Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One Lebanon is Plenty, Thank You

"As all those who write about civic matters show and as all history proves by a multitude of examples, whoever organizes a state and establishes its laws must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have the chance to do so." - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Lebanon is a country that has a really screwed up political system, one that increases sectarianism rather than working to bridge the gaps between Christian, Sunni and Shi'a Arabs there. The President of Lebanon must be a Maronite Christian. The Prime Minister must be a Sunni, and the Speaker of the House in Parliament must be a Shi'ite. It's no secret that instability and Lebanese politics go together like spaghetti and meatballs; it doesn't help when Syria helps to assassinate lawmakers opposed to the Alawite' dictatorship's meddling in Lebanon's affairs. In my humble opinion, a opinion I think is shared by many others, Lebanon's political arrangement as it now stands makes future civil wars (along sectarian lines, as always) that much more likely than another arrangement would.

Now let's take a look at Iraq, to see if maybe we can't divine at least some understanding - aside from Iranian influence, former Ba'athists, and long-simmering resentments amongst the populace - for why that nascent democracy's political system is, in its current arrangement, I think doomed to create another Lebanon in Babylon. How is the current Iraqi government organized?

We need only look at the dangerously fragile system attempting to govern diverse peoples from Beirut to see where the geniuses behind the set-up of the relatively still-new government in Baghdad got their inspiration. In Iraq, as in Lebanon, the government is divvied up along sectarian lines: the President of Iraq is expected to be of one group (say, the Kurds), the Prime Minister is expected to be of another (say, a Shi'a), and the Assembly Speaker is expected to be still another (say, a Sunni). The way they see it, it's only fair. In order for the government to function, each religious-ethnic group wants its share of the pie, right up front. Each ethnicity has its political party, and in turn that affects the makeup of the government.

And people wonder why the benchmark goals set by the United States aren't necessarily being met when we feel they should? That isn't exactly a recipe for effective, efficient governance they've got over there. Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis are worrying more about their own people than the Iraqi nation at large; this isn't to say that there aren't justifiable grievances held by majority Shi'ites and oppressed Kurds against Sunnis, who maintained a privileged position under dictator Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, this focus on a "me, me, me" mentality rather than one of "us, us, us" is dooming the Iraqi government to future failure, and putting America in the uncomfortable position of having to continue to pay with blood for the mess that results.

The best solution for Iraq, short of ripping the country into several parts, is the strengthening of federalism in the country. As it stands right now, the State of Iraq is constitutionally a federalist entity, but in reality it...isn't. Federalism is not just about creating individual states - in Iraq's case, governorates/provinces - where those of a certain ethnicity or religious identification can claim to be a majority. It's not, or rather, it shouldn't be, just sectarianism by another name. It's about those provinces governing themselves, to the best of their ability, and working with the national government on problems affecting both the province individually and the nation as a whole.

We don't hear too much about governance in Iraq's many provinces; all the news focuses, generally, on the failures of the Iraqi national government to take the responsibility and show the courage needed to rise above sectarian interests and do what should be done for the country. We hear, yes, about the concerns of other ethnic groups in Iraq regarding Kurdish administration of Iraq's northern oilfields; the others want the wealth to be shared, rather than hoarded by the Kurds. That's a fair request, for sure, but at the same time, it is again motivated less by purely political or economic concerns, but by sectarianism.

When we do hear about the provinces, on the whole the news focuses on the security situation in each of them. If you ask me, the media is contributing to sectarian strife in Iraq by only focusing on how many Iraqis or Allied troops died today or last week in al-Anbar governorate; we are - that is, the American people, and the world at large - counting on Baghdad, and not a council in Ramadi, to help bring political stability to the region. We are counting on the national government of Iraq to rise above tribal allegiances, instead of trying to organize a stable provincial government that could potentially provide services in a more immediate manner than Baghdad is able.

"Indeed, a prince seeking for glory in the world should be glad to possess a corrupt city, not to ruin it completely, as Caesar did, but to reform it, as Romulus did."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Though I am but an observer, currently residing on the East Coast of the United States, no longer as "close" to the action as I once was in Jerusalem, Israel, I think what we are doing is, instead of showing the Iraqis how to govern, helping them to learn how to
pretend to govern. We may ask Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to sacrifice their self-interests for the greater good, for a greater good where their self-interest would have a better chance at being protected in a non-sectarian, truly federal system...but at the same time we are enabling the Iraqis to avoid rising above their sectarian and tribal concerns by supporting a governmental, constitutional system that protects sectarianism rather than abolishes it.

It might be the opinion of a great many people that the key to stability in Iraq is a strong central government, with a well-trained, large-numbered national army protecting its authority and expressing its will, but the fact is that Iraq's long history of central governance - taken to extremes in the form of the Hussein dictatorship - has made the country ill-suited to continue to support such a system, when all that system really does is change the method of choosing the central government without changing its nature. Iraq's proportionally partisan system isn't the answer.

Only by abandoning lip-service to federalism in Iraq by actively embracing it and utilizing its merits there, only by inculcating a culture of federalism amongst the Iraqi populace, educating them as to why it - and not their tribe - is best suited to looking out for their individual interests, only by devolving the Iraqi government in a meaningful way, by giving limited autonomy to the provinces to handle their own local affairs while allowing the national government to bring its attention to bear elsewhere, only by having one set of empowered representatives in Baghdad and still another in an Iraqi's own province...only then would we be setting the Iraqis up for success, rather than failure.

I think it would be in the best interests of the United States' Government, the Middle East as a whole, and of course Iraq in particular for us to say something like this to the Iraqis, maybe not in so many words, but in sentiment, style and substance:

"Listen, you're a proud people and you have a right to be - you have a long history in this region and we don't wish to emulate you by being here forever having to babysit you. At the same time, we know a bit more about democracy than you do, we know better than you how to bring peoples of diverse religions and ethnicities together for the common good, and we have centuries' more experience than you in organizing and maintaining a stable governmental system in such a way that it can endure from generation to generation without violence tearing it to shreds every decade or so. We're gonna show you how it's
really to be done, and if you don't want us to come back every few years so as to pull you folks away from each other's throats, you'll get wise and follow our lead. If you want us out of here, help us out here."

I could be wrong, but I feel that only in pursuing the above course in governmental development suggested, in conjunction with pursuing our security-military goals in Iraq, can we truly hope to avoid turning that country into little more than just another Lebanon, with Iran meddling in Iraq like Syria meddles in Lebanon, with Kurd, Shi'a and Sunni focusing on their sectarian interests in Iraq just as Christians, Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon do there, with a future Iraq being just as prone to civil war as modern Lebanon was in the 1970s and still is today. You needn't be a rocket scientist to see how such an eventuality would be very bad for all parties concerned - and in case you've suddenly forgotten, we are one of them.

"Therefore, the welfare of a republic or kingdom does not lie in its having a prince who governs it prudently while he lives, but rather in having one who organizes it in such a way that it may endure after his death."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

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