What’s Going Down

By guest-blogger Other Lisa, cross-posted on the paper tiger

With 60% of Americans now dissapproving of the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq, prominent U.S. Republican senator Chuck Hagel has joined the chorus of criticism, saying that Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also stated that far from making us safer, the conflict has helped further destablize the Middle East:

“We should start figuring out how we get out of there,” Hagel said on “This Week” on ABC. “But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur.”

Hagel said “stay the course” is not a policy. “By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq … we’re not winning,” he said.

Hagel’s statements come on the heels of an announcement by the Army’s top general that the Army is making plans for a “worse-case scenario,” in which US troop strength would be maintained at its present levels, over 160,000 soldiers, for the next four years. Hagel, once a partisan of greatly increasing troop strength in Iraq, now believes that we are past the point where more troops can bring any greater stability to Iraq:

“We’re past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar… to where we were in Vietnam,” Hagel said. “The longer we stay, the more problems we’re going to have.”

Moreover, he described the Army contingency plan as “complete folly.”

“I don’t know where he’s going to get these troops,” Hagel said. “There won’t be any National Guard left … no Army Reserve left … there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years.”

Hagel added: “It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won’t be four years. We need to be out.”

To put a capper on this misbegotten, morally dishonest venture, word out of Iraq today on the new constitution is that the US is conceding to Iraqi Islamists:

Islam will be “the main source” of Iraq’s law and parliament will observe religious principles, negotiators said on Saturday after what some called a major turn in talks on the constitution and a shift in the U.S. position.

If agreed by Monday’s parliamentary deadline, it would appear to be a major concession to Islamist leaders from the Shi’ite Muslim majority and sit uneasily with U.S. insistence on the primacy of democracy and human rights in the new Iraq.

(IF the draft is approved – Sunni representatives have just appealed to the US to help stop this draft from being pushed through parliament by majority Shi’ites and Kurds, warning that it will worsen the crisis in Iraq).

So there you have it. Every justification this administration made for this war has now officially been swept into the dustbin of history. Wasn’t one of the reasons we fought this war to prevent the expansion of radical Islamists? Can a government based on Islam possibly be “dem0cratic” in any real sense?

Of particular concerrn is the status of women, who, at the risk of stating the obvious, have not fared well under Islamic regimes. Sharia law has been used to justify women’s lack of suffrage, unequal right of inheritance, of divorce, to control their freedom of movement, their access to education, as an excuse for physical abuse, even murder, at the hands of their husbands and fathers and brothers. I’m going to quote blogger Digby here, as he puts it better than I can:

Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than 40 years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman — which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have “liberated” millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.

This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians — or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.

And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.

It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.

It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.

As an update, Digby passes us over to James Wolcott:

Reuel Marc Gerecht (American Enterprise Institute, neo-con war hawk), discussing the forthcoming Iraqi constitution on Meet the Press, August 21: “Women’s social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they’re there, I think they will be there, but I think we need to keep this perspective.”

Gosh. Thanks, guys. Good to know that this Administration’s war architects don’t think women’s rights fundamentally contribute to democracy. Funny, I’m somehow not surprised…

The Discussion: 24 Comments

Wait… where did it go from “Islam as the main source” to “women don’t get to vote”?

There’s no article linked there, so I couldn’t trace it. And blogger site mean nothing in China.

August 21, 2005 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

Sorry, Sean, I probably should have excerpted more. I’ll go back and do so. The problem is that “Islamic law” means “Sharia law,” which severly restricts women’s rights in many fundamental ways – their right to divorce, to own or inherit property – if you look at Saudi Arabia, you’ll see an extreme version of “Islamic law” in action. Women aren’t allowed to drive. They are barely allowed out in public. And their husbands or male relatives control their ability to work, to get a passport, an education, etc.

August 21, 2005 @ 8:47 pm | Comment

ooops, I also see there’s a problem with a link. I’ll fix that…

August 21, 2005 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

Okay, by my reading of the “U.S. conceding to Iraqi Islamists” article, women’s rights are going to be preserved. Where did the opposite assumption come from?

It seems to me like this is going the way of Afghanistan, with a larger role for Islam in the gov’t. It’s not Sharia, it’s a representative dem0cracy with (whichever type of) Islam built-in. While not ideal, I don’t see where the Digby/Wolcott reactions are coming from.

August 21, 2005 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

Sorry for the delayed witticism:

It’s dem0cracy with Islamic characteristics!

