Choose any two:
    (1) Iraqi democracy
    (2) Iraqi sovereignty
    (3) U.S. troops in Iraq after January

If two-thirds of Iraqis want out troops gone, either right away or right after the elections, then we can stay only if Iraq isn’t democratic enough for the voters to have their way on this crucial issue or if we’re prepared to stay in the face of a government that doesn’t want us there.

Did you know that somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths of Iraqis tell pollsters they want U.S. troops out, either right now or after elections in January?

Neither did I, but so Charles Clover reports in the Financial Times of October 21 (“Seeking Votes,” p. 13).

That poses an interesting question, parallel to the question asked of (and answered badly by) Mr. Bush earlier this week, about the election of an Isalamicist government in Iraq. But this one is harder, and probably would yield a different answer: what if the democratically elected government of a sovereign Iraq invited us to go home?

Would we go, leaving the place to the civil war and terrorist takeover that we have been assured is the only possible alternative to having us continue to bleed there? I can’t for the life of me figure out how Mr. Bush could answer this question, except by denying the premise that the vast majority of Iraqis want us gone. He can’t very well deny that Iraq is supposed to be sovereign, which means that if its government asks foreign troops to get out the foreign troops get out.

And he certainly can’t deny that it’s supposed to be democratic, which means that if the vast majority of the population has a strong preference for some policy, it is eventually able to work its will, subject to constitutional protections for the rights of minorities.

So a democratic, sovereign Iraq, which is what the Administration says it wants, is completely inconsistent with keeping our troops there for years, which is what it claims it would be irresponsible not to do. (Recall that Mr. Kerry’s mere expression of a hope to have the soldiers home within four years is supposed to make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.)

Something’s got to give. In practice, it will be democracy. Apparently the elections will be based on party lists rather than individual candidacies, and the leadership of the interim government is busy working out a “monster consensus list” (no, I’m not making this up) which will convert the election into a plebiscite and keep all of the current snouts in the trough.

The majority, it is hoped, will simply not be able to get itself organized between now and January, so the minority that wants us to stay will control the government. Having a master database of citizens based on old food-ration records, rather than doing an actual census, ought to help ensure that the right people get to vote. And then, of course, there’s the counting.

Well, it might work. But could we hear just a little less about “freedom on the march,” please?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com