“Low-expectation Election”

Elections in Iraq are only days away, and it’s clear that Iraq’s voters aren’t ready for them.

A recent survey of Iraqi public opinion conducted by the International Republican Institute showed that most Iraqis lack basic information about the elections. Only 28 percent of respondents know that they are voting for a Transitional National Assembly. The rest either believe that they are voting for president or are clueless about for whom or what they are voting. There are more than 200 parties and coalitions on the list with thousands of candidates.

Tellingly, most of the candidates’ names haven’t been announced because of security reasons. Farid Ayar, who represents Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, predicted that only 50 percent of Iraqis will vote. The percentage will be significantly higher in Shiite areas and lower in Sunni areas because of the violence and expected boycotts. A lopsided Transitional Assembly, with mostly Shiites and Kurds participating, can be expected.

Rushing the elections in Iraq will only create an atmosphere of more violence, according to the U.S. ground troops commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. Holding the elections now is bound to further divide Iraqi society on the rocky road to democracy.

With elections as the backdrop, a recent report by the National Intelligence Council produced a sobering yet predictable account of the situation in Iraq. Among other things, it said that Iraq has become “the number one hot spot for terrorist training, recruitment and enhancing technical skills,” relieving Afghanistan of this dubious distinction.

The United States created a hotbed for terrorists in its proxy fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and it is sowing the seeds of terrorism in Iraq because of its misadventures there today.

The NIC report came just a day after the Iraq Survey Group gave up after two years of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, winding up empty-handed. The Bush administration virtually ignored the finding, another indication that it refuses to address facts in Iraq. That Iraq has gone from being the cradle of civilization to the cradle of terrorism hardly makes the headlines.
Iraqis like myself who live in the United States don’t have it much better than our brethren in Iraq when it comes to the elections.

At a recent information session in Washington conducted by the International Organization of Migration, which is in charge of getting ballots from Iraqi expatriates, the 200 or so of us in attendance were puzzled. There was no information about the candidates or the parties. No buttons or bumper stickers. No speeches by representatives of the parties. No written material about the candidates.

The only information we received was about the logistics of the voting – the where and how – that included what identification to bring to the polling place and what constitutes an Iraqi (birth in Iraq or an Iraqi father). To avoid duplicate voting, each voter will have an index finger dipped in permanent ink. This strikes me as absurdly archaic in our technologically advanced society.

We left the briefing with more questions than answers. We were told that we have to research information about the candidates and the parties. It became clear to many of us there that this election is nothing more than a charade to cover up the endless number of missteps that have plagued the Bush administration in the Iraq war.

In the two weeks since that bizarre meeting, I have yet to come up with any useful information about the elections, despite my research. I still don’t know if the Free Democratic Country Party or the Democratic Coalition of Two Rivers Party are truly democratic. I guess I will just have to go with my gut on Election Day.

After nearly two years, the Bush administration has learned the first lesson in gaining public support in this country and in Iraq: Lower expectations and adjust the message to suit the current reality. And never, ever admit a mistake.

Elections are just another part of President Bush’s Doctrine of Lowered Expectations. Rushing into them is merely a method of providing a photo op to gloss over the daily barrage of bad news from Iraq and waning domestic support for the war. With the State of the Union address next week and the speech probably already written, there is little to do now but keep expectations low and await the inevitable charade.