Saturday, January 29, 2005

A triumph of democracy

Watching an unusually defensive David Brooks spin the Iraqi election on the Newshour today was rather revealing. Even Brooks has long abandoned any pretense of a healthy election process in Iraq, instead arguing that the significance of the election lies in it occuring at all -- especially if things go badly. Call it the "dancing dog" theory of nation building. As Brooks says:

It's a whole process of things, it's the creative institutions that respond to people; it's rule of law, the thing we always neglect. It's thing after thing after thing. But this is an important moment, and if they get, you know, very low turnout, if there are thousands of people killed, then it will be a cataclysmic event. Then it really will be. In some sense the downside is much starker than the upside.

Wow. That's some serious confidence there. He's right, you know: if thousands of people are killed, then "in some sense" you might well say the downside is starker than the upside.

However, our friends at "The Corner" are still valiantly fighting the good fight with upbeat pieces on the elections. That's because our friends at the Corner are bravely, unflappably, implacably determined to fight the good fight on absolutely anything that might be even slightly damaging to the Republican party, even to the point of devoting a good half-dozen posts to refuting the very idea, introduced by the malicious and ruthlessly efficient liberal media attack machine, that Veep Dick Cheney's Auschwitz Beanie-and-Parka ensemble could in any way be considered a "fashion faux pas" (sample spin: "Americans have long suffered European ridicule for simplicity of dress at official functions, but we have also been proud of it. In that sense Vice President Cheney's parka fits a well established American tradition.")

Talk about defending the indefensible...

However, it's the elections I am concerned with. And if they refuse to let a parka go, you can imagine the pushback Kathryn Lopez is going to fight on behalf of the elections:

An Iraqi on the elections upcoming: "We've been waiting for the moment when we can decide our future all our lives and now it's happening and I can't tell you how excited that makes me and all freedom loving Iraqis."

But clearly there's a difference of opinion here. People from different ends of the political spectrum have clearly brought different values to the table, producing different assessments of the ongoing "success" of the Iraq election process. To help resolve the ongoing controversy we clearly need a metric, a performance indicator, reflecting shared values, against which we can measure the fruits of the election in the light of the as yet unknown events of the next few days. So in honour of her sterling efforts at "The Corner", I present the official K.J Lopez "Democracy Evaluation Scale", useful to aspiring statesmen and nation builders everywhere:

Your election is an unparalled success if...

Your current president is a former hit-man for the Baath party. The election is being held amid running airstrikes and fighting that have turned Najaf and other insurgent strongholds into a war zone. The population is being intimidated by a kidnapping, assassination and terror bombing campaign conducted by insurgents who declare that anyone who votes is an infidel collaborator who will die. Dozens of US soldiers and local security forces have already been killed providing security and protection for polling places. Many candidates are too scared to campaign, and, in some cases, even to have their candidacy public knowledge. One candidate has already been kidnapped and brutally beheaded live on videotape. Large sections of the Sunni minority are boycotting the election, and even among expatriates who mostly have no love for Saddam Hussein, confidence in the process -- and turnout -- is astonishingly dismal.

Your election is a qualified success if

All of the above obtains, but in the chaos of the election and its aftermath the insurgents are successful in claiming thousands more victims. David Brooks goes on TV to acknowledge that "in some sense the downside has been much starker than the upside."

Your election is a failure of democracy if

The election results in Hugo Chavez becoming president.

I simply cannot understand the point of the elections, anyway, even in the terms the US administration prefers. Honestly, what result is the US State Department actually expecting to get? One which will work to legitimize the US installed government? Or is it possible for the election to unseat the US installed government, and, if so, will the State Department accept that result? The process (the National Assembly elects a three member "Presidency Council", which itself unanimously elects a Prime Minister), seems custom designed to ensure Allawi's position, or any other shoe-in the US State department prefers, but if Iraqi people don't vote "the right way", and the new National Assembly doesn't behave as expected, what then? I rather suspect that the US will not relinquish control in that eventuality.

Brooks seems to think that the bare ritual of holding elections in this atmosphere, even if the result is chaos, has some significance. For mine I just don't understand it. I would vastly prefer the honesty of the US explaining that, no matter what happens, the US will remain in charge, call the election off, and thus absolve the Iraqis of the burden of participating in the whole empty ritual. Clearly you cannot have a real election in the current environment. But then again, this whole charade has been about empty ritual. From an almost entirely meaningless "handover of sovereignty" to an almost entirely meaningless and bloody election, the whole story of the Bush administration's occupation has been about spin, appearance and sloganeering rather than about any substance that might back it up. As befits, of course, the first CEO president.

One thing about the process does spark my interest. According to PBS's newshour, the major coalitions managing the "slates" have an agreement that every third name on each list will be that of a woman. So our friends at "The Corner" are actually in what is, for them, the invidious position of praising an electoral process that contains within in it a blatant and massive exercise in feminist affirmative action! For now, I suspect the crack researchers at "The National Review" remain ignorant or at least unmindful of this embarrassing fact, which is why I'll be watching with interest for any commentary from conservatives proudly proclaiming the unprecedented success of women in the new assembly.

Third time lucky

New years resolution: to keep up the blog.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. It's more that there's so much to write about that it's overwhelming; an endless tsunami, of outrages, tragedies and wry observations, all streaming in from every corner of the datasphere. And in any case, where does anyone find the time? And at the end of it all, what makes me so special anyway? I still don't think anything I've written here is quite ready for prime time.

Not writing the blog has already taught me a lot about the difficulties of writing a politically themed blog. Hopefully writing the blog will teach me even more.