Mailvox: woeful analogies

JP reveals some interesting thoughts:

You seem to be under some misapprehensions. I presume they are not willful blindness…

1) Acknowleding the situation in Sunni areas, where a minority of baathists still work for a return to power by violent means and makes the will of the people somewhat unclear, is a mark of mature reflection and temperance. The alternatives (“fuck ’em if they can’t make a vote” or “declare the whole enterprise illegimate because a minority of people are holding hostage a majority of the, at best, lukewarm on democracy after losing power”) are not desirable.

I’m not blind to anything. Quite to the contrary, I think it is the democratic triumphalists who are blind to the almost complete irrelevance of the voting turnout. Elections are held in tyrannies across the world every single year. Voting is not freedom. “Mature reflection and temperance” here serves as a euphemism for the admission that neither democracy nor representative democracy are being practiced in Iraq, they are instead being used as a cover for tribal power games.

JP doesn’t seem to see the illogic required to assert that a system is free and democratic while the overseeing authorities, on the sole basis of their military force, compensate those who don’t participate.

2) The ‘formula being sought’ to keep Allawi as Prime Minister isn’t sinister: it’s the way politics are done in a multi-party system. Sharon’s Likud party, for instance, is only 33% of the vote – he has to build a coalition. It’s what they do, use the right yardstick when evaluating them. The reason this works is that the parties frequently have more in common than different. Allawi is reasonably respected by all factions, and working to keep him on is like working to make Bill Frist the majority leader. In fact, the Shiite have some fairly good reasons to keep Allawi as head – a lot of it has to do with PR.

Garbage. I’ve lived for years in countries with parliamentary governments. The Sharon analogy is a poor one; you’ll note that Shas and the religious parties which serve as Likud’s junior partners never hold the prime ministership. There are times when a parliamentary system with two powerful parties will settle on a minor party member as a compromise candidate, but that clearly isn’t the case in Iraq – assuming that the pre-election polls are reasonably correct – and the Shiite list holds a near-majority.

3) Sistani isn’t the ‘leader’ of the URI – he’s the spiritual guide. That’s the equivelent of saying Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the leaders of the Republicans.

JP’s analogies are going from bad to ridiculous. First, the “spiritual leader” of Islamic parties usually is the leader. Sistani is the man with whom the USA is negotiating with, the fact that he is a cleric doesn’t change that. Neither Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell lead a coherent faction within the Republican Party nor are they even of the same Christian denomination as the president. JP would be almost as accurate to compare them with the self-disenfranchised Sunni Muslims as with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

4) Iraq is and was a much more secular place than you give it credit for. Your arguments are very much like saying ‘Christian Evangelicals are taking over the government’. It speaks more to the biases of the observer than the observed. Iraqi Shiite parties are really not interested in an Iranian-style government. Certainly, there are wackjobs there, just like here, but there seem to be moderate voices getting in play. From those Shia I happen to know, it seems a lot of them are ‘friday Moslems’ (just like here, and ‘Sunday Christians’). It’s pretty natural.

I’d consider taking this argument more seriously if Iran didn’t appear to be so enthusiastic about Sistani, and the USA so apprehensive. Especially if he hadn’t been a longtime associate of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The fact that his list appears likely to win big in the elections, but his name hasn’t been trumpeted from the cable news shows indicates the likelihood that Washington knows he’s probably going to be trouble.

5) “Fear” is the wrong word, I think, but the Founding Fathers recognized that direct democracy is amenable to demogogues and breads-and-circuses. A democratic republic, with the restraint of enumerated constitutional powers, where you can throw out the people that suck without the entire system collapsing, is the thing that most works. Now, if only our courts and government practiced that restraint. (As an aside, I _do_ think the Iraqis have shown excellent restraint in this process.)

I used to believe it worked. I don’t believe so anymore. All things have a lifespan, and while it’s difficult to say what the lifespan of a constitutional democratic republic is, I’m quite sure we’ve exceeded it. Perhaps if Jeb Bush wins the presidency in 2008, more people will begin to share my disdain for the process.