With provisional results from Saturday’s provincial elections due shortly, tension is building in Iraq — or maybe it’s just tension among journos expecting another explosion of violence.
The Washington Post has ventured out to Ramadi and interviewed Anbar’s Sunni sheikhs who announce, with voices “dipping to a quiet growl”, that they won’t stand for the despised IIP winning:
‘An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud,’ Abu Risha said. […] What would happen if his rivals win? ‘Disaster,’ he warned.
Abdul Rahman al-Jenabi stood up, his voice rising in anger. His tribesmen, he said, had paid a high price for turning against al-Qaeda, and they wanted to see change in the province’s leadership. ‘We don’t want to use force, but I am afraid that if the situation erupted, we could not control our tribesmen anymore. They don’t want to see this corrupted government continue.’
In a word: menacing.
There are many complex sociological theories about why people turn to violence to advance their goals. Mine is simple: when peace becomes more valuable than war, violence stops. As long as you have too much to lose, or nothing at all, and have ready access to the tools, you’re likely to believe spilling blood is worth it. But once you’re allowed to taste what peace has to offer, things change. Most people would rather have a reasonably happy life for their kids than burn their own house down.
Whether Iraq has crossed this threshold remains to be seen. I’m not willing to wager either way. But if they do pull off this election without a bloodbath, it’s pretty safe to say they have a working chance of getting to the next one without disintegrating.
A few months ago I suggested that those advocating rapid transition to Western-style democracy for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan should read Thomas Carothers’s 2002 essay “The End of the Transition Paradigm”, which attacks such misconceptions as…
- … countries moving away from authoritarianism tend to follow a three-part process of democratization consisting of opening, breakthrough, and consolidation;
- … the establishment of regular, genuine elections will not only give new governments democratic legitimacy but foster a longer term deepening of democratic participation and accountability;
- … a country’s chances for successfully democratizing depend primarily on the political intentions and actions of its political elites without significant influence from underlying economic, social, and institutional conditions and legacies;
- … state-building is a secondary challenge to democracy-building and largely compatible with it.
In a recent post, Andrew Sullivan quotes a Fallujah veteran, whose memories of the 2005 election eerily echo Carothers:
Setting the conditions to allow this election was the major objective of my unit at the time, and we all did everything we could to encourage the large turnout. But it seemed to me then, and still does, that this early emphasis on elections was certain to backfire. Our political leaders were selling elections as if they were a magical cure for all the problems of Iraq, that, simply by voting, Iraq would become like all the other democracies in the world. And this clearly was not the case.
Read it all. And try not to think about Afghanistan.