Why Elections in Iraq Are a Lose-Lose Proposition





Mr. Black is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is adapted from his just-released book, Banking on Baghdad, Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Wiley), which chronicles 7,000 years of Iraqi history.

Iraq ’s proposed January elections are a lose-lose proposition.

Fifteen Sunni and two leading Kurdish political parties have banded together to ask Iraq’s Interim Government to postpone elections now scheduled for January 30, 2005. They claim the continuing violence and insurgency makes a vote imperiled if not impossible. That reality was driven home just days ago when a grenade was tossed into a school with a note warning school administrators not to allow their buildings to be used as polling places. Candidates have been threatened with death, voters have been told to stay in their homes on Election Day. The Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq’s highest Sunni religious authority, has demanded all Sunnis boycott the electoral process.

But the Shiites are adamant that elections proceed as planned. Their supreme religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani, has decreed that voting is not merely an act of citizenship but the highest religious obligation. “All citizens, male and female, who are eligible to vote, ” announced Sistani, “must make sure that their names are properly registered on the electoral register.” Shiite mosques are bedecked with voting banners, especially in holy cities such as Najaf and Kufa. Sistani rebuffed the recent Sunni-Kurd election delay requests, saying the question was “not even up for discussion.”

Arab Sunnis and Kurds—together some 40 percent of the population—are now on an electoral collision course with the majority Shiites, who comprise approximately 60 percent of the country. The dynamics of this looming election showdown embody the very ethnic torrents that have plagued Iraq for centuries.

Minority Sunnis and majority Shias have massacred and oppressed each other in Iraq since the seventh century, taking time off to do the same for the country’s Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Kurds and other minorities. In the last half of the twentieth century, the upper hand was seized by Sunni Ba’athist strongmen, Saddam Hussein being the latest. The concept of one-man one-vote, in which the results will virtually parallel the religious groups, automatically guarantees that the Shiite majority will once again control the nation, settling old scores and disenfranchising everyone else, and laying the groundwork for another civil war.

More than that, free elections—anathema in most of the Middle East—are viewed by the joint domestic and pan-Arab insurgency as just another device of foreign occupation. Hence, if election plans proceed, they will merely become the latest lightning rod for insurgency and terrorism, replacing reconstruction efforts, the oil infrastructure and police stations as the target du jour.

The assumption or seizure of central authority in Iraq has never constituted a true representative government accepted by the warring tribal factions. In consequence, even if the election takes place, even if the Shiites deliver a numerical majority for the turnout, the forces of Sunni and insurgent rejection will demonize them as illegitimate, thus further plunging the populace into violence.

Indeed, the Islamic Army, among the most organized of the several insurgent groups, has announced that no election can take place in Iraq as long as infidel occupation forces continue to occupy Iraq. They promise to target all who participate or even recognize the results, Iraqi or foreigner.

Adding a volatile additional dimension is the distinct possibility that majority Shiite rule will not propel the nation toward Western-style democracy, but cause a detour speeding toward Iranian-style theocracy. Shiite Iran and the dominant Shiite holy cities such as Najaf have been deeply involved with each other for centuries. Citizens on both sides of the border freely pass and in many ways function co-jointly in all matters religious, spiritual and social.

Should a Shiite-controlled Iraq legislate itself into an Iranian-style theocracy, and even consider a pan-Islamic confederacy, the ramifications are towering. Such bi-national unions in the Islamic Middle East have been common since WW II. In 1958, Iraq itself was once united with Jordan in the short-lived Arab Union even as Egypt and Syria created the ill-fated United Arab Republic.

The people of Iraq have never wanted Western-style pluralistic democracy or elections. The idea has always been imposed from abroad. They know their history. In 1920, the nations of the Middle East were created where no nations had previously existed by Western oil imperialism and the League of Nations—this solely to validate under international law the post-WW I oil joint monopolies France and England had created. Pro-western monarchs and other rulers were installed to sign on the dotted line, legitimizing cheap Western oil monopolies. At the same time, the Western capitals spurned the Arab national movement. When the Arabs hear the very term “democracy,” they hear a codeword for, “we want a stable environment for oil.”

After years of trying to install democracy in the 1930s and 1940s, Major John Glubb, the British officer who organized the Arab Legion, complained bitterly in a letter to Whitehall: “We...imagined that we had bestowed on the Iraqis all these blessings of democracy…Nothing could be more undemocratic than the result. A handful of politicians obtained possession of the machinery of government, and all the elections were rigged... In this process they all became very rich.”

In the post-WW II decades, the West has tried to hang onto its oil lifeline in the Middle East, using our best diplomats, corporate surrogates and militaries. That has only fueled the cycle of insurrection and now world terrorism from a people who resent our presence and resource exploitation, and have always understood better than anyone exactly why we are there. The Arabs have come to believe that all the talk of democratic values is just a shibboleth of the infidel.

Iraq , the so-called “Cradle of Civilization” has a 7,000-year head start on the United States and Britain. If they wanted a pluralistic democracy, they could have created one without a permission slip from Washington or London. Elections do not make democracies; democracies make elections.


Copyright 2004 Edwin Black All Rights Reserved


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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The Taliban, which the Bush administration could not care less about before 9-11, or even for a few days afterwards, was overthrown in Afghanistan by the war lords while Rumsfeld and his bumbling chickenhawks were cluster-bombing civilians and incidentally providing air cover to the Northern Alliance etc. who have now made Afghanistan in the heroin supplier of the world.

