Saturday, March 19, 2005

Iraq: Simple Problems For Simple People

In support of the hypothesis that this blog is becoming an unofficial annex to Juan Cole's indispensable website, Doctor Biobrain adds this regarding Prof. Cole's comments on the gridlock causing two-thirds majority government requirement in Iraq:

Bush's men fucked up. Maybe it was because Team Bush places GOP loyalty ahead of competence, or maybe it's because they fear competence, or maybe they just misconstrue what competence is, or maybe competent people always give answers that Team Bush doesn't want to hear; I just don't know. But whatever it was, the Bush Administration hired incompetent people for one of the most important projects in modern history. And those incompetent people fucked up in Iraq, and they fucked up bigtime.

In this case, I'm referring to the gridlock caused by their dumb policy requiring a two-thirds majority coalition to form a government in Iraq. I'm sure they had good intentions; incompetent people usually do. Due to circumstances out of their control (created by prior incompetence), Bush's men were forced into creating a government that they didn't want to create. They were hoping that they could successfully control Iraq for many years before deciding it was time to leave things to the Iraqis. But their incompetence allowed the situation to spiral hopelessly away from that option, which was always premised in fantasy and delusion. So they pushed ahead with what they had and tried to make the best out of the bad situation they created.

But how did they go about doing that? Incompetently, of course. They had a problem in that the Shiites are an obvious majority in the country and vote as a block, and they do not like or want interference from the other two major blocks in the country; the Sunni and Kurds. This was a recipe for disaster, and we must give a word of thanks that the incompetents Team Bush selected were at least reality-based enough to perceive this. Unfortunately, their solution was no solution at all and was still premised in the fantasyland ideals they continue to hold. Simple people only see simple problems and can therefore only find simple solutions. It is the equivalent of a school child experienced only in basic math functions trying to solve a calculus problem. They see the addition and multiplication signs and ignore everything else. But in this case, the people involved are not even aware that there are any other signs, even after they have bungled things up beyond repair.

So their solution was to force the Shiites to share power by creating a majority threshold beyond what they could muster themselves. Perhaps the planners envisioned that the Shiites would perceive this difficulty and campaign outside of their base constituency; which would obviously misconstrue the severity of the divisions among the three power blocks. Hundreds of years of fighting and hatred could quickly be wiped out in a single penstroke by a well-meaning bureaucrat.

But more likely, they went with the straight-forward idea that the Shiites would be forced to compromise with the other competing blocks after the election. And anyone with a basic grasp of game theory would laugh at them for being so naive. They most likely believed that the Kurds, not wanting to lose out to on government power, would gladly join the Shiites in the new government, with a few concessions from both sides. They also believed that the Sunnis, also not wanting to lose out on government power, would vote in large enough numbers to offset the Kurdish advantage; so the Shiites could pick between the two coalitions as their partner. Unfortunately, the Sunni election boycott was successful and has now created a situation that many Sunni wanted, i.e. no Iraqi government. Their intent was probably that they wanted to prevent the Shiite-led government from having legitimacy with Sunnis, in which case they succeeded more than they imagined.

So now we're stuck with a situation where, from the Kurdish perspective, it makes no sense to fairly negotiate with the Shiites. There is no other coalition that is large enough to realistically compete with the Kurds in forming a government, making them the only game in town. The American planners designed a system that allowed the Kurds an absolute veto over the formation of the government. Even worse, once the government was created, the two-thirds majority requirement was largely unimportant, and not required for the Shiites to conduct business. So not only were the Kurds given an excessively strong hand in negotiating with the Shiites before government formation, they also lose almost all of their strength after the government is formed. So the Kurds were placed in a position that required them to demand everything before the formation, or risk not getting anything. And that is exactly what they are doing.

And another disincentive for the Kurds is that they don't actually want to be part of Iraq. They want to take the land they deem to be rightfully theirs, including the oil-rich Kirkuk area, and go their own way. They have their own army and government operations, and have little use for an Iraqi government. In fact, for many reasons, it is to their advantage that Iraq remains weak and insecure; as it makes it more likely that they can go their separate way unhindered. So they have little reason to form a government and will be punished severely if they do so. So the Kurds are doing what only makes sense from their perspective, which is to demand everything now and wait until the Shiites concede.

Even worse, as far as game theory is concerned, the Shiites were put in a desperate position by this system. They want the reins of government as quickly as possible. And they insist that they will deal with the Kurdish demands after the government is formed. But the reason for that is because they rightly don't want to negotiate with the Kurds from a position of weakness. So they want to delay negotiating on these issues until the Kurds are put in their weaker position, after the government forms.

And all this comes back to incompetence, and the inability of Bush's people to see past their own noses. They are incompetent and somewhat delusional, and none of the before mentioned problems occurred to them or they would never have instituted this lame-brained policy. Added to this is a likely bias against Muslims by the typical GOP loyalist Team Bush would hire. They perceive Muslims as being intellectually inferior and didn't see how this obviously flawed system might be gamed for partisan advantage.

Ironically, it's likely that the simple majority most parliaments require would have been preferable to what we now have. The solution to the only problem our Iraq planners perceived was likely worse than the problem they were attempting to solve. In other words, the obvious problem led to the less obvious but worse problem that we now face. Had they allowed the traditional parliament structure of a simple-majority coalition, the Kurds would be forced to negotiate with the Shiites and other smaller groups. Instead, the Kurds have been given the opportunity to permanently stall an Iraqi government from forming, forcing the Shiite majority to negotiate with a much smaller minority.

And all because a simplistic President chose simplistic loyalists to do a task that was beyond their abilities. I do not envy them, but I didn't think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place due to the unknown risks and unforeseeable problems. Once again, Bush's policies were far more complex than he was able to comprehend, and we are all paying the price because of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just as I have doubts about the incompetence (although not the harm) behind this administration's domestic policies, I hesitate to ascribe all of the apparent failures in Iraq to the same cause. This is particularly the case with the deadlock over the formation of an Iraqi government. While our government clearly has too little grasp of the long term consequences of the failure of the parties in Iraq's parliament to form a government (ah, freedom is messy!), I think that they would prefer to maintain the impasse for as long as possible. As I understand it, in that case, the executive offices will remain under the control of the interim appointees, people who owe all of their power to the United States. This reasoning certainly makes sense out of Chalabi and Allawi's maneuvering: clearly, neither of these politicians is ever going to assemble enough support to form a government. However, every representative they pull away from the majority is a step towards preventing the eventual resolution of this impasse.
As far as the Kurdish demands go, I would not be surprised to learn that the administration, both, at least tacitly supports their demands for control of Kirkuk and would back their secession from Iraq. Over and beyond the US's long standing support for a quasi-independent Kurdistan, a group of weaker states would be more likely to remain protectorates than a unified Iraq. As one web site I came across pointed out, the planned Iraqi army, which is scheduled to have neither tanks or planes, is suited to little else.