In trying to think through whether we should press ahead with elections in Iraq or not, I have found it useful to go back and dig out my basic rules for Middle East reporting, which I have developed and adapted over 25 years of writing from that region.
Rule 1 Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning’s paper is out.
Rule 2 Never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person who is supposed to be doing the conceding. If I had a dime for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I would be a wealthy man today.
Rule 3 The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure that they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.
Rule 4 In the Middle East, if you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all – people there won’t believe it.
Rule 5 In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away – unless the coast is completely clear.
Rule 6 The most oft-used phrase of Mideast moderates is: “We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it’s too late. It’s all your fault for being so stupid.”
Rule 7 In Middle East politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, “How can I compromise?” And the minute it becomes strong, it will tell you, “Why should I compromise?”
Rule 8 What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in Arabic, in Hebrew or in any other local language. Anything said in English doesn’t count.
It is on the basis of these rules that I totally disagree with those who argue that the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections should be postponed. Their main argument is that an Iraqi election that ensconces the Shiite majority in power, without any participation of the Sunni minority, will sow the seeds of civil war.
That is probably true – but we are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren’t going to be rigged.
They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq’s Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don’t want it to work. That’s why they have never issued a list of demands. They don’t want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I’d be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.
The notion that delaying the elections for a few months would somehow give time for the “Sunni moderates” to persuade the extremists to come around is dead wrong – literally. Any delay would simply embolden the guys with the guns to kill more Iraqi police officers and to intimidate more Sunnis. It could only convince them that with just a little more violence, they could scuttle the whole project of rebuilding Iraq.
There is only one thing that will enable the Sunni moderates in Iraq to win the debate, and that is when the fascist insurgents are forced to confront the fact that their tactics have not only failed to prevent the elections, but have also dug the Sunnis of Iraq into an even deeper hole.
By boycotting the elections, not only will they lose their unfair share of the old Iraq, they will also have failed to claim even their fair share of the new Iraq. The moderate argument among the Sunnis can prevail only when the tactics of their extremists have proved utterly bankrupt.
For all these reasons, the least bad option right now for the U.S. is to forge ahead with the elections – unless the Iraqi Shiites ask for a postponement – and focus all of America’s energies not on appeasing the fascist insurgents, but on moderating the Shiites and Kurds, who are sure to dominate the voting.
Despite my seventh rule, we have a much greater chance of producing a decent outcome in Iraq by appealing to the self-interest of the Kurds and the Shiites to be magnanimous in victory, than we do of getting the fascist insurgents to be magnanimous in defeat.
I’m just stunned that such a well thought out article would come from that liberal rag. He makes some excellent points and I agree with everyone of them (picks self up off the floor). I guess sometimes a few liberal writers can be hit with the smart bug every so often.
Going along with the theme Chrenkoff also has a good post about this.
Glenn Yago and Don McCarthy argue in the “Opinion Journal” that the Middle East is undergoing an economic boom following the liberation of Iraq. This is not only good news for all the Arab people that might directly or indirectly benefit from the economic growth, but also a portent of a politically auspicious time – after all, the pressure for more political freedom has always historically been at its strongest not at the time of economic crisis but precisely when life is getting better (among other things, this is one of the great myths surrounding the French Revolution).
Will the January 30 election prove to be a panacea for all Iraq’s ills? No, and neither of itself will greater freedom, political stability or economic reform. The problems of Iraq, and indeed of the whole region, are too serious and too ingrained for anyone to hope for quick solutions. But more democracy, more openness, more opportunities, and bigger growth would all be a good start.
Look at the experience of the Central and Eastern Europe, fifteen years after the fall of communism, and yet still mired in complex political, economic and social problems. Democracy and freedom, not living up to their reputation as magic wands, have been disappointing to some. For many, democratic politicians don’t seem all that much different to former communist rulers; all of them self-centered demagogues more interested their own petty squabbles and in lining their own pockets than in advancing the public good. Yet for all the continuing problems there is no doubt that for most part the nations of the former Soviet empire are on the right track, better off, and getting more so every year. As the old Chinese proverb says, a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. It has been so for the post-Soviet states, and it has to be so for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
Now the left is trying to create the straw man of the Iraqi elections as the breakthrough point. They, of course, know full well that life is more complex than that and neither the insurgency nor economic and social problems will magically disappear on the morning of January 31. Coincidentally, so do all those who are pushing for the poll to take place as schedule, but they do so without illusions and in the belief that, to paraphrase Churchill, the election will not be the end, not even the beginning of the end, but, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Those people on the radical left only wish their country to fail, but they will wishing for a long time. We are not going to fail and neither is Iraq. There will be setbacks for sure, but American’s have overcome setbacks since 1776 and we will continue to prevail.