The quick fall of Kabul swelled the arrogant heads of Rummy and once-assistant Dick, and they assumed a "cake walk" repetition in Iraq. (Despite their incompetence, they at least knew how, like old generals, to fight the last war). Unfortunately for western civilization, they goofed big time. No northern alliance in Iraq, and except for the Kurds, nobody in the neighborhood wanted a U.S. invasion, certainly not after the weapons inspectors were finally given the unfettered access they should have had a decade earlier. Neither the Saudis, nor the Turks, nor the Iranians wanted Cheney's hypocritical invasion. Even tiny Kuwait was not wild about it.

Whether democracy in the Mideast will ultimately advanced by this reckless and costly fiasco is very much an open question. Certainly the U.S. military would not be abandoning Iraq’s highways to the insurgency if there were not at least considerable Sunni feeling that repelling the invader is more important than electing governmental delegates with even less of a clue about parliamentary procedures than the couch potatoes who voted last month to elect Cheney and Bush. Therewith vanished the best hope of extrication for the West from the Iraq mess. Now America, having ratified the policies of those who squandered its international reputation in order to win that electoral ratification, is either stuck with a dangerous colony for years to come, or will commit the mother of all betrayals by withdrawing. Having let its wet-behind-the-ears joke of a president get away with crying wolf, America will, for years to come, find it more difficult to assemble coalitions for overseas interventions when the real wolves (terrorists or renegade states with WMD, etc.) actually appear.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


This is an insighftul analysis that would however benefit from less Arab-bashing and more looking in the mirror.

Elections HAVE helped "make democracy" in eastern Europe, although that is certainly partly due to favorable examples of elections, democracy, and economic prosperity next door in western Europe. As the new colonizer of Iraq, the U.S. is not doing a good a very good job of leading by example, neither in Abu Ghraib, nor in our high tech antiquated ballot box mess, nor in the recent presidential election where the large masses of the most ignorant parts of the voting public managed to first pick one of the less of the several candidates in the Democratic primaries, and then to chose the clearly less qualified of the two choices in the general election.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


If "multicultural" has any significant "inherent" features at all, the most crucial is surely its inherent ambiguity. I can see that it may be a convenient euphemism for a welcome promotion of a more tolerant healing of past wounds (religious and linguistic discrimination in Canada, slavery and race discrimination in the U.S., theft of aboriginal lands throughout the Western Hemisphere, fascism, communism, war and genocide in Europe, and so forth and so on). But "multiculturalism" has a host of other meanings as well: from from learning foreign languages, to respect for -or oppression by- one's family or ethnic background, to praising metropolitan areas with a fine international diversity of restaurants or to rationalizing the fear of criticizing foul and eardrum splitting noise coming from car stereos polluting those metropoles.

I doubt whether the future of Iraq really hangs on these sorts of sematical issues.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Italy and Germany had extensive experience with partial democracies, in the City states of Venice, Florence, Hansa, and in the Weimar Republic. Japan had a long pre-Western national coherence. Iraq has neither experience with democracy nor a long non-colonial national identity. It is an arrogant Rovian travesty of history to pretend that Cheney's foolish blunder in Iraq compares in motives, scale or aftermath to World War II.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Dave, You evidently have difficulties with both Math and History. Most of the 40-50 million German adults in 1945 were adults during the Weimar Republic, 1918-33, as well. Still today, Bremen and Hamburg are city-states under the German Federal Republic. Hansa is less remote than you apparently believe.

I am not against holding elections in Iraq. That could have been done 18 months ago when France recommended it but when Rummy & Co were instead busy stupidly and criminally torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The problem, as Edwin Black suggests, is that elections do not, in and of themselves, "make" democracy. Eventually the grass roots of the U.S. GOP (which maybe now stands for Gobs of Peabrains), will wake up to the reality that they were tricked. The only "mission" Bush and Cheney cared about or "accomplished" was getting those dupes to vote for them on November 2. The futile search for exit strategies continues, but the real action will depend on how Karl Rove's upcoming spins play with his 59 million voters, most of whom were either self-deluded or duped and on how many American soldiers are being killed each week in 2008 and where.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Canada is not a very useful comparison to analyze Iraq against. Iran is a much closer and more relevant example. 25 years after the "Islamic Revolution", the Iranian masses are probably more pro-western and pro-democratic than ever before. Iran is far from a pluralistic, tolerant and liberal society under the rule of law, but it is heading in that direction more convincingly than is the case in Iraq where democracy is becoming associated with foreign domination thanks to Bush's botched invasion and occupation. If the UN inspection process had been allowed to proceed in Iraq in 2003 (instead of being torpedoed under deceptive pretenses by the Cheney-Bush chickenhawks), there would a better precedent today for taking a tough stance -short of Rumsfeldian war-blundering- in Iran, where the threat of WMD development is far greater than it was under Saddam two years ago.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Since Canada was mentioned, "note" that "even" it's government and people steadfastly opposed the ignorant folly of an immoral, unplanned, corrupt, deceptively launched and crassly hypocritical invasion of a country that was clearly not an imminent threat.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


You "gather" incorrectly, as usual and typical. Why not try thinking instead for a change ? I never said you "supported the Iraq war". You did, however quote Clinton to the effect that this "folly" as you now call it, ought not to have been delayed (as Canada had proposed in March, 2003).


