February 1, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     The January 30 elections in Iraq confounded those 
who predicted that they would be a bloody disaster. They 
weren't. This illustrates why it's unwise to stake your 
principles on predictions. If your predictions are wrong, 
you risk discrediting your principles.

     Members of the outnumbered, outvoted, disgruntled 
Sunni minority were unable to deter or discourage most 
Iraqis from voting. There was much less violence than 
expected. The turnout was far higher than in most 
American elections.

     Most Iraqis, of the Shi'ite majority at least, 
rejoiced in the opportunity to vote. Best of all, it was 
peaceful. Iraq was spared the horrors we have come to 
expect. Al-Qaeda, which branded voters "infidels," failed 
to scare them out of casting their ballots and may have 
damaged itself severely with this empty bluff. We'll soon 
see whether its terrorism is quite so terrifying from now 

     By threatening, and miserably failing, to disrupt 
the elections, al-Qaeda handed its chief enemy, President 
Bush, an intoxicating propaganda victory. So did those 
pundits who forecast a low voter turnout. As Woody Allen 
has pointed out, "80 per cent of life is just showing 
up"; and the Iraqi voters certainly showed up. Did they 

     This allows Bush and his supporters to claim that 
his war -- the War for Democracy, nee the War on Terror 
-- has been a triumph, and that its critics have been 
confounded. But that doesn't follow. The curious thing is 
that nobody in this country seems to know what the Iraqis 
were actually voting about. What issues were at stake? 
Who were the candidates? What did they stand for? 
Shouldn't we at least wait for the outcome before 
pronouncing the elections successful?

     All we seem to know is that Iraq's majority voted, 
in some general way, for majority rule. This tells us 
next to nothing about the substance of the election. 
Majorities usually do favor majority rule, after all, but 
a majority can vote to oppress minorities and 
individuals. Unless we know the constitutional specifics, 
majority rule is a pig in a poke. And the news reports 
have told us very little about those specifics.

     Beyond that, we face the danger that the Bush 
administration will claim its own mandate from the Iraqi 
election -- a mandate for more war and more intervention 
in the Middle East and elsewhere. Everywhere elsewhere.

     This mandate-mongering is already happening. The 
United States has long asserted the Monroe Doctrine, 
forbidding the powers of the Old World to interfere in 
the affairs of the New. But no corresponding doctrine 
forbids the United States to interfere in the other 
hemisphere. Such interference is assumed to be an 
American prerogative. What we call "foreign policy" now 
largely means how and where, not whether, American power 
will be exerted beyond the seas. (Americans who think 
America should behave like other countries are 
"isolationists," whereas other countries that behave like 
America are "rogue nations.")

     Foreign observers have often found this one-way 
application of the Monroe Doctrine inconsistent and even 
hypocritical. It implies a right of American global 
hegemony: others must stay out of "our" hemisphere, but 
we may go -- guns blazing, if need be -- wherever we 
please? Anything odd about that?

     But any such objection to the American double 
standard is sure to be called "anti-American," because 
most Americans take the double standard as a God-given 
right. They justify it, if they think of it at all, with 
the conviction that U.S. intervention is always 
benevolent, aimed at spreading democracy and freedom. The 
subjects of that intervention may sometimes disagree, but 
that doesn't disturb American moral complacency and may 
even reinforce it. Being righteous, we expect a certain 
amount of opposition from the unrighteous, recognizable 
by their hatred of freedom and democracy.

     So the Bush administration is construing the mere 
fact that most Iraqis showed up at the polls as one more 
vindication of American power. Did any of Bush's critics 
really think that if the elections had turned out to be a 
bloody disaster, he would have felt chastened and changed 
his course? Or would he simply have redoubled his 

     The answer is pretty obvious. No setback can make a 
real dent in the stubborn ideology of American power. And 
if you predict a setback, you'd better not be wrong. This 
week Bush owes some of his harshest critics a great debt 
of thanks.


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