Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Dog That Did Not Bark

George W. Bush's democracy project in Iraq could still be the biggest foreign policy success of the Obama era in the Middle East--or anywhere. Which is kind of funny, actually.

I've wanted us to stay in Iraq and think we should return to help nurture rule of law in Iraq by keeping Iranian influence down and making sure talk of coups does not run louder than negotiations on power.

I did not rule out that Iraq could be successful without our sizable presence. I just said that the odds were lower and it was a shameful decision to take that risk given what we could achieve and what we sacrificed to get us to that point.

Yet I was pleased that thus far, ordinary politics was still the means of achieving power despite the too-prevalent corruption inside Iraq's fledgling democracy:

Iraq isn't as good as I'd like. But we're not there to influence events as much as we could. Yet let's at least be grateful that voting and negotiations are the basis for figuring out who sits in the big offices rather than shooting and prison terms[.]

Someone else has noticed the relative yet historic success of Iraq in a sea of war and failed Arab Spring revolts (Tunis excepted, so far):

By far the most important thing about the preliminary results of Iraq’s April 30 parliamentary election is the nature of the conversation that is now taking place about them. It is a conversation about what it means for a sitting Prime Minister when he wins less than 30 percent of the vote but does much better than his rivals—and about whether Iraq’s next government should be one of broad national unity or formed on the basis of a simple majority. It is a conversation about deliciously esoteric and endlessly iterative matters of parliamentary arithmetic in a place where no identity group is close to monolithic and where almost any of the ten main factions is capable of working with any other.

It is a conversation, in other words, about government formation in a functional, stable, and constitutional electoral setting. There is no talk of coups, of disenfranchised minorities, or politicized electoral commissions. The process of forming the next government may take months, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the front-runner, although his victory is far from certain. Whoever does emerge atop what Disraeli called the “greasy pole”, there is no chance of a government that harbors al-Qaeda or belongs to the mullahs in Tehran, that invades its neighbors, assassinates its enemies, or gasses its own people. All of these things are vote-losers in Iraq, and in Iraqi politics today it is the vote that matters most.

Despite the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq (and why aren't we fighting the war on terror there, too, alongside Iraqis who are clearly willing to fight jihadis?), Iraq is still a functioning democracy. Lack of rule of law may yet undermine that democracy. But so far Iraqis seem willing to take the rare chance we gave them to escape the traditional choices of autocracy or Islamist rule that the Moslem Arab world has had up to now.

So I hope that we just let Iraqi politics decide this. Our influence should be used not to sway the results one way or the other, but to make sure that the outcome is decided by a legal process that even losers concede is legitimate.

And then use our influence to make sure that everyone knows that the next election is the time to challenge the outcome--not with guns hidden away just in case.

In a region that gives us horrible headlines every day, Iraq is the dog that is not barking all that much these days. Not too bad for what some still wrongly claim was a huge mistake.

The Cairo Outreach didn't move many. But George the Liberator may have moved enough.

For opponents of the Iraq War, Iraq will always be a curious case.

UPDATE: Strategypage discusses the Arab Spring and the poison pill of jihadi opposition to autocrats that helped kill much of the hopes of early 2011.

One of these days, a spring has to take hold to allow Arabs to escape the stranglehold of their dismal choices for governance.