Fiddling with Iraq’s Elections

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Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker story on how the United States may have manipulated the Iraqi elections is now online, and it’s an important one, though there’s still one unanswered question here: Is manipulating elections ever a good idea? In the case of Iraq, if it was the case that some underhanded tweaking by the United States did, in fact, boost Allawi’s moderate Shiite group in the polls, at the expensive of the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance, then that might have turned out better than the alternative scenario. After all, the current Shiite majority, which turned out to be smaller than expected, has actually had to compromise with the Kurds on a variety of issues, and the Shiites in charge have taken a far more conciliatory stance towards the Sunnis—although it’s still not all that conciliatory—than they might otherwise have done. You know things aren’t going well when tampering with elections is the least bad option around, but occasionally it really might be the least bad option.

On the other hand, this little insight into the mind of the Bush administration is, if true, disturbing:

The focus on Allawi, Campbell said, blinded the White House to some of the realities on the ground. “The Administration was backing the wrong parties in Iraq,” he said. “We told them, ‘The parties you like are going to get creamed.’ They didn’t believe it.”

Um, an administration obsessed with Iran as a major threat to world peace simply couldn’t see that a bunch of Iranian-backed parties were about to win handily in the Iraqi elections? Now as it happens, this “Iranian-backed” stuff tends to get a bit overblown. Yes, as Hersh points out, Iraq has moved closer to Iran over the past few months, signing treaties and arranging for Iran to train Iraqi security forces. But so what? That’s the way countries that border each other should be acting. Better connectivity and all. Yes, true, perhaps deep in the bowels of Tehran some mullahs are plotting to take over Baghdad, covertly and sinisterly, but I don’t see how an anti-Iranian government in Baghdad—which former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was certainly heading up—would have helped matters any. But back to the passage above, that sort of sheer blindness to the realities on the ground described by Hersh are, perhaps, even more of a worry than excessive “hawkishness” towards Iran.

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