The Ballot and the Bullet in Iraq
Many defenders of the war reflexively applaud any hint that the Sunnis will participate in elections as a"blow to the insurgency." They confidently proclaim that when the Iraqis who kill American soldiers pick up the ballot, they will will cast aside the bullet.
Strangely, few advocates of this view ever consider the possibility that the insurgents can deploy both the ballot and the bullet at the same time.
Certainly precedents exist for such a strategy. In Germany before 1933, the Nazis and the Communists merrily pummeled each other in the streets and vandalized property even while they made electoral gains. Ten years earlier, Mussolini had used a lethal combination of the violent Black Shirts and the ballot box in his rise to power.
The results of the just finished reconciliation conference" in Iraq reveal once again that the ballot and the bullet can not only coexist but complement each other as strategies. Political factions of the Sunnis as well as their Shi'ite and Kurd adversaries indicated a willingness to compete in elections. At the same time, they explicity stated that "resistance is a legitimate right for all people." While the conference condemned terrorism against"Iraq citizens," it made clear exceptions in the case of foreigners or U.S. troops. The conference also, of course, called for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
The participants probably have never read Carl von Clauswitz but their actions were perfectly consistent with his dictum that politics and war are not mutually contradictory. As Clauswitz once put it, war is "not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means."