WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington waits and waits while constantly
demanding that Iraq’s government function properly—that
its leaders compromise
and work together, that it at least provide electricity,
trash pick-up, and minimal services to its citizens. Yet all this is
impossible because of the structure of government America set up there.
Hopelessly dysfunctional, it was doomed from the start.
There is simply no way Iraq’s government could or can succeed.
Think first how
we destroyed its civil structure—its police,
civil service, most of its functions of government, even schoolteachers
were fired en masse. Then it’s easier to comprehend that Washington
also set up an unworkable government.
Indeed, an article in the American Prospect, “The
that wrecking Iraq as a nation state was intentional. According to
the article, David Wurmser, who subsequently became Vice President
Cheney’s principal foreign-policy adviser [urged] in 1997: that
if Saddam Hussein were driven from power, Iraq would be “ripped
apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families,” and
out of the “coming chaos in Iraq and most probably in Syria,” the
United States and her principal allies, namely Israel and Jordan, could
redraw the region’s map.
Generally there is little American understanding or concern for how
foreign governments function, especially their electoral systems. Our
policy is usually just to promote an election and then classify a nation
as having achieved democracy. Rarely do we define the institutional
requirements that can guarantee limited government, protection of minority
views and populations, accountability of government officials, the
rule of law, property rights, an independent judiciary, and the host
of other prerequisites necessary to make democracies work.
Indeed, not only does Washington typically ignore the traditions
of government that already exist in the nations we attempt to reconstruct,
but our bureaucrats do not even heed the lessons of Anglo-American
political history. Instead of devising a system at all like our own,
professional state-builders take inspiration from an idea hatched in
the faculty lounge: proportional representation.
Iraq’s constitution has several mortal
Proportional representation (PR) is a system whereby voting is based
on party lists of candidates
chosen by the party’s leadership.
Voters do not get to choose individual candidates and may not know
anything about many of the names on the list. A party receives a
number of seats in the legislature proportional to its percentage
of the popular vote.
The candidates awarded seats are taken in order from the top of the
party’s list. The PR system is much liked by political leaders
because they can always put their own names high on the list and thus
virtually ensure their perpetual re-election. But even lower-ranking
candidates are not fully accountable to the voters because their first
allegiance is to the party bosses who manage the lists.
This electoral system is bad enough in the best of circumstances,
but to make matters worse the whole of Iraq is treated as a single
electoral district, the worst kind of PR. (In some PR systems there
are multiple districts and candidates may have some concern for local
interests.) PR can provide effective government in small, homogeneous
nations such as in Scandinavia, but for larger nations it is not effective.
The system causes most voters to vote along ethnic or tribal lines
because they fear that others are voting that way too. For example,
if Shi’ites are voting for other Shi’ites, Sunnis will
tend to vote for other Sunnis to counter them.
Contrast this to the systems of the United States and Great Britain,
where majority coalitions can fracture and recombine along lines of
local and economic self-interest. In the Anglo-Saxon system, voters
are represented by candidates whom they can know, who are accountable
to their districts, focused on local issues, and who can be voted out
PR, by contrast, gives inordinate swing power in coalition government
to very small minority parties (as I explain with other factors in
earlier article, “Problems
of Proportional Representation”).
An excellent analysis by
Michael Greve at the American Enterprise
Institute considers other flaws with the PR systems that “well-meaning
UN officials, NGOs, and U.S. advisers” have imposed on “numerous
fledgling democracies, including Iraq.” He warned that Iraq’s “constitution
puts a hydra-headed executive at the mercy of the parliament.” Moreover,
Greve explains, Iraq’s PR system makes a mockery of federalism: “In
conflicts between regional and federal law, regional law shall prevail—thus
providing potent incentives to extort fiscal transfers.”
Kanan Makia of Brandeis University detailed
other problems five years
ago in The New York Times. He foresaw that the constitution would “further
weaken the already failing central Iraqi state” because it created “a
supremely powerful Parliament” which was in reality an “artificially
constructed collection of ethnic and sectarian voting block.” The
president and prime minister can be dismissed by a simple majority
vote in the single-house Parliament. In addition, “the constitution
encourages the transformation of governorates and local administrations
into powerful, nearly sovereign regions … while the articles
dealing with executive power … encourage new regions to be created
at the expense of the federal union.”
“The constitution may well be more of a prelude to civil war
than a step forward,” warned another expert in 2005, Anthony
Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Rather
than an inclusive document, it is more a recipe for separation based
on Shiite and Kurdish privilege,” he wrote, as quoted in an article
Wright in the Washington Post.
The Post report also warned that “the Shiite and Kurdish militias
are the de facto security forces in their territories and are loyal
to their own political leaders.”
By 2006, then CIA director Michael Hayden was acknowledging that
in Iraq, “the
inability of the government to govern seems irreversible.” He
added, “We and the Iraqi government do not agree on who the enemy
is … . It’s a legitimate question whether strengthening
the Iraqi security forces helps or hurts, when they are viewed as a
In 2007, Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s former president, now vying for
power, also explained in The New York Times how
proportional representation stymied effective government.
It is scarcely worth mentioning that Iraq is far different from the
cases of Japan and Germany after World War II. Comparing them is preposterous.
Germany and Japan were functioning, ordered states with cohesive populations.
They confronted a Communist danger that threatened to swallow them
if they failed to rebuild. They also had strong, competent American
generals in charge of occupation—and it is interesting to note
that General Patton refused demands from Washington that he dismiss
all low-level German government official, many of whom had been Nazi
Party members, as was done with Baathists in Iraq. In Japan, General
MacArthur also kept on regional government functionaries. He drafted
a realistic constitution criticized by many Japanese for not using
vague and consensus-focused language in accordance with their traditions.
Yet to this day, the Japanese have not substantially changed it.
The nearly decade-long U.S. occupation of Iraq has been in vain.
We are certainly not “building democracy.” Nor has the
entire misadventure served our own national interest. Indeed, we are
now nearly bankrupted and less safe as al-Qaeda grows and Muslims all
over the world see Iraq’s American-created “democracy” as
dysfunctional and discredited. Who today would trust the U.S. to create
a democracy in Afghanistan or Iran?
Washington’s neoconservatives may look benignly on an Iraq
whose dysfunctional government serves as an excuse to keep the region
occupied with 50,000 troops and massive air bases. But America’s “mission
accomplished” has created an unstable, economically devastated
nation that will be yet another constant source of instability for
the whole Middle East.
Jon Basil Utley archives
A version of this article appeared in The American Conservative.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The
American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers and former
associate editor of The Times of the Americas. For 17 years, he was
a commentator for the Voice of America. In the 1980s, he owned and
operated a small oil drilling partnership in Pennsylvania.