Monday, October 10, 2005

Kanan Makiya and Rend Rahim on Iraq

Today's Washington Post had an interesting article by Jackson Diehl on a recent AEI conference featuring leading Iraqi liberal. He reported their pessimistic assessments of the current situation:
That's why it was so sobering to encounter Makiya and Rahim again last week -- and to hear them speak with brutal honesty about their "dashed hopes and broken dreams," as Makiya put it. The occasion was a conference on Iraq sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which did so much to lay the intellectual groundwork for the war. A similar AEI conference three years ago this month resounded with upbeat predictions about the democratic, federal and liberal Iraq that could follow Saddam Hussein. This one, led off by Makiya and Rahim, sounded a lot like its funeral.

Makiya began with a stark conclusion: "Instead of the fledgling democracy that back then we said was possible, instead of that dream, we have the reality of a virulent insurgency whose efficiency is only rivaled by the barbarous tactics it uses." The violence, he said, "is destroying the very idea or the very possibility of Iraq."

The Iraqi liberals can fairly blame the Bush administration for not listening to them: for failing to deploy enough troops, for refusing to quickly install the provisional government they advocated, for rejecting the Iraqi fighters they offered to help impose order immediately after the invasion. But Makiya, a former adviser to the Iraqi government in exile who now heads the Iraq Memory Foundation, instead scrupulously dissected "our Iraqi failures." Chief among these, he said, was an underestimation of the rootedness of Hussein's Baath Party inside Iraq's Sunni community and its latent ability to mobilize the insurgency that has bedeviled reconstruction while dividing the country along ethnic and religious lines.

The relentless violence had, he said, made political accord impossible and instead was driving Iraq toward a three-way division, accompanied by a civil war that could endure for decades. This course had been crystallized in the Iraqi constitution, which -- hurried toward a ratification vote this Saturday at the insistence of the Bush administration -- is "a fundamentally destabilizing document," he said. "The deal we have is a patently unworkable deal. To the extent that it is made to work it will work toward fratricide."

Rahim, a former ambassador of the interim government in Washington, picked up where Makiya left off, first endorsing his conclusions and then settling in to explain precisely why the constitution threatens Iraq with catastrophe. The draft, she said, was "written as a reaction to Iraq's history" of dictatorship and oppression of minorities; it creates a central government so weak that "when you look at it, there is no 'there' there."

By contrast, the Kurdish and Shiite "regions" -- really more like mini-states -- provided under the constitution will have so much power, including their own armed forces, that they will be able to ignore the national constitution's provisions for human rights, respect for minorities and limitation of Islamic clerical power. "There's a high probability that these alignments in the constitution will eventually spin the state out of control," Rahim concluded.

I was impressed by Rahim when I heard her speak at AEI a while back on a panel with Ahmed Chalabi. I hope that America takes their warnings seriously.