[ The first civilian leader of the U.S. occupation, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay] Garner was talking about putting in ninety days in Iraq and then heading home. . . . At dinner in the Hilton restaurant [in Baghdad in April 2003] . . . Garner laid out his timetable: reconstruct utilities, stand up ministries, appoint an interim government, write and ratify a constitution, hold elections. By August, Iraq would have a sovereign, functioning government in place. There was a stunned silence. Someone at the table said, "Which August?' "
-- George Packer, "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq"
Eccentric language often is symptomatic of peculiar thinking, and when the history of America's Iraq intervention is written, attention should be paid to the interveners' frequent use of the locution "to stand up." It carries the thought that things -- institutions such as armies and ministries, and even entire nations -- might be knocked over, as happens to lamps at rowdy parties, but then one simply stands them back up.
Last weekend Iraqi voters stood up a constitution. Before the vote, President Bush's national security adviser, Steve Hadley, said, "Whatever Iraqis decide, this is progress." Perhaps.
The administration's theory, which cannot be dismissed as foolish just because it is dogmatically cheerful, or because history contains ominous counterexamples, is that there could not have been a bad outcome from last weekend's vote: The mere fact of voting, by drawing Iraq's tribal factions into politics, enmeshes them in the democratic process and its civilities.
Perhaps. But from 1929 through 1933 the turnout in German elections was especially high, because so were the stakes. In Germany's turmoil the issues included which mobs would control the streets and which groups would be persecuted. In Iraq's turmoil the issues include, or are thought by many Iraqis to include, the same things.
The Bush administration deserves praise for overseeing the drafting and ratification of Iraq's constitution, another hurdle in the administration's transformative war to remake a region. But the administration should refrain from further strained analogies between Iraq today and America at its constitutional founding.
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