What if the Sunnis lose?

December 10th, 2005 – 11:07 AM by Eric Black

Good morning fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.Welcome to Post #1 of The Big Question. Hope that name is not too hyped up. There’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 Thursday’s Iraqi election make a difference?

The Iraq experts, whose views are available above, disagree on many things. But there is consensus that Thursday’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 Iraqis’ 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 it’s the first election of a “permanent‿ 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 Thursday’s election.

To become an important step down a brighter path, Thursday’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 – who represent their former oppressors – may be limited.

On the other hand, if most Sunnis do participate on Thursday, and don’t get what they want through politics, they will have the option of going back to violence to push for more power.

That’s one thought I had after doing the interviews and other reporting to get this package ready.. Please jump in to improve on what I’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 Mehdi’s comments. He’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 Barnett’s thoughts on the minimum requirements of a democracy, or Les Campbell’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 Cole’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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58 Responses to "What if the Sunnis lose?"

Perry Gigot says:

December 10th, 2005 at 9:12 pm

Let’s face it. The showdown is Iraq. However, it will not end there. We will need to take care of Iran next. Iran is getting more blatant than ever with their plans to develop nuclear weapons and their comments and stance on Israel are a pointed test of American resolve. We never did get our payback for the American Embassy and hostage crisis in the early 80′s and the rhetoric from Tehran is as bad as it was back then.

Until Islamic militant regimes are crushed we will face a world of danger and terror. We simply cannot let Islamic regimes exist for the security of world peace. they have one common goal and that is destruction of a Jewish state and defeat of Christianity.

A Judeo/Christian alliance needs to be formed with the goal of defeating all Islamic states and their terror allies.

K.Briggs says:

December 10th, 2005 at 11:45 pm

Eric, congratulations on the new blog! No tip-toeing into this brave new world of conversation! You dove in headfirst.

Here’s my $.02. I will argue differently from the first commenter. Where Iraq is concerned, there is NO path that can take us from where we are today to an outcome that will make the whole thing worth it to the US.

Iraq is a dismal failure, possibly the worst foreign policy disaster in US history. Our “leadership” have squandered the lives of our chidren, our military, our reputation and our resources on an unnessary war that has accomplished what?–a world that has contempt for the US, a turbulent Iraq (with close ties to Iran), and an increase in terrorism.

It is obvious that the US is fighting to salvage face in FUBAR Iraq. The hope is that the Dec 15 election will produce a stable, Iraqi-endorsed government that won’t be just substitute Hussein or worse yet, Iran-lite.

Here are some sobering statistics to mul over: US population = .3 billion. Number of Muslims = 1.5 Billion. Growth of Islam = 6.4%. Growth of Christianity = 1.4%. The non-US world: 5.7 billion.

Do the math.

The US doesn’t have the military strength, the wealth or population to bully and bomb the Muslim world into submission. We can only achieve security through diplomacy and the establishment of common interests.

Rob LaFleur says:

December 11th, 2005 at 9:56 am

I have to largely agree with K. Briggs. So far, Iraq is a dismal failure. We made a huge pitch to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction and we were wrong. Then we started a war without adequate planning. If another country did the same thing, it would take a generation to trust them again. The world is not going to forgive and forget in a few years, especially with the path the war in Iraq has taken.

It is unreasonable to think we can dominate the world militarily. Look at the billions we have spent in Iraq without getting to a successful conclusion. If we multiply that by all the other Islamic states, our economy would implode under the burden of that level of military activity. Crushing everyone who is different from us is impossible.

Where do we go from here?

Again, I generally agree with K. Briggs. Diplomacy is the key. Unfortunately, our president has not positioned himself to carry it off. Trust is key to diplomacy. The world does not trust President Bush. At best he was wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At worst, he lied about them as an excuse for a different agenda. Either way, no one is going to trust him.

We need new leadership. Unfortunately, we are stuck with President Bush for three more years. The best we can do in the short term is make as much change as we can in the 2006 elections. We need to send a message to the world that we recognize our mistake and will take action to correct it within our rules. We need the 2006 election to marginalize President Bush as much as possible so he lacks the power base to make more big mistakes during the rest of his term.

By 2008, we need to elect a real leader. We have gone without a strong leader for too long (Clinton was no gem). We need someone to step up and make things better. Right now, my best guess is that John McCain could be that man.

Lets recognize and start to fix our mistakes. The sooner the people speak strongly, the better.

A. Keith says:

December 11th, 2005 at 11:48 am

This type of forum is an excellent idea and shows a real willingness on the part of the Star Tribune’s editorial staff to understand how blogs complement rather than compete with established media, through providing a forum for ordinary citizens to weigh in beyond the limits of letters to the editor. I hope it is successful and you do more of the same.

Iraq is chaotic, but based on accounts of Iraqi blogs such as Iraq the Model and Healing Iraq, the day-to-day coverage of attacks and bombings obscures the sea change that is occurring there. Senator Joe Lieberman said as much in his recent op-ed for the Wall St. Journal, for which his own party villified him for reporting signs of progress in Iraq and urging us to throw our support behind the Iraqis who want to live normal lives in a democratic society, and our troops who are helping to safeguard that transition.

