Friday, January 21, 2005

Freedom=chocolate bars and beautiful dancers?

When I wrote "sounds reasonable" in my assessment of Bush's speech, it was mostly in jest. Bush's is a grand vision, the sort we've come to expect from him. It is no secret that he is an admirer of Reagan's bold foreign policy, one which commanded Gorbachev not to "put a gate in this wall," but to take down the wall altogether. The difference with Bush's rhetoric is that he is not simply trying to encourage domestic dissidence to overthrow oppressive regimes, he is telling the oppressive regimes to clean up or face the consequences. As James and others have noted, this position is difficult to reconcile with the administration's close ties with "allies" Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. That is why Bush articulated a different message for them: we will walk alongside you as you mend your ways and embrace "freedom" and democracy. Having lived in Riyadh, I say, fat chance.

What we don't yet know is how well he is able to deliver on this grand vision. The one laboratory of Bush's brand of "freedom" worth its salt is Iraq, and we're nine days away from seeing the proof in the pudding. Andrew Sullivan is hyping a new poll that shows a large majority of Iraqis plan to participate in the elections. Yet other reports show a million Iraqis have documented their opposition to the Jan. 30 election. Nobody knows exactly what will happen.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel gives us the lighter side of the Iraqi election's most interesting dilemma: how do you bring democracy to a people who don't know what it is?

"We voted twice under Saddam," says al-Rakib, "and both times it was touching how much attention the state paid to the voters. Saddam let them off work on election day; he brought them to the ballot boxes, handed out chocolate bars and staged performances of beautiful dancers. And in the end, Saddam even saved them the trouble of having to choose among a variety of candidates."

Al-Rakib also likes to tell the joke about the Iraqi safe-crackers who, after the fall of Baghdad, broke into the central bank. Though they found no money in the main safe, they did find a couple of official papers: The official election results from 2009.


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