Perhaps four words - resolve, courage, sacrifice and extraordinary - best define the outcome of the elections in Iraq.
The resolve of President Bush and the people of the United States, the courage and sacrifice of primarily the American military and the Iraqi people (as well as the post-Saddam Iraqi leadership), and the extraordinary electoral results.
In the run-up to the election, many among the doubters and naysayers practically cheered for failure. They were all negativism, cynicism and gloom. Remember? From all the predictable sectors - the Old Media (which somewhere along the way redefined the terrorists as "insurgents"), Old Europe, even non-Iraqis Osama and Zarqawi) the unrelenting cries went up:
Bush was a dunce, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi a stooge. Postpone the elections, went the cry. The Sunni Baathists who prospered under Saddam wouldn't vote, the Kurds wouldn't vote, the Shiites wouldn't vote - nobody would vote. Terror was rampant, intimidation high. The Iraqs had no tradition of democracy, no heart for liberty. There would be a bloodbath, a civil war. The outcome would be illegitimate. The election would be "a disaster because it's a result of blunder after blunder after blunder" (Teddy Kennedy).
And: The U.S. lost the war. Elections were unadulterated idiocy. A sham election would not be worth the murder, mayhem, and horror it would cause. Muslims and Arabs were unsuited for democracy. It was all America's fault: The problem in Iraq was, is, the U.S. generally - U.S. troops in particular. Like Vietnam, Iraq's a quagmire; bring the boys home. Americans don't support the death of Americans fighting for Iraqis who won't defend themselves and don't believe in freedom. . . .
Serial beheader Zarqawi summed it all up in the week before the election. In pamphlets and video threats, he issued a "final warning" to Iraqis, vowed to "wash the streets with the voters' blood," and "declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology."
Remember all that terrorist hate and - from the usual sectors - all that smug racism and elitism?
Recall, please, the October elections in Afghanistan: The cynics were similarly pessimistic, yet the first Afghan elections in 5,000 years were a resounding success. Within months so were the elections in Ukraine and the Palestinian territories, and so were the elections now in Iraq. The Iraqis were supposed to be giving the U.S. and democracy the midfinger salute. Somehow, the stink-finger of dismissive hostility to the very notion of liberty became the blue ink-finger of proud free expression.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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