Washington Babel

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President Bush and Ayad Allawi say Iraqi elections will be held next January, and the State Department's Richard Armitage adds that they will be held all over Iraq: "We've got to do our best efforts to get in troubled areas. … I think we're going to have these elections in all parts of the country."

So what does Don Rumsfeld do? He says: "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three quarters or four fifths of the country but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it, nothing is perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

Who knows, Rumsfeld may be right (though the whole point of the elections is to unite Iraq, not divide it), but you've got to wonder how long this administration can continue to speak in so many tongues on Iraq, and still convince even the war's supporters (present company included) that this is how victory can best be achieved.

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  1. I like the people who cite polls in Iraq. How do you get a meaning poll when much of the country is under military occupation and a part of the country is controlled by terrorists?

  2. I like the people who cite polls in Iraq. How do you get a meaningful poll when much of the country is under military occupation and a part of the country is controlled by terrorists?

  3. So the plan is to hold elections in areas where conditions are right, and not in others.

    I believe this is known as the “Florida System.”

  4. I had posted this elsewhere on Hit and Run.
    NOW it’s on topic:

    “This is a little off topic, but I was reading in the San Fran paper talk of the US getting tough on places like Faluja in Iraq so that the January elections can satisfy Jimmy Carter.

    It sounds as silly as a mother saying to her son, ‘Either you eat your spinach or I’m gonna kill you.'”

    Mothers don’t do that in France, do they?

  5. Rumsfeld was answering a hypothetical, I heard it in full on NPR, give it a rest.

  6. Quoth the joe –
    I believe this is known as the “Florida System.”

    Actually, arrangements similar to this are not unknown in India and elsewhere, where logistics or the regional law-and-order situation make it neccessary. It’s just that you don’t see it much in Group of 8 nations.

  7. Joke. Joke! Don’t hurt me!

  8. This is obviously bad news for the democratic process in Iraq.

    I suspect that many of those who would represent the Iraqi people simply see Democracy as a more equitable way to divide the spoils of power. It’ll be too bad if those who most need to be included in the process don’t get a seat at the trough, but maybe someone will save them a place.

    It all makes me stop and think how lucky I am to live in a country where no one sees Democracy that way.

  9. Ken Shultz,
    You sound like the mother I referred to: wringing her hands that her baby is not eating the spinach. Meanwhile it’s dying of multiple shrapnel wounds.

    Is the “democratic process” more important than life itself?

  10. … or, if that was the point you were making, excuse me.

  11. Surrounded by sarcasm, I can see why someone would think that I was being sarcastic when I wrote, “…It’ll be too bad if those who most need to be included in the process don’t get a seat at the trough.”, but I wasn’t. It will be terribly sad, and possibly tragic, if those who need to be included in the democratic process the most are excluded instead.

  12. Let me be the first, and quite possibly only, one to say that joe’s Florida reference was pretty funny.

    Whadya know, he’s got a sense of humor! 🙂

  13. “Is it better than not having an election? You bet.”

    Is it better not having elections at all or to have elections where only those who agree with you can vote? I would say that they are both as bad, the latter might even be worse since it gives a false sense of democracy.

    But again, deomcracy is only the reason du jour for the war on Iraq. So why should I believe that Rummy is really interested in democracy in Iraq.

  14. “Is it better not having elections at all or to have elections where only those who agree with you can vote? I would say that they are both as bad,”

    I agree as well, though what that has to do with the situation in Iraq, I cannot say.

  15. Saddam won his last election with 99.9% of the vote.

    Obviously bogus, but better than no election at all.

  16. Rumsfeld was answering a hypothetical

    the amazing part to me is that, even after jamming his foot deep into his throat on any number of occasions, he’s still too narcissistic to stop answering hypotheticals.

  17. What I find interesting is that Rumsfeld seems to be getting back into asking and answering his own questions. Some commentator earlier this year had remarked on the fact that Rumsfeld had dropped that (highly annoying) habit. Maybe it means things are going better these days.

  18. Is it better not having elections at all or to have elections where only those who agree with you can vote?

    More to the point, is it better to have elections in the 14-out-of-17 provinces where you can reasonably do so, and encourage the other three to increase public safety enough to join the party? If you can show that reasonably well-behaved places get a serious political say, you increase the incentive for others to become reasonably well-behaved (defined here as not permitting near-daily terrorist attacks).

    Sure, it’s best to have full, nationwide elections. If you can’t get that at first, you take what you can get and work toward your goals.