At this point, whether people supported or opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein (I supported it, for the reasons given by Tony Blair, Christopher Hitchens and the Clinton Administration), we should all turn a hopeful eye to this week’s elections, and put the nay-saying (and our own political agendas) on hold. I have no doubt but that, like the elections last Jaunary, they will initally result in political wrangling, horsetrading and brinksmanship, rather than a clear cut direction – but that is common in parliamentary democracies like Germany and Israel, and our own two-party system is no stranger to that phenomenon. Nontheless, to move in three years to that from a totalitarian dictatorship run by a “psychotic crime family” (as Hitchens characterized Iraq under Saddam and his sons) is nothing short of miraculous, notwithstanding the many false starts and mistakes made by the Bush administration and the coalition forces.

The US and Britain had effectively been at war with Saddam Hussein since the end of the first Gulf War (if you doubt this, ask what those “no-fly zones” enforced by British/US air power were about). In the end, either Saddam was going to fall or he was going to succeed through subverting economic sanctions, evading weapons inspectors, and wielding influence through the extensive infiltration and corruption of the UN. Had Saddam not been removed, he would have emerged from sanctions to restsart his dormant WMD programs, taking his place as a dominant military and political force in the Middle East, and continuing his associations with terrorists like Abu Musab Zarqawi (who was in Iraq before the invasion, along with others like Abu Nidal). There is no way to know what the alternate future would have been, but I am convinced that chain of events would have resulted in us fighting a desperate defensive war with a far greater loss of life and devastation, and lasting (and dire) consequences for the future of the Middle East.

Instead, we see the first Arab democracy fitfully emerging in Iraq, and Iraqis turning out in massive numbers to elect representatives and Iraqi leaders competing for power through the ballot box. A messy process, and one far more sectarian than what Anericans are accustomed to, but one which I believe will ultimately lead to a more stable Middle East and a path forward from either strongman rule or theocratic regimes. Glass half-empty, meet glass half-full.

What if the Sunnis lose? It will be a setback. Hopefully, the Sunnis will establish a political power base through which they can participate in the building of their country, as a minority party in coalitions with other parties. But it has been pointed out that the Sunnis no more “deserve” to rule Iraq than the white nationalist government “deserved” to rule South Africa. But if Sunnis are marginalized in the coming election, the transition will become that much more difficult, and a de facto partitioning of the country may result.

It is just as unrealistic to paint Iraq as a “dismal failure” as it is to paint it as an “unqualified success”. But in the face of savage attacks on its people from former Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda forces, the Iraqis are giving birth to a new country. Its success is not a foregone conclusion, but those who believe that liberal democracy is preferable to rule genocidal dictators, should be hoping fervently they succeed.

John Helgerson says:

December 11th, 2005 at 2:05 pm

Election or no election, those who believe that Iraq will be a united democracy –”Freedom on the March” — are either not in touch with historical realities or blinded by political ideology. Despite the hastily-drawn Constituion, deep ethnic, tribal, religious, and territorial divisions have existed in Iraq for centuries and are alive an well this very day, and simply will not be dissolved, and no amount of U.S. Government spin will make it so.

Authentic Iraq experts (who are Iraqis) are trying to awaken Americans to the reality that an elected parliament will not be an Iraqi government with the allegiance of Iraqis across the country and will not unite Iraq as a nation.

As much as everyone wants to see Iraq give birth to a new democracy, one need only recognize reality: there is no actual Iraqi army, but rather tribal militias comprised of Kurds, Turkoman, and Shia led by men who are not going to give up their power to anyone without a fight; these competing ethnic groups will not cede control of oil reserves (money is more important than democracy); no single element of democracy or freedom exists for women in Iraq (brutality and murder are the cultural and legal norm); a significant portion of the billions of U.S. aid has been and continues to be subject to corrupt officials for their personal gain; a well-armed and potent Iraqi army is seen as a destabilizing threat by other countries in the region, including our strongest allies, so we can never train and equip Iraq to secure its borders and achieve peace.

In time, Iraq is very likely going to consist of independent states or territories, governed by cultural and ethnic traditions and laws distinct to each. we can hope that the current conflict — a de facto civil war — will end, and we can assure the men and women who are giving their lives and limbs (American, Iraqi, and others) that their sacrifices were not in vain.

K.Briggs says:

December 11th, 2005 at 2:16 pm

A. Keith: “Its success is not a foregone conclusion, but those who believe that liberal democracy is preferable to rule genocidal dictators, should be hoping fervently they succeed.”

It is possible to regard George Bush’s military invasion of Iraq a dismal failure while simultaneously hoping “fervently” that the Iraqis will achieve a stable, peaceful, prosperous society. I would add that I fervently hope that they are able to do that quickly, not after 20 years of tribal bloodshed.

But the big question here is “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?”

Your argument for the worth of the Iraqi war seems to rest 1) on the claim that the US had to deal with Hussein, sooner or later since the moment sanctions were removed Hussein would have been back to his evil ways, and 2) that Iraq will have an imperfect parliamentary democracy when the dust settles.

All of the people interviewed by Eric Black were quite pessimistic about the future of Iraq. A genocidal dictator is gone, but what will follow?

Phoebe Marr, who seems quite reasonable to me, observes that “If the election results in a polarized parliament; if we have three main blocs-shi’a, sunni and Kurdish– and not much else, compromise may be more difficult. And without compromise, Iraq could slide toward a civil war.”

Abbas Mehdi argues that “The December 15 election is significant mostly because the group that wins is going to stay in power for four years. But if the Shia religious ticket wins, it will be a disaster. It will legitimize and cement rule by religious and tribal leaders. Iraq will become very close to Iran. The insurgency will continue.”

Since the most probably outcome is that the Shia will win, that the government will have close ties to Iran and the violence will continue.

