Rather than ushering in Iraq's first free and fair national elections for decades, the Bush administration has now limited its ambition for a vote it refuses to postpone.
I am amazed that a commitment to letting Iraqis vote freely as part of their liberation is being portrayed as a stubborn refusal to keep ruling them as an occupying force. Truly we live in Bizarro World. This analysis is truly astounding:
Critics of the administration's Iraq policy complain the elections for a 275-member assembly that should draw up a constitution and pick a transitional government are so flawed they will be illegitimate -- and counterproductive for democracy in the region.
"These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan.
"The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.
These elections are a "joke?" Is Cole serious? If I had to I could probably point out about a hundred UN members whose elections are a joke. But Iraq? We are giving them an actual free choice that the Shias and Kurds are embracing and this is a joke? Who on Earth annointed the Sunnis as the holders of legitimacy? Why is their refusal (it is assumed at this point) to vote in numbers matching the Shias and Kurds being defined as making the elections a joke? How is it possible that the neck-stompers are being portrayed as the downtrodden "protected class" of Iraq that we have to cajole into voting if they will only take a couple hours off from planting car bombs?
I think this is a very good advertisement for democracy. We are showing that the bloody opposition of a violent minority will not stop voting. We are saying that we will not use violence as an excuse to halt elections when many governments over there use the mere threat of unrest to refuse to hold real elections. We are showing that democracy must go forward even in times of unrest when it may appear that things are "out of control." We did the same in 1864 and we are doing no less for Iraqis in 2005. As Powell noted:
"I think a successful election will be an election where most of the population has gotten a chance to vote, and even though we may not get the same kind of numbers in the Sunni area, we're going to have to go forward and use the results of this election to build on," Secretary of State Colin Powell told PBS.
Move forward and hold the elections. We owe the Shias and Kurds the chance to finally cast a real vote for a national election. The Sunnis would be wise to take this opportunity too.
The real joke is the ability of so-called experts to argue for the side of the people planting car bombs who fear democracy will end their bloody reign of terror over the majority of Iraqis. Studying modern Middle Eastern history is not exactly a path to recognizing democracy in action.