Friday, June 25, 2004

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (4)

Give Iyad Allawi -- and the Bush administration -- their due

Last month I blogged about the designation of Iyad Allawi as the Iraqi president until January of next year, and the extent to which the U.S. did not want to be seen as puppetmaster. Other Iraq watchers were skeptical of the new government's ability to command legitimacy -- at the time, Spencer Ackerman wrote, "Any interim prime minister would surely face the accusation of being an occupation stooge. With Allawi, the charge is likely to have serious currency."

Well, it looks like Allawi was underestimated. The Washington Post's Robin Wright reports that Iraqis do perceive the new government as legitimate (link via Robert Tagorda):

A large majority of Iraqis say they have confidence in the new interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that is set to assume political power on Wednesday, according to a poll commissioned by U.S. officials in Iraq.

The results are a significant victory for the United States and the United Nations. Together they negotiated with squabbling Iraqi factions in an attempt to cobble together a viable government that balanced disparate ethnic and religious groups.

The first survey since the new government was announced by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about three weeks ago showed that 68 percent of Iraqis have confidence in their new leaders. The numbers are in stark contrast to widespread disillusionment with the previous Iraqi Governing Council, which was made up of 25 members picked by the United States and which served as the Iraqi partner to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Only 28 percent of Iraqis backed the council when it was dissolved last month, according to a similar poll in May....

But 73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government, 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar and almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet. These impressive showings indicate that the new leaders have support spanning ethnic and religious groups, U.S. officials said.

"What comes across in the poll and what we've sensed for a while is that Iraqis remain open-minded about the new government," a senior coalition official in Baghdad said in an interview.

Four out of every five Iraqis expected that the new government will "make things better" for Iraq after the handover, with 10 percent expecting the situation to remain the same and 7 percent anticipating a decline, the poll shows.

U.S. officials are particularly encouraged because the poll showed high name recognition for the new leadership, in contrast with many members of the former council, U.S. officials said. More than 70 percent of Iraqis polled have heard or read a significant amount about the new leaders, who were named about three weeks ago.

"That's huge penetration -- and it happened quickly," said the coalition official, who asked for anonymity because of the rules on naming officials in Baghdad. "It's partly because Allawi is on all the Arab media every day talking about security. He's visiting sites, and there are constantly images of the prime minister tackling security, which is what Iraqis care most about right now. It resonates, and it comes across in these figures."

In a sign that Iraqis are more optimistic generally about their future after the occupation ends, two-thirds of Iraqis believed the first democratic elections for a new national assembly -- tentatively set for December or January -- will be free and fair, the survey shows.

Despite the growing number of attacks on Iraqi security forces, including several yesterday, public confidence in the new police and army has reached new highs, the poll shows. Seventy percent of Iraqis polled supported the new army, and 82 percent supported the police.

Hey, this and banking reform -- two in a row for the CPA!

There's one reason why Allawi is likely to be able to sustain this popularity -- he has a built-in scapegoat for his biggest headache, which is the security situation. If problems continue in that area, all he has to do is publicly harangue the Americans.

What will be particularly interesting is whether the new government and security forces' legitimacy gives them greater access to informants who will rat out insurgents.

The new government's popularity might go south in the future -- but this is certainly good news as June 30th approaches.


posted by Dan on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM


Isn't Allawi a strongman type that is more likely to lead Iraq into another dictatorship rather than democracy? One of the Post editorials references him doing some bad things in London for the Ba'ath party, and generally paints him as a thug. And I thought I saw some references to curfews and State of Emergency type things.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, but are we going to end up with an Iraq headed by a slightly less bad Saddam? Or perhaps we've just reset the prior situation, where the we have the dictator's allegience for the first 5-10 years, and then we'll have to deal with this again? Could such a scenario be the only stable solution available for the resources we're willing to pour into the area?

(I suspect the questions are coming off as snide, but I'm actually curious, if slightly inarticulate).

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I've also read Ignatius editorial SomeCallMeTim references, but I'd note that while the columnist chooses to end his remarks by talking about how Alawi will rule as a strongman, he also provides some much more salutary information. He speaks of his simple tastes, inclination to "...bring everyone under the tent...", ties to members of the governments of several of the surrounding states, and statements that assert his independence from the CPA. I'd say the total makes him sound more like an able politician.

The "strongman" remark could come to pass--it all depends on how the political situation develops over the next few years. But Alawi could also show some of the savvy that Washington did here, when he declined to run for a third term as president and let the institutions he and his peers had built determine the future of US governance. We don't have enough information at this point to do more than speculate on which path Iraq will follow.

posted by: Jem on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

With all the troubles they'll face in the next few years, a "strongman" of some calibre is probably helpful. Security & prosperity will initially be of more value to Iraqi's than a well-tuned democracy.

