I've been waiting on the sidelines to assess the outcome of the Iraqi elections so as to let the hype die down, allowing some more sober analysis to take place.
All spin from Bush, et al., aside, I don't see how a reasonable person could conclude otherwise than that the Americans suffered another significant defeat in the elections.
I'd be willing even to posit that the election results may be the death knell for what was the original American policy goal in the invasion, i.e., a stable Iraq which was impotent to throw its weight around the Middle East, invading countries such as Kuwait and rendering support and comfort to such organizations as Hisb'Allah.
Although trying to portray itself as an honest broker in the elections, there's little doubt that the Americans were backing the Ayad Allawi horse, who ended up an also-ran.
Now, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi'a cleric and leader of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), i.e., the winner of the January 30 elections, says, according to Monday's Le Monde, "No one in Iraq desires the establishment of permanent bases on our land. The [UN] Security Council resolutions are clear: it will be up to the elected Iraqi government ... to give the [American-led coalition] forces a specific departure date. As soon as possible."
That such news as this is conspicuously absent from the mainstream American media speaks loudly as to just how concerned American policymakers have become over these developments. My guess is that Bush and his entourage don't know what to do, and they are groping for answers.
It appears to me that a majority Shi'a government in Iraq will become closely aligned with Iran, which is one of Washington's nemeses in the region.
Further, it appears that the elections haven't had much of an effect on the insurgency, at least up to this date. And it's no small wonder: the formerly powerful Sunni have been disenfranchised, and the UIA is even more intent on "de-Baathification" than was Chalabi. Thus former Baathists have nothing to lose by keeping up the insurgency.
Of course, it is still too early to tell what the end-point will be. But the trends are certainly in place, and they point directly away from what Bush and the neocons wanted out of this adventure. Perhaps it is too early to declare that Bush lost. But I feel that coming to this conclusion is only a matter of time.
While there is certainly merit to your position, I am not prepared to say that the elections represent a complete failure. As I said previously, the failure to win Sunni participation in the elections was certainly a blow to the credibility of the process, and the strong Shiite showing suggests much closer ties to Iran. Both of these developments were, and will continue to be, prolematic for the Bushies and may result in an entirely different outcome than they planned.
Where I disagree is in your assessment that the elections were a complete defeat for the US. A significant number of Iraqis did participate, in the face of serious personal danger and the elected government seems to be functioning fairly well and not much resembling a US puppet. This is evidenced by the fact that they are talking about establishing a timetable for the US withdrawal and the establishment of bases on Iraqi soil. Even if the elections resulted in candidates other than those backed by the US, there is victory in the process if the elected government is truly representative of those who voted. A US puppet government, which I originally feared, would, in the long run, have been far worse and far more of a long term defeat.
If this government survives, and no one knows if it will, the Sunni will have lost big. Stability, whether through a theocratic state aligned with Iraq or through the survival of this newly elected fledgling government, will eventually numb the Sunni resistance and insurgency one way or another. If that happens after a bloody struggle, there will be little sympathy for welcoming the Sunni back into the fold. In short, you can kick more dents out of a can from the inside than you can from the outside.
You are correct to suggest that it may be too soon to predict the ultimate outcome, but I'm not prepared to see the worst just yet. There have been some promising developments in the Middle East recently, including the Israeli/Palistinian agreement and the withdrawl of Syria from Lebanon. These developments, together with moderating trends in Iran, may just be signaling the potential for some modicum of stability in the region.
I guess my point is that the very failure of the Bush policy in Iraq that you speak of could turn out to be a success for the region. It is doubtful, however, and certainly too soon to tell.