Reality Continues to Be Complicated

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Reality Continues to Be Complicated

I'm not the only person frustrated by the Bush Administration's insistence on seeing everything in extremely simple terms. Of course, there are the political/ideological oversimplificiations--you're with us or you're with the terrorists, if you oppose the war it means you support Saddam, etc.--but ordinary factual matters are oversimplified as well. This is a human tendency, as there's only so much information and nuance we can handle, and it's exacerbated by numerous aspects of the way the press covers news in the U.S. (some of which I blame the press for, some of which are functions of limited time or pages, and some of which are just giving the people what they want).

Anyway, as I and others (including, much more authoritatively, Juan Cole) noted at the time, as inspiring as the Iraqi election was, intelligent analysis is a lot more complicated than declaring an "Arab spring" featuring a democratic Iraq.

The Economist captures the current state of play, which is mostly not too good. The article does a good job, IMHO, of not insisting on a one-sided approach ("everything sucks"), and of including several important good signs and possible routes to good outcomes, without turning into a useless "on the one hand . . . but on the other . . . ." kind of article.

A principal problem, as Cole explained cogently in January, is that the Sunni population is virtually unrepresented, so that even though the Shia and Kurdish parties seem willing to include Sunnis in the government, no one can figure out who the Sunni representatives should be. The most likely outcomes seem to be that someone will emerge as the "leader" of the few Sunni MPs in parliament but will be unacceptable to large chunks of the Sunni population; or that the Sunni MPs won't be able to coalesce around any individual, and the Kurds and Shias will appoint the Sunni representatives for them. Neither of these would be a terrific outcome, obviously, but there is some hope that a significant portion of the Sunni population is losing patience with the insurgency and will start to get behind the institutions set up by the interim constitution, including parliament.

Still, as Cole now mentions, the Shiite coalition may oppose giving any role to almost any of the Sunni MPs, since that small group is mostly composed of ex-Baathists. Cole speculates--and admits that this is speculation--that recent public comments by the Shiite leadership may imply that they'll refuse even to seat the elected Sunnis in parliament, which would be disastrous for the nascent democracy. Of course, most of the elected Sunnis are on the list of Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister to whom we handed "sovereignty" nine months ago and who is tainted in many Sunnis' eyes not so much because of his party's Baath connections but because he participated in a collaborationist government supported by the occupier. Hence these two quotes, one from The Economist and one from Cole's post yesterday:

IT WAS a farcical scene. For only the second time since a widely acclaimed general election two months ago, Iraq’s parliament met again on Tuesday March 29th—and achieved precisely nothing.

The United Iraqi Alliance [the Shiite religious coalition] rejected as candidate for speaker of the house a parliamentarian on Allawi's Iraqiya list, Janabi, on the grounds that his brother had worked closely with Saddam. This blackballing of a politician for links to the old regime infuriated Iyad Allawi, who stalked out of the building. He was followed by the major Sunni politician in the talks, Ghazi al-Yawir....

There are behind the scenes maneuverings to dump Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister. Ahmad Chalabi [!!] seems to be making another push to be prime minister himself, supported by the Kurds and by dissidents in the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance. If the religious Shiites are cheated of their proper role in government, now that they
have over 50 percent of seats, there is danger of a popular revolt.

If you had to stick a Dubyaesque good/bad label on the situation, you'd say bad; but if you're an adult, you say one word can't encapsulate the reality.

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