August 21, 2005 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Well, when you have one of the war’s architects making statements like, “women’s social rights are not critical to the evolution of dem0cracy,” I tend to get a little worried myself…

I think where Digby and Wolcott are coming from is the fact that women’s lives in Iraq are already measurably worse than they were before the invasion, because of the rise of Islamists. If women’s rights are not protected in this new constitution, I think it’s safe to assume that “Islamic law” will be used to further subjugate women – where hasn’t it (you can only say that the status of women in Afghanistan has improved when compared to their lives under the Taliban – and for most Afghan women, it hasn’t improved by much)?

Saddam, in an attempt to appease Islamic elements in his regime, already had weakened women’s rights in areas of property, inheritance, divorce. Now women in what once was one of the more secular countries in the Middle East can’t go out in public with their hair uncovered and are being pressured into wearing the abaya. And I think what Digby says about the status of everyone else in Iraq who isn’t a religious Muslim is well-put. I’m not a Christian, for example. I’m a secular person. I would not want to live in a country that enshrined a particular religion’s precepts into my government.

August 21, 2005 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

Can a government based on Islam possibly be “dem0cratic” in any real sense?

The principles of elected rulers, consultative bodies, accountability, tolerance, and the rule of law are not alien or contrary to Islam. Malaysia and Indonesia both recognize a special role for Islam in their consitutions and both are dem0cratic.

August 21, 2005 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

Right, Conrad. And such a constitutional role for Islam was what was originally being proposed and discussed for Iraq. What has happened now, however, is that Islam has become the primary source of law, and that’s a very different thing. Certainly it has a lot of people in Iraq very worried.

August 21, 2005 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

As a p.s., I have a friend who is an Indonesia scholar and has always spoken of the traditionally tolerant nature of Idonesia’s form of Islam. Certainly there are a lot of other cultural elements at work that affect the extent to which a role for religion in public life impact the rights of women in a society. I’m not an expert but those who are cite the role of tribal cultures in a lot of Arab societies as having as much or more to do with the oppression of women as radical Islamist justifications for same…the one generated the other, and they reinforce each other, I think…

August 21, 2005 @ 10:04 pm | Comment

Lisa said: “Well, when you have one of the war’s architects making statements like, “women’s social rights are not critical to the evolution of dem0cracy,” I tend to get a little worried myself…”

And so do I. But what question was asked to spark this response? It doesn’t seem to be the Administration’s plan to remove women’s rights. As per the article, there’s “no compromise” for women’s rights.

It seems like he was responding to an extreme hypothetical case. “Given the choice, would you rather have continued civil war, or nonuniversal sufferage?” So this kind of “they’re taking away women’s rights!” thought existed (unsupported) before this quote, or the quote’s being taken out of context.

It’s just creating partisan problems.

August 21, 2005 @ 10:16 pm | Comment

Sean, check out this clip – I think it lays out some of the concerns pretty clearly.

August 21, 2005 @ 11:25 pm | Comment


I agree with you totally regarding Arab tribal culture rather than Islam being the root of many of the problems you note.

As for the constitutional provision, it is essentially meaningless now. Whether the constitution says Islam is a source of law or the primary source of law, doesn’t have any actual effect. Sharia is not part of the legal code of a new Iraq. Any law, Sharia or otherwise, must be adopted by a majority of the legislture to become effective. The legislature is free to accept or reject specific parts of Sharia regardless of what the constitution says.

For example, the constitution could say nothing whatsoever about Islam, and a majority of the legislature could nevertheless adopt Sharia based statutes. On the other hand, the constitution could say what it does now and it still doesn’t obligate the legislature to adopt any specific part of Sharia.

August 21, 2005 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

Good to know, Conrad. Let’s hope for the best. The consequences of an Iraqi collapse are horrific to contemplate.

August 21, 2005 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

Conrad is exactly right- it seems that the constitution, as presented, allows the legislature to deal with these interpretations of sharia in individual codes on a case-by-case basis. The critical thing to provide enough cover for both religious parties and secularists to claim a compromise. And those who would compare this to an “Islamic theocracy” would do well to look a little closer and compare this proposal with the structure of the Iranian government; there are no separate institutions for clergy as in Iran.

August 22, 2005 @ 8:24 am | Comment

The line about “Women’s social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy…” has got to be the creepiest and most disturbing thing to come out of the US in five years of philistine moronism…

Anyway, I posted the entire post over on supernaut just because it is so upsetting, hope that’s ok


August 22, 2005 @ 2:29 pm | Comment

Frances, be my guest.

Check out the crooks and liars video link I mention above…unfortunately he really does say it, and not because he’s backed into a corner…

August 22, 2005 @ 3:03 pm | Comment

I’m commenting a bit later, after the draft has been submitted. Islam is not “the main source” of law in the submitted draft. It is “a main source” and while no laws can be passed contrary to Islam according to this constitution, they also cannot be contrary to democratic principles. The Iraqi Supreme Judiciary is going to have fun reconciling it all. The US Supreme Court certainly has over the past 2 centuries.

