Jay Reding.com

Should Al-Maliki Go?

Charles Krauthammer joins the chorus of people saying that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should get the boot. There seems to be a very strong argument that al-Maliki has failed to make the sort of political progress necessary to move Iraq forward. Iraq needs a strong leader, and while al-Maliki at first appeared to be just that, his record of failure has made him an object of derision in both Baghdad and Washington.

As Krauthammer explains:

Now, Maliki is no friend of Sadr or Iran. He knows that if they ultimately prevail, they will swallow him whole. But Maliki is too weak temperamentally and politically to make the decisive move in the other direction — toward Sunni and Shiite moderates — in order to make the necessary national compromises.

So he hedges his bets. He visits Iran and, then, while on a Syrian visit, responds to calls for the Iraqi Parliament to bring his government down by saying, “Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria,” and warning darkly that Iraq “can find friends elsewhere.”

Maliki is not just weak but unreliable. Time is short. We should have long ago — say, when Stephen Hadley wrote his leaked memo last November about Maliki’s failure — begun working to have this dysfunctional government replaced.

Even the French foreign minister, upon returning from a recent fence-mending trip to Iraq, called for Maliki’s replacement. (One can discount his later apology as pro forma.) Such suggestions are often denounced as hypocritical and contrary to democracy. Nonsense. In a parliamentary system, a government serves only if it continues to command confidence.

Does anyone imagine that Maliki enjoys the confidence of the majority of Iraqis? If he does not, parliament, representing the people, has the perfect right to vote no confidence and bring down the government.

The problem is who replaces him? The head of the Iraqi government is likely to be a Shi’a. Al-Maliki, for all his fault, is nowhere near as cozy with Tehran as many of those who might seek to replace him. Ideally, Dr. Iyad Allawi (whose efforts at lobbying Congress may cause him to lose credibility with Iraqis) would be able to take al-Maliki’s place, but it’s an open question whether he has sufficient support within the Iraqi electorate to win.

I do agree with Krauthammer that there need to be structural changes to the Iraqi government. A party list system tends to create rather than smooth over sectarian tensions. However, it isn’t our job to shape the Iraqi government to our liking — we instilled a democratic system of government in Iraq and we undercut the legitimacy of that government if we turn it into our puppet. It’s quite possible that the Iraqi people would accept the changes, but there has to be buy-in at the local level before any changes are made.

In the end, we need to look at Iraqi democratization from the bottom up rather than from the top down. The Iraqi government is weak, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Change won’t come from the Iraqi parliament, but from the grass roots. The current government may not be able to produce solid results, but that’s not what matters — the future of Iraq will be decided in individual and neighborhoods, and as the Iraqi people begin to turn decisively against their foreign tormentors the Iraqi government will either have to follow along or face the democratic wrath of the people. That’s how democracies are supposed to work, and if the Iraqi government is not sufficiently deferential to the will of the people it can and should be replaced.