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

As much as I'd like to disagree with the thrust of the essay, I cannot.

Has the Administration fallen into the trap of concluding "What's good for America, must be good for everyone around the world?"

If so, the oft proclaimed statement "That all government is bad, but [Western style] representative democracy isn't as bad as any other form of government" fails the test of reality, of being workable, when transferred to many non-Western cultures. For instance, most tribal societies through the practice of trial & error have evolved to adequately serve their society's wants & needs. Granted, some services, medical care, staffing of educatiional institutions, the extration of oil, may need to be imported, but overall tribal society has developed to most efficiently serve the desires & needs of their peoples. In short, represenative democracy may not be, as much as it may offend the tender sensibilities of some Westeners, suitable for some societies.

On the other hand, if indeed Iraq can be transformed into a Western-style representative democracy that will perforce serve as a reproach & challenge to militant Islam. It is doubtful that Islam as it now exists, inherently opposed to free inquiry in the Academy, could survive the challenge of representative democracy.

There are reasons that but 439 universities exist in all of the Muslim world, community. And reasons too why nary a one of those schools is on the list of the world's top 500 universities recently compiled and released by Bejing University.

But it remains very doubtful if even a democratic Iraq free inquiry into, for instance, the origins of Islam will be permitted.


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

The argument that democracy is unlikely out of a gun barrel is refuted by the experiences of Post-WWII Germany, Italy & Japan.

On the other hand, it took decades for representative democracy to evolve in Franco's Spain. It is questionable too if representative democracy as we understand it has yet to evolve in Post-revolutionary Mexico. Sometimes it seems it has, but at times it seems doubtful.


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

Peter,

Yeah, yeah. You forgot to mention the early Roman Republic as well.

As Walter M. Miller said, for a people to forget its culture all it takes is a couple of generations. In short, harking back to pre-WWII experiences is beside the point. As a percentage not many individual Germans alive after April '45 had had even the Weimar experience, let alone the Hansa Confederation one.

In a different fashion, many Iraqis have had more democratic experience than had the Germans, et al. After all, most tribal governance is conducted on the basis of a concensus of the tribe, clans generally operate on the same pronciple. Contrary to what some folks may think, most clan & tribal governments (& they are governments) are not tyrannies or dictatorships. Generally the leadership leads only as long as a majority of the group is satisfied with it.


Charles Edward Heisler - 12/18/2004

John, thank you for this poll information. That made my Friday very pleasant. I suspect that January is going to be a bad month for the forces of evil and for Anti-Bush cadre.


N. Friedman - 12/17/2004

Charles,

Bush is right in theory that we must be agressive with the Muslim dominated countries. I do not deny that. However, the issue is whether invading Iraq advances that agenda. Too many complication there because it appears to be at least 3 "countries" in one.

In addition - and probably even more important, the divisions include religious ones - which, so far as I can discern, are of the highest significance to Muslims -. As you may well know, the Shi'a view the Sunni as apostates while the Sunni view the Shi's as apostates. In Islam, to be an apostate is worse than being an infidel. So, the natural relational expectation - at least what I would suspect - is that each such denomination will not seek compromise but, instead, to dominate the other.


N. Friedman - 12/16/2004

Peter,

"I doubt whether the future of Iraq really hangs on these sorts of sematical issues."

For a change, you have said something intelligent.


Charles Edward Heisler - 12/16/2004

"On the other hand, one way or the other, the US has clearly planted a seed so that, perhaps sooner than it otherwise might have occurred, democracy or some form of pluralism could take root."

That is my point--Bush has indicated that the war on terror is both difficult and lengthy. I believed him then and I most certainly believe it now. As I see the matter, we had no other options but to engage this war with violence--hopefully overwhelming violence. Surely the lesson of Iraq is not lost on all the other leaders of countries that support terrorism.
None of the answers are in yet but we must prevail.


John H. Lederer - 12/16/2004

"Haider Ajani has translated the results of a poll of 5,000 Iraqis, taken in and around Baghdad, that appeared yesterday in the Arabic newspaper Alsabah:

What will you base your vote on?

Political agenda----------------------------65%
Factional origin----------------------------14%
Party Affiliation---------------------------- 4%
National Background----------------------12%
Other reasons--------------------------------5%

Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?

Yes-------------------------------------------15%
No--------------------------------------------84%
Do not know----------------------------------1%

Do you support the postponing the election?

Yes-------------------------------------------18%
No--------------------------------------------80%
Do not know---------------------------------2%

Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?

Yes-------------------------------------------83%
No--------------------------------------------13%
Do not know---------------------------------4% "


John H. Lederer - 12/16/2004

"Haider Ajani has translated the results of a poll of 5,000 Iraqis, taken in and around Baghdad, that appeared yesterday in the Arabic newspaper Alsabah:

What will you base your vote on?

Political agenda----------------------------65%
Factional origin----------------------------14%
Party Affiliation---------------------------- 4%
National Background----------------------12%
Other reasons--------------------------------5%

Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?

Yes-------------------------------------------15%
No--------------------------------------------84%
Do not know----------------------------------1%

Do you support the postponing the election?

Yes-------------------------------------------18%
No--------------------------------------------80%
Do not know---------------------------------2%

Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?

Yes-------------------------------------------83%
No--------------------------------------------13%
Do not know---------------------------------4% "


N. Friedman - 12/16/2004

Val,

On the contrary, I argue that people should be treated equally and should have the right to maintain their heritage. On that we agree entirely.

