Election Ju-ju

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One reason Africa is funny is its unshakable belief in ju-ju. If a man has many cows, four fat wives and a son studying at the Sorbonne, his neighbors know it has nothing to do with his talents, wisdom or prudence. No, it’s because he has good ju-ju. If another man’s last cow dies, his hut is devoured by termites and his wife is abducted by baboons, it is not because he is a shiftless moron. He just has bad ju-ju. In comes the witch doctor to wave the rattles and do the dance, the monkey-skull cups full of crocodile spit are drunk dry and, assuming the incantations are mumbled correctly, his ju-ju must improve. If it doesn’t, he rolls in elephant dung and sacrifices another chicken.

If we find African ju-ju funny, why do we fail to see the humor in the American Establishment’s equally firm belief in ju-ju? They call their ju-ju "ee-lek-shuns." Take a "state" with no functional institutions, a "government" that is a gang of rip-off artists and foreign hirelings, more religious and clan divisions than Arkansas and Fourth Generation war spreading like crabgrass. All you have to do is hold "ee-lek-shuns," and Presto!, a real state emerges. Peace reigns triumphant, American troops can go home and secular democracy has converted another flea-bitten, fly-blown Third World hellhole into Switzerland.

Election ju-ju is supposed to work its magic in Iraq in late January. What is actually likely to happen?

The elections will go forward, because Ayatollah Sistani demands they go forward. He has put together a unified Shiite candidate list, which is guaranteed to win. That in turn will give us the Islamic Republic of Iraq, on a model different from Iran’s, but like Iran representing the Shiite branch of Islam.

What is the chance that Sistani can recreate a real state in Iraq? Unfortunately, not very good. First of all, the Sunnis, who are not likely to take meaningful part in the election, will not accept Shiite rule. Contrary to what the Bush administration suggests, I do not believe the Sunni insurgents want to stop the elections. Why? Because a Shiite victory allows them to say to all Sunni Iraqi Arabs, "Now your only choices are to join the resistance or submit to the Shiite heretics." Enough Sunnis will rally to the resistance, given that choice, that it will emerge from the elections strengthened, not weakened.

That, in turn, points to civil war in Iraq. How will that turn out? If the Kurds join the Shiites in a general offensive against the Sunnis, the Sunnis will probably lose. A Sunni defeat means a vast out-migration of Sunnis from Iraq; many will end up in Europe, where they will strengthen the Islamic invasion of Christendom’s historic heartland. If the Kurds stay out, the Sunnis may be able to defeat the Shiites; there are a lot more Shiites, but the Sunnis are better militarily. However, a Sunni victory is likely to be only a defensive victory; it will not enable Sunnis to re-establish their rule over Shiite Iraq. That in turn suggests partition of Iraq, with a Shiite southern Iraq that would become a de facto province of Iran and a Turkish invasion of Kurdistan to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.

On the other hand, a Shiite victory over the Sunnis would reverberate throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. Can the majority Sunnis accept a strategic victory by the despised Shiites, or are other Arab and Islamic forces drawn into what becomes a wider war? One of the great dangers of the war in Iraq has always been potential "spillover effects," and a Shiite victory might trigger them.

Also, if the Shiites win, can they maintain internal unity or do they also splinter, especially if Ayatollah Sistani dies, of natural causes or otherwise? Just as in religion schism begets schism, so in a Fourth Generation world the breakup of states portends further breakups, in smaller and smaller factions, most of which fight.

Do all these clouds have any silver linings? I can see the possibility of two. First, Ayatollah Sistani, who appears to be not merely clever but wise, may be able to cut a deal with the Sunni insurgents after the elections. In the Arab world, deals are usually possible, and I think he will seek one. The Sunnis for their part need a deal that gives them some access to Iraq’s oil revenues.

The other silver lining is that I believe Sistani will demand American forces leave Iraq. The legitimacy of the new government will depend on its doing so. Sistani has been careful to keep his distance from the Americans, refusing to meet with them, for exactly this reason. Any cooperation with the hated foreign invaders, any contamination by their touch, is utterly delegitimizing. He has to order us out or Shiite loyalties will start to shift to his rival-in-waiting, Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has already established his anti-American bona fides by fighting us, twice.

If both of these happen — Sistani cuts a deal with the Sunni insurgents and he orders all American forces out — there is a chance, just a chance, he might be able to re-establish the state in Iraq. That state will not be an American friend, much less the American satellite that was the neo-cons’ objective in starting this war. But any state in Iraq (including Saddam’s) is better than what remains the more likely outcome, Iraq’s descent into a condition of permanent stateless disorder.

William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees.

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