For future reference: Defining Legitimacy

The Iraqi elections turned out to be an unqualified success, and I’m very happy about that. I’m somewhat less happy about the attempts before the elections to set standards of voter participation and security by which to measure the legitimacy of the elections. The unspoken expectation of those who did it was that they could have disqualified the vote if it didn’t measure up to the unrealistic standards set by themselves. But what would it have mattered if hardly any Sunnis had shown up? And what if the terrorists had succeeded in killing large numbers of voters? The responsibility would have rested on the terrorists, and nobody else.

Anyway. Iraq is very likely not the last Islamic dictatorship to fall during GWB’s tenure, so I would like to propose, for future reference, a simple criterion for legitimacy (for it really isn’t necessary to jump over every stick the anti-war crowd is holding up for us):

The new form of government shall be considered legitimate if it offers more freedom and better conditions of living than the previous one, and also offers room for further improvement within the same system, that is without a further revolution.

You probably noticed that I’m not mentioning democracy. That is because it might not be possible to hold elections as soon as in Iraq, for the security situation in countries like Syria (apart from some Druze and Kurds, almost all Syrians are Sunni Arabs) and Iran (three times the size of Iraq and a population of 65 million, with a corresponding potential for problems) might be much worse than in Iraq. But as long as the criterion I set above is met, I don’t see how this would diminish the (as yet potential) new governments’ legitimacy, for it would yet again be the responsibility of the terrorists in those countries, and anyway, there are plenty of internationally recognized governments that are not democratic.

If there actually are elections, they also don’t have to be perfect the first, or even the third or fourth, time around, depending on local conditions at the time. There will be plenty of time to work out any problems. The same goes for rule of law; it would be nice if it could be imposed from the start, but that, too, takes time, and probably longer than democracy itself; Western countries had rule of law centuries before they became democratic, after all. Learning from the West, and the Iraqi example, they probably will be able to muddle through in the meantime; not that Iraq has real rule of law as of yet, but it certainly is muddling through very well.

For all my optimism I don’t expect any of this to be easy, but this time around let’s at least strangle frivolous debates about ‘illegitimacy’ in the cradle. If the people in those countries are made better off as a result of the process then it is legitimate – period.

12 thoughts on “For future reference: Defining Legitimacy”

  1. deja vu again:

    . The date is September 3, 1967:

    U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote
    Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

    by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 3– United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

    According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

    ….A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

    fwiw :)

  2. Vietnam wasn’t a disaster because they had an election or because the Thieu govt was imperfect. It was a disaster because we abandoned our side while the other side and its backers continued to fight. If we want to repeat the Vietnam experience we should withdraw from Iraq now. OTOH, if we want to succeed in Iraq we should do what we didn’t do in Vietnam — support a relatively liberal ally against ruthless totalitarian enemies, and keep up the support until we win.

  3. Mark,

    And when in Feb 1968, the Viet Cong attacked in the Tet Offensive, the people of South Viet Nam did not rise up to join them as the VC had expect and the VC were utterly crushed. They never took the field again in significant numbers.

    Had we not subsequently explicitly telegraphed our intentions abandon the people of South Vietnam we would have won right then according to memoirs of North Vietnamese officials published since the end of the Cold War.

    When the South Vietnam eventually fell, it did so only to a massive external invasion, not an internal uprising. The invasion succeeded because people like Ted Kennedy had cut off all military support and supplies to the South Vietnam. They were alone, whereas North Vietnam had the full backing of the Soviet Union and China. They were crushed.

    The same dynamic occurred in Cambodia with even more horrific results.

    The lesson from Vietnam is: don’t put your foreign policy and lives of millions of innocent people in the hands of preening Leftist who are more concerned with their own standing in society the then lives of millions.

    As long as people like you are kept as far from the decision making process as possible, Iraq will turn out just fine.

  4. What they didn’t tell you was that this figure was provided by Farid Ayar, the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq (IECI) before the polls had even closed.

    When asked about the accuracy of the estimate of voter turnout during a press conference, Ayar backtracked on his earlier figure, saying that a closer estimate was lower than his initial estimate and would be more like 60% of registered voters.

    The IECI spokesman said his previous figure of 72% was “only guessing” and “was just an estimate,” which was based on “very rough, word-of mouth estimates gathered informally from the field. It will take some time for the IECI to issue accurate figures on turnout.”

    Referencing both figures, Ayar then added, “Percentages and numbers come only after counting and will be announced when it’s over … It’s too soon to say that those were the official numbers.”

