Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Iraqi Vote

The biggest story in the world this week is the vote in Iraq. By most estimates about 60% of the eligible voters came out and voted for slates of candidates numbering in the thousands. It was a remarkable day, to be sure!

There are several schools of thought about what caused the vote to be so large. After all, with bombs bursting in air, you would not get that kind of a vote turn-out anywhere else in the world. One school of thought says that the Iraqis had not had a chance to vote in fifty years, so they took their fates in their hands and showed the rest of the world that Iraq is a modern nation, capable of progress and democracy. We think that Bush and Rumsfeld will be spreading this story.

Another school says the Iraqis, when faced with the alternatives, decided to vote a variety of national and regional issues: the Kurds in the north voted for their own autonomy, believing they had to get their oar in the Tigris now or never; the Sunnis voted to get the Americans out of their country; the Shiites voted to establish their majority position among the factions. Doubtless some of these are true to one extent or another.

Yet another view of the situation is that Iraqis voted to avoid starvation. Yes! It is alleged by some independent reporters on the ground that Iraqis were told that they would not get their food ration, if they did not vote. This is not widely reported, but we are reasonably sure that there is truth in it. The question then becomes: what value is a election held under the threat of withholding food?

Since we do not know ANYTHING about what these people voted for or against, nor do we know who nominated the people who stood for office, nor do we know if there are platforms among candidates for reconstruction of the country that make any sense, (and many other very germane questions,) the answer to the question about the meaning of a "forced" vote is really very problematic, if not completely meaningless.

One thing we can be sure of: the vote had nothing to do with abortion, gay marriage, swift boats, etc. In other words, according to the U.S. press view of our own election, the American public is going to have a hell of a time understanding the Iraqi election. Clearly, Iraqis voted their immediate interests as they saw them, whether out of compulsion or their free will. Now we have to decide what those interests might have been and how, if at all, the United States can interpret them.

Our guess is that whoever takes office will be in an incredible bind--how to assert sovereignty and national identity in the midst of an occupation that provides both security and opportunity for deadly antagonism!

Bush does not want to leave the Iraqis before they are capable of defending themselves. It could take a decade for that to come about. Iraqis are not going to like the prospect of being occupied and protected over that long a haul.

It boils down to this: whatever the election was, it was part of a process that needs every bit of goodwill it can muster. The history of post-WWII Germany and Japan should be instructive. Notice, please, that we are still in both Japan and Germany SIX decades later!