Thoughts on the Iraqi electionTo the Iraqis who braved insecurity and threats to go out and vote: I tip my cap to you. You are the real heroes, not the Abu Ghraib criminals, not theocratic insurgents who willfully slaughter innocent Iraqi civilians, not the American generals who say it's 'fun to shoot people.' Ultimately if Iraq is going to become a stable, free, independent, democratic country that respects human rights, it'll be because not because of a foreign occupation force or the delusions of distant Crusaders but because of people like you. You voters and, especially, the candidates who ran have more guts than anyone else in Iraq right now.
To Americans: the next time you hear a friend or colleague whining about how he can't be bothered to vote because it's too inconvenient for him to spend 10 minutes walking around the block to the polling station, slap him upside the head. The Iraqis had a higher voter turnout than we did in our last national election (where turnout was high by our standards). And we didn't have to dodge bullets to go vote.
The interesting question about the elections is how the US will react if the coalition led by the American-installed prime minister Iyad Allawi loses to a coalition of religious parties. Traditionally, the US has only supported democracy in countries provided that the governments were pro-American; or they have supported opposition 'pro-democracy' movements in countries where the regime was anti-American.
Democratic governments that represented their own interests first have traditionally been either shunned (think France today) or removed (many examples but Iran 1953 is the most geographically pertinent one). Anti-democratic governments that are sufficiently pliant to American interests are usually embraced, or at least tolerated (there are more than enough current examples of this).
The first partial results have Allawi's coalition losing to the religious coalition. What happens if the new, democratically-elected government wants to impose Sharia? What if the new, democratically-elected government wants to use the future constitution to turn Iraq into an Islamic republic? What happens if the new, democratically-elected government wants to restrict foreign access to Iraq's oil fields? What happens if the new, democratically-elected government criticizes the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories?
Yasser Arafat was an internationally recognized democratically-elected leader as well but Bush administration was quick to declare him 'irrelevant' when he was seen as too belligerent to the US and Israel. The new democratically-elected leader Mahmoud Abbas has adopted a line that's more 'acceptable' to Washington so they haven't deemed him 'irrelevant.' At least not yet.
It's fine that the US wants to protect its interests and those of its allies... though I wish the administration would be more ingenuous about this rather than using noble-sounding rhetoric that makes for easy charges of hypocrisy.
When the new Iraqi government is sworn in, the Bush administration will surely laud it as a 'historic step for the Iraqi people in the quest toward freedom and liberty and taking control of their own destiny' or some other high-fallutin' sentiment of that sort. But how will Washington react when the new Iraqi government wants to protect ITS interests? Especially if they're in conflict with American interests? Will the new government cease being a 'beacon of freedom and liberty' and become 'irrelevant' or terrorist appeasers or America-haters?
Time will tell. History suggests skepticism.