Lawrence Kaplan explains why we are so confident that radical Shia won’t run postwar Iraq: We’re going to stack the decks against that outcome

Nor will Shia extremists have an opportunity to seize power through the ballot box, at least not any time soon. Members of the Bush team claim that, prior to any referendum, a constitution must be drawn up, an assembly convened, judicial reform enacted—all under the auspices of liberal Iraqis with close ties to the United States. Further, that constitution will include clauses designed to impede the rise of illiberal forces—among these, the diffusion of national power along federal lines, detailed arrangements for sharing that power in Baghdad, perhaps a ban on “totalitarian” political parties, and a commitment to regular elections. Those elections, moreover, will be held on a “rolling” basis, beginning at the municipal level and proceeding only slowly toward the Iraqi center. In the meantime, American officials hope an influx of financial and humanitarian assistance will diminish Shia resentments in Iraq’s south. And, when elections do come, administration officials predict that a more discrete and narrowly tailored influx of aid will give liberal forces an advantage. Indeed, as American troops in Baghdad and Kut pry selfappointed Iraqis from power, Special Forces and CIA officers have already fanned out across Iraq’s south to bolster and create moderate Shia voices. Covert assistance may even be channeled to Shia clerics, possibly including Sistani himself.

True, all this hardly amounts to democracy at its purest. But neither is it without precedent. In many respects, too much has been made of the parallels between postwar Germany and Iraq. But the comparison holds in at least one sense. In Germany, as in Iraq, the United States went to war to oust one totalitarian foe and remained to thwart another. Nor did Germany’s postwar architects shy away from resorting to vaguely antidemocratic means to achieve democratic ends. Hence the provision in its constitution that authorized the constitutional court to outlaw anti-democratic parties, proscribing both Nazis and Communists alike. Hence, too, the millions of dollars in covert aid that Washington delivered to voices of political moderation in Germany and throughout Western Europe during the decade after World War II. Like their predecessors six decades before, Pentagon officials remain keenly aware that Iraq’s first national election could be its last and see no contradiction in taking similar measures to ensure that it is not.

This all strikes me as reasonable, although there will be howls of protest. When we say “we want a democratic Iraq,” we mean more than simply “we want elections in Iraq.” Our objective is much broader: we want liberal institutions and a democratic culture to emerge. One man, one vote, one time is not the way to achieve that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.