Much of official Washington remains focused on the issues — legal and political — that have arisen from the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney who was a principal architect of the administration’s approach to Iraq before and after the invasion and occupation of that distant land. This is as it should be: Libby and his former boss need to be held accountable for leading this country’s military forces into a quagmire that has cost more than 2,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.
The only problem with this otherwise healthy obsession with the investigation is that it draws attention away from the disaster that Cheney, Libby and their crew of neoconservative nutcases have created.
In addition to the rapidly mounting death toll — 93 U.S. troops were killed in October, the highest casualty rate since January — the insurgency’s Tet offensive-level attacks within the capital city of Baghdad, and the degeneration of the trial of Saddam Hussein into a legal farce, there is the tragedy of the country’s bumbled attempt to craft and implement a constitution.
Were any U.S. officials paying serious attention to the process — as opposed to trying to spin it into something it is not — they would acknowledge that Iraq is in a state of constitutional crisis. Even if the October 15 vote on the new Iraqi constitution were technically legitimate — under the undemocratic rules adopted by its framers in order to guarantee a particular result — it would have been hard to spin as a meaningful signal of progress toward democracy.
The details of the document were literally up for grabs until just days before the voting began, and not even the most over-the-top apologists for the process would dare suggest that the people of Iraq knew what they were voting on. More significantly, the vote took place while the country was occupied by a foreign force that deposed the previous government, that faces an open insurrection and that, by all accounts, shaped the character of the constitution more than did the Iraqis themselves.
But, of course, all this is beside the point, since the vote does not appear to have met the base standards of legitimacy.
Iraq’s election commission was for the better part of a week forced to delay the release of the results as it investigated serious irregularities in the voting. The commission had to examine evidence of vote totals that did not appear to be credible — including “unusually high” numbers of yes votes in provinces where there was widespread opposition to the constitution. Also of concern to the commission were reports that Iraqi police removed ballot boxes from districts where there was significant opposition to the constitution and that districts where there was more support for the document had recorded more votes than there were registered voters.