Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Put Mahathir in Charge of iraq

In a recent speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry, outlined what he would do in Iraq if he was elected president. Kerry said he wanted to appoint a “high commissioner” for Iraq, some internationally respected figure who could work with the United States, with the Iraqi interim government and with the world community to pave the way for elections, the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution, and reconstruction.

If the goal is to create a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq, who better to do that than Mahathir Mohamad, the former leader of the most stable, prosperous and democratic Muslim country in the world today. Mahathir served 22 years (1981 to 2003) as Malaysia’s fourth and most successful prime minister. He transformed a nation dependent on rubber and palm oil into a regional high-tech, manufacturing and financial powerhouse. Malaysia’s economy often grew at 10 percent annually and living standards rose twenty-fold.

Moreover, Mahathir successfully governed a country divided, like Iraq, on racial, ethnic and religious lines. Where Iraq is comprised of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, Malaysia is made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, plus other minorities in East Malaysia. He has fostered affirmative action programs that have created a sizeable and stable indigenous middle class, essential for democracy, without alienating the minority races.
The Malaysian political model offers lessons for building democracy in Iraq. The principal vehicle is a broad, “big-tent” coalition of racially denominated parties grouped together under the umbrella of the Barisan National Front. All races in the country thus have a stake in the government.

That this is a winning combination was demonstrated once again in the general election held earlier this year. Mahathir’s successor and protégé, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, scored a smashing victory for progressive Islam, easily defeating the more fundamentalist parties. Islamic fundamentalists willing to play by the rules of electoral politics have been allowed to advance their ambitions for creating an Islamic state, either by winning seats in the national parliament or, more importantly, capturing the governments of Muslim majority states such as Kelantan. (In the last election they lost Terengganu.) In those states they are able to apply, not impose, sharia (Koran-based) laws on a public that generally supported them through free elections.

At the same time, Mahathir has had no qualms about cracking down heavily on violent Islamists. Less than two years ago he detained 70 militants believed to be connected with the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, under the country’s Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial for national security reasons. It is unfortunate that Mahathir is known in the West, if he is known at all, for his remarks at the Organization of Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur, where he suggested that the Jews controlled the world. That and similar remarks from time to time cause many to write him off as an anti-Semite. Whether he is viscerally anti-semitic (not to mention anti-British, anti-Australian and probably anti-American, too) is a question. The important thing is that his steadfast support of the Palestinians over the years would stand him in good stead with most Iraqis, if not the neoconservatives in Washington.

If the real U.S. goal is, as some believe, to create in the heart of the Middle East an Israel-recognizing, American-military-base welcoming and pliant oil-producing client state, Mahathir is not the man to do it. If the goal instead is to turn Iraq into a model for conservative free market and “Russian-shock-style,” foreign-investor-dominated economic policies, Mahathir would obviously be wasting his time. He firmly believes in what is often called the Asian model of guided economic development.
His policies have been fairly criticized for fostering cronyism and inefficiencies and lack of competitiveness, but this must be placed in the context of a country that is economically flat on its back. The corruption and cronyism were inevitable side effects of Mahathir’s long rule, but presumably, the 78-year-old Malaysian’s tenure in Iraq would be relatively brief.

Mahathir offers the opportunity for an effective transition from American occupation to a genuinely sovereign Iraq presided over by a neutral but widely respected and deeply experienced Muslim manager who would be nobody’s puppet—certainly no foreigner’s puppet. The irony is that Iraq might become more truly sovereign after the June 30 transition under the temporary stewardship of a foreign Muslim leader than it would under almost any interim Iraqi leader currently conceivable.


Blogger David Pakman said...

Hey, excellent website. A great Iraq resource is Deaths in Iraq. It breaks all of the casualties down by age, race, branch of the military, country, etc.

November 6, 2005 at 6:26 PM  

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