Here's Gene Sperling on CSPAN ...,
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"An anti-terrorist comedy base...,
"Bush's deadline democracy":
The editors of the Washington Post recently informed us that "it was predictable... that the Bush administration has treated the Iraqi press, the Iraqi people and the very idea of Iraqi democracy with ... contempt". They may only have criticized the Administration's manipulation of the press, but, if only in broader terms, we agree with the assessment.
As Juan Cole directs us, in
"In Iraq, Bush Pushed For Deadline Democracy" the WaPo now tells us that Bush may simply have been too zealous in his dedication to democracy. In a retelling of the process leading to the "handover" of "power" to the transitional Iraqi government in 2004 and elections in 2005, as described by a cast of insiders, named and unnamed, we are told that there were those in the administration who argued to postpone "the Jan. 30 interim election in hopes of first tamping down the flaring insurgency and bringing disaffected factions to the table", and were overruled by the President:
Whenever he was asked in public last winter about the prospect of delaying Iraq's first election since the fall of Saddam Hussein, President Bush flatly dismissed it. His administration, he insisted, was "very firm" on going forward.
Ultimately, it did not go to a consensus decision but to Bush, who opted to stick with the election, a decision with distinct costs and benefits as the United States labored to build a democratic government in Iraq from the ground up. When U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer transferred sovereignty to Iraqi authorities in June 2004, he left behind a script with hard-and-fast deadlines for drafting a constitution and forming a government, a script that culminates Thursday with another election for a permanent parliament.
We are perhaps missing some backstory, namely what the discussion was prior to January of 2005:
First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.
Now, we are told, the Administration wanted to "postpone elections". What it originally, publically offered the Iraqis was to appoint the membership of 18 regional caucuses to select delegates to select representatives to a transitional national assembly to have an internal vote to select the executives and ministers to form the government of Iraq.
A similar "democratic" model was applied to Haiti, with the appointment of a "Tripartite Council" (a Haitian-American, a member of the minority party, and a Hatian 'UN coordinator') to select a seven member "Council of Sages" who would then submit to an interim President the name of the Prime Minister, the resulting government now moving in a forthright and democratic manner towards the restoration of republican government.
As Cole covered the dispute between the administration and Sistani:
AFP reports that six members of the Interim Governing Council met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf on Thursday to discuss his demand that general elections be held this spring. The IGC agreed with US civil administrator Paul Bremer on November 15 that caucus-type elections, by hand- picked pro-American local councils, would be held by the end of May. Sistani objected that such an election would not adequately reflect the will of the Iraqi people, and insists on one-person, one-vote general elections.
The "compromise forced by powerful political realities, especially by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani" was not - as the WaPo suggests - between "elections" and "postponed elections" but between "postponed elections" and representation by foreign appointment. Sistani's rejection of the proposed caucuses resulted in an election, just not a "free and fair elections [to] be conducted without foreign influence", the cause of the Sunni boycott.
Are we to suppose that they planned "first tamping down the flaring insurgency and bringing disaffected factions to the table" by appointing the appointees to
appoint delegates who would appoint the government?
Indeed, Sistani didn't reject postponement, it was rather the one Bush administration condition he accepted [ibid]:
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa
denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN
Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended"
at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed
Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections.
Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he
demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open,
non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US
presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January
2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse
chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the
elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food
ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end
that is exactly what they did.
Do the WaPo reporters mean that there were those in the administration who wished to postpone the elections again? The Adminisration's argument going into 2004 was that it should be allowed to appoint caucuses, justified as no accurate census could be held in time for the elections, but as the New York Times reported on 12/04/2003 that was a lie:
Iraqi census officials devised a detailed plan to count the country's entire population next summer [of '04] and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to national elections in September. But American officials say they rejected the idea, and the Iraqi Governing Council members say they never saw the plan to consider it.
It's impossible how one could imagine - having already delayed the elections, not least by outright opposing them, for so long - how postponing them further would have helped. Perhaps somebody thought maybe, after utterly alienating the Sunni population by committing a massive warcrime against them with the blessings of the appointed interim authority two months prior to the already-scheduled elections people were already preparing, that giving things some time to calm down would help, but delaying elections again would have stirred things up, not calmed them down.
Next the Washington Post informs us that "as soon as Bremer turned over sovereignty [to Allawi's appointed Transitional Government] in June 2004, the Bush administration made a pivotal decision to take a back seat -- literally". That is an unserious claim, they simply take John "largest US embassy in the world" Negroponte's reported non-engagement during meetings with Iraqi officials as evidence of the US staying out of Iraqi affairs.
The ambassador's post represents only US engagement through public diplomacy. US engagement would otherwise continue in its absolute control over "sovereign" Iraq's military and security matters, nevermind its appointees and advisors that would remain in Iraqi ministries, or its influence via NGOs like the IRI that continue to support Iraqi political parties. By all appearances US engagement was handed over, as in accordance with a long tradition of US policy in the Middle East, to intelligence and military resources. The WaPo only tells us that the State Department - not the Bush administration - backed off under Negroponte as public diplomacy was abandoned, a familiar story.
In hindsight should it be surprising that the Washington Post has been a willing conduit for the official revision of well recorded history, papering over Washington's consistent opposition to Iraqi democracy with headlines about how Bush has been too adamant a supporter of democractic principle and "timeline"s, so much so that it might throw Iraq into a state of violent chaos, anarchy even, and jeapordize Americans' high hopes for these long suffering people? Of course not, that's how they acquire such reliable access to be able to tell such reliably incoherent stories.