I’ve been watching for 15 years as Romania stumbled from electing an early crop of idiots, to currently electing a fairly decent government. This is not an event, but a process and you can see how even less than perfect starts (Romania featured government sponsored mobs of miners in the streets of Bucharest) can be corrected over time by the will of the people.

The initial stab at running a democratic republic is often chock full of mistakes. The key is to maintain suffrage and ensure that the process of elections grows ever more honest. The people can handle the rest and will, out of their own interests.

August 23, 2005 @ 11:13 am | Comment

The worrisome sticking point here is that a council of Islamic clerics apparently will have the final say, law-wise. That isn’t quite the same as having the oversight of a Supreme Court…

If this has changed in the case of the Iraqi draft constitution, that’s a good thing.

August 23, 2005 @ 11:26 am | Comment

While I totally agree that women’s rights are fundamental to democracy (as are everyone else’s rights), this sentiment does raise a rather obvious point:

If women’s rights are so fundamental and important (as I agree they are), then why are so many on the Left kicking about outsing Saddam, calling it an “illegal war” and stuff like that? Reading the above, I would get the idea that the Left would be the first ones in line to oust Saddam and his rape-loving sons by any means possible – surely the denial of human rights to more than 10 million women has some standing.

Note that Bush has used this as an argument for going to war against Islamic countries on many occasions. The 2002 State of the Union address said, for example,

“The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan’s new government. And we welcome the new Minister of Women’s Affairs, Doctor Sima Samar.”

It’s funny to see Bush bashed like crazy when there is reason to suspect that he possibly isn’t standing up for women’s rights, but given no credit at all for the times when he does.

Also, note that the new constitution says that Islam is “a” source, not “the” source for laws and that no laws can be passed that violate the human rights spelled out elsewhere in the constitution (which includes women’s rights).

This one report was a poor choice to base you Bush-bashing on. Pick a better base next time.

August 24, 2005 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

Rob, I am reflecting the concern that many in Iraq have expressed over the role of Islam in the new constitution and how this might affect women’s rights. As for the Bush Administration’s concern for women’s rights, in April of 2001, they were negotiating with that same Taliban for an oil pipeline deal. Taliban representatives met with Bush in the White House, if I’m not mistaken.

So please. Don’t try to convince me that the Bush Administration is any kind of real advocate for women’s rights, except when it’s convenient.

August 24, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

I hate to jump into this, but this cannot be about womens rights, unless we want to convince Arabs that the US really does not mean what it says about giving the Arabs the ability to make their own decisons about what is good for their country. Feminist ideology is a lousy basis to build a foreign policy.

August 25, 2005 @ 10:12 pm | Comment

“Feminist ideology”?

That is so effin’ stupid I think I’ll just let it sit there.

August 26, 2005 @ 1:06 am | Comment

Okay. Taking a deep breath and a step back…

Yes, it would be hypocritical for the US to claim they are supporting democracy in Iraq and then prevent the expression of same. This is assuming that what is going on in Iraq now is a democratic process, which is sort of a leap, but okay, I’ll take it with you. But given the depth of hypocrisy in the Bush Administration’s conduct in Iraq, what can I say, it’s a drop in the bucket.

And, come on, “feminist ideology”? Give me a break.

You know, the UN commissioned a report on the state of the Arab world a couple years ago. It was conducted by a group of Arab scholars. They concluded that the Arab world was behind much of the developed world for three reasons. #1 was the lack of representative governments and the incredible corruption that went along with that. #2 was the oppression of more than 50% of the population, meaning women. #3 was the lack of intellectual openess, as evidenced by the relative paucity of translated works from around the world available in Arab countries. But let’s step back and go to #2.

You know what countries are successful? Countries where women are treated more or less like full citizens and fully participate in civic and economic life. You know what countries aren’t successful? Those that oppress women.

I’m sorry, but this dismissive attitude towards more than 50% of the population, a population that includes ME – well, what can I say? It pisses me off.

August 26, 2005 @ 1:25 am | Comment

Far East Cynic, I am truly in shock. A major aspect of Bush’s sales pitch to invade Iraq was the promise of equal rights for women. He pointed to Afghanistan where women were removing their burkas, and talked about the right to vote and run for office. That has zero to do with feminist ideology. Now bush et. al. are doing some serious back-peddling as it becomes obvious under the new & improved Iraq women will have fewer rights than they did before. Saddam sucked, but he did run one of the region’s more secular states where women weren’t nearly as oppressed as they are under theocratic regimes like Iran’s.

Women have a right to be outraged, and it has nothing to do with feminist ideology. Just another boken promise, one of many.

August 26, 2005 @ 2:08 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.