Monday, January 31, 2005

On the Iraqi elections

I tip my hat -- with deep respect and humility -- to the Iraqi people. Previously in this space, much time was given to dispute the Brooks/ Cheney/ Abizaid/ Rumsfeld thesis that the Salvadoran elections of 1982 served as a model for Iraq. Whatever the merits of those debates, the 1982 elections in El Salvador were a cakewalk compared to what Iraqis faced yesterday. As Michael Ignatieff noted yesterday, the Iraqi elections held yesterday were "without precedent" in terms of the violence faced by voters.

I know plenty of people in the U.S. who refuse to send their kids to public schools (out of fear of violence), who get queasy about traveling to places like El Salvador and Guatemala (out of fear of violence), or who refuse to walk into certain neighborhoods of cities like Washington, DC or New York City or Dallas (out of fear of violence). I'll assume that all of these people are equally in awe as myself of the Iraqi turnout, which took place under the worst possible set of conditions of any election anywhere in recent memory. And whatever reasons one wants to give for the low voter turnout in the Sunni areas, I'm with publius when he wrote yesterday that "if you aren't moved by the courage of people to come out in the Sunni hotbeds to risk their lives by voting, I'm not sure you can claim to have progressive values."

And late last night publius also offered up these sage words of advice to anti-war Democrats (a category in which I include myself -- well, make that "democrat" with a small "d"):
To the anti-war Dems first (I’m considering abandoning the terms “left” and “right”), I would caution them to avoid knee-jerk rejection of all potentially good news just because of the justified animosity toward people like Bush or Glenn Reynolds. The elections yesterday were important and are worthy of praise – as is the courage of the Iraqis who faced death to vote. As much as I reject Bush, I’m not going to root for failure just to spite him, and neither should you. If we fail, and if this government fails, then the result will be an all-out slaughter, complete with genocide and ethnic cleansing right in the heart of an already unstable region. That is the reality of failure. And if you’re silently rooting for that reality, you need to take a step back and put things in perspective.
It seems to me that, if you're opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, this was one necessary step toward a scenario in which the U.S. might (and should) withdraw its troops. But that's probably too self-centered an argument to even begin to make right now. After all, this wasn't primarily about us, or the U.S. As Nadezhda put it the other day, "a self-absorbed worldview is a dangerous one in an interdependent world such as our own."

This is obviously not the end of the story, and what remains to be done in 2005 is certainly even more challenging than one single day, January 30. But I think it's now hard to dispute that the vast majority of Iraqis (and let's not count out those who didn't vote simply because they perceived it as too dangerous) feel a greater sense of empowerment to be able to take on those challenges, but also, and perhaps more importantly, a greater sense of hope.

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