Sunday, January 30, 2005

Hurrah! Democracy in Iraq!

The habit of reacting negatively to anything the Bushies tout as good is so ingrained that many on the left seem to be unhappy about the elections in Iraq. The security is terrible, the risks are great, many of the Sunni minority may boycott, the Kurds may think it an irrelevancy – the list of problems could go on and on.

And yet, there is no reason not to celebrate this turn of events. Destroying a tyrannical dictatorship in favor of a democracy is a good thing. Reversing the usual roles, many on the left believe that the price we paid for this is simply too high, and cannot get over the undeniable fact that we were out and out misled into this war.

Few wars are ever about what the people who started them thought they should be about. WWI had something to do with Serbia’s failure to prostrate itself 110% in showing proper deference to the wronged Austrian empire, whose heir had just been killed in Serbia. Well, I guess those Serbians are really, truly, extra sorry now.

WWII would not have been fought at all if the prize were the liberation of Europe and the stopping of the Hitlerites. The thing went on for two years with a solid majority of our fellow Americans perfectly happy to let those foreigners duke it out.

And we have paid a heavy price to keep China at bay, in Korea and Viet Nam. Given the utter futility of trying to stop, let alone delay, China’s ascendancy to the role of the world’s first power, could any one say it was worth it?

America’s experience in Iraq today reminds me so much of Viet Nam. We were intensely interested in every little tidbit of news from this far away and tiny beacon of hope for freedom and democracy. A new defense minister? Why, front page news. The capture of a rebel leader? Time to break into Bewitched for an urgent update.

We all turn our attention today to Iraq’s terribly flawed elections. NBC will undoubtedly take us to some polling place and interview voters who will assure us that Iraq is finally on the road to freedom. With a bit of luck, CNN will find the Iraqi’s who are prepared to chant, “Thank you America!” on camera. And thanks, on some level, we are owed.

But soon our attention will wander. We’ll forget all about the ongoing battles between the Shii’as and and Sunni’s (which one, we’ll wonder, is aligned with Iran?). The troubles of the newly elected Iraqi government in keeping the peace will be forgotten. Even the efforts to keep terrorists – real actual terrorists, not just Bush-imagined ones – will fade without new terrors perpetrated on American shores.

Today, most Americans have returned Viet Nam to the place of obscurity they reserve for virtually all places not in the continental US. It is a distant, irrelevant place, the name only meaningful as a reminder of the terrible cost we incurred so many years ago, for gains that we can no longer even articulate or remember.
Sure, we were duped into this war by a President far too comfortable with bad faith. President Bush repeatedly and without any equivocation laid out that the sole reason to go to war was to disarm Saddam. Period. Any intimation that there was any other reason was blasphemy, not to be even entertained.

Since it appeared that Saddam didn’t actually need disarming, and that that fact should have been apparent to all who weren’t trying – really, really hard – to avert their gaze, we’ve embarked on a crusade to justify our incursion. (“Never mind” just won’t seem to cut it.) For now, we’ve settled on the notion that bringing democracy and freedom to the oppressed people of Iraq is what made this all worth while.

I welcome the right wing of the Republican party to the left’s long-standing campaign to bring freedom to everyone on the planet. When the tables are turned (as they will inevitably be), and we are back in power, I wonder how many of today’s ruling party will remember how much they were prepared to pay to secure the freedom of the great Iraqi people?

How many will support us as we seek to bring freedom to the great people of Saudi Arabia, where they are not voting today? Or Egypt? Or Pakistan? Or the Sudan? Or Russia? Did I mention Ohio, where the right to vote seems to be unavailable to those who would use it against our rulers?

I’d like to think that a deeply conservative President has been able to do a deeply liberal thing – use US military might to secure freedom for a people oppressed by a terrible dictator. And perhaps he has. But I suspect that the President’s people are in fact not on-board with the current justification for war, but are rather signed on to the traditional right-wing foreign policy: we’re OK with dictators who play ball with us, and those that seem prone to aid our enemies, well, if they keep that up for a decade or two, they’d better watch out.

I think celebrating the liberation of an oppressed people is something we shall not see again any time soon. We have paid far too dear a cost for this unilateral madness -- let us at least savor the fruits.

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