February 08, 2005

The River Lethe

Arianna Huffington is a boob at the best of times but outdoes herself in her Iraqi post-election coverage.

So, amid all the talk of turning points and historic days, let us steadfastly refuse to drink from the River Lethe, which brought forgetfulness and oblivion to my ancient ancestors.

Let's not forget that for all President Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, a free election was the administration's fallback position more Plan D than guiding principle. We were initially going to install Ahmad Chalabi as our man in Baghdad, remember? And the White House consented to an open election only after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani sent his followers into the streets to demand it and chose an election date that came after our presidential campaign was done, just in case more suicide bombers than voters turned up at Iraqi polling places.

No, let's not drink of the river Lethe. Let's not forget Bush's prewar AEI speech where he talked about Iraqi liberty either. Freeing Iraq was no plan D. Though there were plenty in the Pentagon that hoped that Chalabi could be a stand-in for George Washington, nobody wanted to give him a crown (as some americans wanted to give Washington) at any time. Chalabi is a remarkable man. Proof positive is available for anyone with eyes. When he was cut off from US support by the machinations of his enemies at CIA and State he built himself a real, independent power base, justifying his defenders' faith in him.

Arianna extends the fog of, if not forgetfulness, at least ignorance with this.

Let's not forget that this was a legitimate democratic election in name only. Actually, not even in name, because most of the candidates on Sunday's ballot had less name recognition than your average candidate for dogcatcher. That's because they were too afraid to hold rallies, give speeches or engage in debates. Many were so anxious about the threat of being killed that they fought to keep their names from being made public.

The elections are based on party lists with 4000 candidates vying for 275 spots. Individual name recognition is usually close to nil in these cases. In such cases the world over, people generally vote for party and platform, following local, neighborhood opinion leaders who they trust. The gutsy ones who put their name out early will reap the reward of early leadership, the rest will rise and fall on their merits in legislative action. Parliamentary elections can be a wild ride, first elections on that principle even more so. This does not make them illegitimate, merely strange to an american audience.

More bits of idiocy follow:

Let's not forget that many Iraqi voters turned out to send a defiant message not just to the insurgents but also to Bush. Many of those voters' purple fingers were raised in our direction. According to a poll taken by our own government before the June 2004 handover, 92% of Iraqis viewed the U.S.-led forces in Iraq as "occupiers," while only 2% saw them as "liberators."

Truman was really getting crushed by Dewey 7 months prior to our own elections of 1948 but that was cold comfort for Dewey the following January as Truman took the oath of office. All polling has a shelf life and this little chestnut is long past its expiration date. The very fact that we promised elections and delivered has to have a huge impact on Iraqi perceptions of the US. It was reasonable, in June 2004, that some Iraqis would think that we were not going to deliver on elections. As the votes are counted, it is not so reasonable anymore.

The piece de resistance is worth commenting on:

And let's never forget this administration's real goal in Iraq, as laid out by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and their fellow neocon members of the Project for the New American Century back in 1998, when they urged President Clinton and Congress to take down Hussein "to protect our vital interests in the Gulf." These vital interests were cloaked in mushroom clouds, WMD that turned into "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" and a Hussein/Al Qaeda link that turned into, well, nothing. Long before the Bushies landed on freedom and democracy as their 2005 buzzwords, they had their eyes on the Iraqi prize: the second-largest oil reserves in the world and a permanent home for U.S. bases in the Middle East.

This is still the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the election, as heartwarming as it was, doesn't change any of that.

While we're not forgetting things, let us also not forget that the entire country chorused that "everything changed on September 11". Our vital interests have been redefined in a way that only a Radical Republican could do it. We're on a march for freedom worthy of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Theological quibbling over the exact place to put Jesus in the assembly of monotheistic holy men aside, that's a song that can stir muslims as well as christians even if they call it jihad and we call it crusade. Arianna's test marketing a path to return to 9/10 America. Let's not forget the ultimate price for a comfortable return to old habits.

Posted by TMLutas at February 8, 2005 10:01 AM