blogenlust
9.28.2004

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy


From Time Magazine:
President Bush and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi insisted last week that Iraq would go ahead with elections scheduled for January, despite continuing violence. But U.S. officials tell TIME that the Bush team ran into trouble with another plan involving those elections — a secret "finding" written several months ago proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favored by Washington. A source says the idea was to help such candidates — whose opponents might be receiving covert backing from other countries, like Iran — but not necessarily to go so far as to rig the elections. But lawmakers from both parties raised questions about the idea when it was sent to Capitol Hill. In particular, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi "came unglued" when she learned about what a source described as a plan for "the CIA to put an operation in place to affect the outcome of the elections." Pelosi had strong words with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a phone call about the issue.
It's no wonder Rumsfeld had this to say about the prospects for elections in Iraq:
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Rumsfeld said Thursday, hours after the leaders of the United States and Iraq met in Washington. "Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet," he said.
This wouldn't be the first time that the CIA has influenced an election to Washington's advantage. The big problem in Iraq, though, is that we have overused the democracy rhetoric so much, that Bush talks about Iraq as though it were the Platonic Ideal of a democratic country. Sure, people in this country eat it up, but the rest of the world is not fooled. More importantly, the Iraqis are especially not fooled. Rumsfeld's comments were bad enough, but when taken together with this story it is virtually impossible to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East. And we were already in a huge hole thanks to such gems as Abu Ghraib! I think Bush has talked himself into a corner. The democracy/freedom/liberty rhetoric was always meant for us, anyway. The problem is that the rest of the world was listening, and the Iraqi's now have expectations of democracy/freedom/liberty. Realistically, this was never a viable outcome in the first place, which Bush knew, but it was the best way to sell the carnage back home. Unfortunately, it is the Iraqi's who are left out to dry--their democracy was never going to be anything other than smoke and mirrors. Juan Cole has some thoughts on this, too, especially on who Iran might influence in the election.