Democracy Game in Iraq
BY BILL DUNNE
30 March 2005
The Bush administration and its captive media ballyhoo the Iraqi election of 30 January as a great leap forward for freedom and democracy. They tout images of Iraqi people giving the world the purple finger under the guns and tanks and planes of the U.S. alleged coalition as demonstrating Iraq’s liberation from tyranny and attendant gratitude. The neocon would-be architects of the new world order portray the election as vindication of their policies and justification of the conquest and occupation of Iraq—the falsity of their original justifications notwithstanding. And capitalism worldwide is conforming itself to the view that the election was a restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and thus a path to papering over inter-imperialist differences about illegal wars and returning to business as usual. This victor’s propaganda, however, does not give a true picture of reality or the victor’s motives for falsifying it.
What kind of election could that of 30 January 2005 in Iraq have been? Foreign troops and their local proxies occupied the country, actively fought by a strong resistance movement. The attendant restrictions on travel and access to resources prevented prospective voters from acquiring information on issues and candidates that would enable them to vote intelligently. Many of the same security concerns just led to yet another postponement of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections. Campaigning was constrained by the security situation, divorcing candidates from constituency—conveniently for political operatives who wrapped themselves in one banner or another but whose covers could not stand much pulling—and made the contest more one of money than ideas. The occupation authorities or their quislings largely controlled the limited media available—Al Hurra TV, for example, financed by the U.S., Al Nahrain Radio, sponsored by the Iraqi Interim government, and “Your Voice,” a radio talk show supported by the U.S. military. And only groups with money and influence could engage in significant postering and leafleting—which could not be much more than sloganeering in any event. Instead of an informed preference, people were forced to vote (or not) according to imposed identities—the Americans, Iranians, and others being variously blamed for importing such identity politics into Iraq where they had traditionally been of such little importance.
Political and demographic concerns also impaired the validity of the election. A 58% turnout was claimed, but that cannot be reliably known in the absence of poll observers (The Carter Center refused to send any, and other watchers were absent as well), without an accurate census or complete voter rolls (the occupiers had no enthusiasm for a count that would reveal how many corpses and refugees their freedom and democracy had entailed), and given the various impediments to registration and voting (explosions, snipers, battles, arrests, assassinations, transit troubles, etc.)…
So what kind of freedom and democracy were the neocon business elites behind the occupation face of U.S. imperialism about with this election? They could not be about inclusion, given the exclusionary structure that made only a few parties competitive and the insistence on an election date that all but excluded Sunni participation (at the same time an Afghani election was postponed to facilitate participation). They could not be about the freedom that reliable electricity, clean water, health care, education, waste disposal, transportation, reconstruction of a diverse and vibrant economic infrastructure, etc., etc., give people from the tyranny of hunger, sickness, ignorance, poverty, misery. None of the major parties with any hope of achieving what power the occupation authority will allow the transitional government were even promising to provide such social services, let along advocating a plan to channel Iraq’s potential into organizing them. Nor were they advocating a speedy end to the occupation and thus the armed resistance to it and the concomitant insecurity for all but a few Iraqis.
Was this failure of politicians to do the obvious political thing and at least promise what the polls were and are saying the people most want no more than lack of political sophistication? Or had their imperial masters told them directly that none of that would be possible because it would unduly increase the costs and decrease the profits of doing transnational businesses in Iraq? Or did the pols merely read the neocon spoor and seek to please them?
Indeed, Iraq’s interim finance minister and member of the United Iraqi Alliance likely to retain and perhaps acquire more power in the transitional government is a proponent of privatization. Before the election, he orchestrated Iraqi oil exploitation by western oil companies, promised a new oil law would favor U.S. investors, and negotiated an austerity pact with the IMF, but is content to leave when U.S. troops should leave up to the U.S. and the masses to Saria repression. And the current prime minister is widely acknowledged to have been (be?) a CIA operative. With how many other technocratic little Eichmanns has the U.S. riddled the Iraqi regime that will determine the structure of Iraqi politics for decades to come, absent a revolution?
