Marc Ruel Gerecht, in an AEI short publication entitled Why the Worst Is Probably Over in Iraq, argues that:
Iraq may finally be beyond demolition, and if it is, then the odds are pretty good that Bush will finish his presidency with a viable democratic government in Mesopotamia that has the support of an overwhelming number of Iraqis. Iraqi democracy may come too late for many American liberals and conservatives who think either representative government cannot happen on Middle Eastern Muslim soil or, if it does happen in Iraq, it will not be sufficiently liberal to have been worth the effort.
Iraq's democratic government certainly is not what the Bush administration or many of its supporters expected in 2003, but the Middle East's first fully Muslim experiment in representative government could well prove more durable precisely because it is not at all what the Bush administration expected. It has been a violent birth whose survival depends upon the backing of the country's working-class, staunchly religious Shiites, who have been the principal targets of al Qaeda's suicide bombers.
A Shiite-based democracy. Gerecht was one of the few analysts who argued that Americans might have less to fear from an Iraqi Shi'ite-based democracy than did Teheran -- and the other strongmen in the Middle East. Although he does not repeat the same point in the AEI article, it's worthwhile to recall what Gerecht said at the time of Iraq's January 30, 2005 elections in the Weekly Standard.
All right. Let us make an analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns: The January 30 elections in Iraq will easily be the most consequential event in modern Arab history since Israel's six-day defeat of Gamal Abdel Nasser's alliance in 1967. ... The January 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny.
Gerecht saw unfolding events in Iraq not only as taking a wrecker-ball to the dictatorships of the region, but also to many of American "allies", who were often one and the same. "But our Muslim 'allies' in the Middle East are much less likely to get over it. They saw on television what their subjects saw: The American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed the common man to become the agent of change." In other words, the price of victory in Iraq is the end of the system of client-patron relations between outside powers and a local dictator. Time alone will tell whether Gerecht will be be right. In his recent AEI article he describes the differences between the old and the new centers of Shi'a power in the Middle East:
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the revolutionary mullahs were able to humble and meld with the traditional clergy, which had originally been skeptical about Ruhollah Khomeini and his revolution. The clergy became both the most effective force for revolutionary change and the most effective brake against long-term revolutionary excess. (Iran's revolution, although terrifying, was far less bloody than either the French or Russian revolutions.) In Iraq, the Shiite clergy, a more conservative institution than its Iranian counterpart, has thrown itself solidly behind the democratic experiment, and it has worked hard to ensure that the Shiite community does not collapse into self-destructive internecine conflict. And unless the Sunnis do something extremely stupid--like declare war on the Shia--it now seems unlikely that this consensus could be broken by any armed Shiite force. (If the Shia are forced to begin the conquest of western Iraq, then one could imagine a Shiite general arising who would not owe his political strength to the Shiite center backed by the hawza.) Although this progress might be reversed if the Americans again repeat the mistakes of premature "Iraqification" and rapidly drew down their forces, the surge has likely made lasting success the more probable scenario. It is by no means clear that the Bush administration understands the dynamic working here--it is the collapse of Sunni hubris, not the triumph of Sunni-Shiite "reconciliation," that is the key to long-term success. But it appears now that Iraqis grasp this reality, and, in the end, that is what matters.
Those differences might be a mainspring that will drive the clock of Middle Eastern history forward. In the past I often mused that America went into Iraq looking for the key to Iran. In retrospect, I doubt the policymakers were that deliberate; but in any event they may have -- in pursuing the most ancient impulse of the Republic to bring freedom to the enslaved -- have accidentally slid aside a panel that has opened an avenue to so much more.