May 10, 2004

Speeding Elections is No Panacea

Robert Kagan and William Kristol suggest that speeding elections to perhaps as early as September would provide all sorts of benefits to the US. And they might, but snap elections would ill serve Iraq and the resulting mess will not serve the US in the long run.

The problem is this. You need to have candidates, they need to create platforms. They need to demonstrate competence, human feeling, compassion, vision, all the things that politicians do to gather support and votes. What's worse is that most of these people will not have established track records because there were no honest roads to politics before the US army came to town. The people with experience are probably the least likely officeholders for a free Iraq.

So who dominates in a snap election shortly after liberation? People who have ready made cadres of support who can start a bandwagon effect and get people to join them because everybody is doing it. In Iraq today, that means baathist backed empty suits with a clean record, front men for Shiite religious parties, and front men for foreign interests who have networks in Iraq, mostly Iran and Syria (but probably also Saudi Arabia). All these forces will have an institutional advantage that will only shrink as new leaders rise to the top during the transition to a democratic system.

The last thing that the US should be encouraging are snap elections. Panic stricken Washington, DC has its own demands though. The Democrats have already broken and are in rout. Whether Lieberman, Biden, et al can rally them to support a successful transition is very much in doubt. But Kagan and Kristol are not left-wing hysterics. The right is wavering too. Whether Bush will break under this pressure is a key test of his presidency. If he fails, he will gravely harm his own chances in the fall.

Posted by TMLutas at May 10, 2004 04:20 PM