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The Sunday Voting in Iraq

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients From: Jude Wanniski Re: Nothing Has Changed

I know I will be considered a party pooper for today’s memo, but I just can’t get as excited as the New York Times and the rest of the U.S. news media about the turnout of voters in Sunday’s Iraqi elections. In the cold light of day, it doesn’t appear to me that anything has changed vis–vis the insurgency, which has as its predicate the idea that the elections were arranged to suit the Americans and it is the American occupation that the insurgency is directed against. John F. Burns of the Times, who beat the drums for war in his dispatches prior to the March 2003 invasion, set the tone for the newspaper’s coverage: “On Sunday, everything about the voting resonated with a passion for self-expression, individuals set on their own choices, prepared to walk long distances through streets choked with military checkpoints, and to stand for hours in line to cast their ballots.”

The scenario we are told to expect going forward is (1) the successful establishment of a new government that will (2) draft a new constitution, which will (3) lead to new elections at the end of the year, which will (4) permit the U.S. troops to come home, mission accomplished. It would be nice it that’s the way it plays out, but the insurgents were never interested in a scenario controlled by the U.S. government. It’s not that they don’t like democracy. It is that they see the not-so-hidden agenda of the U.S. being a permanent, imperial outpost in Baghdad, to control Middle Eastern oil, and to protect Israel from the Arabs come what may. It would be nice if Ariel Sharon could make a deal with Abu Mazen sometime soon, but those of us who have been holding our breath for half a century waiting for that to happen are not so sure anything will come of the current post-Arafat opportunity.

Here is a more sober analysis on what to expect from Patrick Cockburn in the London Independent:

It is unclear if Mr. Allawi will survive as prime minister when the new assembly meets. It will elect a president and two vice-presidents who will in turn appoint a prime minister and ministers. But voters may be disillusioned if they find the same faces in a new government.

The last months of the old government were marked by a worsening economic crisis: There are acute shortages of electricity, petrol, kerosene for heating and bottled gas for cooking. This has led to a rise in prices. The insurgency is so extensive that although the election may be a setback to it there is no chance of it disappearing and every expectation that it will continue to grow.

One of the things we always tend to forget when we get “good news” from Iraq, as there appears to be with the voter turnout, is that as bad as Saddam Hussein may have been in his 30 years in power, the number of Iraqi men, women and children who died as a result of U.S. sanctions and war – to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that it didn’t have – is on the order of 1 million, or one out of every 20. This is why I always said in these memos after the invasion that I hoped the weapons inspectors would find WMD and the imminent threat they would pose to the region and the world, even though I was sure they would not and said so before the invasion. That alone would have undermined the anti-war arguments and given justification for the invasion and the dozen years of killing sanctions. The President and the supporters the war can celebrate the elections Sunday, but they in no way alter the facts on the ground.

I’ve rarely agreed with Ted Kennedy on any major issue, but he is positively correct when he says there will be no chance of improvement in Iraq until the United States is gone. The Internet is now bristling with reminders of Vietnam and how the national elections there in September 1967 offered so much promise of victory. For example:

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 – United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here. Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Deim was overthrown by a military junta. Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power…

Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States Presidential election was 62 per cent.

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