This is good news. Sorry to read that success in Iraq is still noted with such a degree of surprise.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Yes, good news. I suspect that the new government has a few months to show that it can improve things on the ground. A second honeymoon, if you will.

posted by: Mika on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I'd prefer a "tough" guy to a "strongman;" regardless, we can succeed if a critical mass of Iraqis realize they can succeed if they avoid the typical Arab nation path of tribal plots, counter-plots and endless squabbles. The Kurds, while imperfect, are further along this road than any - the Shia give indications they understand they can ensure long-term success for themselves if they remain focused upon pluralism and avoid wreaking retribution upon the Sunnis - which brings us to the hardest part. How do Sunnis accept being a political and ethnic minority in a majority Shia nation? I don't know, but I remain hopeful.

posted by: Tim on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

The Kurdish groups took nearly 6 years to reach the near democracy they have, and even then they had 2 groups. They were also helped by ethnic cohesion.

The Shia will definitely dominate the country. The Sunni, I fear, will remain an active, angry minority.

Re: The strongman vs. democrat -- there are only 6 months for elections. We'll know soon enough what the result is.

posted by: Jon Juzlak on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

OK. So there seems to be a consensus that Allawi is a strong man, and that this might not be a bad thing. But why is this that much better than an Iraq with Saddam at its head (and us richer in lives, cash, and standing)? Toward furthering the discussion, I cadged the following bit from the Hersh piece:

"his role as a Baath Party operative while Saddam struggled for control in the nineteen-sixties and seventies—Saddam became President in 1979—is much less well known. “Allawi helped Saddam get to power,” an American intelligence officer told me. “He was a very effective operator and a true believer.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former C.I.A. case officer who served in the Middle East, added, “Two facts stand out about Allawi. One, he likes to think of himself as a man of ideas; and, two, his strongest virtue is that he’s a thug.”..."

Is he guaranteed to stay on our side? If Chalibi can play us, why not this guy? By the time we attacked, Saddam was leader of a very weak Iraq; is this guy definitely going to stay as weak? Or is the main benefit that he won't be AS bad to his people as Saddam? I realize that there are supposed to be elections in 6 months, but I really see someone declaring a State of Emergency in three (or some other manuever to keep himself in power).

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Why is thus guy better than Saddam ? Why, he's our SOB !!

More seriously, there are some reasons why he's better

-- Saddam was really bad. Its unlikely this guy could be anywhere near as bad. Maybe he'll be a Mubarak, which is bad, or a Musharaff, which is tolerable.
-- This guy is likely to be supported by the US for quite a while. That includes troops, money etc. That alone should prevent him from turning against us.
-- This guy does not (yet) have the reason to hate us that Saddam did and he has some reason to be grateful to us.

posted by: Jon Juzlak on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

The difference this time is that the US will have a large, if not permanent, military presence in the region. We invaded Iraq more to have a new base in the region, than remove Saddam. Saudi was under internal pressure for US to leave, and that was one of Osama's main demands. We have relieved the pressure on Saudi (our primary ME oil provider), and have the ability to base and stage from countries adjacent or surrounding other enemy regimes in the ME (Iran / Syria).

posted by: Willy on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Remember when the Marines were about to storm Fallujah and the Iraqi GC told us not to? Then a deal was made.

Now the same GC people are talking about "martial law" for some areas.

Let me guess that now that they are in charge, they will simply evacuate the women and children and give the Marines the green light to clean out Fallujah.

posted by: Aaron on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I remember an op-ed piece last year by Tom Freidman stating that the insurgency will not end until the Iraqi's end it. They will not have to play by the same rules as we do.

I suspect we will soon find out if Tom is right!!

posted by: tallan on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

The Kurdish groups took nearly 6 years to reach the near democracy they have, and even then they had 2 groups. They were also helped by ethnic cohesion.

Having someone trying to kill every last one of your ethnic group, who also has the power to do it, would seem to be a force for unification, at least among the Kurds.

It's something Americans could take a lesson from.

posted by: Bithead on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

"What will be particularly interesting is whether the new government and security forces' legitimacy gives them greater access to informants who will rat out insurgents."

I suggest that this is happening already in light of the recent coalition air strikes.

There is talk by the Iraqis of limited martial law in problem areas.

