Waiting for the final count
Give the Bushies some credit: They know how to force the Democrats into a corner. Witness the effusive outpouring of praise over last week’s Iraqi election, not just from the President’s own party or the easily cowed mainstream media, but from most voices in the supposed opposition party. Judging from the last week, history would have to judge Bush’s wrecklessness in Iraq as a resounding success. Iraqis overcame their fears and expressed their collective political will, so speaking out against the Bush policy is the same as speaking out against freedom, right?
Well, before we lefties go wringing our hands about whether Bush was right, let’s do the underappreciated work of picking through the fussy details. The White House may snicker at the “reality-based community”, but students of history know that if you don’t study reality, it will come back to bite you in the ass. Just ask Osama bin Laden.
The Iraqi election was a testament to the bravery of millions of individual Iraqis, but whether that bravery will be rewarded remains to be seen. How legitimate was this election, and how much will it contribute to stability? It was certainly an improvement over the single party rule of Saddam, of course, but there are lots of problems we should keep an eye out for before declaring political victory. For one thing, initial counts indicate that voter turnout was much lower for Sunnis, because many Sunni parties boycotted the vote and Sunni regions are the most dangerous right now. And the run-up to the election fell short of the vigorous debate you’d normally expect from a democratic process: You can’t have that sort of a debate when many candidates are anonymous so they won’t be killed by car bombs. So we should pay attention to reports that indicate that voters didn’t want to ratify democracy as much as kick out the U.S.: “Every Iraqi I have spoken with who voted explained that they believe the National Assembly which will be formed soon will signal an end to the occupation.” And if preliminary reports are to be trusted, the man to be entrusted with that mandate may be the Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani. Remember that the last time that Shiite religious fundamentalists got to ride a nationalist wave against neocolonial powers, they took control of Iran for, well, 25 years and counting.
The collateral damage to U.S. interests shouldn’t be discounted as well. Take, for example, the fact that our armed forces are currently overburdened—which isn’t likely to change soon, given the fact that both the Army and Marines recently missed their recruitment goals. Or the fact that the rest of the world is starting to treat us like the rogue nation we are, using diplomacy to rout around us. Or the fact that Donald Rumsfeld may not be able to travel to Germany for a conference next week, because he fears being prosecuted for war crimes. (I find a perverse satisfaction in this, even if Rumsfeld is my favorite character in the Bush rogues’ gallery. We’ve already encircled ourselves virtually, making our decisions about transforming the world based on an oxygen-poor, U.S.-centric news diet of Fox News and MSNBC. So why shouldn’t we be encircled with laws, too?)
The occupation has been terrible in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that daily life for Iraqis is now about 20 times more violent than it was under Saddam’s despotic regime. But at the risk of sounding like a Cassandra, I feel compelled to point out that there are so many ways for this situation to get much, much worse. If enough Sunnis are dissatisfied with their role in the new government, the insurgency could bloom into a full-blown civil war. If Shiites gain control—they are the majority, after all—then we’ve done nothing more than hand Iran a new regional ally. And if the Kurds get tired of waiting patiently for the rest of the country to become less of a hellhole, and establish an independent Kurdistan, this will cause trouble for Turkey, a neighboring country with a large Kurdish minority, thus bringing the trouble right to the EU’s door.
So why the applause and cheer at the election, given that it may be meaningless in the face of the dangers awaiting Iraq? In part, it’s because our country’s politics are drastically becoming a game of lowered expectations. Criticizing a sitting President in a time of war is seen as disloyalty, so instead of telling the truth about the administration’s lies and incompetence, most Democrats vote in Presidential appointees who approve of torture and unilateralism, and sit desperately waiting for a scrap of hope. But let’s not forget that Bush got us into this mess in the first place, and the problem he claims to be solving could have been solved without nearly so much chaos and death. Iraq is broken, and maybe the election is a sign that it’s getting fixed. But there’s no reason to applaud our President for fixing the situation now. He shouldn’t have broken it in the first place.