Free Advice for the US Democratic Contenders: Don’t go Faust in Iraq

In an indirect reference to the fable of Faust, Alan Greenspan says in his new book about the US Republicans and their recent election loss in Congress, they “swapped principle for power” and “ended up with neither” so “They deserved to lose.” Here is a moral angle on four turning points since the invasion of Iraq, where the Republican administration compromised moral principles for gaining power over a situation, but soon appears that the situation is getting out of control, so they ended up with neither moral correctness nor better control. The message to the Democratic contenders; don’t make Faustian decisions in Iraq.

I call these turning points the two double whammies of democracy in Iraq, the first occurred soon after the occupation in 2003 and is well publicized, the second happened at the December 2005 elections. The first double whammy is the disbanding of the regular army and de-Baathification.

Disbanding the Iraqi army has obvious military and political consequences, but from a moral angle the highly touted secular intentions of the US were betrayed by disbanding the regular army, which is the only powerful institution built on secular principles and capable of standing up to religious extremism. Morality could have been served better if the US’s action matched its words; the empowerment of religious extremism was the inevitable consequence. Action speaks louder than words, indeed.

De-Baathification condemned the idea of Baath and all those who belonged to it at “All levels of government.” Millions of Iraqis who sympathized with Pan-Arabism Baathist ideology were targeted. There was moral justification for this action, which took its analogy from Nazi Germany. Later, the same proponent who made the analogy said it “became de-Sunnification, not de-Baathification… The idea was sound, the implementation was wrong.” The same statement could have been said about Baathism in the first place, it looks like double standards. The de-Baathification committee is the judge and jury in deciding both the identity and punishment of its victims, this is untenable in any democracy. The US sanctioned de-Baathification and in doing so it disenfranchised so many, which is immoral, and made it impossible to achieve meaningful political consensus.

The turning points of the second double whammy happened with the Dec. 2005 elections and are not well publicized, perhaps because they involve electoral irregularities that benefited key US allies.

Article 140 of the new constitution stipulates that the fate of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk must be determined by referendum by the end of 2007. The Kurds, who are the staunchest supporters of US presence in the region, swelled the population of Kirkuk by nearly 500,000 between 2003 and 2005, and then during the Dec. 2005 elections there were 228,000 extra votes on top of expected total, or nearly 40% surplus!

The last and perhaps the most serious turning point is the election process in southern Iraq. In terms of percentage swings between the January and December 2005 elections, the pro-US factions gained only about 25%. But this came against a backdrop of deteriorating governance and allegations of fraud and coercion. The committee of the US-backed International Mission stopped short of investigating fraud: Ayad Allawi’s party was puzzled when it noted “It is strange that the International Mission should consider its mandate or duty limited to post voting evaluation as the report indicates.. (when) the most serious violations occurred before and during voting” (my translation). These statements should not be ignored or be treated as the whining of an election looser, the first is a statement of fact, the second is common sense; ballot fraud which was reported in Iraqi media occurs before voting takes place. It seems that the US overlooked electoral transgressions in the hope of gaining power or control over its allies, but the empowered allies responded with power greed as shown by the current lack of willingness to share power in order to achieve consensus.

In a Washington Post article published on August 30, 2007, David Ignatius examines the intrigue behind Washington’s decision to pull covert financial support from moderate, secular Iraqis during the January 2005 elections. Ignatius suggested only ethical motivation: Condoleezza Rice agreed at the time with Nancy Pelosi that the US could not celebrate Iraqi democracy while secretly manipulating it. While I am not suggesting that the Democrats are complicit with the republicans, I find the ethical explanation did not stand the test of time with the December elections. As in many cases, the truth is probably in between, or perhaps the right hand of the US government did not know what the left hand was doing.

Some say politics is amoral and I am not defending the integrity of Iraqi elections for only moral reasons. Free and fair elections have diverse outcomes but the process is repeatable while fraud is not; its benefits are opportunistic. Those who commit fraud know this and realize that they may not get a second chance at achieving undeserved gains, this is why they cling to power and insist on making strategic decisions while they can. And this is why tolerating fraud is destabilizing Iraq.

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