Saturday, January 29, 2005

Electile dysfunction

SO here we are, on the eve of elections in Iraq. But will the election be the panacea that some hope it will be? Bush has expended alot of political capital by holding on to this date even though the country is nowhere near stable. And since these elections are seen as the first step toward ending the occupation, Mr. Bush needs for them to seem credible, important and effective. I think he will have a tough time making his case on all three counts.

In order for these elections to pass the sniff test for credibility, all segments of Iraqi society must feel engaged by the process. That obviously won't happen. Many Iraqis (not just Sunnis) feel that the whole system is illegitimate because it is being thrust upon them by an occupying army. It has helped that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Sistani has endorsed the elections, but there are still many Shiah who are very skeptical. And of course the Sunni turnout will be very low (The Zogby poll predicts that 9% of Sunni's will vote). Even the Iraqi President states that turnout will be low and that any government that does not have Shiah, Kurd and Sunni participation is doomed.

As for the importance of the elections, here Bush has laid it on as thick as he can to attempt to instill the feeling that we have truly given the Iraqis the gift of freedom. But how much value does a vote have in a failed state? And what kinds of votes will the Iraqis have when the seats of power have been consolidated? Will they truly have the power to choose the kind of government under which they will be ruled? Or will the next strongman to concentrate his power simply restrict the choices of the populace to those that will not challenge his authority (a la Indonesia and Egypt)? Or will he simply suspend elections in the name of national security?

Democracies do require care and feeding. They don't just form in a vacuum. Without a history of any of the institutions that are important to keeping democracies alive (independent judiciary, rule of law, free press, church/state separation, separation of powers, etc.), how will this fledgling democracy sustain itself? Complicating this further is the fact that the US has let the Iraqi government know that only a market based democractic capitalism will be allowed, even though they have no experience with it (the Enlightenment was not as big a hit in the Middle East as it was in the West, don't ya know...). Monarchy, theocracy, oligarchy and socialism are the preferred historical antecedents in Iraq. If you surveyed the Iraqi people as to what form of government they would prefer, democratic capitalism would come pretty far down the list. Polling indicates that the communists will probably be the third or fourth largest political party. Don't get me wrong, I think that democratic capitalism is a fine system of government, maybe even the best. But then again, I don't read the Koran nine hours at a stretch while sitting on a bare floor rocking back in forth in religious ecstasy.

So there you have it, the major obstacles to a successful and independent Iraq, as I see it. But have you ever heard this administration honestly discuss even one of these points? Well, they just don't come up in the talking points, do they? The only thing you can count on is that no matter how big a debacle this adventure turns out to be, the administration will claim it is a success because the Iraqis were allowed to vote. And when the cure-all of elections fails to bring stability to Iraq, the President will start to shift the blame to the Iraqi people.


Blogger Jason said...

Whatever the outcome, I am still vexed because this so-called future democracy of Iraq was pushed on them with a loaded gun. The Bushocracy knows that most Americans will forget all the atrocities of this war as time passes. Well, I haven't forgot. I'm still pissed he tried to sell us the idea that Iraq had Wal-Mart sized bunkers with nukes, when in all actuality we found nothing but a few rusty missles and some old paint cans. Before we know it, we will be in Iran chasing their nukes, and the American people will forget all that preceeded the invasion of Iran, at least that is what Bush is hoping for. What gives?

1:06 PM  

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