So, in this reality–not the alternate reality in which Hussein has The Bomb and missiles with which to lob it at the USA–the US will have succeeded in ripping apart a nation that was a mess, alienating the international community in the process, weakening ourselves and strengthening Iran.

Bruce Kennedy says:

December 11th, 2005 at 3:41 pm

Question: Around the time we took Saddam down, we captured a high ranking official, who said that Saddam would have been removed internally within three years. I can’t remember who this person was, and I never heard any more about whether he was credible or not. I realize this question does not relate to the coming elections, but it is something that has been bothering me for a while, and maybe your experts know who I’m talking about.

Paul Schersten says:

December 11th, 2005 at 5:55 pm

All I’ll say for now is I have some room for optimism about this, given my perception of Eric Black. And: I would hope the exchanges will be civil, with neither side operating under the assumption that all they need do is bludgeon the other with their superior morality, impeccable grasp of all facts (and every possible interpretation of them) and general obvious correctness.

Paul Schersten says:

December 11th, 2005 at 5:57 pm

Perhaps “side” was a poor choice of words. In a good discussion, the sides become less clear. So I redirect the hope at individuals.

A ‘preview” feature for comments would be nice.

Bill Inhofer says:

December 11th, 2005 at 9:52 pm

Thank you for one of the most fact-filled articles I have seen on this topic for some time. I am not a fan of the “experts’ opinions”. The facts: how many representatives, how elected, percentages of population; are always useful. I did note that in the paper version the chart said Sunnis make up 32-37% of the population, while in the article is said about one fifth. The difference is significant.

The most hopeful news I’ve heard for the government of Iraq was from the constitutional committee, in the weeks prior to the vote on the constitution. It seems that a great deal of effort is being put into getting the Sunnis to join in the process and it appears to be working to some extent. More important than the last-minute deals, the concrete steps taken earlier in the process to force some equity when the Shia probably didn’t need to. This is the path to making it worth it to the Iraqis and us.

There are yet many opportunities for the path to deviate. If enough of the Sunnis do not stay involved, the path could deviate. It would be silly to think that the Sunnis have one voice or one opinion. I am sure there are a limited number of influential leaders, but there will always be a faction opposed to anything from the new government of Iraq and there are likely to be some who will support the new direction. It will be a question of degree. At this point I have to emphatically concur, Eric, with your comment that we should feel inspired by the Iraqis willingness to vote.

Another opportunity for the path to deviate is the level of secularism the participants will allow in their new government. It is amazing to me how much they have let in already, given the parties involved. They may not yet understand the role that religion must still play in society to allow a secular government to work (you could run a whole blog on this topic).

Why is this war is being compared so much to Viet Nam and hardly ever to Bosnia? The change path in Bosnia seems to be to wait for a generation or two and hope the differences go away. I expected that to be the working plan here (certainly not quick). But it looks like it is on a faster track.

Yes, the U.S. troop draw-down immediately after the elections will happen (probably just back to the 138,000 before the build-up for the election). I expect the administration to get some mileage from this. But of more significance is the handovers of control already happening – in places that were major U.S. control problems before. These are the places to watch. What do they become? How welcome are westerners (not the military, but interested parties)? Do they become new hotbeds for terrorists or are they becoming healthy, growing towns?

The administration has a very delicate path to walk, as well. The people of Iraq have to feel their government is truly theirs. One way for that to happen is to have that government express its independence of the U.S. We have to allow that (and I think we have in many ways). But independence from the U.S. is different from anti-U.S. and it should be reported that way.

D Spain says:

December 11th, 2005 at 9:56 pm

Controlling the world. Absolutely increditable.

Eric Black says:

December 11th, 2005 at 10:08 pm

Thanks to all of you for jumping in. I’ll have a fresh post, probably Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, just to clarify something that Bill Inhofer raised above: Sunni Arabs make up around a fifth of the population. Kurds are usually estimated at about a fifth. But most Kurds are Sunni Muslims. So the figure 37 percent Sunni that ran on the map includes both the Sunni Arabs and the Sunni Kurds. Being fellow Sunnis doesn’t create much political commonality between Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

Greg Olson says:

December 11th, 2005 at 11:22 pm

My concern is that regardless of how the elections in Iraq go, Bush and his team will find a way to arbitrarily declare victory and get our troops out of there, before the 08 elections. America will not ultimately do what it takes to get Iraq secure and stable. That sets the stage for the the next war in that region, which will involve Iraq’s neighbors, as well as the US. It will take many, many more of our troops to do what wasn’t done properly the first time.

The cost will be much higher, both in terms of American lives – including those of my children, most likely – and in terms of our country’s wealth, at a time when we are trying to deal with the crushing debt burden that we’ve rung up since 2001, and with the cost of social security and medicare for us baby boomers. It’s not a pretty picture.

We have to stay in Iraq, but the frustration I have is that I have no confidence in our leadership, which clearly did not have a basic command of the facts prior to this war, failed to send enough troops over there to get the job done, failed to adequately equip them, or adequately equip and train the Iraqi’s . I don’t understand why more people aren’t demanding the President’s and the Vice President’s resignation.

Kerry Olson says:

December 12th, 2005 at 11:39 am

I am puzzled. Did not the American government know that the removal of Saddam would result in the destablization that has occurred? The experts seem to be surprised that we did not know this. Did the government consider these or other persons knowledgable in Mid-east politics/culture? Were their views dismissed? When I watch the news the voices from the administration repeatedly state that “if we stay the course” everything will work out, will it? What “course” is this? It seems the commentators voices are not manifesting themselves in government policy, at least from the sound of it. Why do none of the commentators support he offical line of the administration? I would certainly like that angle parsed by a spokesperson for our government.

