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January 9, 2005 - Why Don't We Have an Election?

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Bob Patterson poses the question –


Will the Iraqi elections go on as scheduled? (With about 1% of the eligible voters participating and the results being very skewed?)


Or…  Will Bush blink?


There’s an old Waylon Jennings song that has a line about a tough guy (country song writer?) that says something about  “He don’t move and he don’t flinch and he don’t give an inch.”  A real “High Noon” type of unflappable (unflappable means no flip-flopping in the wind) guy who is just waiting for the signal to “slap leather.”


Of course there’s another line in a Johnny Cash song about an old gun fighter who has kinda slipped his moorings and is out in automobile traffic imagining that he is in the middle of a dusty western town and is about to conduct a fast draw competition with the bad guys.


Didja know that Owen Wister (“where I come from those is fightin’ words”) offered historians $100 for a newspaper story about a real movie style middle of the street showdown?  He kept his $100.


The gunfight at the OK corral was more like an LA style gangsta drive by orgy of gunfire than a “High Noon” show-down.


I say that the Iraq elections will be held on schedule and that George W. will get as much world wide good will from it as he did for his search for weapons of mass destruction.


That’s just my opinion.


One response I found was this and it has to do with champagne? 


In answer to Bob’s question, excerpts from…


The Country We've Got

Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times - January 6, 2005


Each day we get closer to the Iraqi elections, more voices are suggesting that they be postponed. This is a tough call, but I hope the elections go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 30. We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there.


Let me explain: None of these Arab countries - Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia - are based on voluntary social contracts between the citizens inside their borders. They are all what others have called "tribes with flags" - not real countries in the Western sense. They are all civil wars either waiting to happen or being restrained from happening by the iron fist of one tribe over the others or, in the case of Syria in Lebanon, by one country over another.


What the Bush team has done in Iraq, by ousting Saddam, was not to "liberate" the country - an image and language imported from the West and inappropriate for Iraq - but rather to unleash the latent civil war in that country. Think of shaking a bottle of Champagne and then uncorking it.


Okay – that explains the champagne business.  But without “social contracts” as said here, the elections seem a tad silly.  The concept doesn’t fit.  The idea is one has to have, at a real basic level, the idea of compromise and fair play and the assumption everyone respects the other side and will abide by a majority vote.


We have enough trouble with this here – but here the losing side – or the side that thinks it might lose – doesn’t start a civil war.  We just talk a lot and get all upset.  But life goes on, we go to work and pay our taxes and try again next time.


Did we set that up in Iraq?  Friedman points out we could never have set this up -


… We cannot liberate Iraq, and never could. Only Iraqis can liberate themselves, by first forging a social contract for sharing power and then having the will to go out and defend that compact against the minorities who will try to resist it. Elections are necessary for that process to unfold, but not sufficient. There has to be the will - among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - to forge that equitable social contract and then fight for it.


In short, we need these elections in Iraq to see if there really is a self-governing community there ready, and willing, to liberate itself - both from Iraq's old regime and from us. The answer to this question is not self-evident. This was always a shot in the dark - but one that I would argue was morally and strategically worth trying.


Because if it is impossible for the peoples of even one Arab state to voluntarily organize themselves around a social contract for democratic life, then we are looking at dictators and kings ruling this region as far as the eye can see. And that will guarantee that this region will be a cauldron of oil-financed pathologies and terrorism for the rest of our lives.


What is inexcusable is thinking that such an experiment would be easy, that it could be done on the cheap, that it could be done with any old army and any old coalition and any old fiscal policy and any old energy policy. That is the foolishness of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. My foolishness was thinking they could never be so foolish.


Yeah well, that’s life, Tom.  Never underestimate potential incompetence.  Entering into a venture with leaders who have little experience, knowledge or curiosity about anything, but with strong convictions uninformed by fact and detail, then reassuring yourself by chanting, “How bad could the screw it up?” and hoping?  Bad idea.  You find out.


And you say we should have the election?  But these folks in Iraq are not exactly voluntarily organizing themselves around a social contract for democratic life.  The concept is our, not theirs. 


Will it work?


… We know that the Iraqi people do not want to be ruled by us. But what we don't know is how they want to rule themselves. What kind of majority are the Iraqi Shiites ready to be - a tolerant and inclusive one, or an intolerant and exclusive one? What kind of minority do the Iraqi Sunnis intend to be - rebellious and separatist, or loyal and sharing?


Elections are the only way to find out. Or, as Rumsfeld might say: You go to elections with the country you've got, not the one you wish you had - because that is the only way to find out whether the one you wish for is ever possible.


Ah, what the hell.  How bad will this election screw things up?  We’ll find out.


And what’s the alternative?





Notes from Readers


Rick, the New Guy in Atlanta considering whether the Carter Center should send observers (they declined) -


First of all, we screwed up by going into Iraq unilaterally instead of talking the United Nations into dealing with its own unfinished business.  But I do believe that, having created this mess, if we just cut and run, leaving a bigger mess behind, we'd just be compounding the error and harming the Iraqi people.


I suppose this is one of those areas in which I part company with many of my fellow liberals. I think under no circumstance should the elections be postponed, not because elections will necessarily bring self-rule to Iraq but because there will never be self-rule without them. And once we start delaying them, we will never find a good reason to stop delaying them. There is just a chance that all the peaceful factions in that country will see the elections happening and begin to appreciate their benefit, and will maybe even muster the courage to fight for them; with the elections postponed, they will see a victory by those who don't want elections to happen and will lose hope.


Iraq's election may not "qualify as a free and fair election because the voters wouldn't be able to vote without fear of violence or death if they voted," but that would not be the fault of the provisional governing authority, it would be the fault of the insurgency. I understand the Carter Center not feeling comfortable urging folks to go and observe in such an unsafe environment -- hell, I myself wouldn't go -- but these elections should happen of schedule nonetheless.


Phillip Raines –


I don't disagree with this supposition.  In fact I agree with it.  The first election will be dangerous, too dangerous to send observers.  It will be a way of passing the hot potato of Iraq to Iraqi politicians, hopefully diluting some of the power of the clerics and frustrating if not calming the insurgents.   If not now, when?








Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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