Allan Topol is a partner in a large Washington-based international law firm. He has a science and engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, and a law degree from Yale University. For almost 40 years, he has been involved in issues at the height of the Washington power structure.
He is also a national bestselling novelist, using the thriller genre to explore international geopolitical and military issues. His 2001 novel, SPY DANCE, is about a former CIA agent on the run and Saudi Arabian oil. His 2003 novel, DARK AMBITION, deals with the corruption of power in Washington and China's threatening posture toward Taiwan. In January 2004, the novel CONSPIRACY will be released dealing with a foreign leader's attempt to influence an American presidential election and the possibility of renewed militarism in Japan.
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The time has come to abandon the concept that Iraq can be a democracy anything like the United States, England or France. This theory being pursued with good intentions by some in the administration, with encouragement by a handful of journalists and commentators, is a delusion. For months, we've been trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. The futility of the effort compels us to explore alternatives.
When we take stock of the situation in Iraq, three facts are indisputably clear. The first is that the U.S. military achieved a stunning victory, utilizing technology in a way which will change the conduct of war in the future. The second is that the vast majority of the Iraqi people, except for Saddam's pals and some within the Sunni community, are better off today than they were under Saddam's reign of terror. And the third is that we have a mess on our hands.
Part of the latter is due to the fact that some Iraqis, aided by foreigners who have infiltrated, are determined to kill as many Americans as possible while disrupting life in Iraq. The suicide bomber in Baghdad is no easier to stop than the one in Moscow or Jerusalem. Their goal is to drive the Americans out of Iraq before the political situation has stabilized and use the resulting chaos to their own advantage.
In the meantime, we doggedly pursue our political objective of establishing "a democratic government" in Iraq in time to make an orderly transition of power on June 30. It won't happen.
The fact of the matter is that the Iraqis are not a homogeneous people as the British and French were when democracy took hold in those countries. Or a heterogeneous people with a common purpose as the United States was at the time of the founding of our country.
Rather, Iraq is an artificial nation cobbled together by the British at the end of the first World War to achieve British objectives. Among them were securing a strategic stronghold vis a vis Turkey. Another was controlling a large source of oil.
The three largest groups in modern day Iraq are Shiite Muslims with roughly sixty percent of the population; the Sunni Muslims with twenty percent; and the Kurds with twenty percent.
There is and can never be a common purpose among these groups. As Michael Doran wrote in a recent article for Foreign Affairs, with an analysis of Saudi Arabian politics that is equally applicable to Iraq: "Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shiites more than any other group including Jews and Christians." Sunnis denounce Shiite believes and practices in the harshest terms. Idolatry is typical in this regard.
For their part, the Shiites have suffered harshly at the hands of Saddam's Sunni regime, and are ready for payback time. Moreover, they have been suppressed and kept at the lower end of the economic spectrum by Sunnis in many other countries such as Syria. Thanks to the Americans toppling Saddam, the Shiites' day has come. For them, that means asserting their will over the entire country.
For the Kurds, who have repeatedly survived attempted genocides, the dream of nationhood is closer than it has ever been. Understandably, they don't have a scintilla of trust for either the Sunnis or Shiites. Nothing short of political control in their region of Iraq will be acceptable.
At the fundamental core of American style democracy is the notion of one person; one vote. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in math to realize that would mean control of the Iraqi government in the hands of Shiites. It would also mean that Shiite clerics, viewed with the greatest of deference by the Shiite community, would turn the country into a theocracy. We already have one nation like this in the Middle East. It's called Iran. There's no reason for us to copy that pleasant situation. Certainly not after we've poured in $20 billion and lost more than 500 American lives.
Besides, the Sunnis and the Kurds would never accept a Shiite dominated state. Let's get real. No matter how talented Paul Bremer is, he can't wipe away centuries of hatreds, fears and animosity. It hasn't happened in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Yugoslavia and Israel. And it won't happen in Iraq.
In all of those places, unity has been achieved only by a powerful
leader like Saddam in Iraq, Assad in Syria or Tito in Yugoslavia.
And we certainly don't want to repeat that in Iraq.
Mr. Bremer has been advancing a short term solution for the issue: having American supporters in Iraq hand pick, in a complex system of caucuses, members of a transitional National Assembly which would select a provisional government to take power by June 30.
Not a bad idea. We turn the Iraqi government over to a reasonably friendly group, declare victory because democracy has been established, and either depart or remain with a reduced presence to watch our investment. The deluge comes later.
Regardless of its merits, the idea being advanced by Bremer is headed for the garbage pile of other great nonstarters. The country's top Shia cleric, Ali Sistani, had a course in math along the way to becoming the country's most powerful Ayatollah. He's demanding direct elections with one person, one vote for the National Assembly because he knows who will prevail.
If he had his way, the Shiite candidates will get sixty percent of the vote. Once a Shiite government is installed, its first act will be to ask the Americans to leave the country in order that the Shiites can convert it into a theocracy. The United States can't and won't let this occur.
So we're now arguing that there's simply not enough time to arrange the general election Sistani is demanding. The Grand Ayatollah refuses to meet with Bremer, which makes it a little difficult negotiating his demands. All of this has placed the world's greatest democracy in the ironic position of blocking national elections in a country in which it has fought a war to install democracy.
We only want a vote if we can be assured of a favorable outcome, which is understandable in these circumstances. But it's not possible. One way out of this quagmire is to consider alternative political structures for Iraq. More about those in a future column.