Legitimacy, Legitimacy Über Alles

In a great article titled “Elections Are Not Democracy,” Fareed Zakaria articulates the fear that many of us share: the quest to justify our invasion of Iraq has usurped priority from the goal of creating a stable Iraq.

The United States has essentially stopped trying to build a democratic order in Iraq and is simply trying to fight the insurgency and gain some stability and legitimacy. In doing so, if that exacerbates group tensions, corruption, cronyism, and creates an overly centralized regime, so be it.
Zakaria’s thesis mirrors Lawrence Kaplan’s assertion (in an article previously referenced here) that, "The war for a liberal Iraq is destroying the dream of a liberal Iraq,” which was his conclusion after a recent visit to the war-torn nation. The elections are, of course, simply just the latest in a string of half-baked achievements (such as the June turnover) concocted to approximate an ongoing success.

No matter what the violence, the elections are an important step forward, for Iraq and for the Middle East. But it is also true, alas, that no matter how the voting turns out, the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria.
The elections are no less important for the Bush administration as well, as the appearance of successful elections not only justify this particular intervention, but lend credibility to the Bush Doctrine of preemption, thereby ensuring future endeavors of the same intent. James Wolcott quotes the Iranian blogger Hoder, who gave voice to a thought shared by many of us, I imagine:

On the one hand I'm really excited that Iraqi people have been able to start the path to a potentially democratic political system, on the other hand I'm really upset that this will embolden neoconservatives and will be seen as a confirmation of their dangerous plans for the world.
Once the troops are gone, leaving behind only a sparkling new $1.5 billion dollar US embassy in their wake, once the Iraqis have been left to fend for themselves under whatever government is chosen and with whatever infrastructure is left, once all questions about and criticisms of the gonzo elections have faded into the ether, the story will seem unfamiliar to those who paid attention all along, because it will be a story about the courage of a president who did what was right even if it wasn’t popular (never mind that the vast majority of Americans supported the invasion when it began), and a tyranny replaced by compulsory liberty—the triumph of democracy over evil.

The Iraq of this story will no longer be a quagmire, a black hole for American tax dollars and the scene of death and torture at the hands on American troops, but a prototype, ready to be rolled out across the world, as America the Empire opens new franchises of its tyranny of liberty.

And who will we be in the story, those of us who remember the facts eclipsed by the fiction, the muck from which the tall tale grew? A diminished Greek chorus, perhaps, standing between the actors and everyone else, chanting desperately, futilely, that we’ve lost our way, we’ve lost our conscience, we’ve lost the truth…

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