09/28/2004: Juan Cole weighs in....
I'd like to make three comments on this story. The first is to point out that this sort of behavior by the Bush administration fatally undermines the ideal of democracy in the Middle East. If Muslims think that "democracy" is a stalking horse for CIA control of their country, then they will flee the system and prefer independent-minded strongmen that denounce the US. The constitutional monarchies established in the Middle East by the British were similarly undermined in the popular imagination by the impression they gave of being mere British puppets. This was true of the Wafd Party in Egypt in the 1940s and early 1950s, which the Free Officers overthrew in 1952 in the name of national indepencence. It was also true in Iraq, where in 1958 popular mobs dragged the corpse of the pro-British Prime Minister Nuri al-Said through the streets and finished off the British-installed monarchy.
Second, I found the Time magazine diction about Pelosi sexist. The article described her as having "come unglued" on hearing of the plan. "Coming unglued" is the wrong image here. She didn't go hysterical and fall apart. If you were going to be glib, you could have described her as "livid" or "going ballistic." But such journalistic buzzwords for alarm and anger are reserved for men (no doubt the phallic connotations of intercontinental ballistic missiles help gender the image). Pelosi did not become "unglued." Rather, she intervened forcefully and effectively. She appears to have mobilized a bipartisan "powerful women" network with Rice, whom she strong-armed (another simile not usually used of women). Of course, she also was in a position to mobilize the Democrats in Congress across gender boundaries.
The ultimate Congressional check on presidential abuse is not mentioned in the Constitution. It is the Leak to the Press, with Time cooperating. Although the story suggests that the battle was fought and won by Pelosi months ago, in fact the leak at this point in time is designed to forestall the Bush administration from reverting to plan A if it wins the November election.
The other corner of the story is Iran. The scheme to influence the elections is justified with reference to Iranian funding of candidates.
But is this charge plausible? The pre-picked slates of candidates for the January elections will run on a handful of party tickets-- including the 2 Kurdish ones, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, the Shiite al-Da`wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. I don't know for whom the Sunni Arabs are supposed to vote if these are the choices.
So to whom might Iran give money? It has a tight alliance with Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. But then so does the US, and has had for two decades.
Iran might give money to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which was based in Tehran for over 20 years. But SCIRI has complained bitterly in recent months that Iran's Arabic-language satellite television channel declined to criticize Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army for their thuggish behavior in Najaf. Iran and SCIRI no longer seem on very good terms. In 2003, the Iranian hardliners had warned the al-Hakim family that leads SCIRI not to ally with the Americans in overthrowing Saddam. It was Rumsfeld who negotiated with SCIRI and brought them to Iraq and gave them a seat on the Interim Governing Council, and then gave them the Finance Ministry in the current caretaker government. This is a party that the CIA needs to counteract? The Bush Administration practically installed it in Iraq!
The Iranians might give money to al-Da`wa, another Shiite party. But al-Da`wa cooperated with the US invasion and rule of Iraq, and members or ex-members were given several seats on the Interim Governing Council. Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari is a leader of al-Da`wa. He was appointed by the UN in consultation with the United States. So, now, the US has to give money to other people to keep Jaafari out of office? What sense does that make? Nor is the London branch of al-Da`wa, from which Jaafari comes, very close to the hardliners in Iran. It is more lay than clerical, and rejects the Khomeinist theory of clerical rule.
As for the Iraqi National Congress, Rumsfeld practically turned Iraq over to it in summer of 2003, and would have completely done so if Colin Powell and Tony Blair hadn't stopped him. So now CIA black money has to be used to block it because of its ties to Tehran--ties that Rumsfeld knew all about all along?
I confess to not being able to understand the US-inspired scheme for the elections, with a limited number of party slates, or how independent candidates could run in such a system. It appears to me that the Sadrists are effectively excluded under this system (which may suit them-- see below). If this exclusion is already built into the system, then Iran could hardly change anything by giving the Sadrists money. The evidence is that anyway to top leaders of Iran are nervous about Muqtada al-Sadr being a loose cannon, and it is not at all sure that they would fund him even if he were running, which he is not. He complains bitterly about Iranian influence on Iraqi Shiism, for his part.
So, the "cover story" of forestalling "Iranian influence" doesn't hold water. Bush just wanted to buy himself an election, in the Bush tradition.
Len on 09.28.04 @ 01:11 PM CST