U.S. ambassador: Iraq turnout appears high (AP, 12/15/05)
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said first indications were of a very high turnout in Thursday’s parliamentary elections, which he hoped would result in a broad-based government that could address the “legitimate” concerns of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.
“The number of people participating is very, very high and we have had very few irregularities,” Khalilzad told The Associated Press. “It is a good day so far, good for us, good for Iraq. This is a first step for integrating the Sunni Arabs and bringing them into the political process and integrating them into the government.”
Khalilzad accompanied Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to the city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
Nevermind the high turnout, just having Joe Biden, who’s notoriously sensitive to every shift in the political winds, show up suggests that Zarqawi and Murtha are losing.
Bush’s New Arab World: The president’s Mideast-democracy project is faring better than you might think. (Duncan Currie, 12/15/2005, Weekly Standard)
The Iraqi political process continues apace. For those keen on “timetables,” America has yet to miss a single deadline in managing Iraq’s post-Saddam transition. The Sunni Arabs, who now realize how foolish their election boycott proved last winter, turned out in droves to vote in the October 15th constitutional referendum (albeit, in most cases, to cast a “no” ballot) and are expected to vote in even greater numbers in this week’s parliamentary poll. After a recent visit to Iraq, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he “was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.”
Elsewhere in the Mideast, Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election this past September, which, though tainted by the ruling party’s shenanigans, nevertheless marked a watershed. “The country’s old authoritarian system has broken apart,” reported Washington Post columnist David Ignatius from Cairo. Absent the Bush administration’s “nagging,” opined the Economist, “Mr. Mubarak would never have considered for a second that he should let himself be challenged at the polls for the top job. However clumsy in its promotion and debatable its motives, America’s campaign for democracy in the Middle East is making progress.”
Indeed, we’ve also had parliamentary elections in Lebanon, baby steps toward reform in Saudi Arabia, amplified pressure on Syria, and liberal sproutings in Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. On the hearts-and-minds front, a July 2005 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that “large and growing majorities” of Moroccans (83 percent), Jordanians (80 percent), and Lebanese (83 percent) “say democracy can work well and is not just for the West.” Meanwhile, more than 200,000 irate Jordanians responded to last month’s Amman hotel bombings by pouring into the streets to protest. Chants of “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!” and “Death to al Qaeda!” could reportedly be heard. […]
“To venture into the Arab world,” observes Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, “is to travel into Bush Country.” Ajami–who earlier this year spent several weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq–reports encountering “people from practically all Arab lands” engaged in “a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty.” He also “met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush’s words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.”
So what explains all the pessimism stateside? It could be that many Americans expected ballots, purple fingers, and Muslim people power to summarily quell the Iraqi insurgency. If so, they were disappointed. Car explosions, suicide bombers, mortar blasts, and kidnappings remain a pervasive reality in the Sunni Triangle. And more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen have now made the ultimate sacrifice. That this number is comparatively low by the standards of prior American wars offers no comfort to families who’ve lost a relative or friend.
But what if U.S. intervention did create “a new Arab world,” as Walid Jumblatt claimed? What if it did vanquish the Middle Eastern “Berlin Wall”? And what if it saved untold Americans–and Arabs–from far deadlier wars in the future? While we mourn each and every U.S. casualty, we must never lose sight of what the American military has accomplished. Despite all the setbacks, Iraq’s budding democracy continues to move ahead. So does the training of Iraq’s fledgling security forces, a prerequisite for any significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.
As for the Bush Doctrine’s loftier goal–to reform Arab politics and drain the swamp from which Islamic terrorism draws its chief ideological firepower–that no longer seems a fool’s errand. Even the most determined naysayer must acknowledge what American policy–coupled with felicitous circumstances–has wrought. George W. Bush deposed Saddam to remove a dangerous tyranny and promote U.S. interests in a vital region. He may wind up creating the first Arab democracy and changing the political culture of the Middle East–which would deal a severe blow to the forces of militant Islam.