  19. What if one of them is Baghdad, which holds a quarter of the country’s population?

  20. you’ve got to wonder how long this administration can continue to speak in so many tongues on Iraq, and still convince even the war’s supporters (present company included) that this is how victory can best be achieved

    It’s not “so many tongues”. Rumsfeld is just lowering expectations as a hedge against the possibility that elections can’t be held everywhere. Translated from politico-speak, the administration’s position is “we’d like to have elections everywhere, but it won’t be a tragedy if we can only have them in *most* of the country”.

    This is obviously bad news for the democratic process in Iraq

    How can it be bad news for the democratic process in Iraq? There haven’t been real national elections in Iraq for decades. Allowing part of the country to vote in national elections in January would obviously be enormously GOOD news for the democratic process in Iraq.

  21. Isn’t it a concern that the places in which the elections might not be held will be the same places where the folks who our government does not want to win, might do so?

    Also, polls reported on this blog have revealed that the majority of Iraqis would like our government’s troops to leave their country right now. Hey, they should have a national referendum on that question! That seems like a natural. Probably too natural for the likes of our government but still, perhaps we could push the idea.

  22. Here’s a serious question about Iraqi elections:

    Would anybody in the US actually want the Iraqi leaders chosen by a mechanism akin to the electoral college? It’s known that the urban areas in Iraq tend to be more secular and pro-Western, whereas the rural areas tend to be more traditional, religious, and tribal.

    Would anybody recommend that Iraq use a system giving those areas weight disproportionate to their population?

  23. How can it be bad news for the democratic process in Iraq?

    If you can spin part of Iraq not participating in the elections as good news, then I’ve got some more good news for you…

    …On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in Baghdad killing at least 47 and wounding 114.

  24. Thoreau:

    “Would anybody recommend that Iraq use a system giving those areas weight disproportionate to their population?”

    BAD idea.

    I’m certain the Iraqis will find ways to corrupt the democratic process on their own—why give them suggestions?

  25. Trying to get along by going along with the preponderance of Indiana John Birchers posting:
    Does anybody here have any inkling whether the “person in the street” Iraqi gives a shit about voting in January? Do they dream of peace, love and daisies post-election?

  26. Ken S Said:

    “This is obviously bad news for the democratic process in Iraq.”

    I don’t think so. It’s bad news from a military and occupation standpoint that there are “counties” in Iraq that are ruled by Saddamites and terrorists.

    “I suspect that many of those who would represent the Iraqi people simply see Democracy as a more equitable way to divide the spoils of power.”

    You have defined the essence of democracy. Why should it be different in Iraq?

    “It’ll be too bad if those who most need to be included in the process don’t get a seat at the trough, but maybe someone will save them a place.”

    No, they need to be brought to their knees militarily. Once broke, then they might have the capacity to join in democratic government. The folks most in need to be included are the Shia and the Kurds, otherwise there will be big trouble with Turkey and Iran.

    “It all makes me stop and think how lucky I am to live in a country where no one sees Democracy that way.”

    Ken, you sound like a nice, thoughtful person, but this statement is way off base. Democracy is just formalized tribalism with rules and little violence. Lots of horse trading and sausage making. It’s ugly, but the alternative is worse.

  27. John Garner (remember him?) was ready over a year ago to have elections and get the hell out. The Bushies hadn’t finished privatizing everything yet so he replaced Garner with Bremer and the violence has escalated ever since.

    Now that all the choice contracts have been divied up, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have some sham elections in January and get the hell out.

  28. Cletus-

    I agree that it would be a bad idea to use an electoral college scheme for the Iraqi presidency. Giving disproportionate voting power to the areas with the most religious fanatics seems like a bad idea.

    Now, back to the good old US of A: How about giving disproportionate voting weight to places full of religious conservatives and heavily subsidized farmers? Is that a good way to promote limited government?

  29. I once provoked an outraged response in a class by suggesting that Islamic Theocracy is not a legitamate form of government and that even if it wins in a free election we should stop it. As a vaguely anti-religious individualist, Theocracy is a sickness that needs to be cured. The people who got angry are the same liberals who loathe catholicism (I agree, but at least I’m consistant.)

    Thoughts? just throwing it out there.

  30. Michael, when you identified yourself (parenthetically) as a war supporter, your complaint — about tongues and doublespeak or whatever — fell apart.

  31. “How can it be bad news for the democratic process in Iraq?”

