Saturday, January 29, 2005

How Many Times Have We Reached The Turning Point?

On this the eve of "historic" elections in Iraq I want to recognize some cold facts. We have reached turning points in the colonialization of Iraq on several occasions including the "end of major combat operations", capturing Saddam Hussein, putting in place an interim government, "destroying the insurgency", and on and on and...At each turning point Iraq has become less stable, more dangerous, provided fertile ground in which to plant and grow a lethal and effective insurgency.

No matter what happy talk we hear about the success of tomorrow's elections, it will be too soon to tell whether we have reached a "turning point". All of the evidence suggests that civil war is a distinct possibility, if not imminent. What are the possibilities? One of the best reporters in Iraq, John Burns, suggests it is, at best, a mixed bag.

Nearly 22 months after American troops captured Baghdad, lighting a fire of enthusiasm for the freedoms Iraqis had craved so long, it is a measure of how much has gone wrong that Iraqis committed to Western-style democratic ideals can differ so sharply over the best way to secure them. Much of the problem is that the elections are being held under the dominion of the United States.

Many Iraqis, interviews in recent months have shown, do not accept that fundamental choices about the shape of their future political system should be made by a foreign power, particularly one they regard as a harbinger of secular, materialistic values far removed from the Muslim world's.

But questions over the election go far beyond the American stewardship, to issues that touch on whether it was ever wise or realistic to think that Jeffersonian-style democracy, with its elaborate checks on power and guarantees for minority rights, could be implanted, at least so rapidly, in a country and a region that has little experience with anything but winner-take-all politics.

Compounding those objections, the elections are being held in the grip of a paralyzing fear that many Iraqis see as inconsistent with a free vote. A savage insurgency, and the harsh measures America's 150,000 troops have taken in response, have angered and terrified Iraqis, who now face election conditions that have made an obstacle course of the process, at every stage.

The whole thing is worth reading but this about captures it. There are mixed feelings among those we came to set free. If nothing else captures the predicament we face, that does. The adminstration can say anything it wants about turnout, whether significant or not, but that is not and will not be the measure of success. Peace and prosperity is what we promised as part of the dividend for going to get rid of WMD. They will welcome us with flowers. Not. So on this count call me a skeptic. This is a war we have already lost, elections or not, and time will prove the failure of the policy in due course.

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