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Iraq: Election Changes Terms of the Debate

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Freedom is an itch that spreads as it is scratched, and yesterday’s highly successful (if not triumphant: the Sunnis generally stayed home, there were 44 killed in anti-election violence) election in Iraq is a scratch that has already changed the characterization of the state of affairs in the former land of Saddam.

Note the following quotes:

    Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the former Democratic presidential nominee, called the vote “significant” but warned on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “what really counts now is the effort to have a legitimate political reconciliation that is going to take a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community than this administration has been willing to engage in.”

    ….The apparently healthy turnout in Iraq’s election won praise from some of the toughest critics of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. France, which led opposition to a U.N. resolution approving the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, called Iraqis “courageous” and said the vote was “necessary,” despite earlier calls to delay it.

    “This is a great victory, if this process succeeds, first and foremost for the Iraqis who together felt sufficiently courageous despite the hardships, despite the violence, to go and vote,” said French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.

    ….Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, congratulated Iraqis and backed off from a warning last week that the vote could become “a disaster” if the Sunni minority emerged without representation.

    “The elections represent an important step forward for Iraq. Despite the many difficulties that lie ahead, the elections mark progress towards a transition to a democratic, free and peaceful Iraq,” he said in a statement.

    To strengthen relations at this strategic juncture, Rice leaves Thursday on her first trip as secretary of state for talks in Europe and the Middle East. [Washington Post]

So Kerry calls for outreach to the international community, new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares for a trip to do just that, and France and the EU — among the most vocal of the “friendly” critics of our Iraq policy — give clear signals that they view the elections as a success and a significant step toward a “democratic, free and peaceful Iraq.”

I’d call that real progress from all sides as all parties can now focus on the elections and aftermath rather than the U.S. occupation. Note the statements from hardcore administration critics:

    “It was Sistani who demanded one-person, one-vote elections. So to the extent it’s a victory, it’s a victory for Iraqis. The Americans were maneuvered into having to go along with it,” said Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University of Michigan.

    Other analysts said recent opinion polls indicate that many Iraqis viewed the election as one way to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal rather than as a vindication of U.S. policy. “They realize that the quickest way to get the United States out of Iraq is to create a new government,” said Henri Barkey, a former State Department policy planning staff member now at Lehigh University. “Not to vote would mean a continuation of the status quo. So the election is not a vindication of U.S. policy.”

Let it be a “victory for the Iraqis,” and let the motivation for voters be to “get the United States out” as quickly as possible, the focus has gone from the occupation to the election (an election that would not have taken place without the invasion and occupation, but I won’t force the point for now). The terms of the debate have changed from a relentless negative (the occupation) to an acknowledged positive (the elections) – the door is open to break the diplomatic logjam with our European allies and Rice is heading off to discuss just that: sounds like progress to me.

The L.A. Times at least partially agrees:

    At home, where support for the war has fallen to fewer than half of Americans, the image of Iraqis risking their lives to cast ballots is likely to increase public sympathy. Abroad, where the U.S.-led mission has been widely questioned, there were signs that allies would judge the election positively, possibly conferring the international legitimacy that has been a prime U.S. goal.

    ….World leaders usually look to the United Nations to help them make sense of elections in troubled regions. The U.N. election team for Iraq is already making it clear that it considers the balloting fair, even though Iraq was too dangerous to permit the presence of international observers.

    “They’re voting for the day when they’re going to take their destiny in hand,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

    Such judgments could serve to soften public opposition in Europe and the Middle East to the U.S. presence in Iraq. U.S. officials have said they are eager to change European attitudes, and Bush plans to make it a top priority of his second term.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Tim Hall

    “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it might be the end of the beginning”. (You all know who said it!)

    I think it will be six months to a year down the line before we really know whether or not this was the turning point.

  • Eric Olsen

    I’m sure that’s true, my point is that the discussion is now about something that almost everyone can call “a success” to a greater or lesser degree, vs the occupation, which a large number of people have viewed as an unmitigated disaster. THAT is a significant change

  • sapere aude


    It was definitely a triumphant day for the Iraqi people and the U.S. as well. The election is over, yet the war continues. Hopefully, the newly-elected government will show its might with the help of the U.S… and soon, so our troops can come home. LVX

    (We also have to deal with our hostages. I ask myself, will these insurgent groups continue holding them, or will they let them go? I don’t care to think of the worse case scenario.)

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Sapere, I have heard 18 months a few different places as the soonest an Iraqi force would be ready to take over – probably optimistic, but it won’t be sooner than that

  • Diet Doc

    Finally, and with great hope, we can start talking about achieving what we went to Iraq to do in the first place. Contrary to the naysayers, not to steal oil, not to kill Muslims, not for the son to finish his father’s war but, simply, to bring a viable democracy to Iraq and to a people beaten down, murdered, tortured and supressed for half a century. It was the right thing to do, then and now.

    Certainly, it is not the end of the story, and continued acts of fanatical rebellion will still headline the news. But, maybe – just maybe – we can start talking about the Iraqi people writing the rest of their story now. I am hopefully optimistic.

    And who knows? Seeds sowed in one field often bear fruit from far away.


    Ron Albright