Thursday, January 13, 2005

Making the Best of a Bad Job

It appears that the administration realizes that the elections in Iraq aren't going to bring a whole lot of good news, so the damage control is already beginning. The Washington Post has a good article on how expectations from the vote have lowered.
[The U.S. is] increasingly emphasizing other steps over the next year as more important to Iraq's political transformation.

The Bush administration played down voter turnout yesterday in determining the elections' legitimacy and urged Americans not to get bogged in a numbers game in judging the balloting, a reflection of the growing concern over how much the escalating insurgency and the problem of Sunni participation may affect the vote.

"I would . . . really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections," a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity at a White House briefing yesterday. The official highlighted the low voter turnout in U.S. elections as evidence that polling numbers are not essential to legitimacy.
If there is a better measure than voter turnout to measure a country's faith in democracy, or if a government truly represents a people, I have no idea what it is. And comparing it to the U.S. voter turnout is just plain idiotic: if the turnout in Iraq is in the same ballpark as for the presidential elections here, the elections will probably be deemed a success. Further, his (or her) statement is based on the implicit assumption that the U.S. government is legitimate. Not that I disagree, but if I had been a hostile reporter and present when the statement was made, I would have asked if the low voter turnout did not indicate that the government is illegitimate. At the least, one can infer that a large section of the population:
a) does not support the present form of government
b) is disillusioned with democracy
c) doesn't really care.
(No, I don't really believe this is true, but such a statement made by a senior government official always brings out the worst in me; it begs for this kind of response.)
At this late date, the United States also has no viable options or alternatives other than trying to go forward with the Jan. 30 elections, analysts say.

"I don't think they're thinking of a Plan B. What they have is permutations of Plan A: You go for elections, hope for the best and if it doesn't materialize, you go with whatever emerges -- probably a heavily Shiite government," said Henri J. Barkey, a former State Department Iraq specialist who is now head of Leheigh University's International Relations Department. "Then you hope that this new government will be smart enough and enlightened enough to make an outreach to the Sunnis."
So the fate of Iraq rests on the hope that the largely Shiite government will be magnanimous? Before I respond to that, I should mention this op/ed piece in the Times by Thomas Friedman, whose opinion I respect more than that of pretty much anyone in the current administration. He strongly supports elections at the end of the month.
I totally disagree with those who argue that the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections should be postponed. Their main argument is that an Iraqi election that ensconces the Shiite majority in power, without any participation of the Sunni minority, will sow the seeds of civil war.

That is probably true - but we are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren't going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq's Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone.
Despite my seventh rule, we have a much greater chance of producing a decent outcome in Iraq by appealing to the self-interest of the Kurds and the Shiites to be magnanimous in victory, than we do of getting the fascist insurgents to be magnanimous in defeat.
He makes a good point - that Iraq is already in a civil war - but I think it could get worse. I agree that a significant portion of the Sunnis want a return to the good old days, with a disproportionate amount of power. On the other hand, if the Sunnis have practically no power after the elections, almost the entire Sunni population will become hostile to the new government.

The 'seventh rule' he mentions is: In Middle East politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, "How can I compromise?" And the minute it becomes strong, it will tell you, "Why should I compromise?". Friedman is optimistic, but I doubt that the Shiites will be generous after the elections, particularly since they've been repressed by the Sunni minority for so long. Again, I'm praying I'm wrong; stories like this are reason for optimism.

And in other good news from the Iraq, it has apparently been decided that American troops should not be present in force around polling booths. This is to reassure Iraqis who fear America may intervene/interfere with the results. Has the lack of security been deemed unimportant? Perhaps I'm just sniping needlessly at the government; I trust the commanders on the ground will provide security without a needlessly overt presence at the booths.

No comments: