NEW YORK, May 26 (UPI) -- Where's Jimbo? Where's Jimmy Carter?
Who's the most obvious man in the world to be in Baghdad sorting out the balance of power among raving lunatic political parties that all hate one another, and convincing them not only to go to the ballot box, but also to shake hands when they do it?
The man made a 20-year career of it. He's spent more time doing that than he spent holding elective office. Right there in Georgia we've got the only guy in the world who could make sense out of ETHIOPIA, for God's sake. Not to mention the time he asked all warring parties in the Sudan to lay down their weapons so that some pressing disease and agricultural problems could be dealt with -- and they all did it.
So what if he's a Democrat? What would look better, right now, when Iraq seethes with hostility and distrust and outright scoffing at the idea that the United States really intends to sponsor democracy, than to say, "Look, in America, we even work across political lines. We have a 227-year tradition of arguing with each other without killing each other. We're sending you a Nobel Peace Prize winner who's trusted by the entire planet, even though he supported our president's opponent."
Instead, what's the message so far? First we send Jay Garner, a general who keeps saying "I am open to all ideas!" and talking about something called "Islamic democracy" as the country disintegrates into uncontrolled street crime, looting and chaos, including the destruction of every police station. (Iraqi response: This buffoon is going to RUN THE WHOLE COUNTRY?)
But what's worse than sending a dotty general? We replace Garner with a spook! Almost every line on Paul Bremer's resume includes the words "counter-terrorism," including the 11 years at Kissinger & Associates, which is known for protecting rich corporations against the Third World, not vice versa. When the whole country is thinking "You're not going to steal our oil, are you?," the message is, "Well, maybe, maybe not." This guy is Wall Street, Pentagon, CIA all wrapped into one package, and his message has always been "No retreat, no surrender." The war is over, but we just sent them an ex-comrade of Oliver North who thinks Shiite is the southern pronunciation of manure.
One of Bremer's first actions was to overrule every promise Garner had made about early elections and interim governments. He now refuses to use the word "government" to describe any setup in which Iraqis participate. He prefers "provisional coalition authorities" and says the national congress of Iraqi leaders, originally scheduled for May, won't happen until July, and whatever entity comes out of it will have no real power.
At a meeting with irate Iraqis last week, either Bremer or one of his spokespeople said, "You won't have power because you won't be directly elected."
Since the United States had just sponsored two "town hall meetings" for potential Iraqi leaders, the locals were all full of references to the Federalist papers, so no doubt they knew not only that the American founders had forbidden direct elections, but their creation -- the electoral college -- had resulted in a sitting president today who failed to get the popular vote. What kind of weird civics lesson is going on here?
Of COURSE they're not going to be directly elected. The United States is opposing direct universal elections for the same reasons Jefferson did -- because it would result in the illiterate majority ruling the literate minority. And in Iraq, the majority is Shiite.
The first thing everyone needs to do is SLOW DOWN. From the day Baghdad fell, the message has been, "This won't take long, we're not staying, we're getting out quick."
Why? That makes no sense. How can you even determine who's lying to us and who's telling the truth in fewer than, say, 6 months? And how can you prepare any sort of democratic elections in any shorter period than 2 years? Among other things, there's NO ELECTION COMMISSION. We're working on figuring out the politics before we've found two dozen good non-political men who can run an honest election.
That's why we need Carter for all this stuff. He hasn't been a mere figurehead the last two decades. He's confronted the nitty-gritty of bringing order out of chaos over and over again. He knows the details. He knows the technology. Besides the Carter Center, he runs the International Negotiation Network, which has time and again dealt with fringe groups that the United Nations won't touch.
There's nothing wrong with leaving an American military junta in place for two years or so, until the country calms down, services are restored, and there's a systematic orderly SCHEDULE of the steps that will be taken leading up to elections. It took six years for America to finalize its Constitution, and Iraq doesn't have nearly as many Jeffersons, Hamiltons and Madisons as we had.
But the Bush administration obviously doesn't have the patience for that. Carter does.
