February 01, 2005


I don't have the habit of reading many right-wing blogs, which is one reason I appreciate The Daou Report, Peter Daou's relatively new blog-and-political-news summary--he wades through the indigestible for us. It was thanks to Daou today that I took note of ultra-right-wing syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin's blog complaint that the left bloggers (among whom she inexplicably includes Andrew Sullivan, which shows how addled and extremist she truly is) have been completely silent on the Iraqi elections.

Malkin's claim is fallacious, of course. Among the left blogger comments on the Iraqi elections she ignored was the following from my friend and colleague Marc Cooper:

"The Iraqi elections were surreal but on the whole heartening and downright inspiring. I cannot imagine many Americans voting under such horrific conditions, frankly. There are many reasons why the Bush administration insisted on having this vote take place in the midst of a bloody war—and few of them have anything to do with the advancement of democracy. And please remember that the Bush administration originally opposed this type of direct voting having originally pushed for a cockamamie caucus system. The direct one man-one vote polling was won by the Iraqis, and specifically by the struggle of Ayatollah Sistani.

"All in all, I don't think it was fair to force people out into the current atmosphere to vote and that  the elections should have been preceded by enhanced security conditions.

"That said, millions of Iraqis disagreed and were willing to brave the risk of car bombs and mortar fire because they hope and want a better future-- something they are absolutely entitled to.

"I don’t believe that the invasion of Iraq and the ensuing occupation were justified by the arguments presented by the Bush administration. Nor do I believe for a moment that this administration knew or currently knows what it is doing --it is dangerously lost in a fog of dogma.

"But the political opening in Iraq, no matter its limited size and the grotesque distortions imposed by the war, is a felicitous by-product of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupation.

"Those of us who opposed this war and who want to see the U.S. troops withdrawn as soon as possible should unequivocally encourage the tenuous political process now underway in Iraq. We should stand for more and better elections, not fewer. We should be encouraging the writing of a fair constitution, an inclusion of the Sunnis into the process in order to reduce the violence, and a bolstering of civil society (as a safeguard against fundamentalism). If we merely write off yesterday's vote as only Potemkin or charade elections we take ourselves out of any serious debate and we degrade the legitimate aspirations of the Iraqi people. Indeed, the more one opposes the war and its pretexts, the more we should support the stabilization of a successful, pluralistic Iraqi state...."

I don't necessarily always agree with every jot and tittle of what my companero Marc writes, although I'm in accord with him on many things--but the comments I quote above are ones with which I can unreservedly associate myself. The lion's share of the turnout, of course, came from the Shiites, famished to see their own in power in a country in which they are the majority ethnic group, but which has been ruled by cliques of Sunni origin for many decades, even before Saddam. Revenge is an even more powerful motivator for electoral turnout than democracy--and a Shiite victory was assured long before the voting. And there are credible reports that voters were threatened with the loss of their food ration cards if they didn't vote (you can find links to these reports and other unsavory voting machinations in a useful Monday post by Lenin's Tomb). But voting took guts in the violent climate in Iraq--there were numerous reports today of murders of civilians whose index fingers were stained with the ink that identified them as having voted.

However, honoring the courage of the Iraqi electors, as one should, does not mean glossing over the enormous problems still facing that war-wracked country--and its American occupier.

Take, for example, the Kurds. Today's Le Monde, after noting that the two principal Kurdish parties which participated in the election have disclaimed any desire for Kurdish independence, "a possibility which makes neighboring Turkey, Syria, and Iran nervous"--and are instead demanding the post of prime minister or president--then goes on to explain that the denials were made all the more necessary for political consumption because of the latest proclamations of another Kurdish leader:

" 'Kurdistan was attached by force to Iraq in 1924, and, in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi state, the Kurdish people have the right to pose the question of their independence,' says Chamal Houalzi, one of the leaders of the Movement for a Referendum in Kurdistan. Another subject that makes Iraq's neighbors nervous: the probable Shiite accession to power after their projected victory in the elections. The Arab states fear the installation in Iraq of a regime that--with the connivance of Iran--would be hostile to them. Thus, on Monday, King Abdullah II of Jordan explicitly warned against the creation of a 'Shiite crescent' stretching from Iran to Libya, which would call into question the traditional rapports of force in the region..."

The fighting over power and treasure as the various parties negotiate the precise composition of the new government will, of course, be intense. The L.A. Times' Ashraf Khalil quotes the excellent Juan Cole on the high stakes:

"Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor and expert on Shiite politics, predicted that enlightened self-interest would serve as 'a powerful incentive for [the alliance's] various members to dampen down resentments and rivalries and cooperate.'

" 'Controlling the Iraqi parliament is worth $17 billion a year in patronage,' he said. 'Pulling out of the ruling coalition and depriving yourself of any part of that would be a strange thing to do. Some immature groups might do it out of anger and annoyance, but they'd be very sorry.' "

Cole, by the way--another anti-war blogger left out of Malkin's inventory--had a very smart and thorough roundup of the most relevant and overlooked comments and reporting from the world's press about Iraq on his excellent blog on Monday that people seriously interested in what's going on in Iraq should make sure they read.

