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Published in the 16-31
Dec 2003 print edition of MG; send me the print edition
Bush's tailor-made democracy for Iraq
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
The 'great' American President, George W. Bush will go down in history for being the most skewed leader of his people. His hallmark is his anti-Midas proclivity; whatever he touches turns into dust. He is a living proof of Murphy's Law: if anything is likely to go wrong, it will go wrong-under Bush. His stunted vision of a democratic Iraq, under American bayonets, is a most telling example of it.
With his back to the wall, in terms of his election prospects next years, Bush is now desperately indulging in all sorts of gambits and gimmicks to shore up his dwindling political fortunes. His sneaking, stealthily, into a darkened Baghdad Airport in the early hours on Thanksgiving Day, was a well-choreographed move undertaken precisely for that purpose.
Bush went into Baghdad like the proverbial 'Thief of Baghdad' in the cover of darkness and total secrecy. Like the fabled 'thief' he made every effort to leave no foot-prints behind. The poor American GIs stationed around the airport were woken up in the early hours and told to be ready to eat turkey 'dinner' with a VIP before the crack of dawn. Bush served them dinner on a platter, had his photographs taken with the soldiers to make an impact on his nervous people back home, and flew out as stealthily before day break as he had come in.
But the palpable gimmick of a pre-dawn turkey dinner was an easier stunt to pull off, compared to the heavy odds mounting by the day against his other charade-democracy for Iraq under the American aegis.
Bush and his neo cons have lately been beating the drums of a democratic Iraq ever more loudly since all of their other excuses for invading Iraq have fallen by the way side. In more than seven months of their occupation of Iraq, the Bushies have not been able to come up with a shred of evidence that Iraq was a den of weapons of mass destruction. By the same token, the world is ridiculing their nefarious attempt to link Saddam with bin Laden. Humiliated and shamed, Bush and his hawks are now left with their last trump card: their protestation to turn Iraq into a paradigm of democracy for the Arab world and make it a beacon of hope not only for the Iraqis, emancipated from Saddam's oppressive rule, but also for all other Arabs.
However, Bush stands thoroughly exposed before a skeptical world which knows that the emperor has no clothes left on him, and whenever he speaks his purpose is to mislead and hoodwink his audience. His democratic crdentials are highly dubious and suspect. The man, never elected by the majority of those who voted in the 2000 presidential election, was thrust upon the American people by an edict of the Supreme Court. In office, he has hardly inspired any confidence in his regard for democracy, or show respect for democratic ideals. In the cover of September 11's aftermath, he and his authoritarian neo cons have been systematically dismantling America's proud democratic traditions and curtailing civil liberties with impunity.
Posing as a champion of the Iraqis' democratic rights is an after-thought with Bush in the throes of running out of all other options. Typically, he is not sincere at all about ushering in a genuine democracy in Iraq. He has an infantile tendency to eat his cake and keep it, too. So, he thinks that by packaging his brutal invasion, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq as a 'crusade' for the promotion of democracy he may succeed in deflecting the American voters' attention, next summer, from his glaring failures and half-measures on so many fronts.
Bush launched his 'democracy for Iraq' charade with great fanfare before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington on October 4. But in two months, his lack of sincerety on this front has become as marked as on others before. The Bush-speak is typically a jumble of lies and half-truths cleverly embellished with rhetoric.
Cheered by a carefully selected partisan and conservative audience-votaries of the right-wing Republicans-Bush tucked into a passionate analysis of the misfortunes afflicting the people of ME-lack of freedoms, bungled opportunities et al. He remonstrated that these hapless people were " lagging" in " political development" which induced him to don the mantle of standing up as their 'champion' of democracy.
But in the next instant, Bush started speaking from the other end of his mouth, as is typical of him whenever he makes a statement. He complimented the rulers of Morocco, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Yemen and Qatar-all autocrats ruling with a heavy hand and muzzling all dissent against them with brute force and repression-for acting positively (the Bush-speak for keeping mum on his invasion of Iraq ) in the interest of 'freedom.' He showed his true colours when he lauded Egypt's 'role'-groaning under Hosni Mubarak's repressive rule-in the promtion of democracy. He asked Egypt-with its jails overflowing with political prisoners-to " show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."
His waxing eloquent about his role-model authoritarian rulers in the Arab world clearly underlined the fact that he had no intention to allow genuine democracy to take hold in Iraq or, for that matter, anywhere else in the Arab lands. His ideal of Arab democracy is a controlled democracy, the type of governance that he has been hard at work to bring into his own country since 9/11.
Bush's end-game for occupied Iraq has come into a sharper focus since November, the month that accounted for nearly 80 Americans killed at the hands of Iraqis resisting their land's occupation with force. He is becoming desperate to cut his losses there and face the electors at home next summer with some 'achievement.' But he is aware that the hard-pressed U.S. soldiers are unlikely to stamp out the Iraqi resistance in the run up to June 30, next year, despite their adoption, lately, of Israeli tactics of collective punishments for individual acts of 'terrorism' ( resistance is not a word in their lexicon).
