Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The President’s Must-Do List on Iraq

Exclusive commentary by Martin Kelly
April 19, 2003

The point of collapse of Iraqi Ba’ath fascism is still too recent for any conservative to engage in ‘I told you so’. We don’t really need to, as the outcome of the military phase was never in doubt. Those who oppose the war on grounds of true conscience are to be respected, as are those who feared the consequences in neighbouring nations. However, there are those whose opposition to the war was based on a profound hatred for their own nation, its culture and its way of life. Such people would be best advised to start living their lives right.
In the few days since April 9th, a more ominous vacuum has emerged, and I don’t mean the rioting and looting. It’s patently clear that Ba’athism made redundant any concept of an object’s use or value. Why else would people loot heart monitors and incubators, unless they don’t know the very limited uses to which they can be put, and that, unlike gold or cash, they have no real transferable value? The Iraqi people must have lived in a society so detached from reality that they believe that, if it’s in an official building, it must be worth money. It’s pleasing to see an element of restraint creeping back onto the streets of Baghdad, proving once again that, like a small flower blooming between the cracks in the sidewalk, common humanity will always win through.
The vacuum is what appears to be a lack of urgency from Washington and London to restore power to the Iraqis. There are constant reports that ‘meetings will take place soon’, with ‘delegations’. I have always had a problem with the phrase ‘regime change’ as misused by the valiant but dopey John Kerry. Saddam headed a regime. The objective of this war is surely not to replace him with another dictator, but instead to bring democracy to the Iraqis. In the endeavour that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have taken on, this is the only satisfactory outcome. Closed meetings with delegations lack the transparency of a free election. There are reports that American troops may stay on for a year before elections are hold. An election date should be set for no later than mid-July this year. For the President and Prime Minister not to do this is absolutely contrary to the interests of ‘They, The People’, the Iraqis and the political fallout for them could be catastrophic. If they were both deeply cynical, the opportunity to make political capital is enormous.
I don’t hide my admiration for George W. Bush, never have, never will. I believe his interests, and by extension those of the Republican Party and world conservatism, are best served by grabbing with both hands the opportunity to democratise Iraq.
As a matter of urgency, he should ask the Congress to form a non-partisan Iraqi Democratisation Commission, comprised of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. At least one of the Democrats should be either Edward Kennedy or Hillary Clinton. There can be no better answer to your critics than for you to invite them to the table to participate in the completion of a process they opposed. The appointment of Clinton or Kennedy would be a political masterstroke, removing any final issue over whether the war was about oil and leaving them with the dilemma of refusing to serve on a Commission whose sole function is to facilitate democracy for the oppressed. The Commission would have two functions; firstly to draft a new Iraqi constitution (I do hope nobody believes that the boys and girls at the State Department haven’t already written that brief) and secondly to set the timescale for the elections and to monitor that the elections are carried out satisfactorily. The President should also invite former Presidents Carter and Clinton to act as the joint heads of the election monitors, if only to keep them gainfully employed and out of mischief.
The announcement of free elections would enable the UN to save face. The President has committed himself to the UN having a significant role in the administration of Iraq. Apart from providing Norwegian meter maids, the UN should have an opportunity to examine a draft Iraqi constitution upholding the separation of religion and state and guaranteeing freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, due process and the rule of law, the universal franchise, property rights, gender equality and Iraqi neutrality. Any member of the UN voting against it would finally be able to show their true colours to the world, and thereafter be cast into outer darkness.
The imminent holding of elections enables him to heal some of the breaches in conservatism that this war has caused. On April 13th, Pat Buchanan described the events as a ‘historic opportunity’. He left the Republicans for his own reasons, which is a tragedy given that he is a far greater asset to them from within rather than without. Anyone who’s had the ear of three Presidents is worth listening to. The holding of elections as quickly as possible would allay any conservative fears of American imperialism, and if it goes some way to facilitating a reconciliation between Buchanan and the Republicans, then bring them on.
A critical factor is managing the expectations of the Iraqis as to what their lives will be like when they are free. A popular saying in Germany in the early 1990’s was that the East Germans thought that roast chickens fall from the trees. Not having lived in a democracy, their expectations of it were too high and as a result were bitterly disappointed when the streets of Leipzig suddenly did not turn to gold. Similarly, to avoid the possibility of mass disaffection Freedom TV should right now be counselling caution and reminding Iraqis that the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of their democracy lies with themselves, and that the value of their money can go down as well as up.
An early election would avoid the personal demon of George H. W. Bush, ‘mission creep’. His desire to avoid mission creep, defined as an operation starting as one thing and ending as another, left Saddam in power for twelve years when he was defenceless and on his knees. Even now, as the publicly stated reasons for this campaign have changed, from disarming Saddam to regime change to liberating the Iraqis, the avoidance of mission creep can be seen to be at the forefront of policy, otherwise American troops would be performing police patrols and not doing what the British have done, re-hiring Ba’athist policemen. If it avoids the impression of being in league with their former oppressors, then for the sake of the Iraqi people a little mission creep is surely acceptable, and after the early election the Iraqis can police themselves and the problem is solved.
As Buchanan has said, the Iraqi people might elect a Shi’ite fundamentalist who immediately proceeds to call for the destruction of America. If that is the wish of the Iraqi people, so be it. At least someone gave them the chance.
It’s been very gratifying to read of the recovery of America’s five blue-collar heroes from the 507th Maintenance Company. It is sobering to think that some of those who opposed this war would have been pleased for these cooks and mechanics who took a wrong turn in the desert to have had their throats cut, if it helped build opposition to the war. But one of their number, Private Patrick Miller, encapsulated the reason for this campaign in one phrase, when he was paraded on television in contravention of his rights under the Geneva Convention. Asked to justify his presence in Iraq, Private Miller said, ‘we fix the broke stuff’. Ari Fleischer couldn’t have said it better. Particularly at this stage, the President would do well to heed the words of a citizen in service.