Good morning, fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.
I kicked off this exercise by interviewing seven analysts of diverse viewpoints and areas of expertise about the question of the elections before they occurred. (They’re available under “interviews” above, if you’re joining us late.) Thursday and Friday I connected with four of them (still trying on the others) to ask for their post-election-day updates. I suggest we freshen up the discussion by circling back to the original question about the chances that the election represent a potential turning point. Here are the updates:
Juan Cole update
Juan Cole (original interview here) continues to reject the idea that anything related to the election can do any good at ending the insurgency or helping the U.S. project. On his blog, Informed Comment, he wrote:
“I cannot imagine why anyone thinks that [these elections are a milestone on the way to withdrawing US troops from Iraq.] The Iraqi “government” is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.”
I asked him, if the elections are so insignificant, how he explained the turnout. He replied:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The reason that the elections are not a turning point is that electoral contests can and often do co-exist with guerrilla conflicts. Northern Ireland had a number of elections during the troubles there. Sinn Fein and the IRA were two heads of the same coin, one political and the other paramilitary.
So the high turnout in, say, Salahuddin, shows that Sunni Arabs now want to create the equivalent of Sinn Fein, a political wing of their resistance. It doesn’t mean they want to end the resistance. They will go on blowing things up even as they agitate through their parliamentarians. Their goals are still to a) get the Americans out of Iraq and b) take back over the country (they think they are a majority).Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½?
Robert Packer update:
Packer (original here), the University of Michigan political scientist, continues to analyze mostly with reference to domestic U.S. politics. He made these comments (and I write this post) before President Bush’s Sunday night speech.
“YES, this election is a turning point, in that it marks a putative success of the Iraq
strategy and it allows the Administration to begin a phased withdrawal Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which I expect to be announced by the State of Union.
Bush had been losing public support for the war because (1) the most publicly-stated
rationale for the war Ã¢â‚¬â€œ WMD Ã¢â‚¬â€œ were not found, thus casting doubt on the wisdom of the war, and (2) the continuation of violence after the initial ouster of Saddam, which cast doubt on the winnability of the war.
The subsequent arguments for war — fight terror and promote democracy — until the past two weeks, were weakly articulated and proved inadequate to sustain support. Then John Murtha seized upon the perception of unwinnability. These two variables — a rationale worth fighting for and the probability of success Ã¢â‚¬â€œ are important in determining the steepness of the slide in public support for the war, as casualties mount.
A high Iraqi election turnout vindicates, in the short-run, the Administration argument that the US is fighting to promote democracy. But just as the January provisional government elections led to a strengthening of public support, only for it to erode in the months that followed, so might this be a temporary respite for the Administration — thus the need to seize upon this moment to announce a build-down in forces.
Furthermore, I view the President’s speech somewhat differently from you. I do not find the rhetoric of staying surprising, given that reputational interests in Iraq may now be greater than intrinsic interests. But embedded in his Philadelphia speech was a new sophistication missing in earlier pronouncements. By defining the adversary as only partially Ã¢â‚¬Å“terrorists from the outside,Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? and mostly as disaffected Sunnis, the President is setting up the possibility that American forces will be limited to fighting the foreign jihadists.
This will leave the continuing Shia-Sunni struggle to the new Iraqi government. You do not need such a large US force when the enemy becomes only one-tenth its present size. Bush is saying that our fight is with the terrorists (in line with the new rationale), and not with the Sunnis (which will allow for a major build-down).
Abbas Mehdi update
Professor Abbas Mehdi (pre-election thoughts here) has been talking to his friends and family in Iraq, and following Arabic television.
Surprisingly, he has gained confidence that the votes will be accurately counted — he believes serious safeguards are in place against tampering — but doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe the final announced results will reflect the accurate count.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because the final announced vote totals, and the awarding of seats in the Parliament, will be the result of a complex backroom negotiation, brokered by the U.S., among all the major players. The actual vote totals will be part of the negotiation, but also the need to give all parties enough to keep them on board with the process. Mehdi was very struck by an interview with U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, in one of the Arabic newspapers, in which he said Ã¢â‚¬Å“the next big task is to construct a balanced Parliament.Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really not a democracy as Americans understand it,Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? Mehdi said.
Gotta agree with that. But Mehdi, who had been quite a pessimist going into the elections, and was alarmed on Thursday about possible big trouble over allegations of vote fraud, was greatly encouraged on Friday after talking to his Iraqi contacts, some of whom he said are involved in the negotiations.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s encouraged mostly because thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a chance the Americans can get the vote totals to work out so that Iyad Allawi can be prime minister. Mehdi views Allawi as highly imperfect, but the best available choice, mostly because he represents secularism, a pan-Iraqi nationalist agenda, and a good relationship with the U.S. going forward.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you hear the final official results, there will be big surprises,Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½? Mehdi predicted.
Michael Rubin update
Michael Rubin (earlier here) of the American Enterprise Institute was willing to update his predictions on the outcome, and on the possible shape of a new governing coalition:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We’re in for a rumble-tumble period of coalition building and fracturing. I’d say the United Iraqi Alliance [the Shiite religious grouping] will lose some support compared with January. It might end up with 40 percent. The Kurds, too, will lose a few percentage points, perhaps getting 20 percent or so. Allawi will be up from his poor showing in January to perhaps 20 percent. Chalabi may get 5 percent. The remainder, including some Sunni slates, will divvy up the remaining 15 percent. (For background on the main slates, who they are and what they stand for, link here.)
While folks in the West may want Allawi back, because he is a secularist, he’s anathema to the Shiite list. The Kurds and Allawi can’t form a realistic coalition without the UIA.
There’s a chance the Kurds and the UIA will form an alliance. But, in this case, the Kurds would probably insist on a weaker, more palatable Shiite prime minister, like Adel Mehdi. A Sadrist or Hakim would be too much for them to take, and Jaafari is seen as too ineffective by everyone.
If that deal can’t be struck, then Chalabi can emerge as a compromise. Because he doesn’t have a militia, he’s less threatening to the others. And, he’s respected as a dealmaker. Talabani will likely remain president.
The Sunnis will likely demand the Interior Ministry after the recent [prisoner abuse] scandals. Who gets that position could become the deal breaker in any coalition.Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½?
Rubin is heading to Baghdad later this month to watch the process unfold. By the way, back at Informed Comment Juan Cole explicitly challenged Rubin’s predictions of 20 percent for Allawi and five percent for Chalabi.
If I get updates from any of our other analysts, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll post them. And if anyone has topics or questions that would be useful to pursue this week, please suggest them.