The issue here is the "what else" is involved with multiculturalism. And the "what else" is the policy of not integrating people so that they become, in France, Frenchmen (and French woman).

In the US, we are, as you well know, a country of immigrants. We have had more immigration than anyone else. People, of course, maintain their ties to their native lands and cultures, etc. That is both ok and desireable. However, those seeking to remain in the US must learn to be Americans. To the extent that such is altered - and some say it is changing although I think that argument a bit too facile -, the land of immigrants will become a nation of warring tribes.


Val Jobson - 12/16/2004

Canadian government definition:
http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/multi/what-multi_e.cfm

"What is Multiculturalism?
Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. Acceptance gives Canadians a feeling of security and self-confidence, making them more open to, and accepting of, diverse cultures. The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding, and discourages ghettoization, hatred, discrimination and violence.

Through multiculturalism, Canada recognizes the potential of all Canadians, encouraging them to integrate into their society and take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs."

Mr. Friedman, you are arguing that black is white, war is peace, and multicultualism is racism; each of these is incorrect. You appear to believe that people of different races cannot live together as equals; which I would consider to be a racist belief. Your claim that affirmative action is racism again demonstrates your Orwellian mode of thinking that wrong is right. I'm not going to waste any more time on your invincible ignorance.


N. Friedman - 12/16/2004

Charles,

While I hate war, I do agree with your proposition that few things have changed without it and that, in some instances, war is a necessity. I also agree that change will not come to the Muslim world without much violence and likely many wars.

On the other hand, you write: "It is the old 'those people' argument that never takes into consideration that democracy is obviously on the move all over the globe. I am sure there will always be holdouts but to assume that any people are locked into ancient behaviors that preclude a democratic form of govenment is simply nonsense. People change and change darned fast in this world of instant communication of both good and bad."

I do not think there is a universal rule involved. And in the case of the Muslim world, the trend appears mostly away from democracy and toward the revival of ancient culture, hence religious rule. My impression is that the Islamist movement, like the Nazi and Fascist movements, consists primarily of a cadre, with quite a large number of fellow travellers. That cadre may be sufficiently determined and brutal, depending on the country and circumstances, to gain power notwithstanding other trends including democracy. They may, like in Iran, blend Islamism and some form of representative government.

Let me note this: your proposition that democracy is contagious may be true but its march forward may prove to have many fits and starts (as it clearly had in Europe): two steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, etc. In other words, the march may - and most likely will, if such occurs at all - take decades if not longer and, most likely, the Islamists will have to be decisively defeated so that their ideology fades.

I would not bet on the Iraq war being decisive with respect to either democracy or the defeat of Islamism - even locally in Iraq. On the other hand, one way or the other, the US has clearly planted a seed so that, perhaps sooner than it otherwise might have occurred, democracy or some form of pluralism could take root.


Charles Edward Heisler - 12/16/2004

I agree that analogies based on the Civil War and on Vietnam simply have too many points of difference to be instructive or persuasive. I am sure that Vietnam is used simply as a mindless Left Wing bark that has become a common usage for all adventures military.
Maybe the best analogy is Afganistan, while not concluded and certainly not settled, it seems the voting was heavy and the country is on the move in a positive direction.
I still maintain that naysayers were trotting out the same kind of negativness regarding Germany and Japan in 1945 concerning the power of democracy to win over hearts and minds. It is the old "those people" argument that never takes into consideration that democracy is obviously on the move all over the globe. I am sure there will always be holdouts but to assume that any people are locked into ancient behaviors that preclude a democratic form of govenment is simply nonsense. People change and change darned fast in this world of instant communication of both good and bad. Further, what is the point of all the "it'll never happen"? Is the alternative more acceptable?
I wonder where all this "can't win" negative attitude was the day after Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake Island, Corregidor, Kasserine, and D-
Day? I also wonder where the idea that change in the world can be peaceful ever came from--certainly I know of few bloodless "diplomatic" campaigns that have brought about revolutions in governments. To those that say you can't have a democracy at the point of a gun, I will again remind them of Japan, Germany, and Italy as examples that prove otherwise. The USSR comes to mind as well.


N. Friedman - 12/16/2004

Steve,

In the Muslim world, the place where democracy has emerged is Turkey. The secular state built by Attaturk surely has something to do with that fact. Democracy surely was not the work of Islamists as Islamists - the real followers of that ideology - oppose democracy, at least as we understand it, on principle.


Steve Vinson - 12/16/2004

That's like saying Bismark layed the groundwork for democracy in Germany! He made it a modern, unified state --which Nazi Germany was, and the Soviet Union. Making a democracy is something else.


N. Friedman - 12/16/2004

Charles,

I am not sure I would draw too much from the Civil War to understand Iraq. On the other hand, I think there is a tendency in the US to draw too much from our misadventure in Vietnam. Then again, I am also not quite sure that we really are wearing down the insurgency although, in due course, that may perhaps occur.

It seems to me that looking to the effort by the aristocray in 19th Century Europe to prevent democracy provides some of what funds if not, for some, fuels the insurgency. And, since the issue involves privilege and since the US has made ending the system of privileges which dominates the Arab world central, you can anticipate that at least the funds for the insurgency will not dry up any time soon.

Of course, such does not explain the man on the street's attitude. But, note: in the Arab world, public opinion is basically a manufactured affair, manipulated into existence by the very groups which are likely funding the insurgency.

