THE BALLOT AMIDST THE BULLETS: THE VOTE IN IRAQ
The intrepid Bruce Kesler
has a stinging analysis of the Iraqi referendum in light of the predictions and the political axes ground by those making them. His piece is entitled, " Not a Sunni Day For The Left
" and is posted at AEI Online
. Some excerpts:
" Today, it?s the Americans who are unleashing revolutionary ideas, most recently in the Middle East. But the French, as is their wont, demure. And why not? Aside from the danger that democratically-elected governments would expose the role of Chirac's advisors in profiteering from the UN oil-for-bribes program, a liberated Middle East would upset France?s cozy power and commercial relationships with other corrupt Arab states. Democracy is too potent a force to be fooled with by mere un-French mortals from Texas....Did the invasion of Iraq precipitate these changes? I think the hawks considerably overstate their case, but at the same time they do have a case. Even if Iraq is a mess, it might all be worthwhile if it eventually produces progress toward a more open, more liberal Middle East. At the very least, it's an argument that needs to be engaged....Even the New York Times's defeatist in Baghdad, Dexter Filkins, was forced to recognize the significance of last Saturday's turnout in Iraq?s constitutional referendum, which was heavier than last January's turnout and higher than most U.S. elections. It represents the first evidence that Iraqi?s Sunni Moslems, whose community forms the heart of the guerrilla insurgency, have decided to join the budding Iraqi political process. Another New York Times report tells us that, for the first time
, Syria's Opposition Unites Behind a Call for Democratic Changes
Interestingly enough, Bruce's thesis is being echoed, some irony here, in Le Figaro
( Hat tip Marc Schulman
):"It’s hard for the anti-Bushites to swallow: the Iraqis accept the democracy offered by the United States. Saturday, 61% of eligible Iraqis took part in the referendum on the Constitution. On January 30, they had mobilized in similar fashion, in spite of the threats, to elect their deputies. Whereas the popular wisdom sees in George W. Bush the expression of a “totalitarian spirit,” history is correcting this caricature. It is a change in perception that is not to France’s advantage. By confronting the intimidation of the Islamists who forbid these electoral consultations, Iraqi society expressed its refusal to be subject to their wishes. Will Iraqis build the Muslim democracy hoped for by American neoconservatives, and that the media chorus judges unattainable? "
My commentary today consists of two points:
First, that while the Bush administration's lack of competent Arabic fluent USG personnel are hampering our efforts in Iraq, the critics in theMSM is not any more in touch with the average Iraqi. If they were, the turnout and result would have been less surprising. Perhaps part of the problem is that Westerners are talking primarily to the minority of Iraqis who are English fluent.
Secondly, while the referendum was very important that importance is longitudinal
in terms of establishing democratic norms. Recall the civil war in El Salvador; the election in 1984 was a milestone for El Salvadorans, carried out in the face of Communist guerilla violence but the war itself stetched on into the first Bush administration. And that civil war was less complex and the FMLN rebels were more dependent on outside aid and more disciplined ( in terms of reporting to a command hierarchy) than Iraq's insurgency and foreign terrorists. Elections do not suffice to quell wars but they make the battlespace more inhospitable for the side that is fighting against the concept of free elections.
The war in Iraq is going to grind on for years at various levels of violence. Iraq's referendum did not stop the insurgency, it cannot by itself, but in habituating millions of Iraqis to democratic expectations of governance, it was an irreplaceable event. Iraqis now know the difference between a sham election run by Sadaam's Baathist goons and a real democracy; and the concept of " consent of the governed", so intolerable to Zarqawi's Islamists and Baathist die-hards alike, has been legitimized, once again, by precedent.
These are effects that can be suppressed for a time but never erased.