    But this isn’t the most important misrepresentation the mainstream media committed.

    What they also didn’t tell you was that of those who voted, whether they be 35% or even 60% of registered voters, were not voting in support of an ongoing US occupation of their country.

    In fact, they were voting for precisely the opposite reason. Every Iraqi I have spoken with who voted explained that they believe the National Assembly which will be formed soon will signal an end to the occupation.

    And they expect the call for a withdrawing of foreign forces in their country to come sooner rather than later.

    This causes one to view the footage of cheering, jubilant Iraqis in a different light now, doesn’t it?

    But then, most folks in the US watching CNN, FOX, or any of the major networks won’t see it that way. Instead, they will hear what Mr. Bush said, “The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East,” and take it as fact because most of the major media outlets aren’t scratching beneath film clips of joyous Iraqi voters over here in the land of daily chaos and violence, no jobs, no electricity, little running water and no gasoline (for the Iraqis anyhow).

    What They’re Not Telling You About the “Election”

    The day of blood and elections has passed, and the blaring trumpets of corporate media hailing it as a successful show of “democracy” have subsided to a dull roar.

    Dahr Jamail

    why take my word for it?

  5. Jonathan:
    If we want to repeat the Vietnam experience we should withdraw from Iraq now. OTOH, if we want to succeed in Iraq we should do what we didn’t do in Vietnam — support a relatively liberal ally against ruthless totalitarian enemies, and keep up the support until we win.
    What if — Every Iraqi I have spoken with who voted explained that they believe the National Assembly which will be formed soon will signal an end to the occupation.
    What if — Dahr Jamail’s friends actually represent Iraqi views?

  6. Mark,

    I must confess that the spin that Iraqi voted just because they hate us and want us to leave never really occurred to me. It’s brilliant in a way. I hope the spin doctor was well paid.

    Unfortunately, I have to tell you that I feel confident in asserting vast majority of liberation proponents believe that Iraqi people voting so that they can create their own democratic government and manage their own affairs so that they no longer require us is an incredibly positive sign.

    Nobody like being invaded. Of course, nobody likes living in a terror state either. Given time most Iraqi will endorse our invasion as a necessary tradeoff, especially if we do not falter and they create a functioning democracy (however imperfect).

  7. Shannon-turns out he’s an unembedded indept (liberal)journalist.

    Newtopia interview with Dahr Jamail:
    I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and attended college at Texas A&M University where I majored in Speech Communications. After graduating, I moved to Colorado, then Utah, then Washington State where I worked for awhile on a Masters in English Literature. Funds ran out, so I took a job working in an air monitoring laboratory on Johnston Island, a US territory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We monitored the air at a chemical demilitarization plant that incinerated 6% of the chemical weapons (now obsolete) of the military.


  8. Mark,

    I didn’t think his name sounded Iraqi. When accessing any information from Iraq it is absolutely vital to know the ethnic group you are talking to. Unless you get a representative cross section of the entire ethnic spectrum your information will be severally slanted.

    For example, Kurds are widely pro-American having lived under de facto American occupation for the last 15 years. Their opinions on the American presence are often far over the top and are generally totally unrepresentative of the other 85% of the Iraqi population.

    At the other extreme, people from certain Sunni clans, usually with names like al-Trikit, al-Ramadi etc, are basically in the same position as white plantation owners were at the end of the Civil War. They stand to lose their traditional dominate position and therefor almost never have a good thing to say about the occupation.

    Shia and tribes of Sunni not strongly affiliated with Saddam’s reign tend to fall in between the two extremes with Sunni generally more hostile and Shia generally more positive.

  9. Mark,

    I also meant to add to the above that it is nearly totally impossible for one individual to get a good feel for the entire country because people to tend spend their time mostly in one particular region where the ethnic demographic is skewed.

    Many of the most negative Shia live in Baghdad were almost all journalist go but most of the most positive Shia live in the numerous small agricultural communities in the east. Most of those Shia never saw any fighting in the major operations phase and seldom experience any violence in the fight against the terrorist and insurgents. They were denied medical care, clean water and electricity under Saddam in addition to the ordinary oppressions that all Shia faced so their lives have much improved after the liberation.

    In general, I think that reporting is largely useless for understanding a large scale event like Iraq. Journalist have built in systemic biases of their media, especially “if it bleeds it leads”.

    Trying to understand Iraq through the lenses of reporters is like trying to understand a communities crime problem by watching the local 6 o’clock news.

Comments are closed.