Brent Scowcroft’s comments last Thursday at the inaugural meeting of my new foreign policy project, New Solarium Project on U.S. Foreign Policy, have really riled up those who are gambling that Iraq’s January 30th elections are going to usher in an era of stable governance and democracy for Iraqis.
The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict. Indeed we may be seeing an incipient civil war at the present time.
The New York Times‘ Steve Weisman mentions Scowcroft’s Thursday remarks in his article today, “U.S. Is Haunted by Initial Plan for Iraq Voting.”
Here is the transcript for the meeting which included both former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski (though the Q&A session is still being transcribed).
For those interested, this was the audience roster (as I’ve had many, many people asking who was there)
My friend and colleague Noah Feldman, who is a very smart legal scholar on Islam and democracy at New York University Law School, has previously advised that Iraq’s upcoming election becomes one of the first new items in a toolbox of legitimacy in any future Iraqi government. He sees that fact as a huge problem if the Sunnis fail to participate in the upcoming election — either because of conscious choice to boycott the elections or because of fear among voters of insurgent violence.
If the Sunnis do not participate, for whatever reason, they will not be structurally connected to the foundation of legitimacy for a new Iraqi state — and that itself could assure civil war within Iraq.
Feldman spoke at the New America Foundation on this subject and published op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times making the same point, but the material is not available on the web. Matthew Yglesias had this reaction when he attend Noah’s talk.
Doyle McManus, in this Los Angeles Times article, also reports Noah’s thinking:
. . .”It would be very hard for the Shia parties to do that (come back to participating in government) after the fact,” said Noah Feldman, a law professor at New York University who helped draft Iraq’s interim constitution. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shiite religious leader, “would likely say it was a terrible idea, because it would violate the principle of a majoritarian election.”
Feldman said that if Sunnis were underrepresented in the new assembly, “the great danger would be holding a constitutional negotiation in which the Shia and Kurds act as if they were the entire country.”
One his last show of 2004, Chris Matthews included Andrew Sullivan in his program — and Andrew made two very memorable points while I remember virtually nothing from the other commentators.
Sullivan noted that his favorite movie of the year was Team America: World Police. Here is my own commentary on the film and on “Fuck Yeah Americans.”
But when each person was asked by Matthews what would be the most unexpected and surprising thing that could happen in 2005, Andrew Sullivan said he hoped that the January 30th elections in Iraq would deliver a far more stable situation for Iraqis than seems conceivable today.
I hope Andrew Sullivan gets what he wants — but I have to admit that Scowcroft, Feldman, and many others are not inventing these problems that we are discussing.
They are raising serious questions about how this electoral process is unfolding — and the Bush administration seems unwilling to re-tool and help Iraq redirect this pouring of the new foundation for Iraq’s democracy because, as usual, Bush doesn’t seem to want to be told he might be wrong.
And yes, I know I haven’t discussed Allawi or the Iraqis’ role in this discussion because I believe that if the White House saw merit in re-grouping regarding the terms by which this election will be held, I believe it would happen.
— Steve Clemons