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March 13, 2005


"The fact is, there were stirring of democracy in Arab countries prior to Bush coming to office, primarily in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco, and Iran looked headed in a better direction in 1999 than today."

Not to distract from the immorality of this war, but it is important to recognize symbolism in this instance. The fact is, while we hesitate to admit it, that the images of purple fingered Iraqis beamed through the entire Arab world has helped stir democratic yearnings. Manifested, not in the big picture, but amongst ordinary peoples who crave more imput in their own destiny. Denying the power of symbolism, also projects intellectual dishonesty, it has had an impact. We on the left can acknowledge this fact, without detracting from our arguments about this failed foreign policy, and this acknowledgement is not equated with justification or validation. Two cents.

I'm not sure the purple fingers "stirred democratic yearnings." I think they've been there for a long time. People from all over the Arab world have been living and visiting Europe, Canada, Australia and the U.S. for decades, and they see that life is pretty good in developed democracies with social welfare systems and protections of basic civil liberties, and for the most part they intensely dislike the dictatorial rule in the countries in which most of them live. Claiming that democratic yearnings stirred in the last six weeks because of a couple of TV images of Kurds and Shiite Iraqis holding up purple fingers doesn't show enough respect for the sophistication and long-standing political awareness and aspirations of millions of Arabs. Besides, Lebanon isn't about "democracy," it's about the particular representation currently in the Parliament, representation that appears to have been replaced with little change, btw. (And if we cared about true democracy, we'd be talking about how the Lebanese should have a more equitable apportionment of seats in the parliament, rather than maitaining a wildly skewed system that gives a number of seats to the Christians way out of proportion to their numbers in the population or the electorate.)

Besides, my point is that the symbolism of the Iraqi election is only potent in the US and among some sectors of the Iraqi populace, and if the factions there can't agree on a government, the symbolic potency of the Iraqi elections will be greatly diluted.

I think that the negotiations are having problems because of a flaw in the Iraqi constitution. It takes a 2/3 majority to form a government, but after that, everything can be done by simple majority vote, so many things that it appears difficult for the Kurds to propose a deal that the Shiites actually have to honor (since they have a majority all by themselves). They can give the Kurds the largely ceremonial office of the presidency as well as a couple of cabinet positions, and then delay any promised concessions indefinitely.


To argue that Iraqi elections had ZERO effect is counter-intuitive. Obviously, it was positive, to what degree is debatable, but it does register somewhere. I am well aware of the historical context, and was not claiming this small event as some monumental watershed. However, to just dismiss it as irrelevant seems more bias than rational IMHO.

I would suggest our Progressive Deliquency here is in not being adequately critical of the Bush measure of what constitutes a Democracy. Back in the times when E. Europe was changing, the mantra was that the first election really didn't count, it was the second, third and so on. I think we need to remind of those statements, and add a few more for good measure.

It strikes me the organizing principles of the Iraqi electorate were hardly "democratic." It was essentially Religion, Tribe and Clan and ethnic identity, all of which are characteristics assicribed at birth. Classic Democracy is about organizing around interest groups in competition for power with each other -- and about the reality that as things change, interest group identity and thus political interests also will change. Thus the standard of not calling something a "Democracy" until several elections had transpired, and interest groups had the chance to make coalitions.

Personally, I think what Iraq had was a census of those able to vote.

Census of those able to vote is a great way to think of it. And apparently there were very few Sunni Arabs able to vote in Iraq.

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