Monday, February 14, 2005
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Iraq's election results
Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck provide a summary of Iraq's election returns in the Washington Post. The highlights:
Jeff Weintraub, analyzing the results, suggests that "On first impression, the latest news about the Iraqi election returns has confirmed my most optimistic hopes." Juan Cole, looking at the same numbers, concludes, "[current Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi's defeat... is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media."
UPDATE: Robin Wright has an odd news analysis piece in the Washington Post today. It's odd becuse the headline reads, "Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision" -- and the piece consists of expert quotes (including Cole) making this point. However, in the 16th paragraph there's this casual admission that, "U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate." I'll have more to say about the question of Iran's influence in Iraq sometime this week.
Meanwhile, Weintraub e-mails the following:
ANOTHER UPDATE: It's intriguing to compare the New York Times news analysis by Dexter Filkins with Wright's analysis in the Washington Post. Filkins' analysis differs from Wright's in two ways: a) no expert quotes from American sources (though plenty of quotes from Iraqis); and b) a more optimistic piece. The highlights:
See this James Joyner post for more.
You can tell Cole tried super hard to find something in the Iraqi elections that he considers to be positive.posted by: C Bassett on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
When the Iraqi people can see the peaceful transfer of power from Allawi to his successor, it will be a victory bigger than any perceived loss.posted by: Robert Mayer on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Larry Diamond (quoted in the post peice), spoke briefly right afer the election. He claimed the UIA would get only roughly 25% of the vote, and it would be catostrophic if they got near 50%.posted by: Jor on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Anybody doubt that had Allawi won any significant portion of the seats Cole would be railing against the American puppet regime? Sigh. Cant win with those who hate democracy in the first place.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Well, I would say both are right. There is little question that the Iraqi people have started (empahsize "started") down the road toward the type of government they want - the Shiites and Kurds anyway.
There is also little question that the foreign policy of that government is going to be Shiite-dominated, friendly to Iran, and probably unfriendly to the United States. And that the US will not be getting the permanant military bases in Iraq that it needed to replace the bases in Saudi Arabia.
So - Irais win, Bush loses. Oh yeah, and the US people lose. Too bad.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Actually Allawi's bunch won enough seats that, in concert with the Kurds, they should be able to keep the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution types reasonably in check. Sounds like a pretty darn good result to me. Cole will always find something to complain about, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, so there's hardly any point in paying attention to him. He has become to Middle Eastern studies what Paul Krugman has become to economics.posted by: Steve LaBonne on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
"So - Irais win, Bush loses. Oh yeah, and the US people lose. Too bad"
And there is the most fundamental difference of opinion between Bush and his critics. The Bush argument is that even democracies that dont love us are more favorable to he longterm interst of the US than 'friendly' despots. That used to be the liberal argument, back when they had any faith in democracy (ie before Bush got elected twice). The argument is sound. Turkey is more favorable to our interests than Jordan or Egypt, even if they despise us. This isnt a popularity contest.posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
right, and the journal is suggesting allawi could remain in power and that northern iraq is a "powderkeg"posted by: al on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
"The Bush argument is that even democracies that dont love us are more favorable to he longterm interst of the US than 'friendly' despots."
The above may be true, but is this really the Bush argument? I haven't really seen any evidence of it in practice. In fact, I can't think of a single U.S. administration who has ever made this a priority. Count me as skeptical.posted by: catfish on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
The Bush administration has certainly cuddled up to enough dictatorships: Musharraf, King Fahd, Mubaraak etc. in recent years that it makes their sudden moral awakening dubious. Even more dubious is the fact that Bush pushed several countries to participate in the so-called coalition of the willing even when their populations were hugely opposed to it. Doesn't sound like any great respect for democracy to me.
The big question here is what does Iraq need. Does it need a strong government to bring a cohesive national identity together and survive in a dangerous part of the world ? Or does it need a federalist government so the Kurds can at last get what is their due ? Depending on what point of view you take, you can come up with a different solution.
On the other hand, i think the idea of the Kurds being close to Iran is overblown.
