Iraq Votes

by Kieran Healy on December 15, 2005

Iraqis vote for their first post-Saddam, full-term parliament today. As I write this it’s just before 7am in Arizona, but I’m sure some warbloggers are already up and about, compiling evidence of indifference to freedom and democracy amongst anti-war types.

My own view on the long-term prospects hasn’t changed much since last January’s elections. If the goal is a viable multi-party democracy, then in the short-term the election should be free and fair with a clear winning coalition, which ideally would then lose the next election and peacefully hand over power. Back in January I thought it looked like this:

It’s often said that the key moment in the growth of a democracy is not its first election but its second, because—as Adam Przeworski says somewhere—a democracy is a system where governments lose elections. The question planners need to be asking is what are the chances that Iraq will be able to do this again in four or five years without the presence of U.S. troops and with the expectation that whoever wins will get to take power. This partly depends on whether some functioning government can really be established within the country, and partly on whether the U.S. wants a working democracy in Iraq (with the risks that implies) or just a friendly puppet state. … Unlike thousands of desk-jockey warbloggers, I don’t have any expertise in Iraqi politics. But it seems to me that if Iraq is going to succeed as a democracy then it has to consolidate itself in something like this way. A continued heavy military presence by the U.S. won’t help this goal, because it won’t do anything to legitimate the government as an independent entity. … The current prospects are not good at all, especially with respect to the continuous attacks on the new police force and the efforts to systematically eliminate the nascent political class. The fact that Iraq has a lot of oil and was formerly a brutal dictatorship doesn’t help much either. … Cases of successful transitions in resource-rich nations are few.

This time around, as before, voting will probably go reasonably smoothly (by Iraqi standards I mean: there will probably only be a small number of attacks and deaths), and this counts for a lot. I think the main problem will be the protracted round of post-election negotiations between the various blocs. If it’s anything like January’s election, we might not see a government for months. Another drawn-out tussle between the two or three biggest slates will do little to consolidate the legitimacy of the election or the institutions of government, especially seeing as the occupying power has a strong interest in seeing their favored groups win. An outcome like that will just continue to raise questions about the viability of the state itself, while doing little to change the day-to-day round of violence.

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1

abb1 12.15.05 at 10:02 am

What about this; not just Iraq, but the ‘democracy’ concept in general:

…This [lack of meaningful choice], also, is the reason why, today, “democracy” is more and more a false issue, a notion so discredited by its predominant use that, perhaps, one should take the risk of abandoning it to the enemy. Where, how, by whom are the key decisions concerning global social issues made? Are they made in the public space, through the engaged participation of the majority? If the answer is yes, it is of secondary importance if the state has a one-party system, etc. If the answer is no, it is of secondary importance if we have parliamentary democracy and freedom of individual choices.

Elections is a very crude and imperfect mechanism, and elections alone don’t mean shit, frankly.

2

Grand Moff Texan 12.15.05 at 10:33 am

Electing what? That can do what? As evidenced by what?

There will be purple fingers on the hands of grinning fools in DC (again) with about as much effect. The actual problems driving the violence are unrelated to and are not addressed by the election, although experience with the last one shows that the election can provide NEW opportunities for violence.
.

3

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 10:43 am

Well, as much as I disagree with the invasion and occupation, voting is a good thing. One has to start somewhere. Can’t know for sure if it will work until it is tried. My opinion is that the region is not ready for democracy. I believe they actually need a civil war to get things straight. Iraqis are still voting here.

4

Brendan 12.15.05 at 10:44 am

The key point in your statement is this: ‘The question planners need to be asking is what are the chances that Iraq will be able to do this again in four or five years without the presence of U.S. troops and with the expectation that whoever wins will get to take power.’ I think it cuts to the core of the matter, and the idea is and should be: can the nascent Iraqi democracy be strengthened to the point that it can survie without US troops?

But this presupposes an even more pressing issue: will the troops be there? As of today, there is not one single solitary reason why they should be. As the last opinion poll showed, 44.9% (i.e. when rounded up, 45%) of the Iraqi people think that the coalition should leave Iraq immediately, and we should always remember that there is 2.5% margin of error, so that number may be as high as 47.5% (or 47.4% if you want to be entirely accurate%). (This plus 4.1% who say the answer to this question is ‘hard to say’). This should be viewed in the context of the 58.6% who think that the Coalition have done a ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ job in running the country.

In any case. The purpose of this war (or so we were told, long afterwards) was to bring ‘democracy’ to Iraq. However one views this, that has now been done. There is now no reason for the presence of Coalition troops, and the main task for all parties should be, as Kieran says, to have Iraq coalition troop free by well before the next elections.

The results will be interesting though, especially, if, as seems likely the Shias are tiring of the Coalition and the Sunnis have participated fully this time.

5

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 11:01 am

brenden,

One can only hope that this provides a significant milestone in the administration’s view of things. Otherwise, we will be there forever.

6

Ted 12.15.05 at 11:23 am

I forget – who are our “favorite groups” now? Not the Sunnis, because they’re supporting the insurgency. Not the Shiites, because they’re getting very close to Iran. Not the Kurds, because they basically want to be independent from Iraq. Not the religious parties, because they won’t respect the rights of women. So who’s left? The Turkomen?

