Maybe I am mistaken, but I sense that the reactions to the Iraqi elections–good and bad, including even those on The Corner–don’t come near to reflecting its significance. This is an event like Dien Bien Phu or the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It marks a turning point in history. It changes the future, of course, but it also changes the past. As the plainly angry and frustrated responses of the Left demonstrate, it places the entire Iraq adventure in a better and more optimistic light. It gives legitimacy to the wider democracy project. And it challenges the passionate belief (passionate because not wholly believed) of the UN-EU-Third World-Davos world establishment that history is tending inevitably in their direction: namely, towards “governance” by a non-democratic confederation of elites.
Now, I don’t want to seem starry-eyed. A lot can still go wrong. The elections may produce a squabbling demagogic anarchy. The Sunni, having party excluded themselves, may complain of their exclusion and support the insurgency. A shaky Iraqi government may ask the U.S. to withdraw too soon and undermine itself. And so so.
But if these things do happen, they will happen in a different local and international political context. The cause of constitutional liberal democracy–which the UN-EU-Third World-Davos people regard as old hat at best–is now seen to have real and persistent energy. It can win American elections and get people to turn out in the face of terror in Iraqi ones. And represented not only by the U.S. but by all democratic states that don’t wish to lose their sovereignty to remote world agencies, it is still the dominant political philosophy in advanced countries–post-Western post-democracy being an elite taste like single-malt Scotch. (Well, not nearly as good as single-malt Scotch.) And of which will make some (democratic) political outcomes more likely than (post-democratic) othersfor the long future.
That realization has prompted the insincere tributes to Iraqi democracy from the UN, the EU, Chirac etc. and forced their journalistic and blogging camp-followers into a near-Trappist silence. They sense that this is bad for their cause(s) but they can’t see exactly how, and they would find it embarrassing to denounce a democratic election straightforwardly (though, as Mark Steyn has pointed out, some Spaniards were up to the task.) This is not an argument for complacency. Historical turning points don’t determine history indefinitely (or even reflect an indefinite direction.)
But it usually requires an event of equal magnitude to reverse the flow of events–thus, the installation of missiles in Europe decisively reversed the retreat of American power that Vietnam began and it culminated in the collapse of the Wall. Until some event occurs that is equal and opposite to the joyful commitment of Iraqis to electoral democracy, then, the political forces supporting constitutional liberal democracy will enjoy “the Big Mo.” And post-democracy will have to smile and pretend to like it.