So the only option left in his hand to impress an increasingly skeptical American electorate is to foist on the Iraqis a half-baked democracy of his liking and preference.
But once again, Bush is unable to repress his infantile urge to eat his cake and keep it, too. His vision of democracy for Iraq is not the universal concept of democracy. He wants, instead, to ram down the throats of the Iraqis a controlled version of it, with all strings staying in the hands of his pro-consul, Paul Bremmer, and his Iraqi puppets sitting on the Interim Governing Council.
It doesn't take a genius to understand why Bremmer and his boss are so reluctant to employ the universal concept of democracy in their occupied fief. Because a free vote, exercised on the basis of universal franchise would bring the majority Shiias of Iraq to power as they make up nearly 65 per cent of the Iraqi population and should be given the majority right of rule in Iraq.
It clearly sends shivers down the spines of Bush, Bremmer and others in their cabal to visualise another Shiia- ruled entity in proximity to Iran, which remains a problem for them and their friends in Israel. Hence their foot-dragging on the basic norms of democracy-free elections, universal franchise and majority rule.
However, the Iraqi Shiias are not inclined to let their scheming occupiers off the hook at this tangent and allow their chance of a lifetime to slip through their fingers. They have been consistently short-changed and robbed of their democratic rights in more than 80 years of a sovereign Iraq-first by the British, then by the monarchists and ultimately by a ruthless Saddam. They are determined to put an end to this perpetual conspiracy against them.
Bremmer's nefarious scheme to hold indirect elections for an 'interim assembly', which would then pick up a 'provisional government' has been shot down with alacrity by Grand Ayotallah Ali Sistani from his head quarters in Najaf. He is insisting that elections must be held on the basis of universal franchise, if the Americans have any grain of truth in their avowed objective to usher in genuine democracy in Iraq.
Bremmer may fret in exasperation, as he did recently in an interview with the Washington Post, how " a frail old man" sitting in Najaf could be so powerful as to dictate " his terms" to the American occupiers. But in saying that he confessed, inadvertently, his appalling ignorance of the socio-political reality of the land he is supposedly in charge of on behalf of 'emperor' Bush.
Sistani can 'dictate' terms to Bremmer or anybody else because he speaks on behalf of Iraq's majority population. His authority is unique, and may be enviable to the likes of Bremmer, because of the remarkable discipline of the Shiia clerical hierarchy in Iraq. Notwithstanding an occasional outburst of petulance from the young cleric Moqtada Sadr in Baghdad's sprawling erstwhile Saddam City ( since renamed Sadr City ), the Iraqi Shiia clergy has behaved with great dignity and poise throughout the American occupation of Iraq.
The Iraqi Shiias have held their peace in anticipation of exercising their majority rights in a democratic Iraq, as promised and touted by Bush. In fact, the relative calm in southern Iraq has allowed the Americans to focus their military might with relief in the so- called 'Sunni Triangle' whefre resistance to their rule has been fierce. But any miscalculation on the part of Bremmer and his masters could change the situation overnight. The truce in the south would come unstuck at the first hint of American perfidy or an encore of giving the Shiias another short-shrift.
The Shiia militant power in Iraq has been conserving its energies to deal with any mishap to their democratic rights. They may have lost their charismatic leader, Baqar Al Hakim, to a brutal assassination last August, but their ranks have enough potential to make life difficult for the American occupiers of their land at any indication of foul play.
Bremmer has been coming up with patently absurd excuses to delay direct elections. He says the electoral rolls are not ready and a census would be necessary to prepare such rolls. Nonsense, say the UN and Sistani. Iraq had a model rationing system under Saddam-the envy of UN in terms of its efficiency and reach-and its rolls contain all the names that an electoral list would require.
The other excuse that a Shiia majority government in Iraq could lead to the suppression of the rights of Sunni and Kurdish minorities is equally absurd. This, in fact, has resonance of the equally flimsy argument on which the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria was robbed of its democratic right to rule in 1991-92 ( which then triggered the civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and is still simmering ).
It is obvious that a genuine induction of democracy in Iraq is not a priority-never was-with Bush and his minions. The current exercise is claculated to provide Bush with a façade, more to mislead the Americans back home than the Iraqis in Iraq.
The overall Bush strategy in Iraq still remains the same, i.e. to dig in for a long haul military presence there in order to plunder Iraq's precious resources and keep Iran under American thrall. Real democracy in Iraq could easily jeopardise these ends. Therefore, Bush only needs a cover of democracy to install a client, puppet, regime in Baghdad to do his bidding without demur.
However, the Shiias of Iraq seem equally determined not to let that pass. The alternative to real democracy is a civil war that would not only plunge Iraq into further chaos but the region around it as well. Such a prospect may doom Iraq for decades but will also spell curtains for Bush.