Paul Schersten says:

December 12th, 2005 at 1:12 pm

I realize this blog is about the future, but some discussion of how we got here, and of what we thought we were doing and why, is essential for sorting out what we do now.

Yes, Kerry Olson; one basic charge that sticks convincingly to the administration is how they seemed unaware that of course there was going to be a small (relative to all of Iraq) but intensely angry and rejectionist group of Sunnis in the wake of Saddam’s removal. And so of course seemed also unaware of the consequences of that.

Doing what it would take to quell this would require a moral authority that half the US was not willing to grant our efforts, and of course was harder to garner without the UN’s participation (whatever you might feel about the actual holiness of that imprimatur and whether it was ever likely to happen).

Given that, it shocked me at the time and still shocks me that somehow we got into this war without sorting through what it would really mean to do it without the UN. I called Senators (or rather, their interns) at the time, begging them to reopen debate. I had no effect, shockingly enough.

Some people claim the administration “gamed” the process to make it somehow impossible for the question to be revisited once the UN had said no; but I’ve never seen a plausible reason why a group of serious Democrats in the Senate couldn’t have decided that the decision was too large, that we needed major debate in the open Senate about it.

I get angry at both sides on it, actually; that is, on the lack of serious debate, especially on the non-UN version of the war.

I am one who believes there were justifications aplenty for removing Hussein, including the WMD one, in spite of Hussein’s apparent tactical, disguised destruction of his stocks at some point.

But especially in light of the “no UN” scenario, this was a massive, unprecedented decision for the US, and W and crew should have been much more careful in presenting the case and the evidence. If there was starting to be uncertainty about the weapons, they should have acknowledged that. The jury is still out on how much there actually was; whether there was actually a realistic chance of penetrating the decade-long consensus that of course he had some stocks. But uncertainty in the context of Hussein’s generally-acknowledged intentions and history was almost part of the problem, and talking about that could have made the case stronger.

And the blitheness about the inevitability of Sunni anger also indicates a lack of seriousness on the administration’s part.

On the other hand, the administration was already faced with an anti-war movement that was in its turn refusing to be serious, about the underlying dilemma the situation presented; and a Democratic bloc in the Senate that was already much in thrall to the “no war for oil” basis for opposing it. For them, a rational discussion of “doability” – which is essentially what I think should have occurred – was not possible because it was beside the point.

Really, really would love to see a preview feature here. in fact, the Senate should have had one about Iraq. That would have been quite helpful.

Eric Black says:

December 12th, 2005 at 1:42 pm

Responding to Bruce Kennedy above, who asked about a report that Saddam’s internal opponents would have removed him within three years even if the U.S. hadn’t invaded:
I called Abbas Mehdi, because I remembered a Dec. 2003 interview on the day after Saddam was captured in which Prof. Mehdi said expressed “a sense of failure, as a long-time member of the anti-Saddam resistance, that the final overthrow of Saddam was accomplished by outsiders, rather than by Iraqis themselves.�
Mehdi didn’t recall the story that Bruce Kennedy referenced, and he said that no one could credibly have claimed that a bankable three-year plan to remove Saddam was in place at the time of the U.S. invasion.
But he agreed there plenty of reason to believe that Saddam would have been removed or even remove himself peacefully within that time frame.
The sanctions, the U.S. military pressure, the work of anti-Saddam groups inside and outside Iraq had convinced some of Saddam’s insiders, even some of his brothers, and probably Saddam himself, that he couldn’t hold out indefinitely.
On the eve of the war, Mehdi recalled, there was an offer from the president of the United Arab Emirates to arrange asylum for Saddam and guarantees against prosecution, if he would leave power to spare Iraq and the region the effects of a U.S. invasion. Under the offer, the UN and the Arab League would have administered Iraq for six months until an election could be held. The UAE president who made the proposal has since died but his son says that Saddam was prepared to accept the offer.

Here is a link to an AP story,
off a Canadian news service, about that offer. Of course, there remains grounds for skepticism about whether Saddam really accepted the offer and whether he would actually have followed through.

Paul Schersten says:

December 12th, 2005 at 2:13 pm

I think “plenty of reason to believe” in his removal within three years is a tad strong. “Plenty of reason to think it might be possible” seems more reasonable.

Maureen says:

December 12th, 2005 at 6:05 pm

Perry Gigot stated, “We simply cannot let Islamic regimes exist for the security of world peace. They have one common goal and that is destruction of a Jewish state and defeat of Christianity.” Gee, it is this kind of hatred, disguised as thinking that creates the atmosphere of death and destruction. One would never be able to achieve world peace by destroying everyone of a certain faith. Most of the world is learning, because of the actions of this administration, one group can not create democracy by force. Actually it appears to many that American democracy is actually imploding on itself and as people corrupt ideals for the sake of an end ideal, in this case, a forced democracy, nothing positive will come about. The world has seen the prisons, the bought newspaper stories, government officials caught in lies, and a president who says this is the coarse we should stay with. I fear for our future.

Paul Schersten says:

December 12th, 2005 at 6:53 pm

I think Perry Gigot was referring specifically to militant Islamic regimes such as Iran. You may still disagree with him, but I don’t think he meant to say all regimes in Islamic countries, or all Islamic people.

steve goodell says:

December 12th, 2005 at 6:59 pm

No one knows what will happen as the result of the Iraqi elections. If the new government is unable to establish order, a major failure of the American invasion, the elections will be irrelevant.

