Mixed signals from the United States

The United States is talking a confusing game about the future of Iraq, but the real losers might be the Kurds.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reports that the United States is assuring the Kuwaitis that there will be no democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq because the 60 percent Shi’ite population would quickly establish dominance:

Kuwaiti rulers seem to think, based on assurances from U.S. officials, that Shi’ite domination is potentially so destabilizing that democracy is not even an option for Iraq. As Kuwait sees it, the possibilities range from a Tommy Franks viceroyalty to the installation of a Sunni Hashemite king, some relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Jordan already seems to be quietly lobbying for this outcome. “Democracy is just not in the cards there,” one Kuwaiti official said.

But this is in direct conflict with statements from national security advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell:

The US will be “completely devoted” to the reconstruction of Iraq as a unified, democratic state in the event of a military strike that topples Saddam Hussein, said Condoleezza Rice, US national security adviser. [Financial Times, Sept. 23, 2002]

and

Powell … told the House International Relations Committee that the United States would seek to persuade Iraqis that an assault on the Hussein regime would bring a “new era” defined by “a government of Iraqis governing Iraqis in a democratic fashion.” [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2002.]

So what gives here? Will we support democracy on won’t we? Are we willing to put up with the unpredictability of the ballot box? In a column in the National Journal (available only to subscribers, sorry,) Tish Durkin interviews a number of Iraqi opposition figures in Damascus and comes to the not unreasonable conclusion that any puppet installed by the United States, even a democractic puppet, would be “a disaster.”
The Kurds certainly think a democracy is in the cards, what with their proposed constitution and all. Fowzi Hariri, the smooth, British-educated deputy head of the KDP Bureau of International Relations, told me in July that “We want Baghdad.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he went on to explain that the Kurds want the chance to hold the office of chief executive in a Federal Republic of Iraq. “We want a direct say in government,” he continued. “Whenever we have relied on other systems or people, we have ended up with a dictatorship.”
That was a thinly veiled barb at the on-again, off-again support from the United States. My suspicion is that we’re at it again, telling the Kurds they will have a place at the table in order to lure them into committing to a fight against Saddam while we tell the Kuwaitis, Turks and Syrians that a messy, unpredictable democratic Iraq is “not in the cards,” as the Kuwaiti said to Kristof. And when the hammer hits the anvil, I think we’ll hang the Kurds out to dry.
Again.