Keep The Election On Track

January 10, 2005

Howard Dean

By Gov. Howard Dean M.D.

The Bush administration is strongly encouraging elections in Iraq to take place on January 30, and I believe that is the right course to take. The only chance America has to get out of Iraq, without long-term damage to our national security, is to let Iraqis take over their country’s government as soon as possible.

The Iraq War has been a foreign policy and defense disaster based on deceit, unwillingness to listen to experienced military and diplomatic advice, and a total misunderstanding of terrorism. We need to bring our troops home without additional damage to our national security, our international reputation and, of course, additional loss of American and Iraqi lives.

Pulling out the troops at once is not compatible with either national security or what shreds of our international credibility are left. Now that we are in Iraq, we need to do our best to leave behind a stable nation. At best, Iraq would be a secure country with a democratic government, equal rights for women and a stable economy. What will more likely transpire is a Shiite theocracy with ties to Iran. The worst outcome, and unfortunately the most likely one, is a prolonged civil war with a growing opportunity for terrorists to turn what is left of Iraq into permanent terrorist bases.

I believe that the Shiites, under the guidance of Ayatollah al Sistani, will win these elections. Whether they can be prevented from setting up a theocracy is unknown. But, delaying the elections will lead to an even more prolonged period of violence and further destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. This will increase what the American taxpayer is already paying for the Iraqi invasion, and make a successful transition to Iraqi independence even less likely.

I support allotting a certain percentage of seats in these elections for the Sunnis. This is the only way to protect at least 20 percent of the seats in the new Iraqi parliament. In the likely case that there will be a much reduced Sunni electoral participation due to various boycotts and the direct threat of violence against both voters and office seekers. Guaranteeing the Sunni seats is also an attempt to prevent what will surely be an understandable temptation for the Shittes to use their electoral majority to enforce what our founding fathers successfully avoided in our own constitution, the "tyranny of the majority."

When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, we were deeply worried about the consequences of a communist takeover. But the feared “domino effect” never occurred, and today we have diplomatic and economic ties with our former enemy, despite the lack of democracy or political freedom in Vietnam. Although we lost nearly 60,000 brave Americans in Southeast Asia, our actions did not threaten long-term American national security. We will be fortunate to have a similar outcome in Iraq.

While our casualties have been lower in Iraq, the long-term danger which an American defeat poses is far greater. We are already discovering that this is a war we likely cannot win in conventional terms - a lesson which should have been obvious to anyone who grew up in the Vietnam era. The question is, can we end the conflict without broader damage to our security, as occurred with Vietnam, or will the outcome be worse?

Elections are the only possible path to a tolerable and stable government in Iraq. Early elections are the only hope we have to ensure that America will not be worse off than we were with Saddam Hussein in power, in terms of both our long-term security and our credibility as an effective superpower.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
Email Howard Dean at

Copyright 2004 Howard Dean, All Rights Reserved.
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