Steve Sachs Duke


Friday, July 11, 2003


Meet the new boss: I guess I'm glad to read that U.S. authorities are giving substantial powers to a new governing council in Iraq. As everyone seems to be saying, it might divert some of the criticism and discontent away from the U.S. and British occupiers, and give Iraqis a greater stake in their nation's success. Those working with the occupiers would no longer be accused of selling out, the argument goes, and attacks by Ba'athist sympathizers on officers of an Iraqi-controlled government would be rightfully recognized as attacks on a free society.

But something about the change--and especially the speed with which it was made--bothers me. A policy of holding local elections first, building institutions from the bottom up, at least had the advantage of guaranteeing ordinary Iraqis some degree of direct representation in decisionmaking. Elected leaders responsible to their constituents, not councillors handpicked by the U.S. and Britain, would have had control over designing the central government and drafting a new constitution.

Of course, local elections would have taken a while to organize, and perhaps the negative symbolism of U.S.-British control at the center was simply too powerful to allow us to wait. But there's no guarantee that the new council won't be seen as a puppet government; if individual Iraqis are reluctant to work for the occupying authorities now, what's to say that they'd be more willing with the council in charge?

What's more, it's not entirely clear that the council is prepared to assume the kind of responsibility intended for it. Investing both the executive and the legislative power in a 25-member committee sounds like a recipe for gridlock--especially since, in the absence of any written constitution, the council members will be making up their own rules of procedure as they go along. Given the number of different factions and interests at stake, how will they decide on the process of appointing officers, or decide on the size of majority or supermajority necessary for votes? How large a staff will they need, and who's going to be paying them? Without constituent demands to meet, will they have sufficient access to (and desire for) information? One of the benefits of democracy is that it keeps decision-makers accountable, and gives them a strong incentive to stay on top of citizens' concerns; unlike members of Congress or even the delegates in Philadelphia, however, these councillors have no one to report back to.

As a result, while I'm hoping that the council will succeed, I'm not heartened by the statement of U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer that "We're going to give them more work than they can imagine." Does anyone else worry that this might be more work than they can handle?




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