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Capturing Friedman

Thomas Friedman has put forward the idea in his op-ed “Winning the Real War”(July 16, 2003 New York Times) that last Sunday was the most important day in modern Iraq, due to the convening of the Governing Council for Iraq. Friedman even goes so far as to say that the council is “the most representative leadership Iraq has ever had”, as if ethnic background was the litmus test of representative government.

What Friedman fails to note, however, is that by structuring the council along sectarian lines it will have little “leadership” value for Iraq as a whole — not to mention the inclusion of administration pets such as Ahmed Chalabi. (Whom exactly inside Iraq does Mr. Chalabi represent?)

Furthermore, Friedman states that this group of notables is definitely not comprised of “quislings”. By this I assume he means they will not pander to Mr. Bremer or undercut the needs of the Iraqi people to curry favor with their occupiers. How then can the council’s first act [Declaring the April 9th taking of Baghdad a national holiday] be pointed to as a positive sign of their independent spirit? It is unlikely that the average Iraqi would want to celebrate the smashing of his country or throw a barbeque on the day his house was bombed. Though he uses it as an example, Friedman fails to recognize that even the Germans don’t celebrate VE day. What other reason for the council to celebrate then to validate the presence of those who placed them in power, thereby validating themselves?

Even putting aside the Governing Council’s pandering jubilee –as of yet there has been no complaint from any member of the Council that Iraq’s oil wealth will pay for it’s occupation and reconstruction, in effect paying for the munitions that devastated the country–the Council is utterly dependent on Mr. Bremer not only for its existence, but, for its constituents as well.

Therefore the Council can be expected to act as either a rubber stamp of liberalism or as an indignant debating society whose opinions will only affect policy on the ground when the majority of the members fall in line with those few on the Council who are in favor in Washington.

While Friedman is right in stating that there is hope in Iraq, this Council is not it. Unless we wish to repeat the mistakes of Lebanon’s ethnically polarized governments we should quickly move to putting local power in local hands, we cannot build a federalist system in Iraq from the top down. A lasting democracy will only take hold in Iraq if we encourage its growth from the roots of Iraqi society–stable localities must and should be allowed to elect representatives to have at least a measure of bottom up accountability.

Friedman suggests that we provide “massive support” for this Council, thereby injecting it with more power and quickly. According to Friedman “the more power it [the council] assumes, the more it speaks for Iraq…” This is strikingly accurate–Saddam Hussein had absolute power in Iraq and was therefore able to speak for the state of Iraq absolutely. Here Friedman takes the mistaken stance that power legitimizes authority; with power [supplied by American force of arms] the council will speak for Iraq whether Iraqis want them to or not.

In free or liberalized societies it is the consent and will of the governed that legitimizes authority. While the Council’s stated purpose is that of an interim authority, those on the Council today will shape the political landscape of Iraq’s tomorrow. These “chosen” few are the only voices the Iraq people will have in forming the framework that will determine their future government. “Governing” by the consent of their occupiers and not of their people, to who ultimately is this council responsible?

Friedman calls for “reinvading” Sunni dominated areas that are the source of attacks on our service men. Supposedly this “reinvasion” will ferret out the 10,000 Republican Guardsmen he claims are now mixed in with the general populace. Possibly they are still wearing their uniforms under their disguises. Does this “reinvasion” require an air campaign or some other use of massive force? Seemingly, since the salve he recommends for the “reinvasions” aftermath is for these areas to be “showered with reconstruction funds”–after they are showered with munitions.

This military crackdown on Iraqi partisans is of no moral concern to Friedman as he has convinced himself that these attacks on our troops are carried out solely by Saddam loyalists and therefore excludes any kind of rapprochement with those who may still mistakenly see us as invaders.

What does trouble Mr. Friedman is President Bush’s dogged defensiveness of his “phony reasons for going to war” instead of emphasizing, as Friedman suggests, the real reasons. Friedman argues as a hostage for his captors, he now assumes that his own justifications for invading Iraq are in fact the true intentions of the Bush administration. After months of hammering on the dangers of Iraq’s WMD capabilities and its terrorist ties, the first time President Bush mentions democracy for Iraqis as the casus belli is a mere three weeks before the war at the American Enterprise Institute dinner.

How can the Iraqi people, or the world for that matter, trust us to “build a better Iraq” when our own government sells us “phony reasons for going to war”?

Friedman is right in his focus on the mass graves, whose discovery undoubtedly troubles most people, whatever their feelings about the Bush Administration’s war aims. The fact that even the possible presence of these burial sites were completely absent from any major news source until after we conquered the country is either a testament to Saddam’s cruelly efficient intelligence services or the negligence of both the western and local Arab media. Mr. Bremer should immediately call upon the services of groups that specialize in finding and exploring sites such as these. Not only should this be done to fully expose the callous disregard for human rights that underlies any despotic regime, but, also to properly exhume the dead so that all the families of the deceased can have piece of mind–not just those lucky enough to find an ID card as they dig through a charnel pit. And not just the bodies of dead Iraqis should be given this respectful treatment. The sequestered war dead of Iran should be returned to that country without further delays as well.

In closing Friedman admonishes the President to keep his “eyes on the prize”. No worries there, the White House had their eyes firmly affixed on the prize they sought all along–the near-term removal of a threatening regional power.

A free Iraq does not require a foreign military ensuring the rights of the individual on the street. It requires the creation of transparent institutions, rigid anti-nepotism, a free press, and a constitutional legal system capable of addressing the ethnic discrimination that has every possibility of tearing the country apart. Mr. Friedman’s strange three-point plan of action seems to stem from a fear that if we, the public, demand the White House answers for its “phony” reasoning for going to war that the administration will be too distracted to act upon the “real” reasons, building a free Iraq. This is not the case, we cannot promote democracy under false pretenses and we cannot expect the world to take us for our word when we lie. As always those who value liberty fight the “real war”, by example.

KHALDOUN KHELIL can be reached at: moonbiscuit@hotmail.com

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