Sunday, January 16, 2005

Democracy, in a Clumsy Translation 

We are quite taken with a blog called Limited, Inc., where this morning we found host Roger Gathman's typically canny remarks on the coming Iraqi elections. In a post written early last year Gathman argued that the mere possibility of democratic elections in Iraq was the result of two "happy accidents": first, "the sheer incompetence and unpreparedness of the Americans in advancing towards their goal" of installing an easily-managed puppet regime "under whose benevolent gaze the U.S. could spread its fine mesh of corporate interest, engulfing the resources and wealth of a conquered protectorate"; and second, the rise of an unexpectedly "dogged and disruptive" insurgency, composed primarily of ex-Baathists, that kept the occupying forces off-balance until the capture of Saddam removed the only serious obstacle to a genuinely popular resistance movement among the great mass of Iraqis. Now, in the light of intervening events, Gathman wonders whether his earlier support for elections was misguided, impractical; the answer is a qualified no:
Now the election is upon us, in two weeks. LI’s post showed a peculiar blindness to the fact that an accidental outcome does not automatically erase the force that brought it about. In fact, that force might refuse to recognize it. So it has proved with the resistance and the Americans. The Americans, who were opposed to elections last February, finally conceded, due to a combination of the insurgency among the Sunni and Sadr’s uprising among the Shi’ites. However, the American concession was not such as to leave either the mechanism of the election or the leadership of Iraq to the Iraqis. A number of decisions were made with the intention of maximizing American influence. These included a large provision for the votes of Iraqi exiles – many of whom live in the U.S. and have as much stake in Iraq as the American descendents of Irish immigrants have in the fate of Ireland -- and the generation of a complex national procedure that was thought, at the time, to guarantee the strong presence of America’s most faithful allies in the country, the Kurds.

On the other hand, the resistance has grown stronger in its reach, and more conscious of its lack of strength. Thus, the resistance has blindly and naturally pursued a strategy that would aggrandize its power. For the resistance to have a chance at gaining nationwide footing, the occupation must continue. Of course, with the destruction of the Iraqi army under Bremer, one could make the case that the immediate evacuation of the Americans would be good for the only organized armed force in Iraq – but we think that severely underestimates the strength of various militias associated with the major Shi’ite factions.

The American dilemma in Iraq is this: after committing the war crime of destroying Fallujah, the Americans have pretty much short circuited any possibility of alliance making among Iraq’s Sunnis. This lands the Americans in a contradictory position vis a vis their global strategy in the region, which rests – and will continue to rest – on alliances with the most fundamental Sunni powers in the region – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This is a real squeeze. While able to finesse the alliance with Israel with the Saudis, repressing Iraq’s Sunnis on the Fallujah scale will, eventually, make very expensive trouble with the Saudis . . . .

One could argue for or against the American occupation in 2003. At that time, the anti-war position was an abstract matter of justice (the protest against the U.S. becoming a huge pirate ship), and a matter, at least for LI, of the hurt done to American interests by the crazy diversion of the war in the first place. However, the reality in Iraq was that the nation was no worse off than under the sanctions, and surely better off without disastrous Husseins (which, we should emphasize, redounds as little to the credit of the invaders who overthrew them as it would redound to the moral reputation of the pathogen if it had been bubonic plague that had undone Saddam and his horrorshow sons -- after all, the invaders were Saddam's former co-conspirators in the eighties). But starting in around November, 2003, we’d say, the occupation has become an active evil in Iraq. The longer the American troops are there, the worse off the Iraqis will be.
If the snippets above intrigue you, then by all means read the longer piece from which they are taken. Mr. Gathman posts an essay a day and, in addition to his other virtues, shares our admiration for Iain Sinclair; we recommend that you visit him frequently.

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