Iraqi elections and American mirrors

It will probably be some time before it’s possible to get a good, rounded picture of what happened during today’s elections in Iraq. It will likely take the Iraqi Independent Elecoral Commission many days to provide its “count” of the vote, which would include a figure for the turnout.
But even then, given the lack of any independent observing, many questions may well remain about whether people can generally trust what the Commission reports…
I watched ABC News’s World News Sunday tonight. Peter Jennings was there in a safari jacket, reporting from somewhere in Baghdad’s Green Zone, I think. A high proportion of ABC’s reporting had a cheerleading, distinctly editorializing tone to it. On their website they feature this piece by AP writer Sally Buzbee, which starts out:

    Iraqis embraced democracy in large numbers Sunday, standing in long lines to vote in defiance of mortar attacks, suicide bombers and boycott calls…

Look, I don’t want to impugn the courage that many Iraqi voters showed as they went to the polls today. But I’m not sure that “embracing democracy” was the only– or perhaps, even, the main– thing they were doing as they went there. “Responding to an ayatollah’s command” might equally well, or even better, describe the motivations of a high proportion of the voters.
After all, simply casting a vote is not the essence of democracy. (They got to do that numerous times, under Saddam.) The essence of democracy surely lies in acting from a deep commitment to using deliberation and negotiation to resolve differences, rather than violence; and an equally deep commitment to ensuring the rights of all members of society, including (especially) those with whom one disagrees.
Maybe the people who went to the polls today in Iraq will show those characteristics. I sincerely hope so. But they did not necessarily show them today, simply by going to the voting places.
I think quite a lot of US media outlets have used Buzbee’s piece. Some have used an alternative offering from AP that doesn’t have her cheerleading tone but, more soberly, gives a series of snapshots, from six different parts of the country. Most of the snapshots were penned by people with Arab or Kurdish names.
For his part, George W. Bush saw no need to be either judicious or sober in coming out with his expression of jubilation at the “resounding success” that he claimed the election represented.
Back in October, at the time of the Afghan election, I wrote here that:

    I understand that there are many, many people in the international community who desperately want the inauguration of decent electoral demnocracy in Afghanistan and Iraq to be successful. I am myself one of them. But I fear there may be some people who are so deeply invested in the success of these elections–even though, in Afghanistan, they seemed to be held on terms very vulnerable to US manipulation–that they are prepared to overlook what in other circumstances they might clearly recognize as fatal flaws in the system.

The same is even more true today. Let’s wait and see how credible the rest of this current voting process looks, and what results it generates, before we make any judgments about its worth.
Even more to the point, let’s see whether the election leads to the emergence of an Iraqi leadership that is truly prepared to stand up to US power– and how the Bush administration peole will deal with that.
The Bushies have already drawn one key, defiant line in the sand. Brad Graham and Peter Baker reported in the WaPo today that,

    The Bush administration has for now ruled out creating a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq after today’s elections…
So much for all the President’s earlier averrals that he would “withdraw the troops from Iraq, if asked.”

28 thoughts on “Iraqi elections and American mirrors

  1. Hammurabi

    Michael Ignatieff writing in today’s New York Times Magazine section (published BEFORE the elections) had this to say about the discomfort in “progressive” circles to rebuke the tactics of the “insurgency”:
    “All this makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assasinate candidates. The right name for such people is fascists.”

  2. Dominic

    Hammurabi, why are you quoting this sophist, Ignatieff?
    If you don’t know that the Iraqi Communist Party stood in the current Iraqi election, denounces the violence, took part in both “provisional” and “interim” structures, and has suffered having its cadres targeted and killed as a result, then I am sure Ignatieff does.
    Further, his definition of fascism is inadequate, to say the least. Feudalists can be even more violently opposed to elections than fascists. Fascists may come to power in bourgeois elections in the first place.
    The proper definition of fascism is capitalism maintained by arbitrary and coercive means, as opposed to bourgeois democracy.
    This is not all about you people in New York et cetera, and your straw-man “left” in the USA.

  3. WarrenW

    It’s only democracy if it is anti-American
    That is the essence of Helena’s article on Iraqi elections.

  4. Dominic

    It’s only democracy if it is made in the USA?
    If not made in USA, it must be “anti-American”? (even if it is in Venezuela, Bolivia, or Cuba!).
    Isn’t that the essence of your posts, WarrenW?
    When all your troops are home and your overseas bases and prisons are closed, you will see that this “anti-American” bogey of yours is a fantasy.

  5. AJ

    Andrew Sullivan: “The latest indicators suggest a turnout of something like 60 percent.”
    How do people calculate a political statistic like voter turnout?
    1. Number of voters as a percent of the number of registered voters
    2. Number of voters as a percent of the number of the voting age population
    And would these two percentages be very different in Iraq’s election?
    I read in Jordan only a small percentage of the eligible population registered to vote.

  6. sm

    I would be far more willing to accept the judgement of people who say “good news, good news” if they weren’t throwing these statistics around.

