Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Success Indeed (but now what?)

As Tim commutes back and forth to London in hopes of finding a flat and the Hilary term begins to gear up for myself, apologies for slightly lighter blogging than usual, particularly our failure to comment on the "resounding success" (is this me quoting Bush?) of the Iraq elections.

Some perspective from our usual suspects (click the links for their full reports):

1. Andrew Sullivan: "A HUGE SUCCESS: The latest indicators suggest a turnout of something like 60 percent. We'll have to wait for precise numbers and ethnic/regional breakdowns. But if I stick to my pre-election criteria for success, this election blows it away: "45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered." Even my more optimistic predictions of a while back do not look so out of bounds. But the numbers don't account for the psychological impact. There is no disguising that this is a huge victory for the Iraqi people - and, despite everything, for Bush and Blair. Yes, we shouldn't get carried away. We don't know yet who was elected, or what they'll do, or how they'll be more successful at controlling the insurgency. There are many questions ahead. And I don't mean to minimize them."

2. Juan Cole: "I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan."

3. New York Times: "This page has not hesitated to criticize the Bush administration over its policies in Iraq, and we continue to have grave doubts about the overall direction of American strategy there. Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day."

4. Dailykos: "The administration, press, and wingnut blogosphere is all atwitter over the "successful" Iraqi elections. But the fact that 8 million Iraqis voted is not the measure of success. Just like catching Saddam wasn't, or occupying Baghdad, or transfering "sovereignty". Those events are miletones toward the ultimate outcome, but unpredictive whether that outcome is victory or defeat. And elections, historically, aren't the end-all be-all for defeating insurgencies."

5. Powerline: "There was scattered violence today, but that was barely a footnote. The terrorists, relying on the power of fear, had intended to destroy the democratic process. They didn't make a dent. President Bush, conversely, bet his legacy on the power of freedom. While, as everyone keeps saying, there is a long road ahead, right now that's looking like a pretty good bet."

Whew. So there's a smattering. Predictably, those on the right focused on the optimistic side, while the left is much more cautious. For my part - I'm sure Tim will wade in later - I tend to fall in the middle. I sympathize with those who emphasize that one day of voting is not a panacea, and that we cannot and should not forget the scattered route of violence and misinformation that led us to this pass. After all, how truly bizarre is it that in all the fuss of the election we have almost no coverage on who actually WON. One successful day of voting and minimal violence is a good start, but not enough.

And yet... that proviso out of the way, it was an impressive and moving site to see the pictures and imagine the emergence of a truly democratic movement in Iraq. Democrats must be careful in how they criticize going forward, remaining wary of the challenges ahead - and there are many - but not cynical about democracy in action. I don't know who Ben P on mydd.com is, but ultimately his comments resonate loudly with what would be mine own.


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