Sixty percent of the eligible electorate in Iraq voted, according to the report in Liberation. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Washington Post, the administration is signaling: no timetable, no withdrawal.
“The Bush administration has for now ruled out creating a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq after today's elections, but military commanders have charted a plan to have Iraqi security forces begin taking the lead in combat operations in certain parts of the country as early as spring.”
Such blind and expected venting of Bush imperialism goes well with the Bush version of democracy, on display in this article about the way the Bush people are pressuring Qatar to cripple Al Jazeera. And it should lead us directly to Fiske’s pessimistic take on the whole thing, as a vast farce:
“The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. "Transition of power", says the hourly logo on CNN's live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution, and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power.
They have no control over their own oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their only power is that of the American military and its 150 000 soldiers whom we could all see on the main intersections of Baghdad yesterday.”
Fiske is right about the military, but wrong, we think, not to see the vote in any but an instrumental light. Ourselves, we see the vote much more as an expression of popular power – like the retaking of Najaf by the train of people that marched in Sistani’s wake. As an election, this was a terribly flawed one, of course: the CPA rule that made it a one time, nation wide venture, were peculiarly ill suited to the nature of Iraq – no surprise there, since the CPA’s ideas in toto were more suited to Mississippi than Mesopotamia. And to hold an election which will elect people with the shocking lack of power Fiske enumerates does lend the business the air of a Potemkin village. Plus, of course, the lack of information, due mostly to U.S. generated censorship -- Allawi's arrests of newsmen and his closing down of Al Jazeera's operation in Iraq follows the expected tyrannical pattern that the U.S. likes to inculcate in its factotums.
But political pundits have a tendency to take the mechanical output of politics – who is in and who is out – as the whole of politics. It isn’t. Politics is also a cultural performance, an allegory of multiple desires. As a cultural act, the voting, and even the boycott of the voting, shows that the Iraqis can take their lives into their own hands. It shows the majority will stand up to armed threat. And it shows that the minority, the Sunnis, are well aware of the crimes that are being committed against them by the sinister Americans. So the question is:
Is this a situation in which 150,000 American troops, then, are needed? And if so, what are they needed to do?
Well, obviously, the need to keep them there is generated solely in D.C. imperialist megalomania and the interests of those Iraqi politicos with homes in London or the U.S. If the vote generates that realization among the Iraqi population, here’s one possibility: the amplification of Iraqi sensitivity, so that every American outrage will be resented even more, as an imposition upon a proven sovereign body. A tacit timetable of withdrawal, ticking in the nervous systems of Iraqis, will start regardless of the fantasists in D.C.
This is our hope. However, we should hedge this with another scenario. In this one, the amplified sensitivity will become a form of Shi’ite triumphalism, thus making the Sunni/Shi’ite cleavage even more lethal. The Americans will continue being used as an instrument, on the part of some Shi’a faction, of ethnic cleansing, and will take the opportunity to exact their conditions, particularly as the Saudis have finally realized two things in the last year: you have more money come in from forty dollars per barrel than you do from twenty, and the Bush people don’t care if the dollar plummets to 50 cents to the Euro. This makes Iraq much more valuable territory. It will be interesting to see whether Chavez, who is trying to create an international bloc of state run oil organizations, will start pinging on the American radar screen, given these circs.