    If you can spin part of Iraq not participating in the elections as good news, then I’ve got some more good news for you…

    Whatever. I will take your refusal to answer my question as a tacit admission that you had your head shoved up your ass when you made your original comments.

    What is good is that most Iraqis will get to vote, whereas previously none of them could. That is unquestionably good for the democratic process, and the notion that it is “clearly bad” doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

    I once provoked an outraged response in a class by suggesting that Islamic Theocracy is not a legitamate form of government and that even if it wins in a free election we should stop it.

    You provoked an outraged response? From who — the people who think that the First Amendment was a horrible mistake? The founders of this country certainly thought that theocracy was an illegitimate form of government. Certainly one could argue that they were wrong to think so, but it’s surprising to me that you’d find many such people in the United States. Even deep in the Bible Belt most people don’t really want theocracy.

  32. Michael, when you identified yourself (parenthetically) as a war supporter, your complaint — about tongues and doublespeak or whatever — fell apart.

    You’re implying that war supporters use doublespeak?

    That’s very amusing, considering how many war opponents claim to be both against the Iraq war, but pro-democracy and pro-human rights; it is logically impossible to honestly hold all of those positions.

  33. You can’t seem to figure out why it’s bad news when twenty to twenty-five percent of the country can’t vote, so I’m not surprised that you can’t understand why those of us who are against the war are pro-democracy and pro-human rights.

  34. Let me be the first, and quite possibly only, one to say that joe’s Florida reference was pretty funny.

    I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was damn rude. I had to delete my entire 500-word post because of joe. And mine would have been a lot funnier (in a bitter way) than his, too.

    Would anybody recommend that Iraq use a system giving those areas weight disproportionate to their population?

    If we were talking about a United STATES of Iraq, I would. If the idea were that the president of this USI was not the people‘s president but rather the presiding officer of an organisation of equal states (or, in Iraq, tribes) I would.

    I’d have a Senate, too.

    It has always seemed to me that trying to pretend tribes don’t exist in tribal cultures is silly and can lead only to horror. It’s like pretending that communism can work.

    (For Iraq, I’d do away with geographical considerations. Just go with tribe/clan membership. To avoid a gerrymandered setup.)

    ps – And a House of Representatives, of course.

    pps – I am now available for constitution writing. Reasonable rates.

  35. Raymond-

    Which tribes or provinces would be the “swing” states? Hmm, judging from my parents’ stories of life in a swing state (they live in WI, which has been competitive in the last 2 elections) the violence in Fallujah might end when the entire city is overwhelmed by an army far larger than anything either the US or the insurgents can field right now: wave after wave of annoying campaign workers.

    Campaign worker: “Did you know that our candidate is proposing to subsidize rocket propelled grenade launchers? He’s also proposing prescription drug coverage for wounded guerrillas.”

    insurgent: “I heard that he wasn’t actually in Iran, that his boat was only near Iranian waters. Why did he claim that running missions inside Iran during Ramadan is seared into his memory?”

    campaigner: “Um, the guys saying he didn’t go to Iran were actually stationed 100 miles away fighting Shia guerrilla armies and never actually served with Senator Khaled.”

    insurgent: “Look, that’s nice, but my wife is serving dinner now. You really don’t need to knock on my door every 2 hours.”

    Meanwhile, in Basra, everybody is upset that none of the candidates are paying any attention to them, because Basra is already predicted to have a 20 point margin. Well, unless enough people voting for the dominant party are killed by bombs and snipers. Which is a distinct possibility. 😉

  36. My remit doesn’t extend to campaign tactics. I just write the Basic Law. It’s up to the citizen to screw the whole thing up.

  37. Horst Graben,
    Are you sure you don’t have your name backwards like those pesky orientals?

  38. All:

    I’m seriously curious and not being sarcastic…

    Suppose we don’t pacify the entire region by January? Then what?

    If we/they don’t have elections on time, it supports the myth of American empire and emboldens the “get America out” segment to continue fighting.

    If we/they do have elections, but not everybody takes part, you piss off an entire segment of the Iraqi population who didn’t get to vote who will then take on the new Iraqi government.

    The only really satisfying strategy is to pacify the uprisings at least to a degree where voting can take place everywhere. Since this isn’t likely to happen (at least not on schedule), what the hell is the real alternative?

    Really. Not picking a fight here, just trying to see the best of several bad alternatives.

    I tend toward having the elections, but what the hell do I know?

