This is a commentary from someone who thinks that democracy and elections are awesome. Just keep that in mind.
We’re not sure what the commentary in the US is like, but the BBC commentary and ABC (Australian) commentary that we’ve seen makes the Iraqi election sound like a "smashing success." From the coalition perspective, this is pretty great. We’ve heard a lot of commentary especially from pro-war segments that makes the claim that the success of the elections shows that freedom and liberty has spread to one part of the Middle East, and that this shows the power of democracy.
What I (yes, this is TP) think about when I hear this is the following. Can you name one policy position that any party in this election has taken, aside from something contentless like "prosperity" or "strong Iraq"? Can you arrange the parties along some sort of ideological spectrum regarding the role of government in business and society? This is similar to the case of many new democracies. Parties in Indonesia, for example, are merely vehicles for individuals to seek power. Parties here have names like Indonesian Democratic Party, Prosperous Justice Party, Community Democracy Party, Democratic Patriots Party, and the like. There’s not much content behind these names, just a couple powerful figures vying for access to political power. It’s not quite democracy as we have in the West, at least not yet.
It’s not that this is so much a problem, in Indonesia or in Iraq or in any other place. It just suggests that before we feel confident that democracy, freedom, and liberty has been brought to Iraq, we ought to see what the elected government does. I, for one, wish to be cautious in assessing the success of Iraqi democracy, because I have no idea what an elected government would do. Elections are a first step, and only a first step. If there’s one thing that living in Indonesia has taught us, it’s that elections are great, but elections are not a sufficient condition for life to be great. You have to elect good governments, and the governments, once elected, have to do good things, and the people have to listen to what the government says. We saw on BBC this morning an Iraqi woman who said that she wants her elected government to turn into an Iran-style theocracy. There’s always the fear that voters can elect terrible leaders. Remember, Hitler and the NSDAP won legitimate elections.
Some of you will view this as a bit of pessimism by an old-fashioned liberal who is suspicious of the Bush administration. My response to that is that it’s hard to understand why you would want to ignore a real possibility. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, right? (Maybe Rumsfeld has learned his lesson now.) That’s why the Bush administration faces a tough choice right now. To have heard the rhetoric, and from what we can see of American public opinion, the Bush administration is eager to get ready to pull out of Iraq as soon as possible. The same line of reasoning that says "you opposed the war, but it’s already happened, so you might as well support the peace" applies again here. Now that the US has gotten itself so involved in Iraq, the US really cannot afford to pull out too quickly, despite clamberings from some elements of the American left and other populist voices who want to bring the troops home. I find myself in the awkward position of wanting every individual whom I know in Iraq to come home safely and quickly, but wanting the US to commit to long-term involvement to see the project through.
Consider this thought experiment. An elected Iraqi government order coalition troops out of Iraq immediately. We know–remember, this is hypothetical–that if this were to happen, there would be a massive crackdown on Sunni Muslims by pro-government Shiite and Kurd forces. Should the coalition pull out? I think that the answer would have to be no, even though an elected Iraqi government has attempted to exert its own authority.
This also puts me in the weird position of having opposed the war when it started, but now hoping that coalition troops remain there for quite some time.