There are plenty examples of free elections leading to extremely violent, and prolonged, civil wars. That is precisely what occurred in the United States in 1860, and numerous other times throughout history. The most rlevant was the civil war that broke out between two Kurdish political parties following free elections in the Kurdish provinces of Iraq in 1996. They ended the war by partitioning their region. They are currently united but there is no reason to suppose that they will not fight one another again.

There is no reason to suppose that these elections will end violent conflict in Iraq any time in the near

Robert Gella says:

December 13th, 2005 at 9:35 am

Remember, it is still a war on terror. I have no problem picking our battlefield (Iraq) and establishing democracy in Iraq at the sametime. 2200 people died in NY on 9/11 in about 45 minutes and about the same number of soldiers have made the supreme sacrifice fighting these children and woman killers over a 3 year period. Thanks to our soldiers, America and Iraq will forever be allied with each other.

Nick Nichols says:

December 13th, 2005 at 10:17 am

My fellow Americans. Democracy is new in relative time terms. This country does not study democracy much less understand what can and will do FOR them in the long run.

I believe the leaders of the free world should extend an invitation to members of Iraqi citizens to come to these countries for a month. The host country will pay for everything. The leaders from each major group will decide who will come and how many in the party to see for themselves if democracy is as good as we say it is.

I believe these citizens should set their own schedules for where to go, who to see, from rural schools to major universities. They should spend some time in each of at least 7 industries, from farming to aerospace. They should go and learn from our village governments as well as county and state governments. Seeing first hand what demacracy is all about WILL make their country more at peace when they return and tell the REAL story democracy.

May the “One” you believe bless and keep you from harm’s way in your journey through this life.

RIch says:

December 13th, 2005 at 10:36 am

Iraq is not a war on terror any more than Vietnam was a war on Communism. The United States is involved in the occupation of another country in a part of the world where every other occupying army in history has been defeated. We are playing the part of a metropolitan police force mitigating battles between highly armed street gangs.

A democracy will be impossible to establish there because the citizens will never pledge loyalty to a puppet government over their loyalty to their tribal leader. That loyalty is as ancient as time.

In Blackhawk Down, Mark Bowden asked a citizen of Mogadishu if he wanted peace in Somalia and the answer was a resounding “yes.” When he rephrased the question and asked if he wanted peace if it meant living under the rule of the tribal leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid, he answered that he would die first.

Charles Utwater II says:

December 13th, 2005 at 11:54 am

Eric, you put the major newspapers of this country to shame.

You have brought together not just two sides for the phony balance that is treated as journalism nowadays, but the many sides that every real issue involves.

You have offered to collect questions from your readers to ask the people you interviewed.

It’s all written at a high level, not for sixth graders.

This is the sort of open-mindedness, intellectual integrity, and respect for readers that is so patently missing from our news.

You can bet that I will recommend that everyone I know read this.

Thanks for showing us how journalism is done!

Paul Schersten says:

December 13th, 2005 at 12:25 pm

“This is the sort of open-mindedness, intellectual integrity, and respect for readers that is so patently missing from our news.”

Howard Johnson is right!

Jasan says:

December 13th, 2005 at 1:04 pm

Instead of trying to create democracies in other countries by fighting wars and killing innocent people perhaps the US should focus on returning America to a form of democracy that we preach to others. One where it is a govenrment of the people for the people. Currently our country is ruled by greed, money and those that have both. (which happens to be a very small percentage of all Americans)

Paul Schersten says:

December 13th, 2005 at 1:24 pm

Jasan –

You have to watch our for slipping into denying support for a war based on disagreement over current domestic policy.

I realize they’re connected in your mind. But two points to remember about your descitpions of America these days: what you say is true to an extent but has always been true to an extent; and there are serious responses to your evident idea that of course it’s all just getting much worse than before. “Returning America” – when was that golden age again?

Merry Dobbins says:

December 13th, 2005 at 1:35 pm

My question to the panel. How does one compare the American Revolution and subsequent authorship of our Constitution to what is going on in Iraq? I can see no comparison at all!
In the American Revolution, we tossed out the British on our own. France didn’t toss them out, control and monitor the movements of our citizenry, and then coach us into some type of acceptable (to them) nation. Certainly they gave us some help and advice, but the major action was all ours. We wrote a Constitution all on our own, too. Even if, if… one were to ignore all that, it seems as though all we did was free the Iraqis from a despotic tyrant in order for them to choose to be ruled by dictatorial clerics. We traded a secular dictatorship for what will probably end up being a repressive theocracy. What, then, does President Bush mean when he compares the occupied Iraq (whos Constitution had to be approved by Paul Bremer…) with America circa 1776? I don’t see the apples for the oranges.

Paul Schersten says:

December 13th, 2005 at 2:02 pm

Wasn’t it inevitable that whatever emerged out of some kind of open act of political creation would have an Islamic theme? Does that necessarily mean the worst possible version of that? Does George W. Bush deserve some left-style admiration to the extent he believes Islam is part of the region and will of course be part of a government?

I can’t provide the links, but I’ve read analyses saying the southern Shiites do not want to be dominated by Iranian Shiites, and are not looking to set up someting prescisely similar.

Of course that does get us to the possibility that W, aside from overlooking likely Sunni resistance, also may have overlooked the opening he was giving the Iranian theocracy, not to mention the chaos that could result from that.

On the other hand, over the long term, might this all work out as a way to catalyze those in the region sorting these issues out among themselves, rather then allowing the inherent political stasis to continue to the detriment of all of us?

