Agence France Presse Editorial
The elections in Iraq will be the first international test of George W. Bush's second term in office. The President hopes to foster democracy in the Middle East and to find an exit for US troops deployed to Iraq. Bush enjoys repeating the phrase, It's an historic moment, even though the White House has emphasized that the 30 January vote "will not be perfect" and that it is only the first of three elections to be held in 2005. The Bush Administration has changed its rhetoric several times to justify its decision to go to war with Iraq in March 2003. Failing to find weapons of mass destruction, the administration began to emphasize its aim of overthrowing dictator Saddam Hussein; the pretext has now evolved into the installation of a democratic regime in Iraq as part of President Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative.
However, George W. Bush never mentioned Iraq once in his inaugural address last Thursday. His speech was devoted to defeating tyrants and promoting democracy around the world. More than 1,360 US troops have been killed in action since March 2003 and Iraq has been plunged into violent chaos, which the caretaker government has been unable to suppress. The participation of the international community in the upcoming elections is reduced to a barest minimum. Premier Iyad Allawi himself has admitted that the security measures planned for the elections are inadequate. Brent Scowcroft, former advistor to George Bush Senior has recently estimated that the level of violence will continue to rise following the elections, with a risk of civil war between Sunnis and Shi'as.
Such somber analyses are dismissed by the Bush Administration, which insists on holding the elections as scheduled. Bush would like to accelerate training of the Iraqi security forces to replace the more than 150,000 US troops present in the country. Washington does not want to establish a timetable for pullout and retains the formulaic response that this will happen only with the mission is accomplished. But the contours of the mission remain fluid and will continue to evolve between the elections of a new, legitimate government by Iraqi voters and the elemination of the "terrorists."
Reelected with 50.8% of the vote in a race against Democrat John Kerry, Republican President George W. Bush believes that his Iraq policy has been validated by his victory at the polls. The Republican party, which has a solid majority in Congress, will not lose ground in the 2006 congressional elections. But according to a recent opinion poll, 52% of Americans now believe the decision to go to war against Iraq was wrong. The conflict is extraordinarily costly and the White House is about to present a new request to Congress for $50 billion to continue to finance the intervention.
The results of the Iraq elections and a possible stabilization of Iraq will further determine the evolution of Bush administration policy towards the traditional allies of the US who are opposed to the war, such as France and Germany. Despite his manifest willingness to improve relations with the other side of the Atlantic since reelection, there are no obvious signs of increased cooperation.
Jean-Louis DOUBLET (AFP)