While it likely will offend the sensibilities of some westerners, I believe that there is a good chance the insurgency will be dealt with expeditiously, in a manner which is wholly Iraqi.

posted by: John on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

the insurgency will not end until the Iraqi's end it. They will not have to play by the same rules as we do.

EXACTLY. I 100% agree. A curfew and state of emergency is exactly what's needed for Iraq at this point. The problem for the US is that we have too many lefties and too much media attention to really be ruthless enough to put down the insurgency.

The real question is whether - over time - Iraq under new leadership can SLOWLY liberalize. Unlike the neocon idea of instant-democracy-from-above, slow liberalization of a country under a US-sympathetic right-wing dictator *is* something we've done with success. Look at South Korea, Chile, Taiwan, and Singapore. All of those countries went through strongman phases and gradually liberalized their economies in the process. Political freedom came last, not first. Iran was on the same track till the Ayatollahs took over - it was by far the most prosperous/secular country in the ME (after Israel).

The question is whether this Allawi can crack down on Islamic fundamentalists and insurgents while continuing to liberalize the economy. If Iraq *does* become stable under Allawi, look for plenty of stories in the press demonizing him like they're currently going after Putin.

posted by: gc_emeritus on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Can you tell us who is doing this polling? I don't mean to sound unnecessarily skeptical, but I am wondering how, in the mayhem that seems to be Iraq, we can actually count on polling results to tell us something factual, rather than something hoped-for. And we've heard a great deal about the hoped-for over the course of the last year or so.

posted by: Anita Jensen on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

It seems to me that as of this point order for a "strongman" situation to develop in Iraq that a civil war would have to occur. A strongman must always have the support of the military to hold power. It seems to me that the US in setting up the new Iraqi army has made sure that it is representative of all factions of Iraqis from enlisted men to general officers. If there is ever a true strongman again in Iraq he will be a Shia. However he will never be so powerful as to hold sway over the now independent Kurds, and the smart money already knows this.

The martial law language being thrown around is in reality a difference in American policy and Iraqi reality. The US is always reluctant to inflict martial law because that truly smacks of occupation but if the Iraqi government does, well, then martial law becomes both legitmate and helpful. Besides Iraqis have really never known anything but martial law called by a different name. My guess is, however, that with the US looking over the new Iraqi government's shoulder any martial law implemented would be limited, functional, and short lived.

posted by: Harry on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

“Or perhaps we've just reset the prior situation, where the we have the dictator's allegience for the first 5-10 years, and then we'll have to deal with this again?”

This is why it’s imperative for the Iraqis to rapidly build up their economy. People who are hopeful of the future and enjoying increasing prosperity will be more likely to support democracy. I’ve been optimistic for the last few months. Too many people focus on the violence forgetting that the Iraqi population is estimated to be around thirty-one million. The deaths, however tragic, involve a relatively small number of people. My attention has been instead riveted by the all the cars, TVs, microwaves, and appliances being bought. Karl Marx exaggerated the importance of economics. He thought it was everything. Marx was perhaps eighty percent right---it’s the extra twenty percent which got him into trouble.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I would take this poll with a grain of salt. Think about what the corresponding poll results would have been oh, say, 2 years ago. Wait, there was such a poll and Saddam got 100 percent of the vote.

Whether they like it, or not, Allwai is the top guy. Whether he is a good guy, or another Saddam clone, has yet to be seen. So of course the populace is going to say it is behind him. It is simply safer that way.

I am not trying to cast any aspersions on Allawi, or the character of the Iraqi people. Considering what happened to folks who disagreed with the last head of Iraq, I can't say I blame them. I do hope things turn out well for them, but I would not trust such a poll at this time.

posted by: Ben on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

This poll is extremely meaningful. Iraqis are not afraid to speak their minds these days, and speak out against the occupation daily in spite of all the american firepower. If they didn't like the new government, they sure as hell would say so.

The Iraqis will be ruthless against the Syrians and Saudis who have invaded their nation and are killing so many Iraqis, and with the Sunni collaborators trying to wreck the new Iraq. They will certainly torture them in ways the US interrogators never imagined. They will tend to ignore the human shields and shoot to kill. Fallujah may soon become a parking lot.

posted by: RB on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

It surprises me how few seem willing to give the Bush Administration their due. I suppose if Bush doesn't mind everybody misunderestimating him I shouldn't either. This take down of Saddam Hussein is probably the boldest move I've seen in my lifetime. I expect it will turn out to have been the pivotal event in efforts, that now have some hope of success, to end the strife that has plagued the Middle East for the last half century or more. I think the CPA has been misunderestimated for the job they've done guiding the Iraqis to an interim constitution. However things go, it won't be perfect, and Allawi won't be perfect, but things will be much better than they we're. I'm betting they'll be pretty damn good.

posted by: Tom Bowler on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

I think it's interesting that reported Iraqi approval for Allawi coincides with a security situation that for Iraqis in major towns at least is as bad as it has been since the spring of last year.

