Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Iraqi election is a triumph

I was inspired over the last week by the free election in Iraq. President Bush was right tonight when he said voting was an act of personal courage. Defying the criminals and bullies and thugs that attempt to intimidate the citizenry into submission and away from self-rule, the people braved violence to choose their new destiny. And while it is true that we were lied to in order to get us to agree to invade Iraq, topple a tyrant and build a nation, we can still feel great that such an historic advance of democracy over dictatorship came from our commonwealth.

6 comments:

Lazerlou said...

The words of CD Bryan:

Of course Iraq doesn't need democracy lite. As it turns out, the government that Iraqis elected yesterday will likely be merely window dressing, as behooves U.S. geopolitical interests. Or, if that cynical interpretation is a bridge too far, then the government will be only a symbolic representation of democracy while giving political cover to theocratic policymaking. But that shouldn't surprise anyone. This is, after all, what the U.S. has been doing -- overtly or covertly -- for most of its foreign policy history. (See, e.g., the Philippines (1880s), Cuba (1890s), Mexico (1910s), Korea (1950s), Guatemala (1953), Iran (1950s), Vietnam (1950s-1970s), Chile (1970s), Grenada (1980s).)
Instead of debating the propriety of American interference in other countries' affairs, we should turn to the more nuanced question of how to do so. A fascinating counter-example to the "hard power" meddling of American military forces in Iraq -- let's call it occupation, for convenience -- is the case of Ukraine's recent "Orange Revolution," a bloodless turn-of-events in which popular protests and democratic ideals beat back tyrannical Soviet-style vote-rigging and dioxin-poisonings. Juxtapose Iraq and Ukraine. In Iraq, the U.S. invaded with hundreds of thousands of troops (albeit based on false intelligence wrongly intimating that Iraq posed an imminent threat to U.S. security). The U.S. occupied the country, thereby precipitating an insurgency replete with guerilla warfare, retrenchment of anti-U.S. sentiment, and putting Iraqi pro-democracy forces in the awkward position of having to defend democratic ideals while distancing themselves from American power and policy. Don't forget that the U.S., to date, has already spent in excess of $300 billion or so on Iraq. No less than 1,400 American troops have been killed in Iraq; there have been over 10,000 American soldiers wounded in Iraq.
Compare that with Ukraine, where the U.S. used "soft power" -- its cultural, political, and diplomatic resources -- to encourage and assist Victor Yuschenko's dissident pro-democracy campaign. That is, the U.S. funneled grants and resources to the Yuschenko camp, giving the pro-democracy forces money to pay for office supplies, infrastructure, printing costs, volunteers and staff members' costs and salaries, etc. At most, the U.S. expended $300 million on such activities. The upshot is that by positively influencing other peoples' inclinations toward democracy -- by assisting but not dictating popular movements -- the U.S. is more successful than when it invades a country, overtakes it, and then tries to impose Western-style governance upon said country. This sentiment relates to the earlier post regarding cultural relativism and the imposition of our norms upon others. (And, from a cost-benefit perspective, the Ukrainian model was far less expensive, less bloody, and more successful than the Iraqi campaign has been.)
A historical footnote: does anyone honestly believe that the American Revolution would have been as successful if it hadn't been homegrown? What if a foreign country had come in and told us what to do and commandeered our society and incipient government to makes us a rubber-stamp for its political purposes? The colonists would have liked that none too much.
The moral of the story: being the world's lone superpower doesn't mean we have to be the biggest asshole on the planet.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what CD Bryan said, except the stuff about Ukraine. In addition, you might notice that the people in Iraq who were under the most aggressive threat of violence, the Sunni Arabs, overwhelmingly didn't vote, while the people who were more secure, the Kurds and Shiites (who were also being encouraged to vote by al-Sistani, whom the local gunmen respect), were the ones who voted. Furthermore, people who expect to dominate the new government, again the Shiites and Kurds, decide to vote in large numbers, while the Sunnis, knowing that the fix was in, sat it out. This sort of behavior doesn't really strike me as exceptionally courageous. I guess it's better than nothing, though.

An interesting take on this is Harry Browne's (a better columnist than a presidential candidate, I might add) article: http://www.harrybrowne.org/articles/IraqElections.htm . His article "Why I Am Obsessed With War" is quite worthwhile, as well:
http://www.harrybrowne.org/articles/ObsessionWithWar.htm

-N. Y. Krause

FightforJustice said...

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown is honest enough to admit the possibility that his critique of the war could be wrong, and Bush could be right. Dan is also sufficiently open-minded to recognize when the facts don't accord with previously held opinion and to revise accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Fightfor,

The critique of the war is being proven more right every day, sadly.

-N. Y. Krause

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

I don't understand the critique of the recent Iraqi elections. They are using proportional representation, so political minorities get their fair share of representation. Compared to occupation by Hussein, Iraqis are far better off now. I don't see where 'soft power' could have been used in Iraq. And while the invasion was based on lies, the result looks spectacular so far.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

Although, in terms of justice, proportional representation is a good idea, from the U.S. government's strategic perspective, it seems like a dumb idea. PR represents people in proportion to how they vote, which is eminently fair. However, if they had used districts for the Iraqi election, they would have had a result that was much more reflective of the overall population, since the Sunni Arabs voted in such low numbers. The lack of Sunnis in the new assembly is going to become a major stumbling block.

Anyway, Dan, you really think that the average Iraqi is better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein? Better off than they were with him in 1989? I find that hard to believe, especially with regard to the second question. If they're lucky, they might be better off in the future. Even so, even if the people are objectively better, it's still very wrong to invade and occupy a country when they people there are against it. Do you suppose that, if you had taken a poll about the invasion beforehand, half the people there would have been for it? How about it the Sunni Arab portions of the country? If not, how could you justify occupying it? If they are in favor of it, why are so many of them fighting the occupiers?

It appears to me that, election or no, so far the invasion has been a disaster. And GWB is thinking about moving on to Iran.

-N. Y. Krause

PS - If the U.S. were to invade Iran (and, I should be clear, I'm sure Dan is just as much against that as I am), I wonder how that would make the North Koreans feel, what with them having been lumped with Iraq and Iran in the axis of evil ...