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Monday, January 31, 2005



Marc, i know this may not be kosher, but i'm quite cautious about doing too long posts, and positively find this article by Canadian jornalist Rick Salutin to be throughougly engaging. I promise this will be the first, and last article i post on here.

Don't mistake elections for democracy
>by Rick Salutin
January 28, 2005
“The notion that, you know, somehow we're not making progress [in Iraq] I — I just don't subscribe to. I mean, we're having elections.” — George W. Bush

I would call this a fetish, a handy term that comes from anthropology, where it describes “any object of irrational or superstitious devotion.” Karl Marx adapted it as he puzzled over the oddity of capitalist economies, in which people often have more intense relations with things they buy than with humans they know (commodity fetishism). Freud applied it to sexual proclivity: for obsession with a part, like a foot or shoe, rather than the whole to which it belongs. George Bush has an elections fetish.

He often repeats the term in an empty, adoring, fetishistic way. He grows almost tumescent just saying the words: “People are voting. . . . It's exciting times for the Iraqi people. . . . The fact that they're voting in itself is successful.”

He also tends to use the part, elections, for a grander whole: freedom or democracy, as if elections are democracy, full stop. And note that he said “we're,” not “they're,” having elections.

“Irrationally reverenced” is part of the Concise Oxford's definition of a fetish. What's irrational in the Bush reverence for Iraq's election? Well, the vote is being imposed after an unprovoked invasion and under an occupation that is onerous and humiliating — a set of contradictions that seem evident to almost every Iraqi passerby interviewed by a Western journalist who slips out of his barricaded hotel. It will occur under a virtual lockdown: traffic banned, airport closed, a three-day curfew. Iraqis will vote for 111 different lists, but few candidates are named, out of fear.

The election's promoters, the occupying powers, tortured detainees (the latest photos show UK troops making naked Iraqis simulate oral and anal sex). Jittery soldiers kill families whose cars approach checkpoints. Fallujah lies waste, its 300,000 people living as refugees. You have to really focus on voting and nothing else, to get giddy about this election.

What else is irrational in the fetish? It's capricious. It doesn't attach to all elections, just some. (Her shoe but not others.) In 1984, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua held an election that was validated by 400 observers from 40 countries, but the U.S. rejected its legitimacy. In 1990, the country elected a party supported by the U.S., and it accepted the result. In Algeria in 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front ('nuff said) won a clear victory, but the army cancelled the result. No objection from the U.S. For that matter, Yasser Arafat was probably the most genuinely elected Arab leader in his time, but the U.S. said he had to go. Riddle me that.

The British Colonial Office had a great term for this approach to elections in the Arab world: indirect rule. Margaret MacMillan quotes an official in her book Paris 1919: “What we want is some administration with Arab institutions which we can safely leave while pulling the strings ourselves, something that won't cost very much . . . but under which our economic and political interests will be secure.” Sounds exactly like what the U.S. got in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai, whom they first approved and then got elected. Same deal with Ayad Allawi in Iraq: Appoint him prime minister, then make sure he's elected.

They've now decided Belarus, for some reason, is democratically objectionable, while their ally Uzbekistan, where an opposition leader was boiled alive for insisting on his religious rights, is not on the same list. But a fetish would hardly be a fetish if it weren't fickle.

The notion of fetishes suits our era of archaic religious clashes: Islam versus Christianity and Judaism etc. The Bible's second commandment, after all, forbids graven images, i.e., fetishes. But I confess I actually thought about it after Stephen Harper's latest warning over same-sex marriage: that it might lead to polygamy. If polygamy, I thought, what will we need to panic about next — idolatry? But say this at least for the Bible: While it is dead set against fetishes, it nowhere prohibits polygamy.

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Rick Salutin's column appears every Friday.


Well, Marc. I agree with every word in your posting as I do the article by Rick Salutin. Ah - the complexity of life! But I also remember the long lines of voters when Mandella was released. I wept with the hope of it and the joy of it. I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that it would happen. Hope is a good thing no matter what you or Salutin say, eh?

