February 05, 2005

RMG - Put Iraqi Debate on TV

I have long found the writing of Reuel Marc Gerecht to be among the most sensible, balanced and intelligent of the Middle East commentators I've read. His Weekly Standard essay "Birth of a Democracy" is a terrific example. He says the internal constitutional debate in Iraq should be seen by as much of the Middle East as possible. If the recent election can help inspire democracy movements in places like Egypt and Iran, it's even more important to let the rest of the region see Iraqis debating their own issues, solving their own problems, and writing their own laws:

Just imagine the possibilities of pan-Arab dialogue when Iraq begins to broadcast the debates within the new national assembly. And remember, the Iraqi national assembly, not the new president, prime minister, and other cabinet officials, is likely to remain the real power center in Iraq, at least until a new constitution is written. Iraqis are a diverse people--though not as diverse as many civil-war-is-here! Western commentators would like us to believe--and they will have vivid arguments about what belongs in their basic law. It will not be hard for Arabs elsewhere, even for the most Shiite-cursing, American-hating Arab Sunnis who loathe the American-supported dictators above them, to find common ground and aspirations in these debates, which will likely be the most momentous since Egypt's literary and political elite started taking aim at (and advantage of) British dominion over the Nile Valley in the early twentieth century. If the Bush White House were wise, it would ensure that all parliamentary debates are accessible free via satellite throughout the entire Middle East. Such Iraqi C-SPAN coverage could possibly have enormous repercussions. For just a bit of extra money, Washington should dub all of the proceedings into Persian, remembering that Baghdad's echo is easily as loud in Tehran as it is in Amman and Cairo. The president has stated that he wants to stand by those who want to stand by democratic values. This is easily the cheapest and one of the most effective ways of building pressure for democratic reform.

Gerecht disagrees with some American liberals (presumably Lawrence Kaplan, for starters) who see the election of the Shia-dominated slate as signaling the end of "liberalism" for Iraq:

...contrary to the rising chorus of Democratic commentary on the Iraqi elections, Iran was the biggest loser last Sunday. The United Iraqi Alliance, which seems certain to capture the lion's share of the vote, is not at all "pro-Iranian." Neither is it any less "pro-American" than Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's al-Iraqiyya list, unless you mean that the various members of the Alliance have been and will continue to be less inclined to chat amicably with the Central Intelligence Agency, which has been a longtime backer of Allawi and his Iraqi National Accord. (This is not to suggest at all that Allawi is a CIA poodle.)...

...Primary point to remember: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is now certainly the most senior Shiite cleric in both Iraq and Iran, who is of Iranian birth and early education, has embraced a democratic political creed that is anathema to the ruling mullahs of Tehran. Ali Khamenei, Iran's senior political cleric, is in a real pickle since he cannot openly challenge Sistani and his embrace of democracy. Iran's relations with the new Iraq would cease to exist...Sistani and his men know very well that the political game they play in Iraq will have repercussions throughout the Arab world and Iran. He and his men are not rash, but there will be no tears shed on their side if Iraq's political advancement convulses those clerics in Iran who believe in theocracy.

Gerecht emphasizes the monumental importance of keeping Sistani alive and well. Right now it seems he's the glue holding the fragile democracy together, and as such he'd have to be target #1 for the enemies of that democracy. Read the whole thing.

Related reading: Here's Gerecht's pre-election piece on Iraq.

UPDATE 2/5: In a comment at The Corner, Iran expert Michael Ledeen makes a similar point about the Sistani slate NOT being a pro-theocracy group

Posted by dan at February 5, 2005 03:01 PM
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