Iraq Election Possibilities: The Road to Damascus

Lord William Rees-Mogg discusses January 30 Iraq Election Possibilities, giving an optimistic and pessimistic view.

 “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

“And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.”

— Acts 9: 6-8

What will George Bush do now that he has been sworn in for his second term and is no longer accountable to voters? He will not likely ever run for public office again. Short of impeachment, he has nothing to fear from electoral politics. There is nothing to keep the man from finally embracing his destiny. But where will he find it, Damascus, Tehran, or neither?

Seymour Hersh tells us in his New Yorker expose, by way of appalling leaks from the national security establishment, that America is already canvassing nuclear sites in Iran for future pre-emptive strikes. Are Hersh’s sources disgruntled CIA bureaucrats on their way out, taking one last swipe at Bush? Or are they leaking to pre-empt the policy itself, hoping the light of day will scuttle the plans?

I asked these and other questions to Lord Rees-Mogg at lunch today. We met at the Royal Horseguards Hotel on Whitehall Court. The room was nearly empty, and the conversation was wide ranging. We discussed Iran and the Iraqi elections, more about which from him below.

We differed slightly on what to expect from President Bush in the second term. Lord Rees-Mogg points out that Bush is without allies in any kind of strike on Iran. It would cost him his domestic agenda in Congress. And it might be exactly the kind of policy move that could drive the British Labour government into the arms of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, leading to an eventual British ratification of the EU constitution and entry into the euro.

That would certainly have a major strategic impact. Bush will have to weigh the consequences of going into Iran with a coalition of one against the consequences of doing nothing as Iran acquires a nuclear weapon. My suspicion is that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld know that history is not going to judge them on the success of Social Security reform. It is going to judge them on their attempt to transplant civil society in Mesopotamia.

Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would be on the wrong side of history – if it were written today. As David Frum pointed out in a recent article, the United States is already in a regional war in the Middle East, but is not yet fighting it like a regional war. Everyone else in the region IS, and that includes Syria, the Saudis, Iran, and Israel.

These three men do not want to be remembered like George Bush the Elder, a man who started something he couldn’t finish. But it’s not just ex-State Department and CIA employees fighting a covert war against the administration. Republican senators like Chuck Hagel and John McCain DO have elections in their future, presidential ones perhaps.

It would be a world-historical gamble for George Bush to take on Damascus, Tehran, or both. Would destroying their sanctuary in Syria prevent former Baathists from orchestrating the insurgency inside Iraq? Or has the insurgency already taken on a long life of its own? Would bombing Iran allow Iraq’s Shiites to establish a democratic majority government free of Iranian influence in Iraq? Or is any Shiite government in Iraq going to be sympathetic to Iranian influence, regardless of what George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld wish?

Darned if I know any of the answers sitting at my desk in London tonight. But I do know that George Bush is not intimidated by taking on larger-than-life challenges. He may even think it’s his calling. And if that’s the case, you can chuck all the rational objections to more conflict out the window.

And who knows? Maybe in the long run, the Bush doctrine will be vindicated. It is the fate of prophets to be stoned in their own time. Only a visionary could tell you what the future might look like 15 years from now. Lord Rees-Mogg does have a talent for strategic forecasting. (And I’m pleased to report we may soon be embarking on a successor volume to The Sovereign Individual, the last book he collaborated on with former SI editor Jim Davidson.)

But all of that is in the future. What we do know is that in less than 10 days, the third election in less than a year will be held in the Middle East. What is riding on it, and what are some possible outcomes? Lord Rees-Mogg explains below.


Dan Denning

Setback or Great Leap Forward?

by Lord William Rees-Mogg                                               

The most important political event of the year is likely to be the Iraq election on Jan. 30. The insurgents, largely Sunni members of the old Saddam Hussein party, plus foreign terrorists, understand this very well. If the election is a success, and produces a democratically elected government, that will be a serious setback for the terrorists.

If they manage to prevent the election being held, or turn it into a mere mockery, with few brave enough to vote, that would be a defeat for Iraq’s democratic forces and for the United States. There would be a serious impact on international confidence, affecting stock markets and oil prices.

If the election produces the expected results, it will create clear majorities in the Shia south and in the Kurdish north, and Shia majorities in the Shiite area of Baghdad. The Sunnis may largely boycott the election in the area of greatest terrorist activity, the Sunni Triangle. The Shia community is in the majority — nearly 60% of Iraqis are Shiites, with about 20% Kurdish and most of the rest Sunni.

The Sunni minority supported Saddam Hussein and was rewarded with power and privilege. It seems quite likely that the north and south will vote in large numbers but that there will be a partial boycott in the Sunni Triangle itself. In that case, the elections would be criticized on the grounds that they were not representative of the Sunni minority.

But the Sunnis would still be a minority if they all went out to vote. If the Shia and Kurdish victories in their own areas are sufficiently large, the government will be legitimately elected, even if 20% of potential voters have boycotted it and some others have been too frightened to vote. It all depends on the numbers, like any other election.

Iraq Election Possibilities: Optimistic and Pessimistic Views

The optimistic view — probably too optimistic — is that the election will return a Shia government, with a Kurdish wing, as the natural majority in Iraq. With the continued assistance of American and British troops, this government would build up an Iraqi army able to impose control on the terrorists. In a year or two, the allied forces may be reduced. The terrorists would have made their supreme effort to prevent the election from taking place, and would have failed. As they would have a genuine Iraqi government, the people of Iraq would cease to support the terrorists.

The pessimistic view is that the election will be so badly affected by terrorism that it will not seem to be valid, that there will only be a few thousand Iraqis with the courage to join the army, or, at any rate, to fight the terrorists, that there will be a civil war between Sunni and Shias and a de facto partition of Iraq, leading not to peace but the continued civil war.

Probably, the outcome will be somewhere between the two. I would hope that the Shia would get out their own vote, which is the condition of establishing a democratic government. I think that the election may prove decisive in the long run. But I do not think that Iraq is going to become a stable and peaceful democracy in any short time. There is still plenty of trouble ahead. 

January 20, 2005