Good morning fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.Welcome to Post #1 of The Big Question. Hope that name is not too hyped up. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always more than one big question out there. But surely Iraq belongs on the short list.
Please join in. But please, no flaming. Hoping for reasoned fact-based, discussion. Civility and substance. Seeking common understanding, at least of the facts, among folks who may disagree about the conclusions. Hoping that you will also raise good questions, including some on which I can follow up with good reporting. Also, tell us what we can do to make this experiment more valuable to you. Okay, here goes:
Will ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Iraqi election make a difference?
The Iraq experts, whose views are available above, disagree on many things. But there is consensus that ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election is no magic bullet that will end the insurgency, facilitate the early withdrawal of U.S. troops, or usher in the Iraqi Age of Aquarius.
(By the way, if you read their views and want challenge their facts or ask them follow-up questions, jump in and contribute your comments . I can do some reporting to try to settle factual disputes, call these guys back to seek answers to your questions, or introduce more expert voices.)
The highest realistic hope is for a step in the direction of stability and democracy. They generally agree that a big turnout (especially among Sunnis, since they boycotted the January election and have links to the insurgents), not too much election day violence and a good report card from international observers will be the best indicators that Iraq is making progress.
Shame on us if we are not inspired by IraqisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ willingness vote, especially in the areas where any evidence of participation might be taken as collaboration with the occupiers and punished by death.
A bit lame?
But Iraq has already pulled off two successful election days this year. Why is this different? The argument that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the first election of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“permanentÃ¢â‚¬Â¿ government under the new Constitution is a bit lame. Nothing is permanent in the current Iraqi political chaos. And the Constitution is still in play. The draft kept changing long after it was declared finished in the fall. Then a last-minute deal was reached to kick the most difficult Sunni objections down the road until after ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election.
To become an important step down a brighter path, ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election has to lead to all major groups, especially Sunni Arabs, feeling reasonably represented in the next Parliament and the next coalition.
If the Sunnis feel their minimum requirements for changes in the existing Constitution are met (how these changes are slipped into an already-ratified Constitution is unclear to me; another ratification vote?) and if they conclude that democracy gives them a chance at political and economic leverage, their interest in sustaining the insurgency could diminish.
A lot of ifs
But those are a lot of ifs. Sunnis may want some things that they can never get through the democratic process, because they are roughly a 20 percent minority and under Saddam they had about 80 percent of the power and Michael Rubin, who talks to a lot of Iraqi Sunnis, has told me in an interview that not all Sunnis have accepted that they have no God-given right to control the whole country.
The willingness of the Shia and the Kurds to compromise on their fundamental desires (think regional autonomy, revenue from the oil in their own regions, and deBaathification of the Iraqi power structure) to appease the Sunnis Ã¢â‚¬â€œ who represent their former oppressors Ã¢â‚¬â€œ may be limited.
On the other hand, if most Sunnis do participate on Thursday, and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get what they want through politics, they will have the option of going back to violence to push for more power.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one thought I had after doing the interviews and other reporting to get this package ready.. Please jump in to improve on what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve said, challenge or expound on the expert interviews, or address (please, civil and substantive), one of these questions:
More questions, many takes
Is the real significance of the election, the political cover they will give the Bush administration to start withdrawing troops? (see my interview with Robert Packer, who says yes.)
Does it matter much to the U.S. who wins on Thursday (for a guide to the major slates, see this), or only whether a legitimate government takes office? Is the U.S. sincerely committed to Iraqi democracy? (See Abbas MehdiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comments. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s actually hoping the U.S. will steal the election for Iyad Allawi.)
Can any election result be legitimate under the current circumstances: foreign occupation, an ongoing insurgency, assassination of candidates, intimidation of any form of participation, political parties that are based on ethnicity and religion moreso than ideology or policy, party militias that are stronger than the Iraqi military? (See Michael BarnettÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thoughts on the minimum requirements of a democracy, or Les CampbellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comments on the problem of militias.)
Can the situation get any worse in Iraq? (See the interview with Phebe Marr, who says, yes, much worse, which is why the troops have to stay.)
If the election produces a government dominated by anti-American, anti-Israel Islamists allied to Iran (see Juan ColeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interview for a consideration of that scenario) can that be worth the price America will have paid to bring it about?
Is there a path from where we are today to an outcome that will make the whole thing worth it to to the U.S.? How about to Iraqis?
– Eric Black
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