IRAQ: MADE IN AMERICA?
Naomi Klein’s March 28 “Lookout” column “Can Democracy Survive Bush’s Embrace?” was insightful and prophetic. Karen Hughes will now serve as our propagandist in selling Brand USA to the world with emphasis on the Middle East. Is Klein planning a sequel: “Can American Democracy Survive Bush’s Embrace?”
Naomi Klein understandably seeks to blame the Bush Administration for Iraqi woes, but she missed her mark when discussing Iraqi democracy. The Iraqi electoral system was not “designed” in Washington. In fact, its proportional representation system was designed by leading experts, many associated with the United Nations, who understand the importance of power-sharing. That plan was opposed by the Bush neocons who wanted the Iraqis to have an electoral system “just like ours,” which would have meant carving up Iraq into single-seat, winner-take-all districts, creating disastrous turf wars. When Angola used a US-style winner-take-all system to settle its civil war, one side won nearly all the representation, so the other side resumed fighting. In Iraq, winner-take-all would have resulted in the United Iraqi Alliance, despite winning less than a majority of the popular vote, winning an overwhelming majority of seats, allowing it to ignore the Kurds and other ethnic minorities. Instead, with the proportional system, the Shiites must negotiate and share power, preventing a Shiite, possibly fundamentalist, stranglehold.
No, Iraq’s proportional system is not “profoundly undemocratic,” as Klein states. It’s the best way for divided societies to make a transition to democracy, as the examples of Afghanistan, South Africa and former Soviet Eastern bloc nations show. A dose of it in the United States is strongly advisable.
New America Foundation
It’s difficult to understand why Steven Hill would imply that the UN rather than the United States was the architect of Iraq’s highly irregular and flawed electoral system. The UN’s recommendations for when and how to form Iraq’s first elected government were overruled at every stage, to which various UN workers have publicly testified (most vocally Salim Lone, who worked as a senior adviser in the UN mission in Baghdad before the 2003 bombing).
It’s also shocking that Hill would describe the system in Iraq as “power-sharing.” The US-designed model does not share power among all of Iraq’s ethnic groups: It drastically augments the power of one group (the US-friendly Kurds) while diminishing the power of two other groups (the less-US-friendly Shiites and Sunnis). This is the direct result of three decisions, all made by Washington in its own interest. The first was to treat all of Iraq as a single electoral constituency, with no seats set aside by region. That meant that seats went to whichever group managed to turn out the greatest number of people, regardless of where they lived. The second decision was to brutally attack Falluja and other Sunni cities in the months leading up to the elections, guaranteeing that a majority of Sunnis would either boycott the elections in protest or be physically unable to cast ballots because they were exiled from their homes. Because of the lack of regional representation, when Sunnis didn’t turn out to vote, their seats simply went to the Kurds, who turned out in droves. (It’s as if low voter turnout in California meant that all the state’s seats went to Texas.)