George W. Bush is uniquely unqualified to trumpet free elections, in Iraq or anywhere else. Voter intimidation, suppression, obstruction — these are his trademarks.
Beyond our shores, this administration has tried repeatedly to oust the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Our ruling class has a long sordid history of interfering in elections abroad, ousting elected governments, and assassinating popular, elected heads of state.
It also has an ugly history of helping install and prop up bloody dictators — recall Batista, Trujillo, Noriega, Pinochet … and Saddam Hussein — and then sometimes getting rid of them if they become too “difficult.”
It would be convenient for Bush, his “new American [global domination] century” ideologues, and his oily corporate backers, to have a polite government in Iraq that would hand over that country’s rich oil industry, now state-owned, to U.S. corporate control, and provide a military staging area for the U.S. to project its power across the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s why this administration lied us into an illegal “pre-emptive” war.
With this in mind, some on the U.S. left condemn the Jan. 30 elections as a fraud, illegitimate under foreign occupation. Certainly, the Iraqi people overwhelmingly hate the bloody U.S. occupation. Many question whether these elections will be able to help their country. Some are boycotting the elections. With the wave of terror, many are simply afraid to vote. Nevertheless, the majority are apparently determined to vote, even risking death to do so.
A wide range of political and social forces is contending for votes, with different views on the path for Iraq. Some are tied to U.S. government/corporate interests. But many have other programs: Islamists, Kurds, other ethnic groups, secular centrist groups, Communists. They see it as a step toward real sovereignty, a constitutional government that expresses their will, and ending the occupation.
Remember, this political process was forced on the U.S. To get some kind of UN authorization for its fait accompli occupation, the White House had to agree to a political timetable with the occupation “mandate” expiring Dec. 31 this year. Of course, Bush is counting on having an Iraqi government that will, willingly or under duress, “invite” the U.S. to stay longer.
It’s a contradictory, complex situation. We will see over the next days and weeks whether these elections will help Iraq’s democratic and progressive forces. We can be sure that the U.S. is doing everything it can, overtly and covertly, to ensure a Bush-friendly outcome, or perhaps no outcome at all. Regardless, the Iraqi people face major political struggles ahead.
Some progressive commentators join the commercial media in portraying the Iraqi people as naïve, unsophisticated, with no initiative of their own except, perhaps, religious fervor. It seems patronizing to me. Do we think we are the only ones aware of the role of U.S. imperialism, or this administration’s machinations?
Further, if we scorn these elections, what is our message? Forget any political, peaceful mass process? In our comfortable homes, with clean water and electricity 24 hours a day, are we to tell those willing to risk death to vote in this election that we know better?
The armed attackers have issued no political program. They attack U.S. military forces, but have increasingly targeted churches, mosques, Shiite neighborhoods, workers. Union leaders have been tortured and murdered. It appears that the Iraqi people reject these tactics overwhelmingly. Whether they want to provide information to foreign occupiers is another story.
Many Iraqis believe Saddam Hussein’s Baathist forces are behind much of this. Who has the credentials to know the Baathists best? Us, Americans, who didn’t do much to help those resisting Hussein when he was in power, or the Iraqis who lived and breathed that terror for 35 years? I believe some of us discount the ruthlessness, power and shrewdness of the Baathists, and the possibility that the Bush administration may be playing footsy with them as well. How and why did Saddam Hussein’s forces simply “melt away?” What deals is the U.S. working on now? Who’s being naïve here?
Further, is armed struggle the only “real” resistance to the U.S. occupation? People under foreign occupation have the right to resist, even take up arms if they feel it necessary. But Communists and working class movements the world over always see armed struggle as a last resort. We believe that every effort should be made to wage political struggle, to bring the broadest possible masses of people into a powerful national movement, with the working class at its core. That is the principle that Iraq’s Communists and trade unionists are following.
“We are the resistance!” Iraqi trade union spokesperson Abdullah Muhsin told me recently, with great passion. “We worked against Saddam Hussein. We worked against the war. We are the ones who are standing up to the IMF and efforts to impose neoliberal programs on Iraq — not those who killed 17 workers the other day in Mosul. We are the ones who are building civil society in our country.”
Terror against civilians and rejection of mass, democratic struggle: is that the face of the struggle against imperialism? I think we have to say a resounding “no.” That is the image the ultra-right would like us to have. If we on the left accept it for ourselves, we will never be a mass movement, in the U.S. or anywhere. Our struggle for a humane, just and peaceful world can only succeed with a moral vision and a human face.
The number one task for U.S. progressives today is to oppose our own imperialism, by building the broadest possible movement to end the occupation, bring our troops home, and turn our foreign policy toward peace and justice. That would be the best kind of solidarity with the Iraqi people.
Susan Webb (email@example.com) is a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.