Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fair and Honest Elections?

An old Sixties song by satirist Tom Lehrer jokingly notes that we send the Marines to trouble spots until "somebody we like can be elected." That life imitates art was once again dramatically illustrated by the revelations that the United States -- gasp! -- was tilting the playing field in the Iraq election last winter so that Iyad Allawi and his slate of American allies would win. Writes Seymour Hersh in the July 25 issue of The New Yorker:
Warrick’s plan [Thomas Warrick, a senior adviser on Iraq for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] involved using forty million dollars that had been appropriated for the election to covertly provide cell phones, vehicles, radios, security, administrative help, and cash to the parties the Administration favored.
Incidentally, the most prominent mention of this story in by The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer, whose story -- a denial that the plan was ever actually executed -- appeared on page 4 of the A Section on Monday. (Read the entire article.)

In The New Yorker Hersh goes on to say:
By the late spring of 2004, according to officials in the State Department, Congress, and the United Nations, the Bush Administration was engaged in a debate over the very issue that Diamond had warned about: providing direct support to Allawi and other parties seen as close to the United States and hostile to Iran. Allawi, who had spent decades in exile and worked both for Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat and for Western intelligence agencies, lacked strong popular appeal. The goal, according to several former intelligence and military officials, was not to achieve outright victory for Allawi—such an outcome would not be possible or credible, given the strength of the pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties—but to minimize the religious Shiites’ political influence. The Administration hoped to keep Allawi as a major figure in a coalition government, and to do so his party needed a respectable share of the vote. (Read the entire article.)
The idea was to try to get a secular Shiite -- Allawi -- into a position of power where he would be able to both mollify the Iraqi Shiite faction and provide a counterbalance to the religious Shiite government of Iran. But more than the astonishment that the U.S. actually tried to influence the outcome of an election -- just look at Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 to show how commonplace this is -- should be the utter bewilderment as to why America would throw its support behind a faction that could conceivably partner with the Shiites in Iran. Hersh quotes an anonymous State Department official as saying the U.S. backed the wrong horse:
“The story that should be written is why the neoconservatives and others in the U.S. government who were hostile to Iran had this blind spot when it came to the election”—that is, why they endorsed a process that, as Warrick and his colleagues saw it, would likely bring pro-Iranian parties to power.
Warrick's proposal was hotly debated, and ultimately defeated, as Hersh writes:
In any case, the State Department official said, Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, put an end to Warrick’s efforts in the early fall. Armitage confirmed this, and told me that he believed that he was carrying out the President’s wishes. “There was a question at a principals’ meeting about whether we should try and change the vote,” Armitage recalled, and the President said several times, “We will not put our thumb on the scale.”
And that should have been the end of it. But it wasn't. What the Bush administration turned to, Hersh asserts, was deep-black-cover tactics: covert action and operatives so buried that they escaped scrutiny and oversight by Congress and governmental watchdogs. Writes Hersh:
In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush Administration’s increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals. This allowed the Administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders.
In other words, if the law says you can't do this, just get around the law. Allawi's slate did well, but Allawi did not become prime minister. The government that was formed out of the coalition that emerged from the balloting is attempting to bring Sunnis and Kurds into a truly representative government. Their attempts have been hindered by the fierce insurgency that shows no sign of abating. So, was the apparent vote-rigging successful or not, good or bad? Writes Hersh:
[W]hat the Administration accomplished in its interventions is questionable. The efforts to reduce the Shiites’ plurality, if they had any effect, only delayed their formation of a government, contributing to the instability and disillusionment that have benefitted the insurgency in recent months. The election outcome also strengthened the political hand of the Kurds, who have demanded more autonomy and refused to disband their powerful militias.
And the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari just announced a pact with Iran! If nothing else, if you're going to rig the election of a nation you are building under siege, at least you want to make sure that the result won't be a drawing together of your puppet and your biggest enemy.

All this brings to mind several points. One, that the voice of the people seems to mean little to this administration. And two, it's beginning to look more and more that this White House is the original gang who couldn't shoot straight. To the detriment of millions of people around the world.


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