Dirk Deppey

I've spent several hours now looking for someone who opposed the war on principle, yet had respect for the Iraqi people and praise for yesterday's vote. You're a difficult breed to find, apparently. Between you and Jim Henley, I've almost gotten the sour taste of four-star jackasses like Oliver Willis, Kos and the rest of the sad wingnuts out of my mouth. Thank you.

Now, if someone could just convince you to stop abusing the bold tag...

too many steves

Good for you Marc, would that we could have more of your type of sanity (and humanity) from those opposed to what we are doing in Iraq. And thank you for linking to the Mossback piece.

As for Salutin, if it's fetishes he likes to examine then he needn't look to George Bush for examples, he can settle in and judge himself on that score. What thinly veiled tripe he writes. I only know this piece of his (reproduced above) but find in it a cowardly obtuse regurgitation of old sins. Just say it Rick: you opposed the war, you don't care about Iraq, you don't care about Iraqis, and you hope that it all fails miserably so that you can stand up and proudly say you were right and George Bush was wrong. Good for you.

There is plenty to criticize about our involvement in Iraq (see also Eliot A. Cohen's piece in the WSJ today) but if you share Ted Kennedy's view that we never should have gone, that we are doing bad things, that we are making things worse, and that we should leave immediately, well, then there really is nothing for us to talk about because there is no debate when your position is absolute.

The difference between a cynic and a skeptic is hope, the latter has it and the former does not. I remain hopeful for the Iraqi people but skeptical enough to know that there are many, many ways for things to go badly.

Marc and most of the commenters here get that, which is why - in spite of my disagreement with some of his basic premises - I continue to come here.

Marc Davidson

I, for one, will not be posting any comments here until I see one posted by Steve. I don't want to participate in a purportedly open forum that is closed to some.

Marc Cooper

steve was unblocked last nite... calm down


An excellent post. I view the events in Iraq exactly as you laid out. [ So you must be right :) ]. I was genuinely excited and encouraged by the success of their voting day. The only way we can leave is if there is a government that is recognized by the people there. This is the first step. I don't believe that this is what the Bush administration had in mind when they started, but events seemed to have forced them to a better course. I will continue to pray for the success of this fledgling democracy.

Jim R

Marc, You just have to stop living in the past. Yes there were no WMDs. Yes George hyped the Iraq threat in order to get rid of a nut, now. Yes there was gross underestimation of resistance.

Get over it and help America win the war we find ourselves in. Stop demoralizing it at a time our troops are at risk and dieing. Grow up and drop the ego.

Thanks for this painful and token piece of an olive branch post about the 'surprising' reaction to humans risking their lives to exercise your understood and taken for granted 'freedom of speech'.


Ronald Reagan statement on the election of Jose Napoleon Duarte as President of El Salvador

May 18, 1984
On Wednesday, May 16, the Central Elections Commission of El Salvador certified Jose Napoleon Duarte as the winner of the May 6 Presidential election in that country. By this act, the people of El Salvador have made clear their choice of Mr. Duarte as the first popularly elected President of that country in recent history.

The voters have chosen as President a man who had dedicated his life to achieving democracy and reform for his homeland. We congratulate President-elect Duarte on his victory and pledge that we will do all in our power to strengthen the ties of freedom and democracy that unite us.

Mr. Duarte carried with him a clear mandate from the people of El Salvador, over 80 percent of whom voted on May 6, that democracy and the vote should determine their future. The United States bipartisan observer delegation noted that, ``This election was fair and honest, and . . . provided a clear and undeniable mandate to whichever candidate is elected.'' Election observers from other countries echoed a similar conclusion.

In protecting both rounds of the recent elections, the Salvadoran Armed Forces took more than 80 casualties, demonstrating once again their determination to defend freedom. They acted professionally and apolitically and are showing us now that they will respect the popular electoral will. In contrast, the guerrillas refused to participate in the election and intensified the combat before, during, and after the voting.

