Sunday, January 30, 2005

Democratic Iraq

Today is a day of reckoning – of sorts – because today is election-day in Iraq. The outcome is a foregone conclusion – the Shi’ites will win the majority with the Sunni’s having a minority position. The new assembly will be divided fairly equally between the religious and the secular with the Kurds representing a strong and pivotal force. While this scenario may vary somewhat it is probably close to the truth. However, the real issue is what comes next and what are the ramifications of the new Iraq?

There is little doubt but that this is a historic event but it is also a strategic one and the geopolitical ramifications are the truly important ones. The Iranians (Persians) have not had a happy history with Iraq, much like the French and British. If they are not actually at war they are preparing for the next one. The Iranians are positioned between Russia, Afghanistan, and Iraq and sit on a pool of oil and warm water ports. The Russians have always coveted a warm water port and the Persian Gulf has always been attractive. The Afghans are really not much of a threat since they would rather fight each other but with the recent events there, a democratic Afghanistan represents a destabilizing force if not an actual military threat. However, there seems to be little doubt but that Osama Bin Laden is in Iran either physically or spiritually in the form of his Al Qu’eda organization. Either situation is a threat to the Iranian theocracy. The Americans want bin Laden and they could easily deliver an ultimatum to Iran to either hand him over or they will come and get him. This is an unlikely scenario but one that the Ayatollah’s can’t ignore. As long as the Al Qu’eda are hiding there they represent a destabilizing force because of their militant dedication to Shar’ia Law in a country that is already restive because of the stridency of the Ayatollah’s.

With a democratic Iraq on their doorstep the Iranians will certainly feel threatened. It seems obvious that their reaction is to push forward on their nuclear program with the idea that they could resort to nuclear war if attacked. It is unlikely they will be attacked because the Iraqi’s have their own situation to deal with, the Russians aren’t really strong enough and have their hands full in Chechnia. The US won’t attack Iran either, but it seems obvious that the CIA will work with the new Iraqi government to disrupt the Iranian political landscape with the objective of overthrowing the Ayatollah’s. However, this is almost a sideshow compared to what may happen elsewhere.

Syria is a dictatorship that is not overly popular and one that maintains its legitimacy by attacking and blaming the US and Israel for everything from bad weather to the rampant poverty that characterizes all of the old Ottoman Empire. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, even with a democratic Iraq on their doorstep, but the Palestinians are finally coming to their senses and beginning to understand that violence isn’t the answer. They have destroyed their economy, their leaders have stolen all of their money and blamed others, and they have nothing left but poverty and unemployment. With the new elections and the possibility of peace with Israel the Syrians are left with very little in the way of excuses to continue to subjugate their people. Quite probably, the Lebanese will demand that Syria withdraw since there will no longer be any reason for them to stay if Israel and Palestine are at peace.

The Jordanians and Egyptians have seen the handwriting on the wall for some time and are attempting to adjust to the new realities but the Gulf States are growing more unstable by the day. Once the Iraqi’s are firmly in control and have a strong military, the terrorists who have gravitated to Iraq will be forced out and this is already happening. The attacks of terrorists on the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have escalated and will continue to do so. These are very corrupt and repressive regimes. They are rich but the wealth is controlled by very few. The upper classes live a very prosperous and western life style – albeit in private – but the terrorists want to return to the Ninth Century. It is unlikely that the terrorists will actually win, but it is highly probable that they will topple all of the dictatorships and monarchies that characterize the Gulf States. These states have large populations of immigrants who have no rights and no real access to the wealth. This is an unstable situation and one the terrorists can leverage, at least to the point of toppling the regimes. Then the Iraqi democracy becomes a paradigm for what could be. The current regimes are very threatened and they really don’t know what to do. They exist only because of the US power but it seems clear that that power is aimed at supporting the people and the government they select – not one imposed on them. Obviously, the US isn’t going to pull away from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia but that is a far cry from supporting them against their own people.

So the Iraqi elections are not just historic, they have vast geopolitical ramifications – ramifications that have just begun to manifest themselves. The Age of Kings ended with the French Revolution, it seems very likely that the Age of Islam is about to close with the elections in Iraq.

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