Iraq Elections Vital to Bush's World Vision
Kevin Cooney (Assistant Professor of Political Science, Union University) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Sean Curtin: The EU, and the world, is awaiting the outcome of the Iraqi interim election to see how it will influence the situation in the country. As predicted, in the run up to the historic ballot there have been numerous terrorist attacks on polling stations and other targets. Despite the very real dangers, the Shia majority seem extraordinarily determined to vote, many believing that it is their religious duty to do so. On the negative side, many Sunni appear apathetic or hostile towards the process, viewing it as a means of transferring power away from their long dominant minority to the Shia majority. How is this vote being seen in the US?
Kevin Cooney: If the Iraqi people feel that they can make it to the polls and back alive, they will vote in droves. I believe that they will vote because this is their chance for democracy and to take back control of their country. If the Shia vote in droves, I believe that we might see a spill over into the Sunni areas with higher than expected turnout as a hedge against Shia domination at the polls. However, I do not believe that the Iraqis will vote if they think that they will die. Will security be enough? I hope for the Iraqi people's sake that it will. There will be some successful attacks, but the US needs this election to succeed in Iraq and both sides know it. Both sides will be doing their utmost to make it a success or failure. If I were a betting man, I would bet on the US and the Iraqi public given the success in Afghanistan, which was also predicted to be a disaster and turned out to be an unqualified success. However, the opposition in Iraq appears to be much more sophisticated and success will not be a sure thing. If the Iraqi people want to take back control of their country this election needs to be an unqualified success.
One further note is that if this election succeeds, the US may be asked to leave by the new Iraqi government. The Bush Administration may be tempted to jump at such a request as a quick way out "with dignity" and there would likely be high level pressure from the UN, Europe, and the American public to take the "exit." However, I do not believe it would be wise to leave until we are sure that the Iraqi government can hold its own (I also do not believe that they would make such a request unless they feel that they can hold their own). Otherwise there will be civil war.
Sean Curtin: Recent comments made by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, have left Europeans wondering if the new Bush administration is considering a possible attack on Iran. There was also a recent article in the New Yorker magazine that indicated the United States had conducted secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets. However, Tehran has been highly dismissive of the idea. Commenting specifically on the New Yorker article, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on 20 January, "We believe the possibility of America attacking Iran is very low, as it is involved in other places." He added, "I do not think the Americans would do such a crazy thing as carry out military attacks against Iran." Khatami warned, "If any country tries to invade our country, we are strong enough to defend ourselves." What is your assessment of the chances of a US strike against Iran?
Kevin Cooney: I don't see an attack on Iran as likely unless Iran makes itself into "a clear and present danger". American relations with Iran have been bad for more than 25 years since the fall of the Shah. Nasty words and saber rattling go back and forth all the time. This being said, I do believe that the US would like to make Iran think that there might be the possibility that it may attack. It wants Iran to believe that if it goes too far in certain behaviors, it will cause the US to attack, thus making Iran think very carefully so as to not invite an American attack.
The primary goal of US saber rattling seems to be to give some leverage to the European initiatives working to control Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran could also get American attention if it chooses to interfere in Iraq. I believe it would be a mistake for Iran, or anyone else (like North Korea), to think that the US is overstretched and that they can get away without overt military action. Contrary to what President Khatami has said, Iran would be no match for the US military.
If the US were to invade Iran, the US might have an easier time there than in Iraq as there seems to be large scale popular support for the Bush Administration in Iran. I base this on public opinion polling in Iran which gives the US 75-80% positive ratings and the fact that millions of Iranians took to the streets to celebrate President Bush's victory over Senator John Kerry. I believe that there is a large segment of the Iranian people that would welcome an American invasion to remove the Mullahs with an immediate/quick exit. However, I also believe that they will be disappointed. Occupying Iran could be just as difficult as Iraq due to the fact that it only takes a small percentage of the population actively engaging in resistance to make life hell for all. However given the "democratic institutions" already in place in Iran, it might be easier to make a quick exit before the opposition was able to organize. However in sum, Bush could not "sell" another war unless there was an overt threat obvious to the American public, thus no American invasion of Iran is likely in the foreseeable future.
Sean Curtin: What do you think the EU should make of President Bush's second inaugural address?
Kevin Cooney: I believe that Bush's second inaugural address will go down in history as a great speech, not for its eloquence, but for its redefining of the concept of sovereignty. Call it the Second Bush Doctrine if you will (the First Bush Doctrine being the doctrine of preemption). Bush, in his speech, in essence removed the right of sovereignty from non-democratic nations. This is a huge challenge to the UN and the political position that the EU has staked out. The UN in essence is a club that gives legitimacy to dictators and authoritarian rulers as the majority of sovereign states in the UN are non-democracies. What Bush did in his speech by redefining democracy was to say that if the leadership of a country is not elected by the people of the country through some democratic mechanism (who outside of the Bush Administration gets to define what is democratic or not is not known), that country has no right to sovereignty. To say that this Bush Doctrine II will be resisted even more than the first would be an understatement. However, the concept of sovereignty has been in need of redefinition for some time and the relegation of non-democracies to second class status is a radical redefinition.
The question is will this new definition take hold? I believe that the next four years will dictate whether it will or not. Bush's success or failure as a leader will determine the future. Loved or hated, I believe that George W. Bush has the potential to go down in the history of the 21st century as one of the rare political leaders who shaped the future of mankind. Just like "Teddy" Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Reagan, and Thatcher did for the 20th century. These leaders, both good and bad, shaped the future of human history by their decisions. The EU as a collection of sovereign democracies will have to decide if it wants to get on board with this new definition of sovereignty or not. Both acceptance and resistance to the second Bush Doctrine are problematic for the future of Europe in the short run and the long run.
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