Democracy In Iraq: Mission Impossible?

How do we define a decent outcome in Iraq? It’s safe to say that all sides want Iraq to become a self governing society. It’s also safe to say that all sides want Iraq to gain a democratic government. These are the goals, with both liberals and conservatives in agreement. The disagreement lies in how the United States should accomplish these goals.

President Bush and the Department of Defense are determined to administer elections in Iraq on January 30, 2005. This week the president proclaimed, “The elections should not be postponed. It’s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the poll.” Bush’s position on this matter troublingly does not take into the account the chaos, violence, and economic ruin Iraq is in right now. The administration in Washington and other neo-conservatives are hell bent on jamming elections down the throat of Iraqi people that they fail to take into consideration that democracy will have a difficult time surviving in a war torn and economically impoverished nation. Improving the security in Iraq is essential, and unless the US military increases forces substantially (by at least 150,000), Iraq will continue to be a dangerous place to live and work. New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman noted on a visit to Baghdad, that driving from downtown Baghdad to the airport is extremely dangerous and cannot be done without an armored motorcade. What exactly does this mean? Well, suppose you took a flight to New York City, and landed at Kennedy airport. Now suppose that on the taxi ride to Midtown Manhattan, there’s a decent chance that you’ll be blown up by a grenade, roadside bomb or kidnapped. Does that sound like a stabilized society? Would you want to live in this type of society?

It’s been 20 months since the invasion of Iraq and it is still unsafe to drive from Baghdad International Airport to the center of the city. To fix this, the United States military needs double the number of troops on the ground. The most cautious estimates say that 300,000 troops are needed to secure Iraq. Without security, democracy will not succeed. Iraqi citizens need to feel that they won’t be blown up when they go to Mosque. They need to feel that they won’t be killed on a daily trip to the market. Why should they vote in an election if they don’t feel secure? Economically, Iraq is in total ruin. A report issued this fall listed Iraqi unemployment at 70 percent. Another report, issued by the BBC said Iraq’s health care system is in complete disarray with hospitals damaged and medical supplies scarce. Much of this has to do with the fact that billions of dollars dedicated to reconstruction, have yet to be spent by the United States government. Iraq needs this money to be spent quickly. Schools, hospitals, roadways, sewers, power lines, water mains and gas lines need to be built or repaired. The quality of Iraqi life needs to improve for these elections to carry any sort of legitimacy. What will they care about political elections if they’re living without running water or electricity?

So how are these problems going to be resolved in time for the January 30th elections? They’re simply not going to be. Iraqis will go to the polls knowing that they may be killed doing so. Any person with a shred of sanity knows that is not a proper environment for an election. Yet, George W. Bush still thinks the elections should go on as planned. Our success and failure in Iraq will be determined with these elections. If January 30, 2005 is marred by violence and upheaval, any chance for democracy will be dashed. The only option is post-pone the elections until a reasonable level of security can be achieved. Unfortunately, greater security can only be attained with more troops and the president is unwilling to make that commitment. The Bush administration needs to send every troop on active military duty in the world to Iraq. They need to secure the country so that Iraqis feel safe. Next, Bush needs to spend reconstruction dollars at a dizzying pace. Unless Iraq is secure and unless some sort of economic rebound is on the horizon, democracy will not prevail.