Post-election Iraq: What’s next?


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

All the papers carried photos of long lines of people going to the polls in Iraq. What was most surprising was how many women were voting. The voter turnout was all the more remarkable considering that in large measure the Sunni, which are about 20 percent of the population of Iraq, were boycotting the election. Still, despite the risks and the potential hazards, their voter turnout was probably higher than the turnout in the U.S. in a national election.

The pundits and politicians are spinning the heck out the Iraqi election, but most of it is pure baloney. None of us, and I include myself, have the faintest idea how this will play out. I can see a group of alternative scenarios.

First, I believe the vote showed the Bush administration was correct when it said the people of Iraq wanted democracy, and from that you could probably speculate that the many other peoples of the Middle East, if given the chance, would also opt for democracy.

What it doesn’t mean is that the Iraqi concept of democracy has anything remotely to do with our concept of democracy. There are certain basic understandings of American democracy that just may not apply in the Middle East, but we also have to remember that American democracy evolved and didn’t happen all at once. For example, look at some of our basic tenants:

Freedom of speech

We can criticize our government and call the opposition party all sorts of dirty names. In many countries in the Middle East that can get you arrested, imprisoned, certainly ostracized and, in the more fundamentalist countries, attacked for heresy. Even if they let you say what you want, the opposition reserves the right to kill you if they disagree. However, in the first Adams administration, the good old USA passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which certainly didn’t encourage open discussion of issues.

One man (or one woman), one vote

In Iraq, they apparently don’t have a big problem with women’s suffrage but they, meaning the Sunni, balked at the one man, one vote idea. I assume they figured that since everyone votes tribally, the Shiites and the Kurds would out-vote them and they wouldn’t play under that set of rules because those rules would almost guarantee they would be crushed. Our initial reaction to that is well, that’s democracy. Or is it? Look at our country. Are we a straight majority system? You can bet we’re not. The two-House system guarantees small states-the little itty bitty states, like Rhode Island, Delaware or Maryland-or bigger states without people, like Wyoming or Idaho each get two U.S. senators. Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer represent 35 million people and the senators from Wyoming or New Mexico represent maybe one million plus and a lot of cows and sagebrush. By the way, for those who are old enough to remember, that one man, one vote didn’t come along until the 1960s when the U.S. Supreme Court changed the rules. When we were forming a nation we made all sorts of compromises to achieve consensus and make a nation, and the Iraqis are going to have to work out their own compromises.

Separation of church and state

This is getting sticky, even in this country, and I suspects it’s going to be brutal in Iraq. All the factions are likely to split internally until there are several Shiite factions and several Kurd and Sunni faction and soon, if it’s successful, we’ll see coalitions forming. We’ve been fighting over this one for more than 200 years so I wouldn’t expect a quick resolution in Iraq. If they’re unsuccessful in working something out, we probably will see a civil war. On the other hand, we had a civil war 50-plus years after our founding and we survived. So who knows, they may be able to weather it.

What could go wrong?

Just about everything. Suicide bombings or assassination of political leaders could continue, which will lead to a tit-for-tat atmosphere. Then whoever controls the police and the army controls the nation.

The Iraqis could all turn on us, even more than they have already, and we’ll have a group of people hating us, draining our treasury (we’re approaching $300 billion now) and killing our young men and women who have no idea why they’re there.

They could go fundamentalist and link arms with Iran and work to overthrow other governments in the Middle East and try to create a fundamentalist revolution.

They could go anti-West and serve as a base for terrorism and, in fact, make our world less safe.

They could force us, in response, to reinstitute the draft and tear the fabric of the USA apart.

Or it could all work. Other Middle Eastern people may demand a voice in their governments, and democracy may very well be contagious. The jury is out and we’re not going to have any answers, I suspect, for another year or two, so let’s hope.