About Allawi: if with all the benefits of incumebncy and a great deal of cash, Allawi could only get this small a showing, it isn't good for his political career. I cant' see him doing well in December unless he becomes a compromise candidate.
The one thing that botheres me is that these results seem to indicate a clear vote along religious/ethnic lines. That is not a good sign for the coming Iraq -- on the other hand, the Shia have so far been fairly restrained.posted by: erg on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
> And there is the most fundamental difference of
Please give me ONE reference to George W. Bush saying anything like this prior to the invasion of Iraq. This is another of the Radical Right's post-hoc justifications ginned up after it became impossible to sustain the WMD hoax.
The Bush Family - aka the Carlyle Group and the representatives of the House of Saud - are concerned about democracy promotion? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA haaaaaa. Well, not really funny.
PS Who WERE the members of Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force? What did the discuss? What WAS marked on the maps they used at those meetings?posted by: Cranky Observer on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
No one should be surprised by the fact that SCIRI, Dawa, and their ilk cleaned Allawi's clock. In just about every parliamentary or municipal election held in the Arab world - in Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, the West Bank and Gaza, and now Saudi Arabia - Islamist parties have done well. That the Bush Administration could take this result as anything but inevitable is a testament to their ignorance and naievete.
It's clear from these results that the Kurds are the main force standing in the way of Iraq becoming an Islamic theocracy of some stripe. What the US should worry about here is the possibility of the Shias striking a devil's bargain with the Kurds in which the Shias grant the Kurds full autonomy for the Kurdish provinces, along with a decent share of the Kirkuk oil revenues, in return for the Shias having free reign to implement clerical rule in their parts of the country. Such an arrangement would suit both sides nicely, but could act as a death knell for America's hopes of creating a unified, secular Iraqi state.posted by: Eric on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
The instant you cite Juan Cole as an expert, you lose the right to be taken seriously.
She might as well have quoted Carrot Top.posted by: Some Guy on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Cole is definitely biased, and is arguably a blowhard, but he's not much different in those respects than many right-wing foreign policy commentators. Like The Belmont Club, he's worth reading on account of his knowledge, and worth filtering on account of his agenda.posted by: Eric on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
"Please give me ONE reference to George W. Bush saying anything like this prior to the invasion of Iraq"
'All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence. No people on Earth yearn to be oppressed, or aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.
If anyone doubts this, let them look to Afghanistan, where the Islamic "street" greeted the fall of tyranny with song and celebration. Let the skeptics look to Islam's own rich history, with its centuries of learning, and tolerance and progress. America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. (Applause.)
No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance. (Applause.)
America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world, because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror. '
State of the Union, 2002
Yeh, yeh. And black helicopters, secret invisible Afghanistan pipelines, and Bushes buddy buddy with OBL. Keep the conspiracy racket going while others are attempting honest debate. And no wonder the left keeps getting their clock cleaned. The term 'fundamentally unserious' comes to mind.
Robert Mayer above makes the soundest observation so far on this thread.
What obstacles the clerically-minded Shiites face will depend in large measure on what they want the new government to do. It's not clear to me that this has been decided yet. Also there are some issues -- laws relating to marriage and inheritance, for instance -- to which a measure of devolution to the provinces is a possible solution. What I mean is, how intently are people like Sistani focused on imposing social legislation on, say, Kurds near the Turkish border? I don't know the answer to that question, but would bet that even some of the senior clerics care a lot more about the laws that ought to govern Shiite-majority areas around Basra and Najaf.
My point is that there are ways around some issues if people are willing to find them, and I think most of the Iraqis who voted last month probably are. We'll see.posted by: Zathras on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Dan, POST vs. NYT on Iraq? Come on. Seriously. The NYT Iraq coverage has been atrocious.posted by: Jor` on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
Wright's article argument in the Washington Post on the election results is not merely "odd;" it demonstrates her lack of understanding of Shia Islam generally and Islam in Iraq in particular. In conttrast to the ayatollahs of Iran, who believe in the doctrine of velayat-e-faqih, or rule of the Islamic scholars, the ayatollahs of Iraq have since the 1920s largely advocated a more quietist form of Islam that eschews direct involvement in state affairs. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani has long advocated pluralistic democracy, and his version of Shi'ism is in fact very much a threat to Iran.
