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February 3, 2005

Yay, Iraq!

No, seriously. I like seeing elections as much as anybody. And while it's true we really have no idea how large the turnout was yet, obviously most Iraqis wanted to vote, and I'm not sure why this is considered a surprise.

The task for Americans now is to give Iraqis every opportunity to use the momentum from the election to create a democracy. The strange thing is, usually when someone says that these days it's intended as a criticism of the antiwar left, as if we're all implicitly rooting for the insurgency, and that if we'd just "support" ordinary Iraqis (translation: the Bush administration's policy), everything would be fine.

Now obviously like most progressives I'm very aware that neither the Islamist terrorists nor the leftover Baathists are fighting for an Iraq that anyone in their right mind would want to see. Of course they should lose. But the idea that Iraq stands or falls on what the utterly powerless left chooses to say and do is nuts. The real question is what should the US government do to support ordinary Iraqis, and waving purple fingers of solidarity ain't it.

The main thing, I think, is to communicate loud and clear that America does not have any competing interests, such as using an allied (cynics might say puppet) Iraq to spread American power in the region (though proponents think of this as a symbiotic interest, Iraqis most assuredly do not). A couple of quick thoughts.

Is it true, as a source told the NY Times that the latest $80 billion Pentagon budget contains money to "be used to establish more permanent military bases in Iraq"? There's plenty of evidence for it. Pulling the plug on that plan definitively would not only please most Iraqis, it would please most Americans too, even ones who supported the war.

When it comes to helping Iraq write its constitution, there's no reason Americans shouldn't be involved. We have lots of experience with democracy, generally pretty good until recently. So who do we have advising them on putting together their constitution? A blue-ribbon panel of academics, judges, diplomats, politicians, bloggers, construction workers? (Really, anyone but high school students would do) No. Our point person on this delicate task is Megan O'Sullivan, an official with the National Security Council. Yeah, that's an outfit that has democracy as its primary agenda. How about finding someone with just a little less of a vested interest?

A little intellectual honesty when going about the business of spreading freedom will also help Bush immensely when the war heats up again. When the troops start dying again (rearless prediction: the bloodiest month of the war for US is still ahead of us) people are really going to start to wonder why we're there, now that elections are over. Of course, there are plenty of more steps in the process, and I fully expect war supporters to assure everyone that things will be better just as soon as the next phase of elections is held. And after that as soon as a constitution is written. And after that....

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Comments

obviously most Iraqis wanted to vote, and I'm not sure why this is considered a surprise.

I mean no disrespect meant to the actual Iraqis who, in contrast to most Americans' I-can't-vote-I-have-a-hangnail attitude, showed great courage in standing in line to vote in the face of immediate and palpable threats of violence (and, of course, actual violence). But in retrospect I gotta hand it again to the Bush administration, which perfected the game of lowered expectations back in 2000 (maybe before that, I dunno) and continues to parlay it into exactly the kind of media coverage they want.

Whether legitimate or not, the "surprise" story is one, and the "Bush team enjoys a rare success" is another, but our national media have become such brainless lapdogs that the spin even in "objective" stories conflates them into: Look! This makes it all OK!

Again, well played, unmitigably evil sirs.

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