Leftover Democracy


When asked for his long-term plan for Iraq, President Bush recently said, “In terms of security we will do whatever it takes. . . . We will find Saddam Hussein.”

But “finding Saddam is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “When someone has a billion dollars and pampered his supporters during his rule,” he told Paris Match in its current issue, “it’s not surprising he finds help.”

“We are going to stay with the Iraqi people through that transition period,” said General Peter Pace. “To put a date on that would be wrong, to put a number on it would be wrong. We’re going to do what it takes to get that job done.”

Truth be told, Iraq is too good to be true—for Bush. The policy of the Bush administration is “No Exit.” Iraq works miracles for Bush. In one stroke, the war can shove aside bad economic news such as the jobless recovery in the recession that never was, or last weekend’s reports that the dollar has sunk to new lows against the euro, now worth an amazing $1.20. It provides the rationale for a rapidly expanding defense budget, inflating the already sky-high deficit. It gives Ashcroft wider and wider authority to perform his Christian mission across the country by invoking the Patriot Act almost everywhere and for everything from strip-club money laundering in Las Vegas to setting police provocateurs among anti-war demonstrators in California to investigating food stamp fraud. The attorney general now even has the power to browse around in the records of eBay and Internet providers without having to show probable cause.

Why should Bush want to give up Iraq when it can become a war without end waged for political gain at home?

The press described the president’s brief visit to the troops in Iraq as an uplifting moment as well as a shrewd photo op for his re-election campaign. But little attention was given to Bush’s meeting with four members of the Iraq Interim Governing Council while at the airport. He gave one of them a kiss-ass letter to be delivered to the powerful Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani, who is objecting to the American plan for Iraq on grounds it doesn’t call for true elections. (We’re all for democracy except when it might lead to bottom-up democracy for Muslims.) Instead, local officials, some elected, some not, will appoint members to a parliament. In his letter Bush affirmed that “we share with one another a basic goal, which is to make the Iraqi people happy, to return liberty to it, and to build democracy and achieve economic prosperity for it.”

Raja’ al-Khuza’i, a woman doctor and also a member of the governing council, told the London Arab paper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that Bush agreed in the letter that elections must ultimately be held, but that the U.S. was determined to stick to the June transition date, which, by inference, she took to mean that there would be no direct elections at the outset of Iraqi self-rule. She quoted Bush as saying, “It is your country. You are responsible for it. You must work hard to respect the agreement”—by which he meant the November 15 deal.

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Sheelah Kolhatkar

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