  7. NeoDude

    Well, my roots are from Latin America, and I am quite familiar with Anglo-American’s talk of elections and liberty.
    Tyranny in the Name of Democracy
    It ain’t over yet. There is a reason that anti-colonialism is strong among the right & left wing of the Third World. Americans and their blind cheerleaders may hate historical facts, but even Sistani is aware that he is dealing with a nation that encouraged Saddam to enter a bloody war with between Arab & Persian brothers, of the faith.

  8. WarrenW

    Dominic:
    I did not say, and do not believe, that all democracy is made in the USA. I can think of several democracies that are clearly not made in the USA: Great Britain, Israel, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Spain. Feel free to add to the list.

    Please note that the USA has good relations with all of these democracies. Your idea does not stand up.

  9. John Koch

    Enough fuss about left versus right and pro-US versus anti-imperialism. People might be more civil if they used their real names.
    How about some homage to the people who dared to get their fingers dyed purple on Sunday? Any Sunnis who defied the death threats to vote on Sunday, no matter whom they voted for, were courageous. Pray for their safety.
    Much of the country’s best hope now lies with the Shia-led coalition that must somehow build an order that goes beyond sect and ethnic group and inspires most Sunni to abandon the insurgents and join their fellow Iraqis.
    Elections are not the only measure of democracy. Some are shams. Some only empower tyrannies. But you cannot have it without them. Even the lowest Iraqi turnout figures mentioned so far exceed the US voter participation averages. And most Iraqi voters probably had a clearer idea of what they want than do most American voters. Thank heaven for an election where there are party slates and platforms and not simply personalities and pseudo debates. The explicit goal of those elected in Iraq is to write a constiution and set the terrain for a stable, more open order. No, it will not be perfect. But it would be very difficult to be worse than what came before.
    Oil, not sect or ethnic division, may turn out to be Iraq’s greatest curse. Oil destroys the competitiveness of the rest of the economy, empowers the state disproprtionately, and smothers the development of independent enterprises and civic organizations. Sad prediction: following a 5 year spate of physical reconstruction, Iraq will be a net exporter of talent and wage remittances will be its 2nd most important source of foreign exchange.

  10. John Koch

    Enough fuss about left versus right and pro-US versus anti-imperialism. People might be more civil if they used their real names.
    How about some homage to the people who dared to get their fingers dyed purple on Sunday? Any Sunnis who defied the death threats to vote on Sunday, no matter whom they voted for, were courageous. Pray for their safety.
    Much of the country’s best hope now lies with the Shia-led coalition that must somehow build an order that goes beyond sect and ethnic group and inspires most Sunni to abandon the insurgents and join their fellow Iraqis.
    Elections are not the only measure of democracy. Some are shams. Some only empower tyrannies. But you cannot have it without them. Even the lowest Iraqi turnout figures mentioned so far exceed the US voter participation averages. And most Iraqi voters probably had a clearer idea of what they want than do most American voters. Thank heaven for an election where there are party slates and platforms and not simply personalities and pseudo debates. The explicit goal of those elected in Iraq is to write a constiution and set the terrain for a stable, more open order. No, it will not be perfect. But it would be very difficult to be worse than what came before.
    Oil, not sect or ethnic division, may turn out to be Iraq’s greatest curse. Oil destroys the competitiveness of the rest of the economy, empowers the state disproprtionately, and smothers the development of independent enterprises and civic organizations. Sad prediction: following a 5 year spate of physical reconstruction, Iraq will be a net exporter of talent and wage remittances will be its 2nd most important source of foreign exchange.

  11. Bill

    Thank you, Helena, for pointing out the juxtiposition of the Iraqi vote and Bush’s clearest declaration that there will be no timetable for withdrawing the troops. You seem to be the only one who has made any notice.
    It’s no coincidence that this announcement comes now. Clearly the Administration was looking for a boost of good news to cover over an announcement that people may find of questionable wisdom. I also suspect it is not coincidence that this announcement came before any official government was announced or seated. It sets the stage for the future.
    It still baffles me that even observers who have no faith in Bush, who believe he lied about everything, still believe he is trying to build an “exit strategy.” If I hear one more time either, “this eleciton will help Iraq to its feet and allow us to leave,” or “this phony election will allow Bush to cover his ass, declare victory, and get the hell out before it blows up in his face,” I think I may go nuts.
    It seems painfully clear that there is no plan to leave Iraq, ever. Iraq is still the permanent base schedule for the US since Saudi Arabia is no longer so hospitable. The fact that Bush would use an election in which the Iraqis supposedly take up sovereignty to point out just who controls the real power shows his intentions clearly.
    I think I’m babbling at this point, but again, thank you for pointing this out.

  12. Hammurabi

    be cynical if you like but, imo, if the new Iraqi government asks the Coalition to leave, they WILL begin packing.

