiment is sobering. President Hamid Karzai rules a handful of streets in Kabul, while brigandage and warlordism flourish everywhere else. Private investment is nil; and, a permanent constitution has yet to appear.

Fashioning a constitution for Iraq under the aegis of the Iraqi Governing Council is thus problematic. The troubling unknowns include whether private property will be scrupulously protected, confiscatory taxation prohibited, due process in the administration of the law assured, a separation of powers enshrined, a Bill of Rights saluted and political legitimacy secured. If answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, writing a new constitution may become an annual Iraqi exercise and domestic insurgencies against the governing elite may be chronic.

Iraq’s economy will remain motionless in the horse latitudes because the political risks for investors will be prohibitive. Popular discontent and discord will intensify, and Iraq could disintegrate like Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union.

In sum, self-government for Iraq is the right thing. But the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.

Bruce Fein is a founding partner of Fein & Fein.

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