Patrick OConnor says:

December 13th, 2005 at 3:39 pm

invasion and belligerent occupations based on a fraudulent casus beli will always end poorly for the aggressor

like robbing liquor stores, the key to doing it right is to not do it at all

Jason says:

December 13th, 2005 at 4:22 pm

I think the talk of comparison between our independence and Iraq’s is misguided. The major difference to me is that our revolution was lead by the revolutionaries. the native population started the revolt, bled for it, and ultimately achieved it. They had help from the French, and others, but it was their show.

Iraq is completely different. The Iraqi’s have had little to no say in the effort to overthrow their former government. They have had some say in the formation of their new government, but we would be naive to believe that the United States was not heavily involved in the process. In short, they have not lead this fight in any sense, instead, they are being asked to join one that we started. Or, to take over something that we started.

That is a completely different ballgame. I can not think of another situation like this one. Germany and Japan were different. Their leaders led them into battle, they followed and invested in that conflict, and they lost. They had to accept our influence. The Iraqi people have been thrown into this situation. They did not have the choice to follow their leaders into a war. And they did not choose to join their leaders in defending their country against invasion. They have been just sort of there, while a political struggle plays out in their country.

Saddam was bad. They didn’t want him, and the world is better off with him gone. But I wonder, did anyone ask the Iraqi’s whether or not they wanted their country to become the so called “battle ground for the war on terrorism”?

They didn’t choose this fight. And that is what makes this such a tough situation. No country in the history of the world has become a democracy in this type of environment. I think it was a huge risk, one that I think was irresponsible of the President to take. Failure is catastrophic, and the benefits are unclear at best. I don’t think you can jump to the conclusion that if Iraq is a democracy, the entire region will follow suit. Will Iraq be a better place, yes, will Israel be safer, yes, but will other muslim nations all of a sudden reject their tradition and rush to declare the wisdom of secular government and the rule of law? There is no real way to tell that for sure.

So even if decocracy comes to Iraq, we are still uncertain of victory. I don’t think enough people are talking about this aspect of the situation.

That’s my take.

Holla back if you have reactions.


Eric Black says:

December 13th, 2005 at 4:35 pm

Fellow seekers,
I’m totally thrilled with the quality of the discussion here. Thanks for keeping it substantive and civil.
An annoying housekeeping comment here.
My new post today is the one that raises the comparison, based on Pres. Bush’s speech, between Iraq and the U.S. founding. Several of you have been responding to that issue here, which is the continuation of the old thread, “What if the Sunnis Lose?” That maybe partly because the link at the top was misdirecting you here. But we’re about to fix that.
So if you are discussing “Are the Iraqis like our Founding Fathers?” Please jump in on the forlorn and forsaken new thread above.

james card says:

December 13th, 2005 at 5:59 pm

I have a question. I am not the brightest bulb in the room, so please bear with me. A. Keith mentioned “liberal democracy”.
I have heard this term used numerous times by “so called conservatives” and others. It appears to me that when the term is used it connotates a very positive course for a people to follow when starting a country. My question is; if a liberal democracy is such a great thing then why are liberals considered such idiots in this liberal democracy? I believe I have stayed civil and I know it isn’t actually staying with the issue but then again we are attempting to build a “liberal democracy” in Iraq.

Paul Schersten says:

December 13th, 2005 at 6:01 pm

Jason –

Good questions. I will defer to others for once, since I nned to get home and watch Seinfeld.

Rich says:

December 13th, 2005 at 10:35 pm

What happens if we do attain total victory in Iraq, as President Bush describes? Then we leave Iraq with a superior trained military armed with the latest weapons (of mass destruction)? Can we trust a country where 65% of the people want us to leave. Shouldn’t the people of Israel be worried right now? Or does our current administration have other plans for Iraq that they are not telling us?

Nick Nichols says:

December 14th, 2005 at 3:31 pm

I’m going to jump back in and ask what does everyone think “total victory” is?

I believe victory will be achieved when the Iraqi’s can bring peace and lawful justice to the fore thus stabilizing their country.

Their democracy will be different than ours and justifiably so. Trying to compare our English based beginning to the Islamic based beginning Iraq has to deal with is not well thought out to me.

I refer, once again, to my comments above.

My vision is to “help” the Iraqi’s become an independent state and not another America, unless that is what “they” wish.


Nick Nichols says:

December 14th, 2005 at 3:34 pm

Just one more point.

Long-term Military bases would be strategic to the region. The Navy can be where it wants, when it wants.


Bob Hussey says:

December 14th, 2005 at 9:59 pm

Eric, thanks for the opportunity to participate.

I see little parallel between 1776 and the current situation. If we must draw historical parallels, the Iraqis are probably closer to the US in 1783 when the War of Independence was over and we were looking to form a new government. Hopefully their Constitution will not be akin to our Articles of Confederation, which was a failure because it did not provide enough power to the federal government. Fortunately, unlike the US in 1783 or 1787, the Iraqis of 2005 have some Democratic models to choose from.

Will the election this week be a turning point? We probably won’t know for at least a year, if not longer. One concern that should guide your future reporting is that the Iraqi Constitution does not provide for a strong executive branch and with 300+ political parties, it will be difficult for the legislative branch to build coalitions that can govern effectively, not to mention the continued tension between the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. One cannot blame the Iraqis for not wanting a strong President given their recent history but, had the Constitution been structured differently, a consensus figure in the top spot would have been able to make some decisions that could begin to set the country on the right track.