Lest we forget how valuable he's been in the past, he's been called upon by every president and U.N. secretary general since 1984 -- except the sitting president. Gerald Ford was a huge supporter of the Carter Center. Ronald Reagan used him in arms control talks with the Soviets. Bush pere used him in Panama, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Zambia, Guyana and especially Ghana, where, not so coincidentally, Carter had made the nation self-sufficient in agriculture in a mere five years.
In every case, as fragile nations tried to embrace democracy, Carter was the spokesman for the most difficult concept for people to accept: the loyal opposition. Most emerging countries have no idea how to have genuine political debate without violence. In Panama, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, the leaders who invited the Carter Center to monitor elections all lost the resulting vote --and Carter was there to convince the presidents to step down peaceably in the name of "la patria." And they did.
Clinton didn't particularly like Carter, because he thought he took credit away from the State Department (a constant criticism for 20 years now), but he sent him to Haiti anyway, and a planned invasion was narrowly averted. He also used Carter, or benefited from his presence, in Paraguay, Pakistan, Bosnia (where he negotiated a four-month ceasefire), Sudan, Palestine, Jamaica, China, Nigeria, Indonesia, Mozambique, Mexico and Venezuela.
And, lest we forget, North Korea would be disarmed today if it had not been for the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994 just weeks after Carter had orchestrated talks between north and south.
Carter has one more major advantage. He's constantly gone around the world to clean up after American corporations that stirred up hostility in the Third World. In many cases the companies didn't even realize they were stirring up hostility. Carter knows how to protect Wall Street from itself. Bremer, on the other hand, is currently chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Consulting, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan, where the mindset is precisely the opposite: Run over people when you can, appease them when you have to, make sure there are plenty of bullet-proof limos, and take care of America first.
The fact of the matter is, there's going to have to be some kind of widely accepted sanctioning body for the elections. If that body is not the United Nations, then the next best thing is the Carter Center. It may even be the better alternative, because the Carter Center can talk to people the United Nations can't talk to, because of the limitations of its charter.
What's the alternative? A puppet? Look at this rogues gallery of U.S.-approved figureheads:
- Ahmad Chalabi, the banker currently sought for felony embezzlement in Jordan.
- Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish opposition leader whose only interest in federalism is that it will allow him to operate independently of Baghdad.
- Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The only reason the United States supports him is that he's considered the lesser of two evils. The REAL leader of the Shiites, Ayatollah Mohammed Bagir al-Hakim, wants nothing to do with America.
- Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader who represents all the back-country tribes who think the other Kurdish organization is too Western.
- Dr. Ayad Allawi, the CIA-approved former member of the Baath party who left to form the Iraq National Accord in 1976. Saudi Arabia has been funding him for years. He has "agent of foreign powers" all over his resume.
The madness here is that all these guys would look like puppets. The world has changed. You can't do that anymore. Anyone who looks like he's beholden to the West will be challenged and emasculated, if not killed.
The other way to do it is to stop trying to PREDICT the leader. The Jimmy Carter way is to find the Abraham Lincoln who's still living in his log cabin somewhere, ready to have greatness thrust upon him. He's not attached to any of these groups. He believes in an Iraq that doesn't exist yet, in the same way that America's Founding Fathers went fearfully into the future, creating a government that they were terrified would not survive unless they constructed it carefully and without favor. In other words, an idealist.
An idealist is not going to care about oil deals -- except to secure the natural resources of the country. He's going to be neither pro-American nor anti-American on that issue. He's not going to care about the narrow interests of Shiites or Kurds -- except to guarantee their safety. And he's not going to care about Iraqi foreign policy except in terms that make sense precisely for Iraq and no one else.
Two days after 9/11, Bremer wrote, "[We] must avoid a mindless search for an international 'consensus' for our actions."
Apparently he doesn't care about an Iraqi consensus either.
We're trailing 9-1 in the third inning, and we've got the best relief pitcher in the league sitting in the bullpen, waiting for the call. Somebody please tell him to start warming up.
(John Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.)