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Monday, December 20, 2004

How To Ensure Democracy in Iraq?

Thomas Friedman has an op-ed column in today's New York Times "A Political Arabesque" that suggests that to ensure democratic participation in the Iraqi election by the Sunni Muslim factions, the U.S. should do the following:
The best way to reduce Iran's influence, and to prevent civil war, is to ensure as much Sunni participation in the election as possible, so that when the new Iraqi constitution is written, the more secular Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis will balance the more religious-oriented Shiites. If there is not enough Sunni participation, the elections, rather than defusing civil strife in Iraq, will increase it, because all the spoils will go to the Shiites and Kurds, and the Sunnis will feel even more excluded.

For all these reasons, the Bush team should be working with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab states and even Syria to use all their contacts with Iraqi Sunnis to embolden them to take part in the elections - and to make sure they have bags of money to get out the vote, particularly among the Sunni tribes. It is imperative the Sunnis be brought in, even if some have to be bought.

Unfortunately, America's Arab friends "are doing nothing" right now, a senior Iraqi minister told me. The Americans need to be more demanding of their Arab friends, he said. While many Arab leaders are appalled at the idea of Shiites ruling an Arab state in the otherwise Sunni-dominated Arab world, they also know that a civil war in Iraq would lead to terrible instability at a time when all these Arab regimes understand they have to start reforming.

I understand Mr. Friedman's concerns, but I have my doubts about the efficacy of asking non-democratic regimes, who have every reason to feel threatened by the presence of a democracy in there midst, to participate in helping to develop that democracy. He seems to be suggesting that we ask the surrounding kingdoms and dictatorships to help build a gun that may be turned on them. Their benefit in doing so is - it may avoid chaos in Iraq. I don't think that's much incentive, especially for Syria, which seems to be done its best to assist in the continuation of the chaos.
The Saudis have enough on their plates with internal dissent without suddenly announcing support for a democracy "next door" but "not here."
Mr. Friedman asserts:
It requires enormous understanding of the complexities of Iraqi and Arab politics and the ability to produce outcomes not by the traditional, straightforward U.S. approach, but by the more subtle, bazaar-oriented politics in that part of the world.
I've been to a few bazaars out there and appreciate the process, but convincing someone to take position that is so contrary to what they view as their own interests is not a skill I ever observed successfully applied, whether arguing for a better price in the souk or in the political realm.
Mr. Friedman recommends a "sticks" and "carrot" approach. Good luck. The carrot would have to be huge and the stick (as in Syria's case) would have to be masses of troops on its borders.

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