Monday, March 8, 2004

Convincing evidence convicts President George W. Bush of sacrificing a prolonged and enlightened U.S. occupation of post-Saddam Iraq to the presidential electoral cycle.

The best attitude for capturing the White House, however, is craving being right more than being president. By persisting in a mad dash to transfer United States sovereignty to some unknown indigenous Iraqi authority by June 30, 2004, President Bush is courting a dismembered country, spiraling oil prices, and defeat next November. He should learn from his father’s irresolution over toppling Saddam and his betrayals of the Kurds and Shi’ites at the conclusion of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

President Bush’s inner circle of advisers brims with savvy, international experience, and erudition: Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz. Their collective knowledge and acumen must have alerted the president to the recklessness of the June 30 deadline to a stable and democratic Iraq. The cogent proof is as follows.

Democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and equality has been alien to the people of Iraq for more than 4,000 years. They sport none of the cultural underpinnings of nationhood, self-government or the rule of law. Iraq was artificially born from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 under a British mandate. A monarchy was imposed. An uprising by the majority Shi’ites was suppressed. The Sunni minority parachuted into the commanding heights of power. Kurds in the north were marginalized, who further marginalized Turkmen. Loyalties were to religious, ethnic, or tribal factions, not to the nation or to unifying national creeds or traditions. Iraq has never featured anything comparable to the Declaration of Independence, E Pluribus Unum, the “Star Spangled Banner” or George Washington.

After the overthrow of King Feisal II in 1958, a series of military strongmen ruled Iraq with iron fists or worse until the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Iraqis have never enjoyed the rule of law. A free and fair election according to customary international standards has never been held. Grass-roots political parties with internal democratic rules for selecting party leaders and fashioning party platforms have never been forged. Neither dissent nor questioning of authority has ever been encouraged or acclaimed.

Shi’ites are suspicious of Sunnis and vice versa. Both Arab groups are distrusted by the Kurds, who themselves were prime victims of Saddam’s ethnic and chemical warfare. But Iraqi’s 4 million Kurds in a population of 25 million have never embraced democracy. Where they dominate in the north, Arabs have been evicted and Turkmen persecuted.

Two rival Kurdish cult figures preside over de facto statelets. In a new constitutional dispensation for Iraq, Kurds insist on a 40,000-50,000 pesh merga militia. They are prepared fight for virtual independence and control over lucrative oil in Kirkut and Mosul.

Iraqi’s majority Shi’ites suffered persecution at the hands of Sunnis for more than 80 years. In recent days, Shi’ites commemorating the death of Imam Hussein were killed en masse by Sunnis.

A corresponding carnage of Shi’ites unfolded in Sunni-dominated Pakistan. Shi’ites demand majority rule and special militias as the paths to power, the imposition of the Holy Koran and retribution. Some suspect Shi’ites and their leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani of greater attachment to mullah-controlled Iran than to a secular Iraq, democratic Iraq.

The 25 appointed members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) reflect the centrifugal and sharply conflicting forces within the country. They have yet to agree on an Iraqi interim authority to succeed the Coalition Provisional Authority after June 30.

Shi’ites are clamoring for popular nationwide elections which will ensure their dominance in preparing a final constitution. Sunnis and Kurds are equally adamant against majority rule to block feared subservience to Shi’ites and the Holy Koran.

No faction has displayed an inclination to compromise. All worry that the interim authority will become the permanent authority by manipulating the constitutional convention. In the meantime, the United States is without a negotiating partner needed to authorize American troops on Iraqi soil.

The IGC has been similarly at loggerheads over seminal provisions of an interim constitution. Shi’ites have balked at a Kurdish demand to veto any final charter if two-thirds of Kurdish voters object. They also have clashed with both Sunnis and Kurds over the strength of the presidency and its dominance by Shi’ites. Whether the Holy Koran will trump secularism or vice versa also remains unresolved.

Finally, and most important, the idea of an interim authority enjoying the legitimacy and competence to enforce an interim constitution is chimerical. Iraqi criminal justice is anemic and dysfunctional. The police force is a joke. Not a single Iraqi figure commands nationwide popularity. The prospect of a splintered and convulsed Iraq after June 30 is overwhelming unless President Bush directs an indefinite continuation of the CPA.

In last Saturday’s radio address, the president boasted of magnificent United States success in transforming Iraq into a flourishing democracy. The boast smacked of one-term President Jimmy Carter’s delusional characterization of his disastrous mission to rescue Americans in Tehran as an “incomplete success.” Sound foreign policy and presidential victories are made of less self-delusional stuff.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Fein & Fein and the Lichfield Group.

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