While I have been invoking the vox populi vox dei principle ("the voice of the people is the voice of God") almost since I initiated this blog, a quick keyword search has revealed that I have applied it almost exclusively to the American populi, often focusing on the populi of cyberspace, again with an American bias. However, I have also held to the principle that vox populi is better embodied in the structures of representative government than it is in the far weaker structures of cyberspace. In this case I have tried to take a more global perspective on representative structures, most recently by writing about the Palestinian problem in terms of a conflict between de facto and de jure representatives. Today I find myself revisiting that conflict with respect to conditions in Iraq in terms of the extent to which the de jure Iraqi parliament provides de facto representation for the general Iraqi population.
The reason this question is important is that, as Robert Dreyfuss reported yesterday on his Dreyfuss Report blog for The Nation, the Iraqi parliament has executed the rather extraordinary action of communicating with our own representatives in Congress through a hand-delivered letter, signed by a majority of its members. Whether or not the letter consists of more than the single sentence that Dreyfuss documented, the fact remains that this one sentence packs quite a wallop:
The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq.
Thus, if the Bush Administration is going to continue to tell the Congress that the United States must remain in Iraq as long as the Iraqis want them there, the Congress now has a pretty strong argument for withdrawal based on the duly-elected representatives of the Iraqi people, all in accord with those principles of democracy that our President wanted to sow in Iraq.
The implications of this single sentence, as Dreyfuss explores them, are fascinating:
Without a US-Iraq accord, the presence of American troops in Iraq has no legal basis after December 31, 2008. Currently, the US forces in Iraq are there under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution that expires on that date. Both the United States and the UN have ruled out renewing that authority for another year.
If Washington and Baghdad fail to work out a treaty that legalizes the occupation, it is conceivable that the Bush administration, in its last few weeks, could go back to the UN, hat in hand, and beg Moscow and Beijing to authorize an extension of the UN authority. But that would be embarassing in the extreme, and both Russia and China would probably extract some major concessions in exchange for not using their veto. That would be seen as a diplomatic fiasco for the United States. Worst case: either Russia or China veto the extension, throwing the occupation of Iraq into legal limbo. In that case, the Iraqi government would have no choice but to demand an immediate and total withdrawal.
To avoid that scenario, it's entirely possible that the Bush Administration, sometime this summer, will force the hapless regime of Prime Minister Maliki to submit to a US diktat on a US-Iraq accord. Even though Maliki is under tremendous pressure from nearly all Iraqi factions not to accept a humiliating, US-imposed treaty, he might decide that he has no choice. But if Maliki signs the accord, and ignores the opposition from parliament, he would instantly lose whatever remaining credibility he has left as an Iraqi leader. That would plunge Iraq into a devastating political crisis. It would probably revive the Sunni-led resistance and inflame the Shia-led, anti-American forces grouped around Muqtada al-Sadr. Violence, and American casualties, would spike on the eve of the US election. Not a pleasant scenario.
If, on the other hand, Maliki submits the treaty -- whose content is still not known -- to the parliament, it's very likely that both Sunni and Shia nationalists and some pro-Iranian parties will overwhelmingly reject it. That will nullify the accord, forcing the United States back to the UN.
Of course one of the reasons that I have invoked the vox populi principle in the United States is that the Executive Branch of our government has made it a point to disregard flagrantly that vox, which is why yesterday I wrote about the traumatic extent to which the Administration has disconnected itself from both the populi and the social system they constitute. So, if the Administration is going to disregard the vox populi of those who elected it, it is hard to believe that they will show any greater respect to the Iraqi vox. Meanwhile, the timing could not be better. The Presidential candidates can debate about what they are going to do as of January 20, 2009; but, to invoke the metaphor raised by Colin Powell, the deadline means that this matter has to be resolved by the bulls who went into the Pottery Barn shop in the first place. It cannot be left at the doorstep of the White House for the next occupant as if it were an abandoned child.
Nevertheless, I find it hard to get my hopes up about anything these days. I have learned not to underestimate the skill of the Bush Administration in weaseling out of awkward situations. We cannot start thinking about ringing the curtain down on this opera when the fat lady has not yet even come on stage!