The Therapy Sessions
Monday, January 31, 2005
A great idea
In Europe, the wise old foreign-policy ''realists'' scoff at today's elections in Iraq -- Islam and democracy are completely incompatible, old boy; everybody knows that, except these naive blundering Yanks who just don't have our experience, frankly.
If that's true, it's a problem not for Iraq this weekend but, given current demographic trends, for France and Belgium and Holland a year or two down the line.
But, as it happens, it's not true. The Afghan election worked so well that, there being insufficient bad news out of it, the doom-mongers in the Western media pretended it never happened. They'll have a harder job doing that with Iraq, so instead they'll have to play up every roadside bomb and every dead poll worker. But it won't alter the basic reality: that today's election will be imperfect but more than good enough. OK, that's a bit vague by the standards of my usual psephological predictions, so how about this? Turnout in the Kurdish north and Shia south will be higher than in the last American, British or Canadian elections. Legitimate enough for ya?
But look beyond the numbers. When you consider the behavior of the Shia and Kurdish parties, they've been remarkably shrewd, restrained and responsible. They don't want to blow their big rendezvous with history and rejoin the rest of the Middle East in the fetid swamp of stable despotism. The naysayers in the Democratic Party and the U.S. media are so obsessed with Rumsfeld getting this wrong and Condi getting that wrong and Bush getting everything wrong that they've failed to notice just how surefooted both the Kurds and Shiites have been -- which in the end is far more important. The latter, for example, have adopted a moderate secular pitch entirely different from their co-religionist mullahs over the border. In fact, as partisan pols go, they sound a lot less loopy than, say, Barbara Boxer. Even on the Sunni side of the street, there are signs the smarter fellows understand their plans to destroy the election have flopped and it's time to cut themselves into the picture. The IMF noted in November that the Iraqi economy is already outperforming all its Arab neighbors.
You might not have gained that impression from watching CNN or reading the Los Angeles Times. The Western press are all holed up in the same part of Baghdad, and the insurgents very conveniently set off bombs visible from their hotel windows in perfect synchronization with the U.S. TV news cycle. But, if they could look beyond the plumes of smoke, they'd see that Iraq's going to be better than OK, that it will be the economic powerhouse of the region, and that the various small nods toward democracy going on in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere suggest that the Arab world has figured out what the foreign policy ''realists'' haven't: that the trend is in the Bush direction. When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would ''destabilize'' the entire region, he was right.
That's why it was such a great idea.
Iraq's Arab neighbors are paying attention.