As El Salvador's voters had to brave the intimidation of the guerrillas, their newly elected President will have to face the challenges of creating a peaceful and secure framework for social and humanitarian reform, economic development, and further democratic advance.

The people of El Salvador have spoken. We, along with other nations committed to a democratic form of government, must heed their courageous action. We will support their newly elected government in the pursuit of and the opportunity for a better life.

I look forward to meeting with El Salvador's new President-elect on Monday, May 21, during his visit to Washington. In addition, I have asked Secretary of State George Shultz to head our delegation to the President-elect's inauguration on June 1 in San Salvador.

Marc Davidson

Sorry, Marc, I missed that. I must not have refreshed my screen or something. Good decision.

jim hitchcock

It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out in Iran over the next few months, in regards to the moderates of that country vs. the current leadership. I wonder if we'll start seeing interviews with people like Bani Sadr?


I must say that I was pleased to see so many Iraqis turn out to vote. Canadian Press said 60 % or
8 million Iraqis voted.

However, I do have great concern about the structure of the government. Professor Juan Cole Middle East expert said on C-SPAN that the new government has only one chamber. The problem is that the Shiite could dominate and pass religious laws without and upper house to support the minority population.

Brian Siano

I'm going to take the news of the Iraqi elections as a good thing. And no, it's not because I intially supported the effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power. This is a good thing in itself.

But we can't let the Bush Administration use this as a vindication of their policies over the past four years. The lack of materiel support for the troops. The failure to maintain an international consensus. The Abu Ghraib horrors. It's like that bullshit about Reagan ending the Cold War by committing billions to crazy military schemes: yes, it ended, but imagine how it could have been if decent and intelligent people were in charge.


"If decent and intelligent people were in charge"

Oh, you mean like John Kerry and his bunch of unilateral disarmament freaks?

Had they been in charge, the Cold War would not have ended when it had, the Cold War would have continued.

Or are you talking about the continued care under President Carter, who started backing the mujadin in Afghanistan BEFORE the Soviets invaded, and who left the democratically minded in Iran, NO HOPE?

In times of a war, I'd rather have a President who pisses off the enemy, and who even allies think is a little daft. Not someone who not only would have appeased the enemy, but given ground to them.

Marc - here I thought there were no reasonable liberals. Regardless of how we got here, we must help the Iraqis rebuild their country. It seems we agree on that.



Rather than repeat the obvious,I will just 'ditto'everything that Jim R. said in his prior posting.
Oh except for one additional comment:the election in Iraq was not a felicitous happenstance,as much as you want to portray it as such.The election in Iraq was the immediate result of inspired leadership by the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani,but it was the direct result of theories and intentions enunciated by GWB and his dreaded neo-con advisors.
Had it been left up to you ---- Saddam would be feeding victims into the shredders and Uday would be roaming Baghdad looking for girls to abuse.Any support from the left is 'nice'and is clearly preferable to the usual drivel from that quarter,but frankly ------ too little;too late.


Is Iraq really another Vietnam?

Well, there were no national elections in Vietnam.

Despite intense and negative pressures, the administration remained dedicated to the job and now has given real results, not just hope, to people seeking freedom. From the pictures I've seen, the Iraqui people have shown courage and joy--something that can't be said about many from the left who wanted to say "I told you so"...but, can't.

I'm happy for the people of Iraq and other people of the mideast who might now live under a democracy one day as a result of our help and example. I'm also proud of this nation and our soldiers for the sacrifices made to help these people.

Another Vietnam? Not in my eyes.