There’s no question that the United States will have a long-term military presence in Iraq. The only way we could pull out all our forces is if the Iraqis develop a military that would be completely self sufficient, able to deploy and support itself on its own. One of the keys to this in my opinion is the development of an Iraqi intelligence service, something I doubt the Bush administration would allow to happen.

The only way the mission (and our 2,140 casualties + all those poor wounded soldiers) will be worth it is if Iraq becomes a beacon of democracy in the region, spilling the concept of democracy onto its neighbors. This won’t happen unless the US has a sustained military presence in the region, possibly for decades. The question that can never be answered is whether, with the advance of globalization and democracy across the world, Iraq would not have adopted a constitutional democracy at some point in the future without the war and our presence.

Frankly, I’m pessimistic. For democracy to grow and flourish, it needs to start at the grassroots of a society and work its way up. Imposing democracy top down (and at the point of a bayonet) is flawed, particularly in a region of the world with no tradition of freedom and participatory government.

Thanks again for the blog.

Jim Riesgraf says:

December 14th, 2005 at 10:31 pm

This Reader response might be good if
the Tribune had any sense of fair balance in its news coverage. As it is,
all the information and questions are
posed in a negative way re: Bush Policy
in Iraq. Of course what we have done in
Iraq is important to America and the
rest of the FREE world.Was it worth it
to lose all those American lives in WW2
to save FRANCE, ENGLAND, etc.?Should
we have stayed out and let Hitler kill
all the Jews and control Europe. Peace
and freedom don’t come cheap. Future
generations of Americans and Iraqis
will thank Bush for having the courage
to fight this war.

A. Keith says:

December 15th, 2005 at 1:29 am

To James Card – I use the term “liberal” in the classical sense of Western liberalism, i.e. democratic rule embodying the principles of the Enlightenment. I believe those principles have produced, on the whole, societies guided by rationalism, science, freedom of thought, and an appreciation of aesthetics. So the word “liberal” is very positive for me, and I think it’s largely positive for a great “so-called conservatives” who use it in that sense.

But you’ll have to ask them yourself. I am not a conservative. I am a liberal who is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, is strong on church/state separation, not opposed to progressive taxation, and thinks some form of national health insurance would be a terrific idea.

But – I am opposed to totalitarians and theocrats of all stripes (and those who would act as their apologists) and in favor of self-determination and democratic rule of law (which I always considered liberal ideals). So I would rather root for the people of Iraq waving the purple fingers than shake my head and point to each car bomb and terrorist attack as evidence that “those people” are inherently unsuited for democratic self-rule, as so many seem almost eager to do.

Some liberals are so consumed with their hatred of Bush that they can’t bring themselves to cheer when 25 million people who have lived for decades under the boot of a sadistic dictator hold free elections and attempt to create a civil society on the ruins of a hideous police state. They would rather discount the good that has been achieved by our forces in Iraq than concede anything to Bush. I simply don’t get that.

CenterFeud says:

December 15th, 2005 at 3:00 am

Old media dog learns new tricks: MSM blog on the Iraqi elections is good. Really.

Hats off to Eric Black, national and world news editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who is running a feature this week called “The Big Question – Iraq’s Election: Is this a turning point?” In addition to well researched articles

james card says:

December 15th, 2005 at 1:45 pm

Thank you A.Keith. You are right, I do need to ask Rush, Sean, etc. on what they mean when they use the term.

Mr. Riesgraf-Comparisons to WWII ring hollow. We were attacked by Japan and thus entered the war. With Iraq we preemptively struck them. We have never done that before. And please, we all know Saddam was a bad man. In fact, when Rummy and Cheney visited him in the 80′s he was a bad man. I hope you are not one of those folks(sadly there are many) who believe that 9/11 and Iraq are one in the same just because is gets repeated over and over.

As far as fair and balanced is concerned, please be specific! Every time I hear the whine of “liberal” media I ask what that means. Very rarely do I get an answer that is backed up with facts, reality, reason, etc. I watch Fox News. If what they do is fair and balanced I am very afraid for all of us.

Remember, the media in this country operates in a free market system. According to many, the best in the world. I don’t know for sure but I would bet you are a strong proponent of the free market system.

Lastly, I hope we get past (fast) the liberal (weak, afraid, everybody gets a trophy) vs. conservative (oxymoronic, afraid, freedom as long as I agree) puppy fight. We are only screwing our children. Lets debate as AMERICANS.

Steven A Smith says:

December 15th, 2005 at 10:21 pm

Baathists and Islamic fundamentalist revolutionaries go together like protestants and catholics in Northern Ireland. More over, suppose everything Bush said was really true (none of it was likely after the years of sanctions) and Saddam actually attacked Britain and the US the world would have applauded us when we whiped him out. Would he actually have been that insane? Iraq is 60 percent Shiite, naturally friendly to Iran. It made me dizzy in early 2003 when I realised Bush was serious about invading Iran and I’m still dizzy.

The two main Shia parties, Dawa and the Supreme council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), will be the main winners and they have been associated with terrorism since the 1980′s. Both were founded in Iran, as was the military arm of SCIRI, the Badr corps. In the 1990′s the top officers in SCIRI were paid by Iran, the money laundered thruogh a bank owned by Chalabi. Chalabi will be a winner no matter what happens in Iraq.

Saddam was our terrorist when he fought Iran. Bin Laden was our terrorist when he fought the Soviet Union. Currently the Badr Corps controls or is infiltrating any security we don’t directly control. Do you see a pattern?

We have shed all this blood and spent all the godzillion dollars for what?

