Ballots over bombs

Posted: Oct 21, 2005 12:05 AM

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said it best: “Just win, baby.” Football’s a violent game, and Davis wanted his players to do whatever they could do to win games. The Raiders were known as the dirtiest team in the league, and they earned that reputation, well, dishonestly.

 But football has changed since the Raiders were in their heyday. New rules protect quarterbacks, prevent late hits and eliminate questionable blocks. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Raiders, struggling with the kinder, gentler NFL, haven’t won a championship since 1984.

 Which brings us to Iraq.

“Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority made a violent reentry into politics Friday, bombing offices of a political party that urged support for a new U.S.-backed constitution while posting insurgents and tribal fighters at some polling places to ensure that Sunni voters could vote safely Saturday against the proposed charter,” announced The Washington Post on Oct. 15. That very day, Iraqis went to the polls and voted to accept a draft constitution.

Talk about missing the point.

“A violent reentry into politics?” The entire point of politics is that it’s nonviolent. Politics is the art of settling disputes peacefully.

As an example, consider Washington, D.C. According to the Zogby polling firm, we’re “a closely divided nation.” That’s why “the 2006 elections promise to be a pitched, furious battle.” Of course, they’d be hard-pressed to be tighter or more angrily contested than Ohio 2004 or Florida 2000. And that’s the point. After a divisive election, even when one side insists, “we wuz robbed,” the overwhelming majority of Americans shrug, accept the outcome and move on.

There are extreme political disagreements here on dozens of issues, ranging from Iraq to abortion to Supreme Court nominees. Because of those differences, people shout at each other, call each other names, write angry opinion columns about each other. But we don’t bomb each other’s homes.

What the Sunnis were doing with their bombs was attempting -- unsuccessfully -- to prevent the political process.

Iraq is moving, with surprising speed, toward a future where differences will be settled through politics (words) instead of violence (bombs). As President Bush put it, “Iraqis will decide the future of their country through peaceful elections, not violent insurgency.” Exactly.

“I insisted on voting, even though my neighbors told me it would be dangerous,” 38-year-old Haifa Ahmed Satoor, told The Washington Post. “I don’t want more people killed in the name of Sunni resistance,” he said, explaining why he voted in favor of the draft constitution. “We already lost neighbors. I don’t want to lose relatives.”

Remember that just three years ago, Saddam Hussein was in charge. There was no political process, only violent repression. These days, Iraqis line up to vote peacefully. And one of the benefits of the new political process is on display this week: Saddam’s trial.

As CNN puts it, “The former dictator, along with seven of his followers, will answer questions about a massacre in the small Sunni-Shiite town of Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, in 1982.” This is one of the lesser crimes Saddam is charged with, of course, but it serves as a good reminder of where Iraq has been, and thus where it’s going. A free people will soon pass judgment on their former dictator.

There was a time in the U.S. when politics -- like football -- wasn’t as genteel, relatively speaking, as today. In 1856, the political debate over slavery turned violent when Rep. Preston Brooks pounded Sen. Charles Sumner repeatedly with a cane.

His constituents approved of Brooks’ actions -- he was re-elected, and people even sent him new canes. But such an act seems unthinkable today.

In much the same way, the Sunni bombs last week are anything but a “reentry into politics.” They’re a flailing attempt to derail a political process that nevertheless moves forward, and will in days to come yield a political outcome that will make such bombings less and less likely in the months and years ahead.

Iraqis have approved a new constitution, which will make the country a beacon of freedom and opportunity in a violent region. No doubt the country’s nervous neighbors -- including dictatorships in Syria and Iran -- would have preferred that violence win out. But it won’t.

As Iraq’s political future takes shape, many would-be suicide bombers will find their way home to Syria and Iran. The leaders in those countries will soon find out that, like the Raiders, their time has past.