Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bush did say that democracy was hard


To be proper democratic elections, there should be some reasonably direct, transparent connection between how the people voted, and who takes office. In Iraq, no such thing. The nineteenth-century British prime minister and foreign minister Lord Palmerston once said that only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein question--Prince Albert, who was dead, a professor who went insane, and Palmerston himself, “and I have forgotten.” In the case of the process by which Iraq’s next prime minister is even now being chosen, perhaps only a professor, Juan Cole, understands.

What we’re looking at is so much democracy as to be undemocratic. You can’t determine the will of the people with 111 parties running, which was the result of the electoral system the US imposed. That system put a premium on private back-room deals regarding the distribution of seats within lists, coalitions within coalitions, extra-legal rules insisted upon by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and the endless weeks of negotiations Cole describes. Skim Cole’s post if you, understandably, don’t want to put in the time required to follow it all, and see if it sounds like anything recognizable as democracy to you.

I used the Palmerston thing as my historical allusion du jour because I couldn’t remember if it was the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years’ War, or some other peace treaty, which was so complicated that it was described as “the peace which passeth all understanding.”

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