Bush has another view, which he made clear during the State of the Union: "We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned."
All of this runs counter to the political headwind Bush has been marching into from the outset of the war. Every setback has been a disaster, proof of a "quagmire" or "imperial hubris." And every success has been greeted by a smug declaration that "this was the easy part" and the "hard part is next." Well, here's some news: It's all been hard. Toppling Hussein was hard. Creating the interim government was hard. Building hospitals, schools and soccer fields: all hard.
All of the sophisticates and cynics insisted that having elections would be a bloody fool's errand. Bush was being too rigid by holding firm on the January elections. Surely a more reasonable man would postpone them since everyone knows they'll be a bloodbath. And then, once they took place, the goalposts were moved again.
Consider Juan Cole. You probably haven't heard of him, but he's the dashboard saint of lefty Middle East experts. President-elect of the Middle East Studies Association, Cole has made a new career for himself in finding the dark lining of every silver cloud. After the Iraqi elections he harrumphed on his Web site that he was "appalled" by the media's cheerleading of the election. He absurdly declared that the 1997 Iranian elections were much more democratic (Iranian candidates had to be approved by the mullahs). He whined that Bush did not originally intend to have elections of this sort and only agreed when Ayatollah Sistani insisted. Suddenly, Bush the rigid ideologue is too flexible.
Most telling, Cole offered a world-weary sigh that "This thing was more like a referendum than an election."
This observation requires us to reopen the "Well, duh!" list for a new contender. Of course it was more like a referendum. That's the point.