Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraq War: What to make of Sunday's election?

Eric Alterman offers a useful caution about the reporting on the Iraqi election this past weekend in his Altercation of 01/31/05.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Iraqi elections because it’s way too early to know exactly what happened and what its ultimate effect will be. Yes, the pictures are moving, but really, a little perspective please. Reporting out of Baghdad in 2005 mirrors reporting out of San Salvador in 1984. That was said to be a magnificent success and an expression of a people’s willingness to brave violence in order to express their commitment to Western style democracy. We heard the same stories; people waiting on long lines; telling off guerrillas, walking miles for the right to exercise their democratic rights. Most of this turned out to be an illusion, created by the U.S. military and intelligence forces there, and the voting percentages turned out to be a fraction of what a quiescent media reported at the time. U.S. supported (and perhaps created) death squads continued to exercise their campaign of mass murder, unconcerned with the results of meaningless elections. ...

And the Bush invasion of Iraq has managed to overtake the Reagan team in the categories of cynicism, dishonesty, unreliability and media manipulation—and we are reliably informed that we’re going to get the death squads back too. Given the fact that they have purged their remaining truth-tellers, literally nothing they say can be accepted at face value. ... I suggest that a considerable degree of skepticism about what we are seeing and hearing on Day One might be in order. (The imaginary turnout numbers have already fallen from 72 percent when I checked at 6.00 pm yesterday, to 57 percent this morning. At that rate, they will be negative by Wednesday.)

Juan Cole writes (A Mixed Story 01/30/05):

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

It strikes me that in the US, both war fans and Congressional war critics have a short-term incentive to make the elections look as hopeful as they can. The war fans for obvious reasons, the war critics in order to promote a sense of transition after which US troop withdrawal should begin.

But we get in way too much trouble when policymakers start acting as if their preferred spin equals reality. I'm with Eric Alterman on this one. It's worth taking a hard look at the more complete reports that will emerge in the following days and weeks.

Der Spiegel's English site gives an overview of German newspapers' reporting on the elections.

Kevin Drum also has an article about what a positive sign holding an election can be.


Anonymous said...

You have to be impressed with the way Iraqi's came out to vote -- even if all the numbers aren't in, and even if the whole scheme was terribly flawed.  If only there were some basis for hope that this election would be followed by real stability in the streets of Iraq.

For myself, I remain very concerned and skeptical.  And somewhat appalled at the celebrations of the Bushies.  I almost half-expect these nitwits to start hanging their "Mission Accomplished" banners.  Will they ever get real?

I can't wait to se how this plays out in Iraq.  My bet is they ask us to set a timetable, perhaps with some conditions, for the start of Troop withdrawals.

If they don't, Sadr on one side and Sunni insurgents on the other will rip them apart, with the support of a large part of the population -- even inclusing some of the purple-fingered smiley faces we saw on the news this weekend.


Anonymous said...


I'm a skeptic.  Blindly voting for parties with little or no idea who will be holding those positions doesn't sound like democracy to me.  

I have a hard time imagining US troops ever leaving.  I could be wrong, but I imagine we'll be setting up permanent bases there, at the request of the puppet government of course.  But I seriously doubt that the United States would allow itself to be kicked out by some democratically elected government.  And if they were ever to allow democracy in Iraq that is surely what would happen.


Anonymous said...

After lifting Martial Law, Ferdinand Marcos held so-called elections and referendums all the time to show the world that he was not a dictator; it was all a sham, of course.

Iraq's situation is different, but my point is an election does not a democracy make.  The election was held under the watchful eyes of an occupying army; people didn't know what or for whom they were voting for [many were just responding to the fatwah issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani].  A significant faction, the Sunnis, did not or couldn't vote.  Was this a bona fide first step towards democracy?  It's hard to tell.

Still it's a testimony to the courage of the Iraqi people that so many voted in spite of the real dangers to life and limb.  They, not Bush, deserve the credit.