  39. I think any election at this time will have disastrous results, whether it’s everybody voting or just people in secure areas. No Arab living in the Kurdish part of the country stands a chance in hell of being elected to anything. No Sunni living in the Shia south does, either.

    Shias will have a majority in the new government, no matter how all this is set up. And they will be Shia first (or second) and Iraqi only a distant third (after tribe/clan membership). The government will be pro-Iran(-ish) and ultimately noncompliant with US wishes.

    That’s why I think the legislature has to be bicameral (but not geography based). A HR and a Senate (Council of Tribal Elders). And that there should be an executive chosen by an electoral college (ie, the Council of Tribal Elders).

    But even this (brilliant) system won’t work if the people don’t see that “Iraq” is in their best interests. That the reason behind an Iraqi government is to secure their rights. That they even _have_ rights.

    What the US has done here is incredibly stupid. And it was so easy to see how stupid it was long before they did it.

    What you (Americans) need is a president with the cojones to go before the UN and say: “Hey, we really really screwed this up. If we stay the present course, there will be only more horror. So please. Let’s all get together, set up a peace-making-keeping force (with a whole lot of Muslims), call Iraq a ‘UN protectorate’ for a pre-determined period. And we will pay. So sorry. We won’t do this again.”

    It’ll never happen, though. Liberty requires a sense of responsibility for it to be used wisely. And manly courage isn’t proven by showing how big your box looks in a flight suit. And that irresponsible idiot, Big-Box Bush, is going to be reelected.

    Stupid stupid stupid.

  40. Raymond,
    Easier said than done! The UN weenies are in no hurry to stop the horrors in Iraq, or any other country for that matter. Admitting mistakes will certainly make folks like you feel better but it isn’t going to do anything to help the situation in Iraq. You and John Kerry can dream about cooperation all day long, but the UN countries blocking success in Iraq are happy watching America suffer for our benevolent efforts.

  41. As engineers often say, perfection is the enemy of good enough.
    We do not have perfect elections in the United States. Anyone want to hold off the next election until it can be guaranteed perfect?

  42. WEW, PE,
    You are a godess-send!
    Have you ever commented on the fact that less than perfect justice could be MORE “just”?
    Are traffic signals a sinister plot of Big Brother or what? (PE means you know something about traffic engineering, eh?)
    To answer your question, I say we delay US elections until we get both Usama and Al Zaqari.

  43. Step right up. Step right up. Prime Swamp land available in Florida, Modest prices. Live in Paradise.

    Step right up. Step right up. Bridges for sale, fine NY bridges for sale, in depth history, landmark status, I’ve go the deeds right here.

    You are all so funny. Yep, I’m sure that Iraq is on it’s way to being free. Just like Pakistan?

    Yep, Get your prime swamp land here, located in a little burg in Vietnam.

  44. I’ve had it with the traffic signal bashing, Ruthless.

    Traffic signals ENHANCE the efficiency of intersections that have moderate to high volume, compared to stop signs. Haven’t you ever noticed the people sitting at a four way stop, staring at each other? Then, finally, one car goes. Then the all stare at each other again. Then another car goes. Traffic signals eliminate this wasted time. If you look at an intersection with a traffic signal, you will notice there is very little time during which no one is making a movement, while at an intersection with enough traffic volume to warrant a light (but that is regulated with stop signs), there is a great deal of time spent with no one going through the intersection.

    Now, traffic circles can be even more efficient, because no one has to stop, ever, unless there is a car in their way. If the way is clear, you just enter the rotary. With both lights and stop signs, there are constantly cars waiting for the light to change, or stopping at the sign when there are no cars coming. This, btw, means that the people behind them now DO have cars in their way. The only problems with traffic circles is that they 1) take up a lot more space, 2) are tough on pedestrians, because they have to walk around a semi-circle rather than just go straight, and 3) there is no “safe” period as you cross any of the streets, when cars are compelled to stop, because everything is a yield.

    Of course you, wretched anarchist, probably don’t even want drivers approaching the circle to have to yield to circulating cars. Bah!

  45. We’ve got lots of traffic circles where I live. They assume that people are actually going to think. At least with pavlovian traffic lights, one doesn’t have to depend on the intelligence of other people.

    While I’m ranting… It always amazes me that thousands of people aren’t killed every year on the road between my house and my job. If I drove like other people – in the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!!! – I’d have been dead long ago. ON CURVES!!!!!!

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