Jim R:

I think that your comments, "Get over it and help win the war we find ourselves in and stop dmoralizing it at a time our troops are at risk and dying", need to be put into context. I'm sure you believe in freedom of speech, but it is essentail in a democratic society that its citizens question their govt at times of war. Do you think Iraqis were allowed to question Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war. Russians who questioned the occupation of Afghanistan risked not only being labeled unpatriotic, but possible arrest and police harrassment. In my own country we faced the same penalties if we questioned the 1968 Soviet invasion. Criticism should be reasonable and supported by facts. However, equating dissent with support of the enemy is trademark of undemocratic and totalitarian societies.
My feelings about Bush and this war are summed up perfectly in Mr. Brian Siano's post. I am also ecstatic to say that I was inspired by yesterdays elections and I happily admit that(for the first time) I am optimistic that there will be a positive outcome for all Iraqis.
Ned, Frydek-Mistek


From 1967:

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote :Officials
Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror
by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened
today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a
Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered
voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals
threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the
election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the
nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.


Nice post, Woody
Ned, Frydek-Mistek


"I've almost gotten the sour taste of four-star jackasses like Oliver Willis, Kos and the rest of the sad wingnuts out of my mouth. Thank you."

Kos served his time in the army and has a lot more credibility than real wingnuts like Limbaugh or Hannity. Typical rightwing smear to talk about Kos like he is a 'wingnut'.
The elections are not that much different from the Saddam capture ecstasy. Americans will continue to die as the occupation drags on and on and on and on ad infinitum.


"Saddam would be feeding victims into the shredders "

You've been watching too much Fargo Doug Feith. Maybe you need to need reports that have debunked that silly story, it's about as real as inucubator babies. Yes, there were real human rights violations in Iraq, made up stories about shredders [do you have any idea how shredders work? how difficult it would be to put a human being through a shredder without destroying its mechanical integrity entirely?) were not part of the real suffering.


...a felicitous by-product of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupation.

Those of who opposed this war and who want to see the U.S. troops withdrawn as soon as possible should unequivocally encourage the tenuous political process now underway in Iraq.

This is why I've said (since our own awful elections) that I've migrated from an "anti-war" stance to a "pro-truth" stance. Given that what has gone on to date has been a national catastrophe, we need now to accept it as catastrophe, and therefore deal with it as we would in the wake of any catastrophe: looking for opportunity.

Justice is always hard to administrate, but especially hard to administrate perfectly in the wake of catastrophe. It will come, eventually, in Senate committee or in history books. But in the interim, we need to do what we can to prevent the suffocation of truth in the context of political discourse, the triumph of dirty political trickstering over honest debate.

"[f]elicitous by-product" is a felicitous little phrase.

David Holiday

Re: El Salvador

Duarte doesn't say about El Salvador's 1984 elections something that was true of the Iraqi 2005 elections. In ES, combat operations took place before, during and after, but in Iraq, it was more than that. People were warned not to go to polls because they would be attacked, and in some places, threatened with death should they vote.

One of the longest corrections the NYTimes ever ran during the 1980s was with respect to an article by James LeMoyne, who had reported that a body had been found with his electoral carnet stuffed in his mouth just before the elections. That never happened (he took from a local newspaper), and it was supremely embarrassing for the NYTimes and LeMoyne, who was otherwise a very good reporter.


Thanks for the link Marc. Great reading.


RE: Chris' article: "U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote."

Chris, I understand your point about the vote in South Vietnam in 1967 and it is a good one. Because I considered that in my note, I changed "elections" to "national elections" during my preview.

While Iraq is diverse, at least it is a united country and everyone had the opportunity to take part in the election. Vietnam was not united and the people in the north never got to vote--and, their leaders made sure that the people in the south didn't get to vote later. The headline of the article incorrectly referenced a "Vietnam Vote", but the body of it correctly referred to "South Vietnam's presidential election"--which is something different.

Since human nature, nation building, and wars are universal in many respects, we can always find some similarities among those of today with those of the past to support different positions. By the same token, I think it is important to also look honestly at the dissimilarities, which may lead us to conclude that the differences outweigh the similarities; thus, the two are not the same.

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