There is also the fuel that non-Muslims are pushing Muslims around and telling them what is "best." Such surely fuels resentment and is, no doubt, used effectively by the various Arab governments.

And, of course, there is the issue of us invading a country. That, no doubt, invokes a patriotic reaction. One need merely recall the USSR in WWII to understand that.

There are no doubt other issues.


Jon Robins - 12/16/2004

Since when was an insane Stalinist dictatorship , whose leading figure was a crass manufacture of the Soviet political machine (read up on "Dear Leader's" time in the USSR prior to the end of WW2), a "national interest" of the Korean people?

Yes, the savage intervention of the US has left South Korea devestated and oppressed... no, wait, it's left South Korea with the highest per capita broadband access in the world, a powerhouse industrial/information economy, a smooth transition from military rule to democracy, and resulted in a truly free society where idiot students have the RIGHT to protest in the streets without being sent to concentration camps or worrying about starving to death.

The very Afghan mujhahadeen you cite are the ones building a new democratic society in Afghanistan, under the auspices of a US occupation army. You express your sheer and utter incompetence in studying history by comparing the US invasion of Afghanistan to the Soviet one. The USSR invaded to prop up a puppet regime that they forcibly installed in a bloody coup. Comparing a ruthless pseudo-communist authoritarian regime to the free and fair (judged so by the international community) democratic process underway in Afghanistan is disgusting and baseless libel on both the Afghans involved in this new government and the international forces that made it possible.

The Kurds will not engage in terrorism against the US because they a) on the whole, seem to have no interest in it b) have nothing to gain and everything to lose from it c) benefit immensely from anything that hurts their traditional rivals (putting the Sunni minority in its place, and building a Mid-east powerhouse to check Turkish hegemony).


Arnold Shcherban - 12/15/2004

It is funny that one who judges the success or failure
of political and military actions abroad based on the evidence provided by the decisively compromised about its integrity US mass-media, tries to ironize on the validity of the information drawn from the other sources, whether it BBC or something else.
For one thing, me along with hundreds of millions of folks around the world (which you know close to none about) find information delivered for e.g. by BBC (chosen just for argument sake), much more objective in essence and form, than the respective information coming from
the majority of the US sources. And I have 35 years of experience with both. If you throw in about the same amount of experience with the Big and small lies consistently perpetrated by the US media and goverments,
especially in political sphere, to me it pretty much
seals the deal, so say.
If you consider recent elections in Aghanistan fair and
democratic, or the ones leading to democracy and allegedly delivering progressive results already you are either in greater delusion than I thought you are or just
blindly repeating one of the many wish-for lies of the imperialistic propaganda.

Iraqi Kurds are complaining, but, of course, much less than they were complaining when killed by dozens of thousands by the US ally - Turkey (fleeing to Iraq and to the Soviet Union), and also much less when were killed by thousands by Saddam, that time also this country's ally,
without this country's goverments doing anything to help
them. Iraqi Kurds like the Americans and American-led occupation as much as Afgan Mudgahedgins liked Americans when the latter helped them against Soviets.
And we know about the Afghanis, haven't we?
I can bet that later on you will see as much relative percentage of Kurdish and Afgani anti-American terrorists, as you will see Sunnis' or Shiite's ones. But, of course, your intellectual segment will never admit, despite any evidence, that the seeds of that future problem have been sown by today's agression and occupation, as you never admitted the war crimes commited by this country in Korea (I'm glad you mention it) Vietnam, Serbia, and elsewhere, where the US sought to install its overriding all the rest "national interests"
against the will of the majority of local populus.
As far as I'm aware of that "intellectual segment who called Korean War UN(?) "Police action" (provided you meant US War in Korea) is the same segment of intellectuals who is desperate to portray current agression and occupation in Iraq, as Police action, exactly the way you did.

Following your logic, there was no reason why such an "occupation" automatically excluded a free and fair democratic election and process over Soviet invasion and
occupation of Afghanistan.
Don't tell me, I know, I know: you are "good guys" and they were "bad guys"...


Charles Edward Heisler - 12/15/2004

Ben, I know well the guilty pleasures of hoping a president will fail--I spent eight years hoping in vain that Clinton would fail, even in his military adventures.
It isn't anything to be proud of but it was real at the time, so I understand if others have the same motivations in regard to Bush.
Remember, Grant was new to command and the action in front of Missionary Ridge was to be a demonstration only to draw Confederate support away from Sherman's struggle on the left. Grant, trusting Sherman and not very enthused with the corps that had been defeated at Chicamauga, probably did not believe that the troops fronting Missionary Ridge could be successful. I am sure he was both angry that his plans went awry and pleased with the result which was not intended. One of those surprises of war. I think the analogy of Petersburg would be more appropriate--our forces are slowing wearing down a weakened enemy that has no chance of success and are merely fighting a desparate battle to survive. That's my Civil War take on Iraq tho, as a valid analogy, the points of similarity are few.


N. Friedman - 12/15/2004

Steve,

A few years does not a success make. We shall have to wait to see what becomes of Turkey. In the meanwhile, one thing is certain: the Kemalist military laid the ground work for democracy in Turkey.


N. Friedman - 12/15/2004

Val,

1. I do not recall claiming that Canadians are at each others' throats.

2. Note: racism defined by my dictionary as "1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race." By definition, multiculturalism involves discrimination - but not necessarily prejudice - based on race so that, by definition, multiculturalism is inherently a racist theory.