It should be noted as well that the Shia alliance contains within it some Sunni and Kurdish candidates.
It is true that there are three factions among the Shia who have received support from Iran, but they have little support and are a minority within the Shia majority. And as others have noted, the Shia will have to find an accomodation with the Sunnis and the Kurds, so the concern that free Iraq might align itself with Iran is unwarranted.
Kirk H. Sowell
Not directly related, but interesting...posted by: DPH on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
"In conttrast to the ayatollahs of Iran, who believe in the doctrine of velayat-e-faqih, or rule of the Islamic scholars, the ayatollahs of Iraq have since the 1920s largely advocated a more quietist form of Islam that eschews direct involvement in state affairs."
No direct involvement in the sense that they don't directly wield political authority. But they do intend to make their voices heard on various policy issues, and to give their "blessings" to various politicians and parties. And given their clout within the Iraqi Shia community, their support (or withdrawal thereof) of a policy, candidate, or party can wind up being pivotal.
"The Grand Ayatollah Sistani has long advocated pluralistic democracy"
A pluralistic democracy in which he hopes that elected leaders will push an Islamist agenda of some kind.
We see first-hand in America how the religious right tries to implement a theocratic agenda through democratic means. Why is it so hard to fathom that Iraqi Islamists, working out of a country that lacks America's economic development and history of liberal traditions, might try to do the same thing?
"It is true that there are three factions among the Shia who have received support from Iran, but they have little support and are a minority within the Shia majority."
SCIRI and Dawa are the most prominent parties within the United Iraqi Alliance. Both of them have gotten support from Iran.
"And as others have noted, the Shia will have to find an accomodation with the Sunnis and the Kurds, so the concern that free Iraq might align itself with Iran is unwarranted."
Again, the devil is in the details. It's quite unlikely that Iraq will become an Iranian client state. But given Shia and Kurdish ties, there is a decent chance that Baghdad will be on pretty friendly terms with Tehran going forward, which in turn could complicated American attempts to confront the Iranians on various issues (their nuclear program, support for terrorism, etc.).posted by: Eric on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
There is also a decent chance that Iranians trying to influence Iraqi politics will bump into other Iranians trying to exert influence in a different direction.
We may be too ready to assume that a consensus exists within the Iranian government as to what they want in Iraq. You could make a case for a secular democracy, a clergy dominated government, a state that tolerates terrorism or one that doesn't -- depending on what your view of Iran's interests, and Iran's future, is. At some point a decision will also have to be made in Tehran about how to deal with that part of the Iraqi insurgency that operates mostly through massacres of Shiites.
Iranian politics have a tendency toward factionalism, and this will probably be reflected in Iranian policy, or policies, toward post-election Iraq.posted by: Zathras on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
If I understand correctly these elections are mainly to determine who writes the constitution (hence the two thirds requirement). There will be another election later this year which will election the government. Those elections should tell us more about the direction Iraq's future policy.
Still there isn't much reason to believe that future elections will yield a more pro-US government particularly if they have significantly greater Sunni involvement.
posted by: Dissector on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
We need to get out of this "pro"- vs. "anti"- US mindset. A good, legitimate government that doesn't especially like us is a lot more in our real long-term interest than a bad one that toes Washington's foreign-policy line, a la Egypt. Not understanding this has been the disaster of our Middle East policy for a long time. It's why the words Bush is saying about democracy promotion are the right ones, even though it's far from clear at this point that he really can carry the tune.posted by: Steve LaBonne on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
"U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate."
posted by: flaime on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
An interesting column in the Hill which is worth reading. It compares Sistani with Khomeini and finds athat in some respects Sistani has appeared *less* moderate than Khomeini was before the revolution. Apparently Khomeini talked a moderate game about democracy and women's rights before the revolution.
Of course this doesn't mean that Iraq will become the new Iran. It appears clear that Sistani doesn't believe in direct clerical rule. This doesn't mean that he won't push for some very conservative laws in Iraq especially in the non-Kurdish areas.posted by: Dissector on 02.14.05 at 12:56 AM [permalink]
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