Iraqi ballots and bombs

Posted: Jan 26, 2005 12:00 AM

It's a little odd that the most vehement support for President Bush's proposition that democracy is the best cure for terrorism came from the curling lips of Mr. Abu Musab Zarqawi.

 The infidel-beheading terrorist butcher of Baghdad announced, in a post-Inaugural Web site broadcast (not to be confused with American network television's post-speech commentary and analysis) that "We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology. Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it ... [Iraqi candidates] are demi-idols, and [voters] are infidels."

 With such a hard-hitting critique of the president's speech, he might well be in line for a political analyst slot at CBS.

 Obviously Mr. Zarqawi, recently anointed by bin Laden himself, feels toward democracy much the way the Wicked Witch of the East felt toward water. It seems pretty clear from Zarqawi's analysis of the Iraqi political scene that he is every bit as opposed to President Bush's policy as is Barbara Boxer and the rest of Mr. Bush's political opponents.

 His effort at defeating President Bush's democracy project for Iraq brings a whole new meaning to the phrase negative campaigning. Instead of rude or false charges hurled at a candidate, Zarqawi hurls suicide bombs at both candidates and voters.

 His actions, bloody though they are, constitute eloquent testimony to his and President Bush's shared understanding of Iraq's future. Zarqawi is fighting democracy for his dear life because he understands, as does President Bush, that an established democracy in Iraq will be the death of terrorism in Iraq -- and possibly beyond.

 If Barbara Boxer and her fellow deprecators of Iraqi democracy won't accept President Bush's insights on the efficacy of democracy, perhaps she might reconsider in light of Zarqawi's comments. After all, when the leading terrorist and President Bush agree on something, the light of that shared vision might even penetrate the, until now, impenetrable darkness of the anti-Bush mind.

 Something better jog the liberal mind from its obsessive Bush-hatred. The liberals, on both sides of the Atlantic, are in imminent danger of repeating the great shame of many of their ideological grandparents in the middle of the last century, who became unthinking apologists for Stalin's terror and tyranny.

 This coming Sunday, the Iraqi people are holding an election -- the first real election in the 5,000-year history of this ancient people. But the cynicism and indifference of liberals to this extraordinary event should shock the conscience of decent people, because the Iraqi people are marching through shot and shell to gain this first chance at self-government.

 Despite the worst that Zarqawi and his fellow terrorists can do, there are 7,500 candidates from 111 political parties running for 275 National Assembly seats. Six thousand polling stations have been set up to count the votes. According to the most reliable surveys, 12 of 14 million eligible voters have registered. Turnout could be as high as 80 percent.

 This shouldn't surprise anyone. When given half a chance, people will risk their lives to vote for freedom. They did it in El Salvador in 1984, in the midst of civil war and terrorism. They did it in Cambodia in 1993, under threat from the genocidal Khmer Rouge. They did it in Algeria in 1995, under constant terrorist threat. They did it in Afghanistan last year under the Taliban gun.

 There, the story is told by our ambassador, the night before the election, a woman went through her religion's death rituals. She expected to die trying to vote the next day and wanted to be prepared to meet her god -- but she wasn't going to miss the vote.

 And, of course, we Americans fought a long hard revolutionary war so that we might gain the right to govern ourselves through the ballot box.

 But the heartless, mindless Bush-haters from Paris to San Francisco to the chamber of the United States Senate would rather see Bush embarrassed than Iraq free.

 Of course one election does not constitute a functioning democracy. After the best that the Iraqi people can do this Sunday, years of hard, careful work is ahead of them. (Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a must-read article in Tuesday's Washington Post, that shrewdly lays out the risks and challenges that must be surmounted before a functioning, decent government can form.)

 But it is not too late for the Bush haters to put that bitter chalice from which they constantly drink to one side and lend a hand to a noble project.

 They don't have to take George Bush's word for the necessity of democracy in Iraq. They could ask Mr. Zarqawi.