Now, whether or not a racist theory is an "evil" is a different question. Thus, the Jim Crow regime which existed in the US South was racist and was also, in my view, not good. Many, you will note, including most people previously victimized by Jim Crow, now support a form of racism called Affirmative Action and argue that the discrimination it involves is necessary and maybe it is. I do not argue otherwise.

On the other hand, the people to be integrated into places like France are foreigners. The theory used to integrate these people, multiculturalism, is, as I have argued, inherently racist but unlike Affirmative Action, the society it is creating has much in common with Jim Crow. I happen to think that the end result of policies like multiculturalism are always divided societies that have their antecedents in Jim Crow.

I do not pretend to be an expert on Canada. However, as a person who very much enjoys the country and, most especially, Québec City - although I have enjoyed Montréal also -, I do have to note that your country has had a strong separatist element within Québec provence. I recall an election on the issue and the results were rather close. I understand that the push for separation has, to some extent, died down - at least for a while -.

I am also aware that Canada has a multicultural policy involving more recent immigrants. My bet is that, as with all multicultural programs, the end result will be close to Jim Crow and thus not very good.


Val Jobson - 12/15/2004

Your characterisation of multiculturalism as being "inherently racist" and as disenfranchising all "ethnic groups, except those with power" is simply incorrect. The European countries you are describing as "multicultural" have tended not to accept non-European immigrants as equal members of their society and therefore cannot be accurately described as "multicultural".

Canada is a successful multicultural country in which people from different countries with different cultures and religions are accepted as Canadians. Immigration has played a huge part in our history. Until a few decades ago Canada's policies were more assimilationist, but we have been moving away from that and much more towards toleration of differences.

You appear to think that Canada is bicultural; it is multicultural and bilingual; that is, English and French are the two official languages, but there are many cultures including aboriginal peoples, Quebecois, Acadian, descendants of Ukrainians, Chinese, Sikhs, etc., etc. The Ukrainian population in Canada is the largest outside of Ukraine, and Canadians will make up a large portion of the election observers.

Your understanding of Quebec is simplistic; its partial autonomy is a result of historical developments which have contributed to the country's tendency to multicultralism. Montreal is a much more cosmopolitan city than Quebec City. Within Quebec as in other parts of the country there tends to be more of an urban-rural split.

We are not at each others' throats because Canadians tend to prefer diplomacy to warmongering; diplomacy and intelligent compromise are necessary for a successful multicultural country to run properly.


Steve Vinson - 12/15/2004

You say Turkey became a democracy by "radically suppressing Islam." In fact, during the years of the suppression of Islam, Turkey was an authoritarian state ruled directly or indirectly by its Kemalist military. It's only now, that the military seems content to stay in the background and the country has a ruling party with Islamist roots, that Turkey is becoming genuinely democratic.


Ben H. Severance - 12/15/2004

Some good barbs, particularly the last one, which I have wrestled with myself. I am dubious of a successful outcome in Iraq, but I do pray for success, not so much for Bush but for the Iraqi people, especially the Kurds, who have suffered far too long. In holding my breath over the elections in Iraq, I often think of the Union attack on Missionary Ridge in November 1863. Grant thought the unauthorized frontal assault was foolish, was certain it would fail, and was prepared to punish the instigators. But all the while he hoped it would prevail; and it did. Unfortunately, I think the Iraq story is going to follow the path of Pickett's charge or perhaps even Hood's attack at Franklin.

Anyway, I look forward to the day when half of all Iraqis take democracy for granted and skip out on election day. Voter apathy is disgraceful, but it is still a sign of a people secure in their liberty. Such is the case in America.


N. Friedman - 12/15/2004

Peter,

I merely noted Clinton's view as stated in an article he published in The Guardian (from the UK) in March 2003.

If you understood my view, then I stand corrected.


Jon Robins - 12/15/2004

Your criterion for "they" remains an issue. I sincerely doubt that you know what "they," meaning the entire Iraqi people, actually think about damn near anything. Public opinion polling is disastrously inaccurate in stable democracies- you think that just because the BBC asks 4 blokes in a row what they think, that you've got "the pulse of Iraq"?

Iraqi Kurds are hardly complaining (except for Ansar al-Islam, a group known to be both small and reviled) about the US occupation- it's ended decades of brutal Arab occupation. It's convenient how a group like that disappears from the public/media view when it is no longer politically convenient to hear their stories.

Occupation is not an ideal setting for an election, but it is clear that an occupation on the scale of that of Germany or Japan is unfeasible. Elections in Afghanistan happened under "foreign occupation", and look what happened- women have jobs, and the Taliban are talking about taking up amnesty programs. The occupation of Iraq is being framed as a continuing military venture by the same intellectual segment that called the Korean War a UN "Police action" (which is what the current occupation should be better described as). Until Iraqi security forces can enforce law and order, the occupation IS that law. It is essentially a giant, and heavily armed police department. It is not "calling the shots" in the Iraqi government. It is not interfering thus far with the electoral process. It is not influencing candidates, suppressing dissidents, or doing anything other than trying to maintain peace and protect the reconstruction effort. THere is no reason why such an "occupation" automatically excludes a free and fair democratic election.


N. Friedman - 12/15/2004

Charles,

Do not place me in that category. I am merely skeptical to the extent of thinking the adventure to be a folly. Which is a different thing from suggesting I do not wish the mission well. In fact, I do hope we succeed.


