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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Iraq’s “Empowerment” Zones

One of the strange shifts in its public posture on Iraq that’s been made by the Bush administration in recent weeks is the idea that total lack of progress on a national political settlement doesn’t matter, because progress towards a more orderly existence is being made on a local level here and there, a development that will somehow perculate up to Baghdad. The fact that Iraq’s sectarian fault lines are incredibly resistant to this kind of simple bottom-up solution, or that local “empowerment” may be completely inconsistent with national unity, doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. There’s a good, full analysis of the incoherence of what now passes for a Bush political strategy in Iraq by Dennis Ross up at the New Republic site.
Bush’s celebration of developments in Anbar Province is highly reminiscent of an earlier, grossly premature celebration over Iraq’s first “national” elections, back in January of 2005. All those GOP politicians waving purple fingers didn’t seem to be aware that the vast majority of Iraqi voters rejected every available inter-communal political option. And like Bush’s basic course of action in Iraq, that’s something that hasn’t changed at all.

2 comments on “Iraq’s “Empowerment” Zones

  1. RonK Seattle on

    Democracy is hard. It takes practice. Expecting it to blossom at national parliamentary scale with no minor league farm system was unrealistic.
    Before a large political aggregate can successfully decide questions by democratic mechanisms, it has to come to some understanding of what the decidable questions are. It has to reach a broad consensus about how sentiment is divided on those issues (axes of polarization and planes of cleavage) … what opposing coalitions are feasible … where the middle grounds are. Minorities need practice uniting behind the wills of majorities, and majorities need practice refraining from abusing minorities.
    National scale is the wrong place to develop these understandings and practice these disciplines, and what emerged was division along convenient, familiar (sectarian) lines of division — which naturally became more polarized as a result.
    Iraqi national democracy would have had a better chance if it had been preceded by a cycle or more of limited, local democracy. Town and provincial councils, etc, where the issues are public works and local regulations.
    Even monocultural provinces can learn a lot about coalesence and compromise from running their own sewers.
    So Bottom Up isn’t off by 180 degrees. 179? Maybe.

  2. john patton on

    There has always been a “shadow” rationale for the U.S. presence in Iraq – a supposedly “hard-headed national security” argument that the region is strategically vital to the U.S. and profoundly unstable and therefore requires an ongoing and substantial U.S. military presence (one that, for religious and political reasons Saudi Arabia could not be asked to play).
    From this perspective, all the other rationales for the invasion of Iraq and continuing U.S. presence over the years — Finding WMA’s, rescuing Iraqis from dictatorship, creating a beacon of democracy, preventing chaos, honoring the sacrifice of the troops — are all window dressing.
    The real unspoken philosophy is that as a great military power we have the right to enforce stability in areas we consider strategic and we simply will not allow any indigenous insurgents to drive us out.
    This is a fairly standard mental framework in the history of 20th century colonialism – it was the underlying attitude behind the French marching through the streets crying “Algeria is French” during the Algerian war of the 50’s and the stuffy British officers drinking to “The Empire” in the decades before World War II.
    These days Americans need a more comforting rationale then dreams of imperial glory for occupying foreign countries — but the truth is that pretty much any rationale will do. The gut-level attitude is simply that once America commits to a military presence somewhere it should always “win” and never “give up”. In practice this means mantaining an occupying force on an essentially permanent basis.
    Seen in this light, it is not really surprising that the various rationales being tossed around are almost completely incoherent, self-contradictory, and so on. People are not really supposed to believe them as logical arguments, any more then the French in the 50’s actually believed that Algeria was part of France.


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