Given how much the Democratic party has staked on Iraq’s failure, we’re surprised the Democrats didn’t issue a “prebuttal” to the Iraqi election yesterday.
The first thing to say about Iraq’s third national vote in a year is that it was amazing. It was a peaceful day with, apparently, a higher turnout than ever before: as high as seventy percent. Fifty-eight percent voted in January, and sixty-three percent in October. The numbers show that the Iraqi people, despite all their divisions, share at the most basic level a desire for a better, more legitimately governed nation than they had under Saddam Hussein. The most consequential aspect of this vote was the Sunni turnout. In Anbar province turnout was 1.6 percent in January. On Thursday, people flocked to the polls in the province. The Sunnis, of course, provide the base for the insurgency, but now are taking a tentative step into the political process.
The conventional wisdom–repeated over and over again by Democrats and pundits in the media who would rather talk about anything than the marvel of the day–is that a great deal of hard work is still to come. This is true. Much of the good feeling from the January 30 vote dissipated during the months it took to form a government after that election, thanks to Iraqi factionalism and American diplomatic lethargy. But Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is anything but lethargic; he will be pushing the Iraqis to form a government quickly and make it as broad-based as possible. Our hope is that the governing Shiite coalition has been roundly punished by Iraq’s voters for the inept leadership of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and that other electoral groups have gained accordingly.
At this crucial moment, a strong, responsible Iraqi government is essential: to build the ministries of defense and interior, without which competent, enduring Iraqi security forces will be impossible; to reform the absurd subsidies for gasoline and electricity that keep demand from having any reasonable relation to supply; to reach out to the Sunnis to form a true national compact around constitutional changes. Sunnis worry that the present constitution is designed to spin the country off into three regions, leaving behind a dusty Sunni rump state barren of resources. When no less an authority than Kanan Makiya, whose liberal credentials are unimpeachable, writes that the constitution “[does] away with the central state” and is a “punitive document,” attention must be paid. Even if Makiya is too dire, compromise on the constitution is still essential to exploiting the growing rift between Sunnis and the foreign jihadists. Groups connected to the insurgency ran candidates in this week’s election and insurgents warned al Qaeda not to launch attacks on the voting.
It is not impossible to imagine that, eventually, an element of the Sunni leadership will realize that a U.S. presence is in its interests. We oppose the creation of a regional Shiite super-state in the south. That is something the Sunnis wish to block as well, and our forces are a check against their potential slaughter at the hands of Shiite militias.
Thursday’s vote was far from perfect. It followed a bare-knuckle campaign with its share of intimidation on all sides–and probably ballot-box stuffing too. But there is no denying the power of those purple-stained fingers. President Bush’s emphasis on “deadline democracy,” pushing the Iraqis to keep to assigned dates for key political events in order to preserve the momentum of their country’s democratic transition, has been shown to be correct. There are many obstacles yet to negotiate, but on Thursday the vista of a new, better Iraq–and Middle East–was clearer than ever before. Let’s hope Iraq’s elected leaders–that has a nice ring, no?–keep that vista plainly in view.