Charles Edward Heisler - 12/15/2004

How interesting that so many would condemn the Iraqi election to fail for lack of participation when they live in a country where on any given election about 50% of the voters vote!
Somehow we ascribe a higher criteria on newly formed democrats than we apply to ourselves. After all, using the hue and cry from above, our democracy should have failed after Clinton was elected without majority votes!!!
Excuse me if I read all of this to read, "We don't really want Iraq to be a democracy because if it happens, Bush will get the credit and that will be worse than having Saddam killing thousands in Iraq."


N. Friedman - 12/14/2004

Peter,

I gather that, as usual, you have commented without bothering to read what was discussed. How typical!!!

And, remember, I never supported the Iraq war. I have taken the view that it is a folly.


Arnold Shcherban - 12/14/2004

I don't think any just slightly reasonable and knowlegable person would or did argue on this board the
overwhelming majority in Iraq, in particular, want
the right to vote and determine their own form of goverment, so the answer to your question addressed to them would most likely have been "Yes". However, the salt
of the matter is the conditions they want to exercise
those rights in. And the conditions are: military occupation by foreign and adversary power, whom the again ovwewhelming majority of them did not invite to "liberate" them from anyone, Saddam included.
Therefore, they are convinced (wouldn't anyone be in their position?) that the US did not do all that it did just to allow the person whom it does not want to be elected as the Iraqi president, and among the rest of the
elected or appointed officials.
First of all, and above all they want freedom of US-UK
occupation, then the rest you claimed they wanted.
Ask them if they want what I said they do, and see the answer to the latter.



Jon Robins - 12/14/2004

The author makes several grave (and unsupported) misjudgments.

"The concept of one-man one-vote, in which the results will virtually parallel the religious groups, automatically guarantees that the Shiite majority will once again control the nation, settling old scores and disenfranchising everyone else, and laying the groundwork for another civil war."

Being a minority in a democracy does NOT mean you are disenfranchised. Just because your party is going to lose does not mean your right to vote or participate in the government process is being denied. Sunnis and Kurds are for the first time in Iraq's history being truly given the franchise.

" Indeed, the Islamic Army, among the most organized of the several insurgent groups, has announced that no election can take place in Iraq as long as infidel occupation forces continue to occupy Iraq."

I for one would like to introduce the CIA to whomever the author is citing at this point, since he obviously thinks he knows enough about the size and number of Iraqi insurgent groups to classify one of the most vocal as "the most organized."

" Should a Shiite-controlled Iraq legislate itself into an Iranian-style theocracy, and even consider a pan-Islamic confederacy..."

Sheer delusion. al-Sistani is hardly a radical cleric, and he rules (albiet sparingly) with an iron fist. He is not Tehran's puppet, either. The spectre of pan-Islamism is raised (in a rather Islamaphobic pandering to readers who associate a united Islamic political community with disaster for the West), but again not in the least bit supported.
Some must have forgotten that Iraq and Iran were trading nerve gas shells less than 2 decades ago, Saudi and Iranian fighters were battling over the Persian Gulf.
If it's not delusion, it's then arrogance and incompatible with the next statement:

" The people of Iraq have never wanted Western-style pluralistic democracy or elections. The idea has always been imposed from abroad. They know their history."

Well, if the elected government choses to enact a theocratic regime, that would certainly be a blow to neo-imperialists seeking to impose Western political standards on the Islamic world, right? The author also conveniently omits that the current set of ruling systems are hardly indigenous either- the house of Saud was artifically boosted into authority by the British, and its relatives given dominion over the region. The Ba'athists were not exactly homespun ideologues either- their roots are evident in the ties of their early leaders to the rather Nazi-friendly Vichy French colonial administrators who ran greater Syria during WW2.

The author tells us that elections will bring a grim caliphate or Shi'ite theocracy (both 'genuine' regional instituions), or that they will be a hopelessly fake parody of Western democracy. Is it a lose-lose situation for Iraq then? The message seems to be that "they" (note the author's reckless segregation of Iraq's diverse tribes and peoples into monolithic politico-ethnic entities) can do no better than a miserable tyrant.

It's easy to write from an office in the West that "they" do not want democracy. I challenge the author to take a trip to Egypt, to Iran, to Syria, to Pakistan, to Iraq, and ask: "do you want the right to vote and determine your own form of government?" Democracy isn't about everyone agreeing on what flavour of government; it's about having the opportunity to have a say (even if that voice is overruled by the majority).


N. Friedman - 12/14/2004

Peter,

It is conceivable that you are right that delaying the invasion would have been good for Iraqi democracy. I note, however, that as of March, 2003, even former President Clinton advocated no further delays on the invasion.

I also briefly note my view that democracy is a long way off in Iraq no matter what we did or did not do or do or do not do. Which is to say, we may be headed for an election in Iraq but Iraq is not headed toward democracy any time soon.

As for Canada, my remark was limited to a reply to Val's comment.


N. Friedman - 12/14/2004

Val,

I know full well what multiculturalism is. I just disagree with its impact.

Note: I have nothing against respect for various ethnic groups living together in a country or in people preserving their cultures. However, respect and tolerance and maintainence of culture also require policies which foster a common nation of people. Multiculturalism ignores such necessity - I think, in order to control people -.

