There has been lots of talk about how the legacy of this administration will be tied to the success of Iraq. We use words like goals, agendas, and platform to measure the success of this mission.
How about good and evil?
This concept has been largely absent from our vocabulary. We do not frame the discussion in terms of what this struggle means to the inhabitants of Iraq, largely because of our inability to grasp what is taking place. Americans have no understanding of what it means to be shot at every day by strangers, to run in the face of enemy fire, to ignore the sight of friends and family as they crumple to the ground. At best, we catch glimpses on the news: cars smashed, burning rubble, kids hurling rocks and soldiers firing guns. In the name of peace, democracy and posterity, President Bush has started a war. We see horrifying images float from our TV sets. The only way to make sense is to talk in the broader sense?to talk about legacies and agendas?or to turn it off.
But the one thing these images can?t properly articulate is the hope the Iraqi people find in all of this. I have a friend serving in Iraq. ?We want to be here. This is what we have trained for our entire lives,? he said in a recent email. That part doesn?t get reported. ?The Iraqi children follow us around and look up to the American soldiers,? he wrote.
This past week, it was widely reported that insurgents threatened to kill the children of anyone who voted in the elections. But 3.3 million people voted anyway. They ran through gunfire to participate in Iraq?s first free vote in over half a century. On one side you have Zarqawi threatening to kill anyone who seeks to exercise the basic right of self determination. On the other side you have millions of people who are risking their lives to vote for the first time. You want legacy? It?s already happened. This is good triumphing over the evil of oppression. This is a historic shift in the region from oppression to democracy.
And the whole world is bearing witness. The entire Arab world will see the citizens of Iraq exercising a choice and a voice in their own governance. This sort of self determination is the basis for any just system of government.
For the past fifty years much of the Arab world has used its citizens as pawns to keep themselves?and their extremist rhetoric?relevant. Meanwhile, the people suffer. They are impoverished. They lack a court system, a voice in governance, or many of the basic rights we associate with happiness. In an atmosphere where a sense of future possibilities is twisted inward, the citizens explode in violence.
We do not know what government will come of this vote. We do know exactly what the legacy of this war will be. We do know that this is the first meaningful step in 50 years of attacking the basic problem of hopelessness, tyranny and poverty in the Middle East. There have been casualties and expenses and violence and resistance. But last week people voted, and a democracy began. No matter what follows, that counts as a resounding success.