Did Bush Intervene in Iraqi Elections?
The Bush administration may have thrown covert support to its favored political parties in Iraq over objections from Congress, according to Seymour Hersh. At the very least, the administration seriously planned to do this.
Everyone knows that the US was backing the list of interim PM Allawi, whom Washington had more or less appointed. Even without covert aid, he was given all the advantages of incumbency, by appointment. He was 24 hours a day on the Iraqi television, making expensive promises. Allawi became enormously unpopular, and it is something of a miracle that his list managed to get 14 percent.
But the fact is that any US intervention was ineffective. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party, not the ones backed by Washington, won the election. Now Bush is cozying up to their representatives in Washington (Bushism is all about recognizing who the winner is).
The important point in this whole story is that it reveals the Realpolitik reason for which the Neoconservatives (including Bush and Cheney) really want “democratization.” They are convinced that multiparty elections can be covertly manipulated by the United States in countries where Washington has an interest in the outcome.
This story is an old one in the Middle East. The Young Ottoman movement for democratization in the 1860s and 1870s argued that absolute monarchy should be replaced by an elected parliament, because a single all-powerful sultan could too easily be subjugated by the British or other imperial powers. They just had to get influence over one man, and then they could set policy for the whole Ottoman public. Similar arguments were made by Iranian democrats in the 1890s and early 1900s.
But then when there was an Ottoman and an Iranian parliament, it turned out that Members of Parliament could be bribed by foreign powers. The Iranians made a Constitutional Revolution in 1905-1911. But it became clear to them in 1912 that the British and the Russians had bribed members of parliament and that democracy just wasn’t a barrier against foreign imperial penetration. Then Iran fell into chaos because of its weak government and people turned to a new dictator, Reza Khan Pahlavi. Likewise, in the Ottoman Empire, a military coup soon put an end to democracy after the 1908-1909 revolution had led to parliamentary elections. Then fears of Russian designs led the military to ally with Germany in WW I, sealing the doom of the empire. After WW I, the Turks faced French, Italian, Greek and British occupation, with the threat of Anatolia being carved up into small countries. This threat was fought by Mustafa Kemal Attaturk and the remnants of the Ottoman army, who rallied to him. He emerged as more or less president for life of a united, modern Turkey.
“Democracy” can never be viewed in isolation in Middle East politics. Because there are always several questions. How much power in our country are foreigners going to have? Can our national independence be better preserved through authoritarianism or elections?
Americans who are in a tizzy about the possibility that a Chinese company might buy the American petroleum company Unocal should stop and think how they would feel if China were actively throwing covert support to one or another American political party and buying up US congressional representatives, causing them to make policy helpful to China but harmful to, say, US workers. That is the kind of world in which Middle Easterners have been living for two centuries.