  13. Hammurabi

    Dominic
    Permit me to compliment you on an observation you made here well before the elections that has turned out to be very prescient…
    “If significant numbers do visibly make the attempt…[to vote]…, it will change the complexion of the Iraqi polity.”

  14. Taobhan

    “The Bush administration has for now ruled out creating a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq after today’s elections…”
    I wonder if this means the Bush administration will not withdraw US troops even if a democratically-elected Iraqi government asks it to do so. Would not such an eventuality show that Iraq is not sovereign after all and that the US still governs Iraq? If a democratically-elected Iraqi government persisted in asking the US government to withdraw its troops, would the US follow its past practice in Middle Eastern and South American nations of simply overthrowing the non-cooperative government? Is the past prologue in this case? Maybe we shall see in due time.

  15. Dominic

    Thank you, Hammurabi.
    When we have reliable information about the numbers who voted, we will be able to judge whether I was correct.
    Up to now the inforamtion has been so hasty that the only result has been the reduction of credibility of the sources to next to nil. I’m sorry to say that must include Professor Juan Cole who leapt to conclusions in a most unseemly way.
    While we wait for further and better particulars, I wonder what people will make of this link: http://www.albasrah.net/maqalat/english/0105/al-ani_290105.htm

  16. Dominic

    Well, fine, Hammurabi but the word is “seems”. We don’t know. All the “Daily Star” is saying is what I said was possible, but if you remember I did not ignore the other possibility, namely that the whole election was rubbish.
    I don’t like the ten-day delay. What is that for?
    I don’t like the triumphalism. I don’t like the US announcement in the middle of it all that the troops are there to stay. That is like spitting on the Iraqi voters.
    I particularly don’t like the bogus percentages being bandied about.
    Right now, I’m still wondering if Shirin was right or not about this election, this thing, whatever it was, but I think we must wait out that maddening delay.

  17. wellbasically

    What is all the grumbling? The pro-invasion people were panicked by this election a year ago. Now they will praise it. Let them go all the way out on the limb while you saw it off.
    The election was great, so let’s take this opportunity to get out on a high note.

  18. Dominic

    Elections are great, wellbasically, because they can alter the political landscape and give chances to fresh personalities.
    Is there any sign of that in Iraq? I’m afraid not, or not yet. This is an election with no surprises and no disappointments. That makes it a flop already, in my book.
    But for the sake of your point of view, I suspend final judgement, while dreading what is going to happen between the count and the announcement, a period of several days, and for what?
    The results of the vote belong to the voters. Nobody has the right to hold them back for any reason.

  19. Hammurabi

    there were some underreported positive developments (yes, from MY perspective) regarding Sunday’s elections imo…
    *Al-Jazeera played it straight…they did not play up the violence…abandoning their usual “All News, All Mayhem” fare…instead of sensationalism, they largely focused upon the elections itself all day…indeed, it was reported that their coverage, picked up in Iraq, encouraged many Iraqis to vote as the day wore on.
    *the Iraqi security forces did a creditable job of providing security…with American forces largely in backup mode…it is yet early to draw conclusions but this is a promising sign in terms of the feasibility of a drawdown of Coalition forces in the not distant future.
    *there were many more Sunnis on the leading election lists than we were led to believe…indeed I saw one estimate that there might be as many as 15% Sunnis in the new National Legislature, notwithstanding the lowered turnout in their areas…that is not much different than their percent of the population.
    *early global fallout? North Korea has agreed to go back to the multinational talks, Putin announced his support for Abbas’ approach, signs of a thaw in Euro-American tensions.

  20. Shirin

    if the new Iraqi government asks the Coalition to leave, they WILL begin packing.
    The “New Democratically Elected Iraqi Government”

  21. Indigo Jo Blogs

    Harry’s gang crow over election ‘success’

    I notice that david t over at Harry’s Place has been crowing over the “success” of the recent election in Iraq. He quotes the five main anti-war groups who have yet to make any statement on these elections….

  22. Indigo Jo Blogs

    Harry’s gang crow over election ‘success’

    I notice that david t over at Harry’s Place has been crowing over the “success” of the recent election in Iraq. He quotes the five main anti-war groups who have yet to make any statement on these elections….

  23. Hammurabi

    Dominic
    Reading the report in Sunday’s Washington Post that the Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraqi Islamic Party and other leading Sunni parties have changed direction and are preparing to join the political process recalls your own astute preElection observation…
    “Many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls, crystallizing the divide between groups that engaged in the U.S.-backed process and those opposed to it while U.S. troops occupy the country…
    Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum see the incorporation of Sunnis as a key test of the government’s ability to reconcile a country badly fractured by dictatorship, war, violence under the U.S. occupation and the growing sectarian and ethnic cast to Iraq’s politics…
    Beginning this week, however, influential figures among Sunni and anti-occupation factions signaled their willingness to take part in the process that has followed the election, a recognition by some that THE VOTE MAY HAVE CREATED A NEW DYNAMIC (emphasis added).”

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