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Empire Notes"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.
A Blog by Rahul Mahajan
Last October, when Vladimir Putin engineered
the election of
his hand-picked subordinate Ahmad Kadyrov as president of Chechnya
tactics such as pressuring candidates to withdraw, forcing the leading
Malik Saidullayev, out with a court injunction, and appointing another
candidate to his staff to remove him from the election, Western
not slow to condemn the election as a farce and a sham. It did so again
interfered as blatantly in the recent August elections in
Ever since 9/11, however, the Bush
administration has been
treating us to a series of equally farcical “elections” with minimal or
comment from the same sources. The matter has now come to what should
be a crisis
point over plans to engineer the upcoming U.N. Security
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was once again in the news regarding his concerns that the main U.S.-affiliated political parties (the ones that formed the Governing Council and that now dominate the transitional assembly) are negotiating on a “consensus slate” of candidates for the elections. While his main reported concern is that the Shi’a majority of Iraq will be underrepresented, based on an estimate from the early 90’s that 55% of the Iraqi population is Shi’a Arab compared to his estimate of 65% today, there is a much more serious question at stake – the legitimacy of the elections.
In some countries, with a well-established parliamentary system and a history of active political parties and an inclusive public discourse, slates like this are not necessarily a problem. In systems like India’s, with numerous parties and a first-past-the-post voting system (no matter how many candidates there are, the candidate with the most votes wins, with no runoffs), such electoral alliances may be necessary to get smaller parties some degree of parliamentary representation.
What the Times neglected to mention is the
administration’s well-documented history of “managed” elections set up
under its auspices in
In the June 2002 Afghan loya jirga, roughly
assembled to pick the interim president of the country. Although all
under a great degree of pressure by U.S.-backed warlords (who did
from killing delegates before the assembly to controlling the floor at
assembly), over 800 signed a statement in support of Zahir Shah, the
monarch. According to Omar Zakhilwal and Adeena Niazi, delegates to the
More recently, the Bush administration
pushed to have Afghan
elections before the U.S. elections, then switched around and pressured
Afghan Electoral Commission to delay the parliamentary elections until
April (CSM, 7/13/04) while going ahead with presidential elections in
notion was pretty clear that there would be no time for anyone to
emerge as a
national-level alternative to Karzai, thus making the presidential
effectively one-candidate. There are 18 candidates, one of whom, Yunus
is known to many – although no one considers him a rival to Karzai, who
have no trouble prevailing against such a divided field. Even so,
In late June 2003, U.S. commanders had ordered a halt to all local elections, because they had determined that in many places people and groups they didn’t like were too popular and might win (WP, 6/28/03). That is unfortunately one of the problems with democracy. A few days later, Paul Bremer approved resumption of elections (WP, 7/1/03), but allowed local commanders to choose between appointment, election by specially vetted caucuses, and actual elections; unstated was the conclusion that U.S. commanders should choose the form of “election” based on the likelihood of getting the result they wanted.
All of these experiments in “democracy”
were, of course, in
a context where
At the national level, things have been similarly manipulated. Of course, elections have been postponed repeatedly, even though the difficulties that exist in Afghanistan did not exist in Iraq (for example, the ubiquitous ration cards could have been used as a basis for voter identification and registration); even the January 2005 elections are mandated only because other countries on the Security Council insisted on the setting of a date as a condition for approving Resolution 1546, on the so-called “transfer of sovereignty.”
Furthermore, numerous other ostensibly national political processes have been cancelled or manipulated as well. An assembly planned for June 2003, that would have involved mostly the U.S.-designated exile-dominated “Iraqi opposition” was cancelled by Paul Bremer. He said it was because the “opposition” was not representative of the country; then, a month later he chose, entirely on his own authority, 25 people, 16 of them exiles, to form the Governing Council.
This August, as the center of Najaf was ceaselessly bombarded, a national conference of roughly 1300 delegates met to select the interim national assembly, a body of 100 people whose formation was mandated by the “transfer of sovereignty” process (actually, 81 delegates were to be selected, the other 19 coming from the old Governing Council). Ostensibly picked by democratic processes in their locality, the delegates certainly did represent a wide variety of parties and views, although major groups opposed to the occupation were under-represented (Moqtada al-Sadr, whose organization was under military assault at the time, boycotted the conference).
However, the delegates at the conference learned that there would be no nomination of candidates, campaigning, or elections but instead, a pre-selected slate of 81 candidates, picked by back-room negotiations between the major U.S.-affiliated parties. Attempts by small parties to form an alternative slate fell through; at the end, the U.S.-backed slate was not even presented to the delegates for formal approval.
This last was a sham that would likely
Vladimir Putin. Apparently, the Bush administration is happy with
places it controls, like Afghanistan or Iraq, as long as there are no
(when there are, as in Florida, strange things can happen). There is
shred of a reason to doubt that this is precisely what is planned for
January elections in
There is a deplorable tendency in this
country to use words
like “freedom” and “democracy” in a purely talismanic manner, without
any actual meaning to them – only thus could the coups in
In fact, to Bush, democracy and freedom mean
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the blog Empire Notes and teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah while it was under siege in April. His latest book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” covers U.S. policy on Iraq, deceptions about weapons of mass destruction, the plans of the neoconservatives, and the face of the new Bush imperial policies, as well as continuities between Democratic and Republican policies on Iraq. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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