Multiculturalism, where it has flourished - as opposed to the American amalgam which revolves around respect for the laws and traditions of the US - is inherently racist and exacerbates separatist feelings because it effectively disenfranchises all of the ethnic groups, except those with power, while telling those left out that they are equal in some make believe world.

Consider: in Europe, there are no Muslims in the French National Assembly, while 10% of France is Muslim. The same is true in Germany. Such, I believe, is not an accident. It is the result of telling people to remain true to the places of origin without fostering substantial interest in their adopted country. Which is to say, the average Muslim in France has to say, I live in France but I am not a Frenchman. And, frankly, that is what multiculturalism is about and, frankly, what it is intended as, namely, a method of control under the rubric of phoney tolerance.

In Europe, the implications of multicultural phoney tolerance are now being played out with alienated Muslims and the beginning of the end of tolerance by the Europeans.

In Canada, there are, as we know, two major groups, those who consider themselves French and those who do not. The impact of multiculturalism in Canada is that the French group considers itself separate and only marginally part of Canada. Thus, it is not uncommon in Québec City for people to speak of the Canadian government as the current regime. But Canada, unlike in Europe, has the advantage that Québec is a separate region of the country which has some autonomy so that people are not at each other's throat and due to the fact that Québec has been Francophile since very long ago.


Val Jobson - 12/14/2004

You have not demonstrated understanding of what a multicultural country is or how it works. I have no intention of doing your research for you.


N. Friedman - 12/13/2004

Val,

It would be interesting to know how my posts are innacurate. And, as for the substance of my position, surely you can do better than calling it BS.

I believe I addressed your point regarding Canada. However, as for Europe, you do not even bother to take on my point.

As for my point about the Qutb and the problem with freedom, per se, in the Muslim world, you might consider addressing my point instead of ridiculing it.

Perhaps I should assume, given the paucity of your response, that you lack sufficient information to make a substantive response?


Val Jobson - 12/13/2004

This of course refers to Friedman's inaccurate posts.


Val Jobson - 12/13/2004

Either way, it's bullshit.


Ben H. Severance - 12/13/2004

The Bush administration claims that it is fostering political democracy in Iraq. While I consider this current experiment in nation-building more hype than genuine, I can't help but notice the implicit arrogance in the Neo-cons' approach. Evidently, the oldest civilization in the world going back to Sumeria is incapable of producing democracy on its own and ignorant of what liberty means. Only the good'ole USA can enlighten them. Iraqis want freedom, but this does not mean that they want democracy. They wanted freedom from Saddam and now want freedom from U.S. military domination. If that means the election of an authoritarian theocracy, so be it. Democracies are good and generally reflect freedom, but a people can be free without being democratic. Ousting an invader and thwarting an alien occupation is a form of liberation and freedom all its own. And that is something the Bush adminstration does not understand at all.


Arnold Shcherban - 12/13/2004

I think the main point the author of the article has made
is 'Great imperialistic "democracies" of the world! Get out of Middle East - totally; let Arabs choose their own regimes and their own democracies for at least
a while. Even if the latter are terrible ones, it must be their business, their choice, their national fate. Let them negotiate the oil prices not under military or financial occupation/"presence" or under local oligarchic regimes installed, sponsored, and supported by the Western civilizations, but according to the needs of their nations.'
Amen!


N. Friedman - 12/13/2004

Val,

Correction: more or less 50% of people in Québec Province want out.


N. Friedman - 12/13/2004

Val,

Canada, I recall, has serious problems with its multiculturalism including the fact that almost 50% - perhaps slightly more or perhaps slightly less - want out of Canada. That, to me, does not sound like a big success although, to be frank, I really love Canada and, most especially, Québec City.


Val Jobson - 12/13/2004

You carefully avoid mentioning Canada which is a successful multicultural nation; in which citizens are not second class and they are not forced to deny their culture or their history. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to disprove your argument.


N. Friedman - 12/13/2004

Peter,

Without agreeing with your ideologically charged position, I do agree that the article is excellent.

The issue of democracy in the Muslim world has factors which are unrelated to what occurred in Europe. In particular, Muslims, following, among others, Qutb, hold that the democracy is a morally corrupt system. Such view has found substantial resonance in the Muslim world as it is widely held by opinion makers - the current stripe of include a great many Islamists -. Which is to say, a major issue in the Muslim world is that the opinion makers do, in fact, fact have knowledge of the West but, despite that, reject what the open politics it has to offer because such openness is thought to be morally offensive.

In short, exposure to democracy in the Middle East is as likely to prevent democracy as it is to instill democracy. In any event, democracy will be a multi-generational project if it comes to the Muslim world in any real sense. Note: the places where democracy has some sway - for example, in Turkey - have involved radically surpressing Islam. Such approach, as successful as it has been so far in Turkey, seems to me to be a bubble, or, in the best case scenario, a local phenomena. Which is to say, as traditional society pushes into the bubble, I can imagine a very tough time for democracy long term even in Turkey and certainly in the Muslim dominated regions of the world.

Were the Europe countries to be serious about integrating Muslims - rather than the racist multicultural approach -, then Muslims, to get along in Europe, would have to embrace democracy more fully. Instead, the Europeans have told the Muslims living among them to continue on as if they remained in traditional Muslim countries which means - as in all multicultural experiments (as opposed to melting pot experiments) - (a) that such countries have large non-integrated populations which (b) are treated as second class citizens (because, in fact, to be French in France, one must either "be" French or "act" French. The same is true for Germany, England, etc.

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