A coup in Iraq?

Well, are we committed to elected government in Iraq, or aren’t we?

The notion that Iraq is now a sovereign state ruled by an elected government really never passed the giggle test, did it? Iraq today is about as sovereign as the nations of Eastern Europe were before 1989; its domestic political activity matters, but only within the limits laid down by the United States.

The al-Maliki government, depending on Moqtada al-Sadr for its political survival, is undoubtedly a weak reed for us to lean on. If the basic problem facing the country is getting sectarian violence under control, a government that can’t afford to offend the main purveyor of sectarian violence isn’t the government you’d like to have. The dismissal of two senior security officials and the arrest of on of al-Sadr’s henchmen seems like good news, but it’s like the proverbial 500 dead torture advocates (or substitute members of whatever category you despise): no more than a good start.

Still, is the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Axis of Nasty Incompetence really so divided from reality as to be contemplating doing to al-Maliki what JFK did to Ngo Dinh Diem? The threat to pull out and leave the Iraqis to their own devices unless the government does its bit to stop the slaughter is reasonable. But the threat to replace al-Maliki with an unparliamentary “government of national salvation,” the subject of intense rumors in Iraq even before the latest phone call is insane, and Tony Snow’s comments didn’t do nearly enough to quash that rumor.

Here’s what he should have said, given Bush’s insistence on not pulling out:

The United States stands squarely behind the sovereign, democratically elected government in Iraq. Our troops remain in Iraq at the request, and with the permission, of that government, which speaks for the Iraqi people. The only body legally constituted by the Iraqi Constitution to remove the Prime Minister is the Iraqi Parliament. The President greatly respects the Prime Minister, and admires the courage with which he and his government are confronting the terrorists. It is not for us to say whether Prime Minister al-Maliki should remain in office. But we can and do say that if he were to be removed by unconstitutional and undemocratic means, the United States would have to reconsider all of its options.

That wouldn’t have been true, of course, but it still would have been the right thing to say. Why didn’t Snow say that, or something like it?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

4 thoughts on “A coup in Iraq?”

  1. JFK should never have signed off on Diem's murder & the CIA should never have been involved in the plot, but Diem would have gone down sooner rather than later even without US meddling. He was a leader without any real base outside the Saigon ruling class that had collaborated with French colonialism. I'm not sure al-Malaki's case is the same, though the analogy is tempting. It is possible to argue that had the US simply announced a pullout from VN in 1963 that the Southern government would have crumbled, the Communists would have taken over–and, yes, there would have been plenty of bloodshed & retailiation & persecution, but maybe not as musch as happened in 1975–and the US would have been spared ten years of hopless war. None of this addresses the strategic differences between VN & Iraq. VN was never more that a chip in a Cold War poker game; Iraq, on the other hand, is a sort of geo-poolitical omphalos.

  2. "Iraq today is about as sovereign as the nations of Eastern Europe were before 1989; its domestic political activity matters, but only within the limits laid down by the United States."
    No, otherwise there'd be no war raging. The trick is that any government installed solely by the US would have zero control over Iraq; they'd sit in the Green Zone, and die the day that they left it. Any government which does exert significant power over Iraq will be one over which the US has only a little control.

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