7

Grand Moff Texan 12.15.05 at 11:42 am

can the nascent Iraqi democracy be strengthened to the point that it can survie without US troops?

I wonder if it can survive the presence of US troops.

CRC: how will voting “work”? They’re voting for figures who often have anti-democratic ambitions to join a government that doesn’t control the country or their armed forces (which themselves are thoroughly infiltrated).

What is this “work” of which you speak? I don’t assume that setting fire to an outhouse will “work” to teach me Chinese because there’s no reliable causal connection.
.

8

dr ngo 12.15.05 at 11:50 am

a democracy is a system where governments lose elections

One small, but occasionally necessary, codicil to this otherwise useful definition: “… governments lose elections AND STEP DOWN.” Burma’s SLORC lost the 1990 elections to Aung San Suu Kyi overwhelmingly (by an estimated 80-20 margin), then simply ignored the results and put her under house arrest again, where she still languishes, with only a Nobel Peace Prize and the love of her people to console her. SLORC (now renamed SPDC) remains in power.

9

Kieran Healy 12.15.05 at 11:57 am

dr ngo – yes, this is the point of the definition: that the peaceful transfer of power after the election is what really matters.

10

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 11:59 am

I admit to grasping at straws here. Assume for the moment that you accept the reality that we are there and that there is NOTHING we can do about it. Then, assume that in order to get out the administration has to believe that democracy has been established and that they can defend themselves. OK? I’m saying it’s implausible but what else would you do? If you were Bush, I mean.

11

Brendan 12.15.05 at 12:11 pm

‘One can only hope that this provides a significant milestone in the administration’s view of things. Otherwise, we will be there forever.’

This is of course correct. If the anti-war movement fails to grasp this particular nettle and start to push for an IMMEDIATE pull out of troops then this is the ‘last milestone’: ie. the last coherent point at which one could say: ‘the job’s done’. Putting aside amorphous and subjective goals like ‘when the security situation improves’ (according to whom?) if the troops stay on for another six months (e.g.) then, like you say, there’s no real reason why they should ever leave.

I agree with california_reality_check. It might be worthwhile for the next few months to agree with Bush on anything he says: i.e. yeah yeah…mission accomplished…it’s all great….democracy has come to Baghdad….light at the end of the tunnel….etc. Cos if enough people believe that then the troops will have to be brought home.

But if people don’t see it that way……

12

soru 12.15.05 at 12:11 pm

SLORC (now renamed SPDC) remains in power.

Even more relevant is Algeria:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Algeria_since_1962

Algeria’s leaders were stunned in December 1991 when FIS candidates won absolute majorities in 188 of 430 electoral districts, far ahead of the FLN’s fifteen seats. Some members of Bendjedid’s cabinet, fearing a complete FIS takeover, forced the president to dissolve parliament and to resign on 11 January 1992.

Something like that certainly could happen, although it’s perhaps less likely now that there have been Islamists in government without anything changing much. Nevertheless, it probably still represents the biggest single danger to the future peaceful development of Iraq.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.

soru

13

Brendan 12.15.05 at 12:20 pm

‘Nevertheless, it probably still represents the biggest single danger to the future peaceful development of Iraq.’

I’m not denying for a second that this is a danger and a very serious one, but do you not think that the fact that there is a large army wandering around Iraq, outwith Iraqi democratic control, bombing and shooting with impunity just slightly more of a danger?

14

Grand Moff Texan 12.15.05 at 12:57 pm

I’m saying it’s implausible but what else would you do? If you were Bush, I mean.

If something so implausible as me being Bush were ever to happen, I would atone for my sins by blowing my brains out.

The questions to ask will be
1. who is the government?
2. what does it want to do?
3. what powers does it actually have for # 2?
4. what has it actually accomplished?
.

15

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 1:16 pm

grand: Sorry, I don’t follow that. Personnaly I would like to impeach the bastard. So, I’m not saying anyone has to be quiet about what’s happening. I just want the troops to come home and have no more damage done. These folks have been delusional all along. Perhaps, that could work in our favor. Yes, let them believe we have won. Let them.

16

goatchowder 12.15.05 at 1:24 pm

Yeah, voting is great. Does anyone remember that the Soviet Union held regular elections? And, had greater turnout than the USA (they distributed vodka to voters)? Anyone for calling that a victory for democracy?

Voting is an necessary but not sufficient condition for freedom and democracy and things of that nature.

17

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 1:33 pm

goatchowder: Understand that I don’t call it anything. I just want the administration to believe it has won.

18

mpowell 12.15.05 at 2:51 pm

Claims like:

“But it seems to me that if Iraq is going to succeed as a democracy then it has to consolidate itself in something like this way. A continued heavy military presence by the U.S. won’t help this goal, because it won’t do anything to legitimate the government as an independent entity. … ” -original post

and

” if the troops stay on for another six months (e.g.) then, like you say, there’s no real reason why they should ever leave.” -brendan

confuse me. The only hope for Iraq to emerge as a functioning democracy is for Iraqis to buy into the need to build and participate in a national goverment. But if US troops leave before one exists, then you remove the motivation for political actors in Iraq to participate in such a process. Instead they return automatically to the ir current battle lines. US troops in Iraq create all sorts of other problems, but this is the inevitable result of their departure.