There may be several reasons for this, but one must be that Allawi has been at pains to address his Iraqi audience rather than pitch all his remarks at an American one. The two peoples speak fundamentally different languages in more ways than one; more than once have I read statements from Paul Bremer and other Bush administration officials and wondered how they expected Iraqis even to understand them, let alone greet them with enthusiasm.

American public diplomacy has been a weak link in our campaign in Iraq. It is too early to say that Allawi is really doing better, but that is the initial impression.

posted by: Zathras on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

“This take down of Saddam Hussein is probably the boldest move I've seen in my lifetime. “

We must remember one very important point: Saddam Hussein would likely still be in power if a Democrat were in the White House. We are currently debating the effectiveness of the Bush administration’s actions. The Democrats, however, find excuses not to do anything militarily. President Bush has the will and the guts to take chances. Let’s be blunt, Saddam is not pleased that Al Gore is not our Commander in chief. The terrorists are also prefer John Kerry to be our leader. A vote for the Massachusetts senator is inadvertently a vote for terrorism. Kerry was a wimp during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan boldly demanded, “ Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Kerry considered the late president to be too aggressive.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

There is one more thing that I must add concerning John Kerry: his antiwar positions during the Vietnam conflict are of secondary importance. One can argue that Kerry was only in his mid twenties, an immature youth. This excuse, though, cannot be employed when he opposed President Reagan during the Cold War. Kerry was then a mature man of around forty years old. He was a Soviet Union appeaser. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Kerry still retains this deplorable mindset. There's virtually no doubt but that he would stab the Iraqis in the back. Kerry would demand that the Iraqi leaders be so perfect that they would be unable to govern. The perfect is often the enemy of the good---and utopian liberalism is ruthless towards those fledging democracies stressed out by terrorism and vicious insurgents.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

The support for Allawi and the new government in the poll is encouraging, and not surprising. He probably starts with a fair amount of sympathy just for being an Iraqi leader, and he seems to be hitting the right notes politically with his emphasis on security.

At this point, I see a few big (and closely related) questions that will determine how successful the interim government will be in maintaining support.

1. To what extent is support based on trust in the new leaders, vs. expectations of immediate improvements? New governments typically start with a honeymoon period, but these can be short-lived and fragile. The fact that Iraqis apparently are optimistic about the future may actually point to potential problems, because "optimism" is another word for "expectations." If support for the government is based on expectations, and these expectations aren't met, the government's prestige could drop quickly. Unfortunately, the description of the poll results doesn't give any indication of the durability of support, or the extent of public patience.

2. Will the new government be able to maintain an appearance of independence from the American occupation? As the article notes, support for the new government apparently coexists with continued strong disapproval toward the Americans. After the experience of the Governing Council, I imagine the Iraqi public will be watching the new government closely and critically.

3. Who fights the insurgency, how, and how successfully? One of the most important effects of the handover is the creation of major political complications for American counterinsurgency. If the US military pursues operations that a majority of the Iraqi public disapproves of, the new government's legitimacy will take a big hit. If Allawi supports unpopular US operations, he'll be viewed as a puppet; if he opposes them, he'll be viewed as ineffective or irrelevant.

The fledgling Iraqi forces probably aren't ready to take on the insurgents alone, and there's a danger that Iraqi forces could rely on brutality to compensate for a lack of training and preparation. Somehow, the US and Iraqi forces will have to coordinate such that the Iraqis are seen as taking the main role, with the US offering support. If we can pull that off and improve the security situation at the same time, public sympathy for the interim government and the new security forces will remain high, and we may even be able to start rehabilitating the Iraqi public's views of the Americans. If not, the image of the entire interim government will suffer.

In general, I think what happens now is very important, because to some extent it will set the tone for the electoral and constitution making processes that are slated to follow. If the interim government ends up losing much of its credibility and legitimacy, the results of those processes will be viewed with suspicion, and will be less likely to hold up in the face of inevitable social and economic tensions. So, the stakes are pretty high.

posted by: N V on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Get ready to hear the phrases "State of Emergency" and "No free elections can be held during this crisis" between the election and January.

Oh well. At least we'll be able to declare victory and get out.

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 06.25.04 at 11:58 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?