Speaking at Dr. Fouad Ajami’s Class at Johns Hopkins University

My dear friend Dr. Fouad Ajami invited me to speak today before the class he teaches at Johns Hopkins University. As usual when I speak before such audiences, I’m presented with bright, inquisitive minds. Dr. Ajami’s class was no exception.

The talk gave me the opportunity to outline the scenarios that would likely occur in the upcoming Parliamentary elections on Sunday. In talking about each one, I wanted to stress the importance of setting expectations about what people throughout the world—particularly in the U.S.—will be seeing soon.

I highlighted the complexity of process Iraq must go through to form a government. I talked about the differences between 2010 and 2005, specifically, how this time around all of the political parties and candidates are fully vested in the system. Last time, the Shiites and the Kurds maintained their own coalitions, and Sunni Arabs boycotted. This time, we expect Sunni participation, while Shiites and Kurds will be competing under multiple and separate coalitions. This situation is going to add stress.

However, there will also be broader participation in the process—which is a good thing. While this may lead to delays, I think it is critical to understand that the emphasis should be on quality of government, rather than the rapidity by which it is produced. It is nice to form a government quickly, but for the sake of the country, it will be better to take our time and form a good government.

The reason is clear. This next government will be the one responsible for the transition of U.S. forces out of Iraq. It will be responsible for crafting effective policy to maintain security for all. It will be responsible for addressing outstanding issues that threaten our stability, such as reconciling the disputed territories, passing a equitable hydrocarbons law, and ensuring the civilian and constitution control of armed forces. So like I said, a quality government is going to be critical.

As with all talks I have with university classes, the Q&A produced a lively discussion, though we mainly discussed the proposals put forth by the Kurds to equitably distribute oil revenues to all Iraqi citizens, as well as the imperative of implementing Article 140. We also talked about the op-ed Dr. Ajami penned for the Wall Street Journal today. It addressed the very issues we discussed in his class. He wrote about the need for Iraq to form “a representative government, a binational state of Arabs and Kurds, and a country that does not bend to the will of one man or one ruling clan.”

This is a powerful concept, and is consistent with how Iraq needs to use this election to move past the empowerment of men and onto the creation of institutions. Only then will it be able to sustainably serve all parties and all people.

Again, it was a pleasure to speak with Dr. Ajami’s class, and if you have time, do read his op-ed.

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