Monday, June 28, 2004

Getting out of Dodge, Fast

"Dodge Ball: True Story of an Underdog" was the number one movie this weekend in Baghdad, as Paul Bremer left town in a real hurry two days before High Noon. Talk about being being the eightball.

Hey, for once they're being smart and ducking out early to avoid the resistance attacks. Give them some credit for recognizing doing things on a timetable is idiotic. Although I think if they hadn't, for political reasons, picked a date in the first place we wouldn't've had this huge surge in violence in the last week.

Funny though that they'll leave early to let an unelected government take over months before elections are even scheduled. That's hardly democracy; it's more sort of a regency. But I'm glad at least some Iraqis have some authority. What's going to happen with that is unclear.

Iraq is having a civil war, and we're simply in on one side of it right now (not unlike South Vietnam, except for the proxy battle with the Soviets that supplied the other side in that one.) I think the biggest mistake that's been made by both us and UN is the refusal to divide Iraq into three parts. The Turks don't want a Kurdistan, but only the Kurds have shown any capacity for democratic self-government. Give them their own state, their oil, and security guarantees from the US and you might have that stable democratic regime in the mid-east the Bush administration says it wants. Let Central and South Iraq cleave off into Jordanian-Syrian-size states, I say, and pick a form of government that suits them. Better that than an extended war for a federated state that can't sustain itself. One of the thing that seems to be missing in the analysis is you can't have a true federation where the constituent parts are both ethnically and geographically distinct. It will inevitably break up (Canada notwithstanding, although the jury may still be out on that). Strong federations: the US, modern (post-WW II Western, then unified) Germany, some multi-ethnic African states. Weak federations: Yugoslavia, The Former SSRs, Czechoslovakia (split into two pretty fast), etc.

I guess the real problem is that if we're on the side of Iraqi federalists, it's not entirely clear there are any. Federalism has been put forward as the form of government which seeks to balance competing interests. But successful federations have one thing in common: successful local governments that predate them. That isn't present in Iraq, which suffered from centralized Stalinist statism under Hussein, and centralized governments don't tend to be very good at engaging in a system of checks and balances among branches and levels of government.

When our Republic was founded, Federalism was seen as an alternative to Confederation or Separatism (remember the resolution for a Declaration of Independence was that the colonies were free and independent states, emphasis on the plural: the federation was 13 years after that declaration). The founders took a careful look at historical precedents, regional interests, and class interests (Mercantilists vs. Planters, etc.) The compromise that became our Constitution was full of flaws, ranging from the presence of slavery and the over-representation of the South by counting slaves as three fifths of a person for purposes of apportionment to the problematic electoral college concept. But it had an enduring capacity because implicit in it was evolution within a framework of absolute rights and commitments to minority protections.

With all three of the major Iraqi groups at loggerheads, what passes for Federalism right now looks like a collective triumvirate, and history is unkind to triumvirates.

I know one of the principles of the U.N. is it doesn't like changing international borders, that Turkey would try to invade an independent Kurdistan, that Iran would seek to dominate an independent Shi'a state, and that a central Sunni state would likely be revanchist. But having three smaller, isolated problems seems like an easier task to take on than trying to get one big mass of goo to congeal in a coherent manner.

In the meantime, I wish Jerry Bremer well. I have no basis on which to judge his performance, because having an imperial governor is something we haven't had much experience with in our own history, but I do know it's a thankless and dangerous job. I don't blame him one bit for getting the hell out of Dodge while he could, a couple of days early, with his balls intact.

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