Rebuilding Iraq:
    Failing to plan is planning to fail,
    Chapter 27

that can survive, be seen as legitimate, and is acceptable to the United States.
“We’re boxed in,” said an administration official. “We have a highly difficult set of issues to deal with here. We can’t settle for just anything that gets us out of Iraq.”
American policy makers

Today’s New York Times article about the process of assembling a new government for Iraq is pretty depressing for what it says about the likely future of Iraq. And a backgrounder yesterday is even more depressing about what it says about the sheer incompetence and political cynicism with whic the whole business is being handled in Washington.

The IGC has agreed in principle that elections would be a nice idea, but its members seem determined not to put that principle into practice. (The absence of a reliable set of voter lists is cited as a key objection.) Moreover, they intend to try to constitute themselves as some sort of Council of State to “supervise” the work of whoever gets elected.

Yesterday’s “news analysis” by Steven Weisman fills in the background. It appears that the proposal to have a new government in place by June was hastily cobbled together without anyone in Washington or Iraq asking the crucial questions, or clearing it with the Iraqis it needed to be cleared with, including the Shi’a clergy. As a result, Ayatollah Sistani gets to take the high ground, urging more democracy than the occupation authorities or the IGC want to allow.

It’s been a neocon article of faith that Iraq is ready for democracy right away, and that anyone who doubts it is some sort of racist. But of course Iraq isn’t ready for democracy, and won’t be for a long time, if ever.

Worse, it appears that an early election might bring to power a government unfriendly to the U.S. “Some American policy makers fear that a nationwide ballot right now would bring out the most radical elements in the electorate, ready and able to exploit growing Iraqi resentments toward any candidates seen as favored by the United States.”

Or as a law professor who advised the CPA about constitutional issues put it to the Times “Historical experience also suggests that quick elections under postwar conditions elect people not dedicated to democratization. Simply put, if you move too fast, the wrong people could get elected.”

[Readers of my vintage will of course hear Tom Lehrer singing in the background,

They’ve got to be protected,

all their rights respected,

until someone we like

can be elected.]

But the truly chilling paragraph of Weisman’s story is buried in the middle, just where Leo Strauss told you to look for it:

“If we turn things over next July 1 to whatever slapdash conglomeration that is out there — let’s say the Governing Council plus some others, which is what they want — you could have a civil war in Iraq come next November,” an administration official said.

November? November? Does November, or next November in particular, have some special significance in Iraqi life? Well, just in case his readers didn’t come armed with adequate stocks of cynicism, Weisman provides the key to the code a few paragraphs earlier:

American policy makers say it is not just the American election timetable that requires quick action to transfer power.

The use and placement of the word “just” is really quite perfect.

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