A week before the Iraqi elections, U.S. ambassador John Negroponte apparently drew the short straw Sunday: He was deployed to defend the legitimacy of the upcoming vote on the talk show circuit.
On CNN’s Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer asked about the absence of international observers, who are staying away because of violence: “Isn’t it really, though, the first time in, what, two decades that no international observers of any significant numbers have been able to monitor an election in a transitional society?”
Well, that may be, but it’s also the first time in several decades that this country is going to have an election. I think there’s a great deal of excitement about its implications for Iraq’s democracy.
Hmmmm. Blitzer then asked the good ambassador three times whether Condoleezza Rice or Senator Joe Biden was right in their dispute last week over the number of Iraqi security force members who’ve been trained. Condi quoted 120,000; Biden’s figure was 4,000. Negroponte said Senator Joe’s was too low but never gave a solid answer, escaping with vagaries like “Well, I think that the ‘well-trained’ part is very subjective.” Wolf, not known for challenging U.S. foreign policy, also asked Negroponte why Abu Musab al-Zarqawi hasn’t been captured, what happened to the $300 million in cash that was recently spirited out of the Iraqi treasury, whether Ahmed Chalabi was a “good guy” or not, and how much the occupation was costing American taxpayers.
Over at ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked the ambassador, “How will we know if the elections are a success?” to which Negroponte answered, “Well, first of all, the very fact that the election is taking place, I think, is important.” (Stephanopoulos didn’t ask the obvious follow-up of whether, by that standard, any election was ever a failure—including last year’s fraud-tainted Ukrainian vote that the U.S. did so much to reverse.)
Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press, noting that some candidates weren’t named for security reasons and that “many Iraqis still don’t know where the voting booths are going to be,” asked, “How can you hold an election in that environment?”
I just got off the telephone with General Casey, the commander of the multinational force, who has been visiting three provinces in the south, where he assures me that the security measures are very well in hand and in place, and that the expectation is that there will be large voter participation. So I think rather than just focusing on some of the problematic areas, I think one has to look at the country as a whole, and the situation in its overall context.
But as Chris Wallace at Fox pointed out, those “problematic areas” to which Negroponte referred at all his Sunday stops are four of Iraq’s 18 provinces, where some 40 percent of the country’s population lives—the equivalent of a U.S. election in which California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania were “problematic areas.” Wallace also asked about the renewed emphasis on training the Iraqis to handle security.
“Why wasn’t that done a lot sooner? And secondly, how long will it take before they are able to achieve the stated goal, which is to have the Iraqis leading the fight against the insurgency and not U.S. forces? Three months, six months, a year? How long?” Wallace asked.
Russert, however, wins the award for most insightful question: “How could an insurgency of that magnitude exist without support, significant support, from the populace?”
“Well, it may have popular support in some areas, but what I would submit to you is that core of this insurgency are ruthless, Saddamist, former-regime elements, who are aided and abetted by Al Qaeda and other international terrorists,” Negroponte answered. “I don’t think they care that much about popular support. They use terror as a tactic both against the enemy and against the populace, from whom—upon whom—they depend for support.”
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