October 12, 2004

U.S. Elections in Iraq & Afghanistan:

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Officials in the Bush administration are singing in unison that the way to neutralize the terrorists is to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. They cite the election set for January 30 in Iraq, and yesterday’s election in Afghanistan, as Exhibits A and B.

At the second presidential debate in St. Louis on Friday night, George W. Bush hailed the Afghan election as a “marvelous thing,” claiming his rout of the Taliban set the table for the milestone in Afghanistan.

During the vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney tried to demonstrate his superior foreign policy acumen by drawing an analogy between the upcoming Afghan elections and those in El Salvador twenty years ago. Cheney claimed a “guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections.”

It is noteworthy that Cheney said “we” held those elections, not the Salvadorans. The Salvadoran elections were as phony as a Yankee three-dollar bill. In fact, the United States – and Cheney as a Congressional election observer – was not supporting freedom in El Salvador at that time. Most of those killed were civilians murdered by the U.S.-backed junta and paramilitary “death squads.” The Salvadoran elections were not free elections. Only conservatives and right-wing parties fielded candidates; the leftist politicians had been assassinated or driven underground.

The Afghan elections are looking as bogus as the Salvadoran elections that Cheney touted. The day after the second presidential debate, all 15 presidential candidates running against U.S.-backed interim president Hami Karzai boycotted the race, alleging fraud. The Associated Press now reports that two of those candidates have withdrawn from the boycott. They want a commission to determine whether the voting was fair and will accept its decision. Their demands appear to have been met.

The only woman running refused to cast a ballot in protest. “In the morning I was prepared to vote,” she said, “but within the past three hours I’ve received calls from voters that this is not a free and fair election. The ink that is being used can be rubbed off in a minute. Voters can vote 10 times!” The day after the election, the Los Angeles Times reported that Major General Eric Olson, the operations commander for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, calls this problem, “Afghanistan’s hanging chad.”

“Today’s election is not a legitimate election,” said another candidate. “It should be stopped and we don’t recognize the results,” he added. An Islamic poet, also a candidate, complained, “Today was a very black day. Today was the occupation of Afghanistan by America through elections.”

His sentiment was echoed by Sonali Kolhatkar, President of the Afghan Women’s Mission. She told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “This whole election has been organized by the United States. The Afghan people have not had any hand in organizing their own election, the timeline of the election.”

Voter registration numbers were inaccurate or fabricated, according to Christian Parenti, journalist from The Nation. He was able to secure two valid voter registration cards and he’s not Afghan. Human rights organizations said some people received four or five cards; they thought they could use them to receive humanitarian aid.

Weeks before the election, several candidates charged that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, known to many as “the Viceroy” or a “puppet-master,” pressured them not to run against Bush’s sweetheart Karzai. The New York Times reported Friday that Karzai’s close relationship with his “American overseers” has proved tricky. The interim prez controls nothing outside of Kabul, and only leaves his home under heavy American guard, due to attempts on his life.

Both Khalizad and Karzai happen to be former consultants to oil giant Unocal, which, backed by the Bush administration, negotiated with the Taliban for an oil pipeline to run through Afghanistan. It was when those talks broke down, long before September 11, that Bush set his sights on regime change in Afghanistan.

Sound familiar? That brings us to Iraq. There, also, the tactic of invasion followed by election is critical to Bush’s campaign for a second term in the White House. Bush paints a rosy picture for an American electorate nervous about the steady carnage in Iraq. The Bushies ceremoniously “transferred full sovereignty” to the Iraqis just before the end of June. They hand-picked Iyad Allawi, with close ties to the CIA, as interim prime minister. The Bush administration solemnly promises to hold elections in Iraq on January 30.

Allawi, recently on the campaign trail with Bush in New York, said that holding the elections on time was “the most important task entrusted to us.” Most likely, those elections will install Allawi as chief U.S. puppet in Iraq. Given the situation on the ground there, it is counter-intuitive to believe free and fair elections could take place on January 30. Fighting is fierce throughout Iraq. Jordan’s King Abdullah II said last week it would be “impossible to organize indisputable elections” in the midst of the current chaos in Iraq.

The Associated Press reports that when Donald Rumsfeld had a brief exchange with journalists in Baghdad yesterday, he grew agitated by questions about the possibility of needing extra U.S. troops before the Iraqi elections. “There’s a fixation on that subject!” he said, exasperated. “It’s fascinating how everyone is locked in on that.”

Why do reporters in Baghdad have that fixation? “Half of the country remains a ‘no go zone’ – out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists,” Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi wrote in an email to friends last week from Baghdad. “In the other half,” she said, “the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they’d boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.”

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan cautions there can be no “credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now.” Indeed, last week, two organizations representing more than 60,000 United Nations staffers urged Annan to pull all U.N. staff out of Iraq because of the “unprecedented” risk to their safety and security.

The Chicago Tribune reports that diplomats and military officials admit conducting elections in communities in at least six provinces would be extremely risky if not impossible. But Allawi advocates holding the election even if 300,000 people out of Iraq’s 27 million weren’t able to vote.

Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that communities like Fallujah can simply be skipped, so the election can proceed apace: “And let’s say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn’t because the violence was too great,” Rumsfeld said recently. “Well, that’s – so be it. Nothing’s perfect in life. So you have an election that’s not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet,” he affirmed. Kinda like Florida in 2000 – close enough for government work.