Saturday, February 05, 2005

Post-election views on Iraq

On Tuesday, The French daily Le Monde ran an article entitled, “The Iraqi Vote Accelerates the Thaw in European-American Relations” (my translation). The newspaper seemed very happy to report that George Bush had phoned Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder on Monday and that when their conversation ended, the USA and “Old Europe” had moved closer together. Interestingly, Le Monde also reported it as if it was primarily the Bush administration that was taking a step in Europe’s direction, not the reverse. It said President Bush emphasized the importance of including all Iraqis in Iraq’s political future, not only those who voted, and that all Iraqis, including Sunnis for example, must be represented in the Constitution-drafting process.

On the face of it, this seemed logical and harmless enough. Then Le Monde said something extraordinary. Condensed and paraphrased, it went like this: “France has been saying this since well before the election, but when she did, she was more or less openly accused of supporting terrorism.” The take-home message: after being arrogant and intolerant, America is finally, magnanimously, coming round to the European view.

Meanwhile, the New York Times article from the same day, entitled "Europe welcomes vote, but with usual split", seemed to cast an embarrassing light on Europeans, who now had to reconcile the obvious success of the voting process with their opposition to the war and subsequent American methods for installing democracy in Iraq. The message was: It’s up to the Europeans to make a move, and they haven’t yet. I'm not claiming that one viewpoint or the other is "right" or "accurate", just that they are very different. Business as usual, right?

Click here for the Le Monde article (in French) and here for the New York Times article.

OK, so the message really depends on the source. Amid all the official and journalistic euphoria about the Iraq elections, then, I’m not sure what to think. Until a week ago, I was reading that journalists were hardly able to leave the Green Zone, or, for the more intrepid, their outside-the-Green-Zone hotels. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Now nearly everyone’s reporting they were a rousing success. Indeed, I was surprised at the number of sources that seem to agree on the prevailing “party” atmosphere in the streets of Baghdad, the courage of the voters, their determination to vote despite all the threats and so on. But at least three dozen Iraqis lost their lives that day. Had it been any other day, the press would have reported that as alarming. But on Election Day, it seemed simply the price of freedom. Something seemed wrong, and I reserved judgment.

There are strong indications the Sunni turnout was very low, with all the ominous possibilities that implies for the ultimate credibility of the elected legislature. I don’t want to be a party pooper, but it just might be too early to cry victory over the insurgents and terrorists. It’s OK to be optimistic, but there’s still a long road ahead. It’s certainly too early for chest thumping. In fact, it almost always is. Adolf Hitler came to power through a democratic process. A flawed one, but aren’t they all?

For some historical perspective (a recurrent theme here), an article has been making the rounds in blogs about and from Iraq since the election. I’ve reproduced part of it here, except that I’ve taken out all the date and place references. Can you guess the country and the year? (Answers in my next post!)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3– United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in [country]’s presidential election despite a [insurgent group] terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.
According to reports from [capital city], 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the [insurgent group].
The size of the popular vote and the inability of the [insurgent group] to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.
Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. [name], who was running for president, and Premier [name], the candidate for vice president.
A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President […]’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in [country]. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, [year], to which President […] gave his personal commitment when he met Premier [name] and General [name], the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.
The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the [capital city] Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, [year], when President [name] was overthrown by a military junta.
Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

NYT. [date]: p. 2.

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Next post: The Iraqi blogging scene.



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