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.