Whatever the actual voter turnout in the Iraq election (initial reports as high as 72 percent seem inflated, perhaps the result of overly enthusiastic poll watchers), the spectacle of so many Iraqis defying death and dictatorial religious leaders to cast ballots is a strong first step in affirming the Bush Administration's policy to spread freedom in lands that have not known it.
While rejoicing in the scene that included a 94-year-old woman being carried by her son to a polling place and fewer terrorist bombings than forecast, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice soberly noted on the Sunday talk shows that the terrorists will "try again" to disrupt the process leading to a new constitution and self rule.
"The hard work is still ahead," Rice said. She called the terrorists who want to prevent people from deciding their own future "brutal intimidators." President Bush characterized the election "a resounding success" and thanked Americans for being "patient and resolute."
There was a time not long ago in the United States when Republicans and Democrats shared a common hope: the liberation of oppressed people. They mostly subordinated partisan politics when it came to that goal. Those days ended about the time Republicans began to emerge as the majority party.
The collapse of the Soviet Union would not have been possible without the Truman Doctrine or the likes of the late Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson or President John F. Kennedy, along with Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Today, the objective of some politicians is not victory over oppression. Rather, it is holding on to what passes for power in Washington, when true power is the ability to set people free. How sick is that?
The extreme makeover of Iraq could lead to the reshaping of many other dictatorial nations in the region. It might also affect the careers of politicians who have been on the wrong side of freedom.
Some Democrats have likened Iraq to the Vietnam War. There is one valid similarity. North Vietnamese Gen. Bui Tin told The Wall Street Journal after his retirement that the U.S. anti-war movement was "essential to our strategy."
Surely those "brutal intimidators" are taking note of calls by some for the withdrawal of all American troops before the job is finished. To withdraw now (and Iraqi leaders want Americans to stay for now) would sentence the entire country to a civil war and a brutal bloodbath. How could any responsible leader favor such an outcome, unless that leader cared more about politics than people?
In an outstanding analysis of what certain people, nations and ideologies have to gain and lose depending on the ultimate shape of a new Iraq, Norman Podhoretz writes in the February issue of Commentary magazine that the insurgents are "counting on the forces opposing the Bush Doctrine at home. Those forces comprise just as motley a coalition as the one fighting in Iraq, and they are, after their own fashion, just as desperate. For they too understand how much they for their own part stand to lose if the Bush Doctrine is ever generally judged to have passed the great test to which it has been put in Iraq."
What might such people lose? They would lose power. A successful outcome in Iraq would isolate the isolationists more effectively than at any time since World War II. It would also give President Bush more power to push through Congress his domestic agenda, including Social Security reform, tort reform, tax reform and, most importantly, a realignment of the Supreme Court along constitutional lines.
A sign of things to come, even if the Iraq election and subsequent votes on the constitution go reasonably well, is summed up by Podhoretz: "With so much riding on a failure in Iraq, no effort will be spared to make sure that even a victory there ends up being defined as a defeat."
Count on the big media in America and Europe to look for a dark lining within the silver cloud. But count on President Bush, American and allied forces and most of the liberated Iraqi people to stay the course because of the hope that Iraq can serve not as a launching pad for terrorism, but a springboard to democracy throughout the region.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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