23 January 2004

Bush's Iraq: An Appointocracy

Mr. Bremer wants his Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to appoint the members of 18 regional organizing committees. The committees will then select delegates to form 18 selection caucuses. These selected delegates will then further select representatives to a transitional national assembly. The assembly will have an internal vote to select an executive and ministers who will form the new government of Iraq. That, Bush said in his address, constitutes 'a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.'

Got that? Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add to that the fact that Mr. Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and that Mr. Bush was appointed to his by the U.S. Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: rule by appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees.

The White House insists that its aversion to elections is purely practical: there just isn't time to pull them off before the June 30 deadline. So why have the deadline? The most common explanation is that Bush needs 'a braggable' on the campaign trail: When his Democratic rival raises the specter of Vietnam, Mr. Bush will reply that the occupation is over, we're on our way out.

Except that the United States has absolutely no intention of actually getting out of Iraq. It wants its troops to remain, and it wants Bechtel, MCI and Halliburton to stay behind and run the water system, the phones and the oil fields. It was with this goal in mind that, on Sept. 19, Mr. Bremer pushed through a package of sweeping economic reforms that The Economist described as a 'capitalist dream.'

But the dream, though still alive, is now in peril. A growing number of legal experts are challenging the legitimacy of Mr. Bremer's reforms, arguing that under the international laws that govern occupying powers -- the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Conventions -- the CPA can only act as a caretaker of Iraq's economic assets, not as its auctioneer. Radical changes such as Mr. Bremer's Order 39, which opened up Iraqi industry to 100 per cent foreign ownership, violate these laws and could therefore be easily overturned by a sovereign Iraqi government.

That prospect has foreign investors seriously spooked, and many are opting not to go into Iraq. The major private insurance brokers are also sitting it out, having assessed Iraq as too great an expropriation risk. Mr. Bremer has responded by quietly canceling his announced plan to privatize Iraq's 200 state firms, instead putting up 35 companies for lease (with a later option to buy). For the White House, the only way for its grand economic plan to continue is for its military occupation to end: only a sovereign Iraqi government, unbound by the Hague and Geneva Regulations, can legally sell off Iraq's assets.

But will it? Given the widespread perception that the United States is not out to rebuild Iraq but to loot it, if Iraqis were given the chance to vote tomorrow, they could well immediately decide to expel U.S. troops and to reverse Mr. Bremer's privatization project, opting instead to protect local jobs. And that frightening prospect -- far more than the absence of a census -- explains why the White House is fighting so hard for its appointocracy.

Under the current U.S. plan for Iraq, the transitional national assembly would hold onto power from June 30 until general elections are held no later than Dec. 31, 2005. That's 17 leisurely months for a non-elected government to do what the CPA could not legally do on its own: invite U.S. troops to stay indefinitely and turn Mr. Bremer's capitalist dream into binding law. Only after these key decisions have been made will Iraqis be invited to have their say. The White House calls this self-rule. It is, in fact, the very definition of outside-rule, occupation through outsourcing.

The joke in all this, although the saddest of jokes, is that George Bush is getting very close to making himself Iraq's new man with a moustache. Saddam was a deeply evil man, but the structure of his government was created by Iraqi history and geography, not the state of Saddam's conscience. manipulating language by calling an appointment an election is not going to fly. Neither is governing Iraq by force while claiming to govern by consent of the people.

The long string of US interventions in Latin America from Panama in 1903 to Panama in 1989 did not democracies. Why is Iraq different? Democracy is hard. Democracy also cannot be imposed by force.

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