Cole, of course, may be just a tad optimistic in his prediction--it is not impossible that the irrational could carry the day against the rational in post-election Iraq--religion is the greatest irrationality of all, you know-- and history teaches us that has frequently happened elsewhere in the past, particularly in that troubled region. As old Iraqi hand Frank Smyth writes in today's Newsday, "Rather than unite Iraq, the U.S.-backed elections have only sharpened the struggle for political power among the nation's different population groups....Sadly, the war in Iraq may also already be dangerously close to the point at which even a new strategy would not be enough to prevent the nation's slide into even thicker sectarian bloodshed. If so, U.S. troops would end up stuck in the middle, while fighting at least one side."

Moreover, the insurgency (whatever one thinks of its politico-theocratic leadership) shows no sign of losing momentum--indeed, it appears to be gaining new nationalist recruits at a rapid pace as it becomes ever more clear that the duration of the U.S. occupation is, by admission of the U.S military itself, a question of several years at least, not of months, and as the construction of a dozen permanent U.S. bases in Iraq continues apace.  While we shall have to wait for some weeks to have a more precise idea of how many people actually voted (for many of the turnout claims are, as Le Monde reported in a separate article today, seriously in doubt), reports of a substantial turnout have certainly handed Bush a major p.r. victory. But it may be a chimerical one--take under advisement the following historical reminder, provided today by the useful website Defense and the National Interest run by Col. Chet Richards (USAF ret.) and former DoD civil servant Chuck Spinney:

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror
by Peter Grose, Special to
The New York Times
September 4, 1967, p.2

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.
According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday.  Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

"The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here....
"A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam...
"The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration's view, diminish the significance of the constitutional step that has been taken.

"The hope here is that the new government will be able to maneuver with a confidence and legitimacy long lacking in South Vietnamese politics.  That hope could have been dashed either by a small turnout, indicating widespread scorn or a lack of interest in constitutional development, or by the Vietcong's disruption of the balloting.

"American officials had hoped for an 80 per cent turnout.  That was the figure in the election in September for the Constituent Assembly.  Seventy-eight per cent of the registered voters went to the polls in elections for local officials last spring....
"Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago.  The turnout  of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise...." Food for thought, isn't it?
P.S. On MSNBC's Chris Matthews Show, Judith Miller--the New York Times roundheels who pushed phony WMD theories and other inventions in her reporting and French-kissed Ahmed Chalabi, her principal source, in print for years, has said the Bush administration is pushing Chalabi for a top job in the new Iraqi government, possibly Interior Minister:
"MILLER:  We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi to offer him expressions of cooperation and support.  And according to one report, he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government.  But I think one effect of this vote is going to be that the Iraqis themselves will decide who will hold... (CROSSTALK)

"MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  When you say—Judy, when you say administration, do you mean the alliance party leadership or Allawi over there, the current prime minister?  Who are you talking about? 

"MILLER:  We are talking about the administration officials who have been reaching out to...

"MATTHEWS:  You mean Americans? 

"MILLER:  ... Sistani‘s—yes, American officials who have been reaching out to Sistani‘s party.  Because Dr. Chalabi is on that list."

Slate's Jack Shafer has a stinging dissectionn of this interview--and of how Miller has used the airwaves to get attention with supposed "scoops" she couldn't get past her editors--you must read it, by clicking here.

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Tracked on Feb 1, 2005 11:21:11 PM


"If we merely write off yesterday's vote as only Potemkin or charade elections we take ourselves out of any serious debate..."

Ah, the "great fear" strikes again!

Let us speak lies about the "Potemkin election" in Iraq so that, at least, we will be part of "the serious debate".

I wonder if there were Norwegians like that...a vote for Quisling is a vote for "civil society" and all that.

You know, just folks wanting to be a part of the "serious debate"...about fascism.

Posted by: redstar2000 | Feb 15, 2005 9:59:32 PM

This[1] CIA map shows that the idea of a Shia Crescent extending to Libya is pretty far fetched. Stupid, even. It is 10 years old, but that hasn't changed much.

Both Chalabi and Allawi are talking like they've already won.

[1] http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/world_maps/muslim_distribution.jpg

Posted by: Josh Narins | Feb 3, 2005 4:37:41 PM

I too would like to believe that the Iraqi election will
give more power to Iraqis to control their own destiny.
However, for how long will they be dependent on the U.S.
military to maintain themselves? And there are longer
term constraints, as described in Susan Watkins NLR
article "Vichy on the Tigris", in which the U.S. will
control ministries and finances. It's not as promising a
situation as the success of the elections might indicate.

Posted by: David B. Chorlian | Feb 2, 2005 10:43:02 PM

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