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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An Iraqi Hugo Chavez

Henry Kissinger, who was in favor of the invasion of Iraq, has a basically pro-Bush Op-Ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune outlining his views of how we should and should not get out of Iraq. Beginning with the essentially true premise that Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists groups gain strength when they are perceived to have exploited and exposed the weaknesses of their enemies (the U.S.), Kissinger defines the circumstances in which the U.S. can "lose" in Iraq as follows:

It [modern Islamic extremism] is an ideological outpouring comparable to the early days of Islam by which Islam's radical wing seeks to sweep away secularism, pluralistic values and Western institutions wherever Muslims live.

Its dynamism is fueled by the conviction that the designated victims are on the decline and lacking the will to resist. Any event that seems to confirm these convictions compounds the revolutionary dynamism. If a fundamentalist regime is installed in Baghdad or in any of the other major cities, such as Mosul or Basra, if terrorists secure substantial territory for training and sanctuaries, or if chaos and civil war mark the end of the American intervention, jihadists would gain momentum wherever there are significant Islamic populations or nonfundamentalist Islamic governments. No country within reach of jihad would be spared the consequences of the resulting upheavals sparked by the many individual centers of fanaticism that make up the jihad.


At the moment, it seems indisputable that all of three of Kissinger's loss-defining circumstances are prevailing -- (1) Islamic fundamentalists are politically powerful in Iraq generally, (2) terrorists are able to use Iraq as a staging ground for terrorist attacks, and (3) there is substantial chaos and brewing sectarian strife.

But war proponents claim that we are on the road to creating civic institutions and security structures in Iraq to alleviate the last two of Kissinger's three conditions for losing: namely, a stable Iraqi Government will be able to eliminate social chaos and will enable Iraq to effectively battle against terrorists. Those predictions seem rather optimistic (like so many of the war proponents' claims have been and continue to be), but even if those two objectives can be more or less achieved, what basis is there for believing that Iraqi democracy will produce a government other than a fundamentalist Shiite theocracy?

The vast majority of Iraqi Shiites -- who form the majority of Iraqis generally -- follow the dictates of conservative Shiite clerics, not just with regard to religious matters but social and political ones as well. The most influential Shiite leaders, by far, are the country's Ayatollahs, beginning with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. And the established and leading Shiite political parties, while paying some lip service to small amounts of secular freedom, plainly desire a government based on the supremacy of Islam. The storied Iraqi Constitution expressly bars the enactment of any laws which are inconsistent with Islamic law, and while tortured negotiations rendered a clause which the Americans could claim was vague enough to permit a less theocratic meaning, it seems highly unlikely that, with American influence waning, the Constitution will end up with the more liberal, secular interpretation.

In all events, after an almost 3 year American occupation that has been bloody and plagued with one P.R. disaster after the next, it is impossible to envision a pro-American government being elected to anything in Iraq outside of the North. The best that one can reasonably hope for seems to be some sort of Iraqi Hugo Chavez-type government -- one which spouts anti-American rhetoric but which confines its hostility to speeches and symbolic gestures. But there are countless possibilities which are far worse from the perspective of American interests and, at the moment, seem quite possible, if not likely.

Kissinger says that we will have emboldened Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups -- meaning we will have lost -- if we leave Iraq with an Islamic fundamentalist regime in place. But things certainly look to be headed in that general direction. And unlike with regard to the problems of Iraqi civil chaos and terrorist groups operating freely there -- problems which, at the least theoretically, we can still do something about -- we are powerless to stop Iraqi Shiites from electing exactly the type of government which Kissinger says will embolden our enemies.

In some sense, Iraqi democracy is a Frankenstein which we have created but now cannot control. Democracy is hardly a guarantee of pro-U.S. Governments. Iran has elections, and Hugo Chavez's power has been repeatedly bolstered by massive electoral victories. And, of course, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor by virtue of the Nazi Party's genuine victory in German elections.

It is difficult to imagine a more ignominious outcome for the resource-draining war we have been waging then to end up with a democratically elected (and therefore unquestionably legitimate) Iraqi government which is as hostile to the U.S. as Saddam was, but worse, is an ally of the Iranian mullahs or worse.

With elections about to take place in Iraq, we are sure to be witnessing the standard celebratory dancing in which the pro-war contingent engages whenever the Iraqi electoral process moves forward. Plans for such celebrations are already underway in the predictable Bush-loving precincts. But from the perspective of U.S. interests, Iraqi democracy by itself is not a value. As Kissinger points out, whether those things are to be considered victories, or losses, for the U.S. all depends on who gains power as a result of those elections.

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