This post at Dean’s World caused me to realize that one of the closer historical parallels to the situation in Iraq is that of the early stages of the Russian Revolution. It is commonly thought today that the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsar and took power. Like all significant events, the reality is just a bit different.
What actually happened was that the Tsar’s government collapsed due to a number of factors, although Russian losses in WWI played a large role. As that government collapsed, there was an attempt to form a new one that was basically a liberal democracy. This government was also known as the Kerensky government after the prime minister who served during most of its existence until it too fell and was replaced by the Bolshevik regime (which, nonetheless, spent several years fighting the Russian Civil War before it was in undisputed control).
In both cases a new, provisional liberal democracy was struggling to attain control of a violence wracked state after the collapse of a previous dictatorship. Then, as now, there weren’t just two sides, but a plethora of various factions all striving to dominate the state. The new government was threatened by a “common front” of various incompatible factions. These factions worked (roughly) together to bring down the government because it was an obstacle to all of them. Each faction thought that it would be able to dispose of the other factions after the government was brought down. The cooperation between the Ba’ath remnants, Al Qaeda and other caliphascist variants is purely an alliance of convenience and hardly unexpected, except to those who have no knowledge of history. As in the Russian Revolution, their primary enemy is the provisional government and in particular the legitimization of that government by elections. The Bolsheviks and their allies of the moment managed to bring down the Kerensky government before it could hold elections. This was a deliberate action by Lenin, who knew that counter-revolutionaries would be greatly weakened without an electoral victory.
The caliphascists in Iraq clearly have a far better grasp of this history than any one in Old Media. The elections of themselves are not a make or break event (few things are) but reasonably fair elections with good turn out would certainly create a vastly stronger government to oppose the reactionary forces. This is why the elections need to proceed as planned. Even if they fail, it’s unlikely to make the situation any worse and if the elections are successful it will be a telling blow against the caliphascists. The elections don’t have to be perfect, or even all that good as long as they’re not disastrous. We don’t expect anyone to excel the first time, why should the Iraqis going to the polls be any different? The results in Afghanistan would seem to indicate that success is more likely than failure. In contrast, the voices calling for postponement or post-election adjustment need to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good. Let’s not repeat the failure that gave us the Soviet Union.