Sunday, August 28, 2005

In a Nutshell

I've been blogging a fair bit about the Iraqi constitution and the difficulties of finding a satisfactory agreement. The situation as it currently stands is an object lesson in all that is wrong with US and UK policy. The current policy of "staying the course" is only a useful if there is a clearly defined and achievable destination, and practical directions as to how to reach it. It gives me no satisfaction to say that US/UK policy has neither, as I've been predicting for three years or more. The constitution fiasco brings this into stark relief.

Here's another reminder of what President Bush said on Monday, August 11th.
As to the constitution, one of the meetings we had this morning was with Zal, our ambassador in Baghdad. And he gave us a briefing as to the progress on the constitution. We have made it clear that we believe that constitution can be and should be agreed upon by August 15th. And so I'm operating on the assumption that it will be agreed upon by August the 15th.
This assumption was wrong. It has taken 13 extra days to reach any sort of agreement and many Sunni's still do not support the constitution as presented to parliament. To be honest, the 13 extra days probably don't matter that much. What does matter is that the statement demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of the Bush administration. Bush might well believe, and he'll almost certainly argue, that an agreement has now been reached, but that's a huge simplification of the situation.

Here's what I said on Sunday, August 14th (for pedants, it was actually early Monday morning).
I'm not sure that an agreement will be reached before the deadline, or rather, I'm not sure a useful agreement can be reached by then. It won't surprise me if we are presented with a successful conclusion to the negotiations on Monday. On closer examination this is likely to be an agreement stating that "we agree to continue to negotiate" or something similar.
OK, I wasn't entirely on the money, but the thrust was basically aimed in the right direction. In fact, it has been, if anything, even more difficult than I expected. It has taken two extra weeks to get round to presenting the fudge as a success.

So, who has a better understanding of the situation in Iraq? Is it:
A) The President of the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth. A man who has access to all sorts of detailed and exclusive information, including the ability to hold meetings with the US ambassador to Iraq, and also has access to any number of highly paid advisers?
B) Just another blogger who gets his information from the media, and who takes an interest in such things in his spare time?

The point of this is not to hightlight how clever I am (I'd really rather have been wrong) but to show how Bush and his advisers continue to misunderstand the situation, even when the facts are there for all to see.

The current situation clearly demonstrates the fundamental flaw in the thinking behind the invasion of Iraq. The thing is that these problems were just as easily predicted before the invasion began. The Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds have a long and difficult history in the country they share. After the removal of Saddam, it was always going to be enormously difficult to find a consensus on how Iraq would be governed. The current difficulties, including the role of Islam, the degree of federalisation, access to oil revenues, and possible Kurdish autonomy, were entirely expected by those who understood the country.

The "coalition of the willing", on the other had, believed that they could make Iraq a bastion of democracy and tolerance in the Middle east. It was to be an example to the region, the teacher's pet of US policy. This was, at best, hopelessly optimistic. To my mind, it was grossly negligent.

And now, we've arrived at a point where it's difficult to see how the situation can be made better. The US policy is in tatters. Having spent a great deal of time encouraging the Shias and Kurds to include the Sunnis in the process, another u-turn will now urge them to ignore those who oppose the constitution. As I said in a previous post, the US will undoubtedly argue that to vote no to the constitution is to support terrorism. This is, again, an appalling simplification, but, as we've already seen time and again, that's not likely to unduly concern this Whitehouse.
They won't, for example, point out that voting against Article 2 is an entirely understandable position.
Article (2): 1st - Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation:
(a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.
In fact, those tinfoil hatters who fear the return of the caliphate should really be asking a few questions of the Bush administration. They are, after all, supporting the introduction of Islamic law in a country with a tradition of secularism. That won't happen though, the TFH's will be silent. Laura Bush won't be a vocal advocate for equal rights for women in Iraq (not anymore anyway). US troops will continue to die defending this Islamic constitution, a sad irony which should be understood by those who support the war.

It is, sadly, a mess. And the UK? Well, it seems that the UK government has been rewarded for it's loyalty to Bush by being ignored. Blair is quite happy with this state of affairs though, he prefers to talk about Iraq as little as possible. The fact remains that Blair supported a deeply flawed plan, and he has not had to take responsibility for that error.

Here's a final thought. If our government had opposed the invasion, it would almost certainly have happened anyway. About now, we'd have been in a position to offer to lead a multi-national force to replace the US occupation forces. The political difficulties would remain but the aggressors would be gone. This would probably have eased some of the tensions in Iraq. We could have been part of the solution. Instead, Blair's leadership has made us part of the problem.

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