Steven A Smith says:

December 16th, 2005 at 6:18 am

I meant the top officers in the Badr Corps were paid by Iran.

Pat Johnson says:

December 16th, 2005 at 6:36 pm

Mr. Card, I suggest you recheck your history. The United States was very involved in WWII in Europe and in Asia before the U.S. declared war after the direct attacks on itself.

WWII in Europe, in part, was the result of everyone ignoring a regional strongman (Hitler) while he overran his neighbors one by one, in the hope that they would not be next. If I recall correctly, after WWI, Germany had a number of conditions from the war that they were ignoring, such as building weapons and raising armies. Is it possible that if the Germans (Hitler) had been forced to comply with those agreements at the outset of their noncompliance, that WWII could have been avoided and many ( 50+ million) millions of lives saved?

As far as the war in Iraq being preemptive , I consider the war in Iraq as a continuation of the war to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait after they invaded. The cease- fire in Iraq was based on certain things that must happen and Saddam Hussein was not complying with the agreement. I believe that forcing Saddam Hussein to comply was not preemptive but is the ending to the Iraq war of 1991.

And add in Iraq’s genocide for good measure. Of course, according Saddam Hussein and to the Iranian President that didn’t happen. But according to my father , who as a American soldier during WWII ( and during the beginning of the occupation of post WWII Germany) and an eye witness, it did indeed. He still cries when he talks about the bodies. Yes, occupied Germany, the same one that today is a fine democratic world citizen.

Congratulations to the brave Iraqis who voted and hope for a better future

Al Kaholic says:

December 19th, 2005 at 1:16 pm

Bush needs to remove his troops ASAP! Hats off to Jason what he said inspired me to get off my pot smoking ass and spread the peace throughout the world using non violent protest.

Ben Dover says:

December 19th, 2005 at 1:22 pm

Al Kaholic u are outrageous… I love you. Go have some fun and get yourself ripped. PEACE

Michael Blaine says:

December 21st, 2005 at 3:04 pm

Iraq was illegally invaded by ignorant sadists. It will take decades for the US to recover from this disaster, both at home and abroad — if it ever does. Any American who views the issue otherwise is a bad citizen.

Nick Nichols says:

December 23rd, 2005 at 11:02 am

Only in America can we discuss this issue for freely for public view!

The diversity of responses have been invigorating to say the least.

I would like to see us take this further and go TV with a round-table discussion with all above including distinguished guests and really put this out to the masses from us who are the masses instead of a conglomeration of experts.

What do you think?

Michael Blaine says:

December 23rd, 2005 at 6:36 pm

Mr. Nichols: A roundtable televised discussion could be helpful in geting the US out of Iraq in particular and the Middle East in general if spineless, opportunistic toadies like Vin Weber were not invited. If he thinks the US invasion of Iraq is such a great idea, why doesn’t he don combat gear and take his turn in the trenches? Because he’s an unprincipled profiteer posturing as a policy “expert”, that’s why. It’s time for Americans to DEMAND a withdrawal from Iraq, so the government can focus on our domestic problems.

Michael Blaine says:

December 24th, 2005 at 2:32 am

Oh, and Mr. Nichols, I believe you wanted to say that only in the US could an open discussion such as this take place in a public forum. That assertion is patently false. It could take place in Germany, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Mexico, Switzerland . . . Do you want me to go on?

Nick Nichols says:

December 27th, 2005 at 9:36 am

I meant generically –

James Card says:

December 27th, 2005 at 9:41 am

Mr. Pat Johnson-Of course we were involved in WWII before we were attacked but we did not declare war before that point. That is history.
Clearly, you believe we are doing the right thing in Iraq AND what we are doing is just an extension of the 1991 war.If that is true, then why was former President Bush so adamant about not pursuing this “extension” of his declared war of 1991 just months before we re-invaded (2003)? Secondly, please be clear on who we go after next. There are many problems all over the world. Who, what, why, where, and when? And of course, how will we pay for all of these incursions/excursions. Let me know.

Michael Blaine says:

December 27th, 2005 at 10:19 pm

Mr. Nichols: You couldn’t have been more specific and less “generic” if you’d tried: you said “Only in America”, an assertion which — again — is patently false.

Michael Blaine says:

December 27th, 2005 at 10:22 pm

Mr. Card: In defense of Mr. Pat Johnson, I do think that the US — evert time there’s an inkling of a threat from abroad — should go off half cocked, illegally invade the country the threat emantates from, spend $250 billion plus doing it, while killing dozens of thousands (if not more) of our own and other countries’ citizens. That is good, solid foreign and defense policy no matter how one looks at it. And Vin Weber agrees with me.

Nick Nichols says:

December 28th, 2005 at 7:17 am

Mr. Black!

See what I mean about what a roundtable discusion would bring? “Only in America” hey Mr. Blaine?

A great man once said – “Keep your friends close and your enemy’s closer”.

May the “One” in which you believe guide you and protect you in your journey.

You know where to find me.

Michael Blaine says:

December 28th, 2005 at 10:46 am

StarTribune complicit in the debacle.

Dear Mr. Eric Black:

I am very disappointed in you and your paper over your coverage of Iraq, as if the US invasion of that country were anything but disastrous
and illegal.

Your publishing of multiple perspectives on the debacle creates the illusion that the violence inflicted on that poor and weak
country by our rich and powerful country is anything other than immoral
and immensely damaging to US domestic and international interests.

It is not a legitimate enterprise, and you and your paper should not cover it as such.


December 29th, 2005 at 4:57 pm



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