Its not that I’m at all confident that remaining in Iraq is the thing to do. Its just that it seems clear to me that there is a coherent reason for troops to remain well past the election of a nominal national government, but not indefinitely. When people make these contrary claims, do they actually believe them? Or is it just an easy way to justify withdrawal NOW (an argument that I am partial to, by the way). This seems to be the way that california_reality_check is thinking. I am just wondering how other people feel.

19

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 3:03 pm

Well, no that’s not what I am thinking at all. The troops should begin to come out NOW. NOW! John Murtha’s plan. I just want the administration to somehow believe that we have won so that can happen. The US has screwed this up royally. Make no mistake about it we are going to pay for it. Not one more American life.

20

Grand Moff Texan 12.15.05 at 3:08 pm

CRC: sorry, my four questions were to be asked of an Iraqi “government,” if formed, to see if it was anything more than a prop for American political campaigns.
.

21

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 3:36 pm

Okay, but you see, that is what YOU would ask not what Bush would ask. If you can, try to think like him. Let’s say God told you it is the right thing to do. The same thing with the Presidency. You have been brought up to respect force all your life and to trust only those who think like you do. You would ask only that they do your bidding and that you trust them and that you think they will do their best according to your Christian value system. If you have a chance check the Rockridge Institute and George Lakoff’s discussion regarding cognitive linguistics and how Republicans think.

22

Uncle Kvetch 12.15.05 at 4:01 pm

I just want the administration to believe it has won.

Next stop, Damascus. All aboard!

Be careful what you wish for, CRC. Especially with these people.

23

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 4:19 pm

Kvetch:There is no telling what these bloodthirsty bastards will do. Maybe it will take an invasion of Syria or Iran for the administration to get their fill of blood. Won’t that be special?

24

mpowell 12.15.05 at 4:55 pm

california_reality_check:
What I meant was that you hope the administration regards the election as the kind of event that signals the troops should come home for no other reason than that you want them home as soon as possible. Is that correct?

25

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 5:20 pm

Well, no that is not correct. We shouldn’t have gone there in the first place and shouldn’t be there now. It is not militarily possible to do more without terrible sacrifices. Too high a price. No question we can control the battlefield in a conventional sense. But it’s a gorilla and political war. It will only get worse for us if we stay. Rep. Murtha’s plan is reasonable at this point. No really good options now except when you are in a hole stop digging. Most people wanted to believe our leaders. They were wrong about almost everything. Not worth another life in my opinion. You are entitled to yours. That’s what makes this country great.

26

Brendan 12.15.05 at 5:25 pm

mpowell

there is currently a large foreign force in Iraq that is acting above and beyond the democratic control of the elected Iraqi government. It bombs and kills with impunity, and takes orders from a foreign power.

Now if I was to say the foreign power was ‘Iran’: i take it you would immediately agree with me that this is completely incompatible with democracy and democratic values. And yet if I was to say that this foreign force was the American/British army, you would (presumably) change your mind.

Why?

27

california_reality_check 12.15.05 at 6:28 pm

And furthermore – I used to live two miles from the 1st MEF in Oceanside. I love those guys. They will go anywhere and kill anyone for the US. They are the best. We are tired of having them come home in body bags. SPC Pat Tillman said “You know, this war is so fucking illegal.”

28

vasi 12.16.05 at 1:05 am

Kieran,

It’s interesting that you worry that post-election coalition negotiations will further delegitimize the Iraqi government. I feel that they will actually be good!

The previous Iraqi parliament had troublesome negotiations because of the single very large party, and the 2/3 threshold necessary to govern. It was clear from the start that the winning coalition could only be a Shiite-Kurd alliance.

This time around, the predictions I’m seeing show a less dominant Shiite Alliance list, and only 1/2 the seats are required to govern (though 2/3 for a constitutional amendment). It seems likely that there will be several potentially viable coalitions after the election. This makes long bogged-down negotiations less likely, and the resulting coalition will hopefully involve more compromise.

Of course, it’s possible that when the election results become available, we end up again with a single large party, and a government that wants constitution-amending powers. But here’s hoping things work out better this time!

29

soru 12.16.05 at 6:09 am

But it’s a gorilla and political war

As a point of information, there are 6 billion humans and only 600 gorillas, and strong as they are, few if any of the gorillas even know how to use guns.

Don’t want to spoil any current films for you, but that is only gonna end one way.

soru

30

mpowell 12.16.05 at 12:22 pm

Brendan,

Are you serious? I guess if you’re working from the assumption that Iran’s and the US’s motivation in Iraq is the same then what we’re doing is terribly wrong. Its just that I think this claim is absurd, and most people agree.

31

california_reality_check 12.16.05 at 12:54 pm

mpowell: “most people”? How many Iraqi, Muslim or Arabs have you been exposed to? Really. Just curious.

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