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May 17, 2004
Early Iraqi Elections -- Kaus v. Zakaria

Mickey Kaus and Fareed Zakaria debate the wisdom of early Iraqi elections -- or any elections at all -- due to the current security environment in occupied Iraq. Zakaria argues that the current lack of a reasonably secure and stable environment means that any elections will make the results meaningless, and possibly self-destructive:

Some in America are now urging elections even sooner than January 2005. This is not a democratization strategy. It is an exit strategy. But it will not work. Elections held in an uncertain security environment with militias running around the country will produce contested results and a renewed power strugglein other words, a road neither to peace nor to pluralism. ...

In the Kurdish regions, the United States has allowed the two parties and their peshmerga military force free reign, which has included some ethnic cleansing of Arabs in Kirkuk. In Fallujah, the Army has agreed that an ex-Baathist group will run the city. In Najaf, the Coalition has been willing (finally) to confront Moqtada al-Sadr. But it can only do so because it has the tacit support of other, more important Najaf clerics. (Even so, al-Sadr has been able to rally backing for his cause. A poll shows him with 45 percent support in Baghdad and a staggering 67 percent in Basrathe latter figure is even more striking when you consider that Basra is not al-Sadr's geographic base.)

Zakaria argues that the CPA presence in Iraq must be significantly strengthened and the insurgencies destroyed before meaningful election results can be derived from an Iraqi electorate. However, Kaus argues that nothing but elections will reverse the trends from which Zakaria bases his frustrations:

There are two trends Zakaria identifies in Iraq. One is that the militias which "owe their primary loyalty to religious" or ethnic groups are "on the rise" and "[w]hen elections are held they will use force and money to ensure that the results come out their way." The other trend is rising dissatisfaction with the occupation, now at such a pitch that an interim government can gain legiitimacy, Zakaria argues, "only if it shows Iraqis that it can stand up to the occupying power."

Here's the thing: Neither of these trends is getting better with time. They're both getting worse. The militias are growing stronger. The Iraqis are growing angrier (which in turn fuels the first trend). How does it help to wait, then? ... Zakaria says there can be no democracy without security, and notes that in order to provide security any Iraqi government "will need not just power but legitimacy." But he seems oblivious to the argument that legitimacy comes from democracy, not the other way around.

It seems to me that both arguments have put the cart before the horse. For one thing, you cannot have representative democracy without taking a census of the electorate, something which cannot have been completed in the current environment. And who takes such a census? The Americans? I doubt that an American census would satisfy many of the occupation's critics; we can't even do one in the US without a lot of rancid debate about undercounts and political shenanigans. In Iraq, where the CPA might have good reason to undercount in difficult areas such as the Sunni Triangle, Najaf, and Kufa (even legitimate ones, such as lack of access while bullets are flying), you can bet your last dinar that any result would have zero credibility.

The only authority that could attempt a census with any measure of credibility is a reasonably independent Iraqi government, transitional or not. With Americans and British troops providing security, such an effort will still take months, meaning any national or regional elections before then would be hopelessly flawed. I don't even know if anyone has promulgated voter qualifications, such as what constitutes an Iraqi citizen, what kinds of documentation are needed for identification, and so on. It's easy to call for elections when your whole life has been spent in a stable democracy -- most of those questions were answered before you were born.

On the other hand, I agree with Kaus about rolling elections. Let's establish control where we can, conduct censuses under the auspices of the Iraqi Governing Council, and demonstrate to those areas currently experiencing insurgencies that democracy can work in Iraq. Successful elections will put more pressure on the militias to disband as Iraqis see how normative representative government can be. Rather than dropping democracy like a philosophical bomb on the entire country at once, establish it where it's most likely to succeed and let it grow into the rest of the country.

(via Instapundit)

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2004 7:05 AM

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