Like most newspapers, the New York Times’ editorials embody the “something must be done” school of analysis. That is, they urge immediate action on some issue, in an Olympian tone that suggests the tragedy certain to befall if their views are ignored. By the same token, these 10-point equivalents of an ancient Greek chorus rarely posit constructive advice, offering instead conventionalities and impractical prescriptions that only the dimmest politican has not already considered and either rejected or employed.
Case in point is yesterday’s lead editorial “Grim Realities in Iraq.” Its basic point to the Bush Administration was Don’t alienate the Sunnis or you will put the elections at risk. Now, given that young Sunni men are executing election workers in downtown Baghdad, this is pretty obvious stuff, hardly along the lines of say, advising the White House to drape Laura Bush in hejab in order to win Muslim hearts and minds. (That day may not be far off, however.) “There may be time for Washington to try to salvage the election,” the Gray Lady rumbles, “but that would require paying much more serious attention to legitimate Sunni grievances and showing an openness to postponing the election for several months.”
With voting set five weeks from now, even 43rd Street knows the election train has left the station, with the once-oppressed Kurds and Shia at the throttle. What’s most interesting is the editorials’ advice for Bush to attend to “legitimate Sunni grievances.” These, argues the Times, originate in the dismissal of the old Sunni-dominated army, the exclusion of “former” Baathists from government posts and the dearth of “Sunni nationalist politicians” in the interim government. Lastly, of course, there is the damage the American “counter-insurgency” operations have wreaked on “densely populated towns like Falluja.”
This analysis chills me. To understand the implications of theTimes’ position, imagine this editorial appearing during the Reconstruction of the post-bellum South. Matters aren’t going well: confusion and uncertainty reigns; democracy seems hanging by a slender thread; masked “guerillas”–the Ku Klux Klan–are terrorizing the population in hopes of re-establishing the fallen Confederacy. What’s the advice of the Times, and others with similar views? Pay more attention to the “grievances” of deposed plantation owners, slave-traders and ex-Southern officers. Put more pro-slavery leaders in the state legislatures. Make amends somehow for the damage done to Atlanta, Vicksburg, Nashville. And, most important, consider telling the millions of blacks that we wish to delay the process of your emancipation so as not to alienate the people who once kept you in bondage. (The fact that last turn of events actuallydid occur only highlights the wrongheadness of the editorial.)
Lincoln urged the North to be “magnaminous in victory”–and for the Kurd-Shia-American alliance to grind the Sunni into the mud of defeat is indeed a prescription for catastrophe. Like most Southerners, who did not own slaves, most Sunnis were not Shia-and-Kurd oppressing Baathists, and the vast majority today wish to see a terrorist-free democracy take hold in the country.
But delaying elections in order to placate Sunni grievances is another road to disaster, one that also risks creating incentives for the Sunnis to remain a perpetually alienated minority in western Iraq. Besides, as I noted in the excerpts of ITRZwhich recently appeared on the National Review Online, the root of their “grievances” lay beyond the reach of political remedies, involving factors such as tribal honor, abhorrence of shame and an adolescent resentment that seeks to insure the destruction of Iraq itself, rather than see it emerge from Sunni/Baathist domination.
Recently, Jawad Hashim, a former advisor to Saddam Hussein during the 1970s, told me he remembered the dictator telling him, “If my regime goes down, I will make sure that not a stone of Iraq remains after me.” This mindset is shared by his “guerrilla” followers, the radical imams and drugged-up assassins promulgating their ideology of death. No appeasement, no addressing “legitimate grievances” beyond the scope of upcoming elections, no placating the resentment of the Sunni terrorists will stop their violence. At most, it will only delay the arrival of emancipation and justice for all Iraqis.
Allawi to Introduce Myself
With this in mind, it’s interesting to watch interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s campaign strategy. In a recent op-ed, the invaluable Amir Taheri argues that Iraqi attitudes toward Iran have divided the country’s political elite into two camps. One, dominated by the Shia, is attempting to walk a fine line between Tehran and Washington, realizing that once U.S. attention toward Iraq wanes, Iran will exert the greatest effect on Iraqi interests. Advocates of the other camp see
Iran as Iraq’s strategic enemy and hope to counter it with a discourse of pan-Arab nationalism. They deem the United States a tactical ally in helping Iraq rebuild a state, an army and a security service, leaving in place not a democracy but a “lite” version of Arab authoritarian rule.
Allawi falls into this group. Recenlty, he announced that in November he’d held “a lot of” meetings in Jordan with leaders of the paramilitary gunmen seeking to topple his government. He’d also held sit-downs with tribal leaders and other Sunni panjandrums in hopes of coaxing their votes for his slate. He evidently aims to appeal to the Sunnis yearning for a “Saddam-lite” (indeed, many times in the Sunni Triangle, people told me they’d like to see a “new Saddam, only more democratic”). As the New York Times’ John Burns noted on December 21, Allawi seeks
to portray himself as an indispensable strong man and a secular antidote to the influence of religious parties…
Allawi is further arguing that
as a former member of the governing Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, he [is] best equppied to defeat the insurgency and to entice its members to work for democracy in Iraq.
In his Jordan meetings with “insurgent” leaders, Burns continues, Allawi
had spoken to them as a former Baathist and a conspirator in the 1968 coup that brought the party, and eventually Mr. Hussein to power.
Indeed, to cement his nationalistic credientials, the Financial Times notes, Allawi has repeated criticisms of the U.S. for driving out “low-ranking” Baathists from power and for disbanding the Sunni-led army. Lest we suspect the Primine Minister of crypto-fascist leanings, he evidently told reporter Burns that “Baathism is dead, it’s finished, it’s something like the ex-Soviet bloc.”
Interestingly, Allawi is Shia, but he’s part of a joint Shia-Sunni slate of candidates that might pose the most serious opposition to the Shia’s United Iraqi Alliance slate. Turning up the heat on Shia candidates, Sunni leaders have suggested that the recent blasts in Najaf and Karbala were carried out by Iranian agents who are using the Shia religious leaders as stalking horses for their own ambitions in Iraq. (However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, revealed on Iranian TV that the bombings were actually the work of the U.S. and Israel as a “plot aimed at distracting Iraqis so they miss the election.)
Whatever Allawi’s strategy might be, Iraq owes this man a huge debt of gratitude for remaining at the helm of the country during this period of instability and violence. Personally, I favor the United Iraqi Alliance, because of my interactions with the Shia in Iraq, but also because their victory will bring the kind of justice that America denied blacks after the Civil War. It’s fascinating to note that in their comments–which parallel in many ways those of Allawi and his “nationalist” camp–the brahmins of the New York Times apparently do not agree.
Posted by Steven Vincent