Irak, Medio Oriente y Asia
Con O Sin Multilateralismo, Irak Es Un Caos
Analí T.B., especial para P.I.
Multilateralism or not, Iraq is a mess
By Ehsan Ahrari
How much ill-will President George W Bush has created for the United States over his predilection for unilateralism in Iraq is becoming apparent when Secretary of State Colin Powell is given the lead in damage control. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has to accept a lower profile, at least for now. In a quintessential diplomatic tone, Powell rejected France's demands - that the Iraqi constitution be written and elections be held within a matter of months - as "interesting but not executable". But there are trends in and out of Iraq that bear watching, for they bode nothing but trouble for US plans for stabilizing and democratizing Iraq.
First and foremost, there is little doubt that Washington intends to stay in Iraq for at least two years. The official rationale is that the process of writing the constitution and electing national government officials is time-consuming and cannot be accelerated merely for expedient reasons. That is not a bad rationale; however, the trouble is that the US is in dire need of gaining legitimacy of its occupation from its European and Asian allies and friends, who are unwilling to offer it without a price. That price is sharing the ruling authority in Iraq with the United Nations. The fact that the French are once again in the lead in insisting on curtailing the scope of US rule in Iraq is beginning to look like a non-starter in the intricate negotiating process.
On Sunday, the Bush administration made Vice President Dick Cheney available to the national media to explain the thinking of its inner sanctum on how far it is willing to go in accommodating the demands of France, Germany and Russia on the issue of sharing the ruling authority with the UN and with other potential contributors to peacekeeping in Iraq. Cheney stated that no further changes in Iraq policy were warranted. Instead, he talked about "major success and major progress" in that country. In an obvious attempt to counter the position of those who stated that even US intelligence did not find credible linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Cheney insisted that Iraq was the "geographic base" for the perpetrators of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Even a casual observer of US strategic affairs knows how important Cheney is in reflecting the thinking of neo-conservatives on, inter alia, the dynamics of US policy in the Middle East. Way back in March 2002, he made his well-publicized tour of that region in an attempt to conjure up support of the Arab regimes for toppling Saddam. The fact that he failed did not discourage the Bush administration from carrying out that objective without Arab support, and even at the expense of creating a major rift in trans-Atlantic ties.
There is little doubt that France, Germany and Russia paid high attention to Cheney's interview on Sunday. What lessons these countries would draw from that interview will become clear only in the specifics of their response on the issue of cooperating with the US on Iraq. My strong sense is that no cooperation from their side is forthcoming unless the Bush administration decides to accommodate their demands about sharing ruling authority in Iraq. It should also be clearly understood that the United States is not likely to bring about such changes in its position unless the security situation in Iraq deteriorates further. On their part, France, Germany and Russia need concessions to be persuaded that the Bush administration is earnest about moving toward multilateralism.
Second, regardless of whether the Bush administration moves toward multilateralism or remains loyal to its natural instincts related to unilateralism, a mounting preference of the Iraqis is to see the end of foreign presence in their homeland. That predilection is the driving force behind attacks not only on the US forces, but also on the UN. Given that earlier weapons inspections were carried out under the auspices of the UN, and given that Iraq remained under sanctions of one sort or another since 1991, most Iraqis see the world body as a puppet of the United States. Even for those who are somewhat neutral about the UN, it is only because they deem it as a lesser of the two evils, the US being on top of their list of "bad actors". Of course, the Kurds are an exception to these observations. They formulate the lone pro-American ethnic group in Iraq. As such, they see the US presence as a guarantor of their autonomous rule in the proposed federal governing arrangement.
The mutuality of interests between the US and the Kurds remains a source of consternation and irritation between Washington and Ankara. Turkey is in no mood to let America's strategic objectives in Iraq result in the creation of an autonomous governing arrangement for the Kurds, since that is considered a prelude to a potential creation of an independent Kurdish state. It is worth noting that Turkey and Iran are in complete agreement on this issue. However, now that the United States is very much in need of Turkish peacekeeping troops, it has to walk a fine line between getting help from its Turkish allies and, at the same time, not antagonizing the Kurds. Washington places great stock on not antagonizing the Turks, since it needs Turkish support for its occupation of Muslim Iraq.
Third, the politics of the Iraqi Governing Council has remained Machiavellian and dirty, characteristics that might turn out to be highly deleterious from the perspective of the United States. According to the original US plan, representatives of five parties - Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi Congress, Adel Abdel-Mehdi of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Ayad Alawi of the Iraqi National Accord, and Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, the two Kurdish leaders - were to lead the transitional government. That was the promise retired Lieutenant-General Jay Garner, the first US civil administrator, made to them. But when L Paul Bremer replaced Garner, an entirely new plan was implemented whereby the Governing Council was formulated, and these five individuals became part of that entity. Another major difference from the original scheme was that the 25-member Governing Council is only to advise Bremer on issues of governance, while he is the ultimate executive authority as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
The preceding developments caused ample resentment among the five members, each of whom fancied himself to be the new executive of Iraq. Bremer negotiated a formula with the council whereby the five members shared the presidency, trading off every month. The independent members of the Governing Council, on their part, also strongly resented the five members, thereby creating a situation whereby any potential diminution of Bremer's authority promises to create chaos. That such a situation has not occurred thus far does not mean it will not happen in the future.
Some members of the Governing Council periodically demand a fast transfer of authority. While such a demand might be based on the personal aspirations of one or more members, it clearly runs counter to the reconstruction strategy of the Bush administration. That strategy envisages US control over Iraq until the constitution is ratified and an elected government is in power. However, from the Shi'ite side, the issue of the Governing Council - a US-nominated body that is also seen as a puppet entity - writing the constitution to elect the government has remained highly controversial. While the CPA is not oblivious to the Shi'ite resentment, it has done nothing to circumvent such an option.
Given the preceding rather partial description of the ominous and ever-changing complexities in Iraq, one wonders whether the Bush administration really understood what it was getting into when it decided to topple Saddam, or if the fervor related to ousting a heinous dictator entangled the US in a situation from which it will find it difficult to extricate itself. There is no indication yet that Bush has even the slightest doubt about the correctness of his decision to invade Iraq. But the way things are going for the United States, I wonder how long it will be before someone will ask him to declare victory and get out of Iraq. Senator George Aiken advised presidents Lyndon B Johnson and Richard M Nixon to that effect during the Vietnam conflict.
Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent strategic analyst.