Clearly, then, the election was not about freedom and democracy in any ordinary sense people understand. It was, in fact, about insuring that there will be no such freedom and democracy; that there will be only the trappings of freedom and democracy…
In the past, imperialists protected and expanded their interests by sending imperial governors and bureaucrats backed by garrisons to administer the exploitation of conquered areas. That proved expensive and unsustainable against the national liberation revolutions it fomented…
Enter neo-imperialism. In it, the forms of democracy are used to deny its substance. Imperial capital discovered through its experience in first world countries that it could control a society by manipulating the political process, particularly elections. By financially supporting (or not) political parties and individual politicians, the socio-economic ruling class can ensure the election of those who will (and the exclusion of those who will not) legislate in its favor and appoint officials who will operate social institutions in its interests. Through “ownership” of the major media, the ruling class can spin this perversion of “one person, one vote” into “one dollar (or euro or yen or dinar), one vote” into the appearance of democracy and thus, by its self-serving definition, freedom. And this neo-imperialist “democratic” paradigm is actually more effective for imperialism than direct or dictator rule because it allows local forces to be played off against one another. That eliminates the necessity for more costly outside intervention against a national power unwilling to toe the transnational/neo-imperialist social, economic and political line as with the Noriega regime in Panama—and Hussein’s in Iraq.
The U.S. was motivated to begin the imposition of this neo-imperialist paradigm in Iraq with its invasion, occupation, and the current election for several reasons. One is inter imperialist rivalry. Energy—specifically, oil—is a growing necessity for the U.S. and several nascent rivals for superpower status. The E.U. lacks only a sufficient and secure source of energy to contest U.S. hegemony, as does the east Asian group that includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others (formerly known as the Asian Tigers). China and India, each of which has populations in excess of the three other superpower contenders and a booming economy, also lack the energy requisite to the competition in the future. And the energy is in the Middle East an abutting central Asia. A neo-imperialist “democracy” in Iraq politically and economically controlled by the U.S. would give the U.S. a big advantage in the competition.
Another reason the U.S. wants a neo-imperialist vassal “democracy” in Iraq is to coopt the growing popular pressure for greater freedom in repressive regimes across the Middle East region. Movements for liberalization have wrung concessions from authorities in Egypt, Lebanon, and Persian Gulf satrapies, and are on the verge of doing so in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Israel and elsewhere… The neocon theorists of the U.S. neo-imperialist model apparently think the prospective elites of these countries will see the benefits that accrue to a narrow Iraqi elite as potentially theirs in a similar model—which the U.S., of course, will help them establish. Without such manipulation, oppressed and exploited people tend to be attracted to more socialist and internationalist systems—anathema to imperial capital.
Yet another U.S. interest in pushing the election in Iraq is dividing the Middle East against itself. The burgeoning popular sentiment for opening in the region could engender a movement that would transcend national borders. A cross-border perception of commonality could raise a Middle Eastern contender for superpower status, if not based on industrial capacity, then on possession of the sine qua non for it as well as cultural integration and cohesion. A regional version of the neo-imperialist national political model could impede any such development by creating social and political schisms that could be exploited…
Notwithstanding U.S. intent and power, whether it achieves its neo-imperialist aims with the election in Iraq is still very much in question. Parallels with the U.S. experience in Vietnam are unavoidable. Despite its vast resources, the U.S. still lacks the intelligence to distinguish friend from foe (in its definitions of the terms). Its pacification efforts have largely failed; it has been unable to accomplish significant reconstruction or to win the hearts and minds of even those who participated in its election by even so much as promising them what they largely voted for: physical and economic security, self-determination, and improved living standards. And the U.S. has been unable to defeat the armed struggle against its occupation.
As a result of these factors, the U.S. has been forced to continue a repressive occupation, expensively destroying the lives and property of people virtually powerless in comparison and making them victims and martyrs in the process. That inability to impose the neo-imperialist “democracy” creates huge pressure for the U.S. to escape the new quagmire because even by winning under such circumstances, the theorists, practitioners, and beneficiaries of the occupation are losing, both domestically and on the world scene.
The Iraqi election of 30 January 2005—or another when the losses become intolerable—may ultimately provide the U.S. only that escape hatch from its neo-imperial outpost in Iraq: a chance to declare victory, decree the mess the responsibility of the elected, and depart—the last ones out perhaps clinging to the skids of fleeing helicopters.
The future holds promise!