Bushs Helpful Critics
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 Shiite 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. Well soon see whether its terrorism is quite so terrifying from now on.
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 ever!
This allows Bush and his supporters to claim that his war the War for Democracy, née the War on Terror has been a triumph, and that its critics have been confounded. But that doesnt 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? Shouldnt we at least wait for the outcome before pronouncing the elections successful?
All we seem to know is that Iraqs 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 doesnt 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 Bushs 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 efforts?
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, youd better not be wrong. This week Bush owes some of his harshest critics a great debt of thanks.
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