by Stephen Schwartz
The news from Iraq is spectacularly good: local authorities estimate almost 75 percent of the electorate has voted. This is a triumph for every Iraqi, for America, for the Muslim world -- indeed, for the whole world. But it is a particular victory for an exceedingly small group in Washington: those who maintained confidence in the appeal of democracy, in the commonsense and intelligence of the Iraqis, and in the correctness of the path taken by President George W. Bush to Baghdad and beyond.
As stated, the group of non-Iraqis in America entitled to exult is tiny: it consists of President Bush himself, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, certain other members of the cabinet and defense establishment, and a highly exclusive media list: Bill Kristol and crew at The Weekly Standard, myself and some others writing on TCS and a handful of other publications. (I won't be modest about this.)
And that, folks, is about it. The global humanitarian services industry was worst about Iraq: the experienced electoral monitors chickened out of covering the balloting. The Europeans, of course, have nothing but bad to say about Baghdad, aside from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But the American political and media class, the latter above all, spent the months since President Bush's reelection searching desperately for reasons the Iraqi election was bound to fail.
We could call them "the coalition of the wrong." Democrats sneered openly, but even a considerable number of Republicans had cold feet. According to the habitual critics, the Arab Sunnis would boycott the voting, rendering it irrelevant, since without the good offices of the former tormentors of the Shia majority, the democratization of Iraq would be hopeless. According to the faint-hearted, Wahhabi terrorists would make the ballot process impossible to complete. According to the ideologues, democracy could not be "imposed," especially without sufficient "liberals," as argued by a renegade former supporter of the Iraq effort, Lawrence F. Kaplan in The New Republic.
The main daily papers and TV networks repeated all this "common foolishness," since it would be absurd to call it wisdom, down to the last moment. The weekend edition of the London Financial Times jabbered about Abu Ghraib and tried to keep afloat the limp balloon of claims that Saddam Hussein was really no threat to anybody. The Saturday front page of The New York Times whined that because a Shia cleric had preached a Friday sermon without mentioning the vote, the radical followers of Moqtada ul-Sadr would, allegedly, boycott it. Times headline writers exercised their talent for slippery language thus: "Shiite Faction Ready to Shun Sunday's Election in Iraq" rode atop Dexter Filkins' stretching exercise. On Sunday, of course, the Times had to report the truth, with Filkins writing, "voters turned out in very large numbers in Baghdad today, packing polling places and creating a party atmosphere in the streets."
The Washington Post was marginally better. On Saturday, its Damascus correspondent, Scott Wilson, disclosed that the Syrian Baathist regime had decided to support the Iraqi process, to bring some stability to its neighbor. But its Washington diplomatic analyst, Robin Wright, whose record on these matters is among the worst, outdid herself. To her, the effects on the surrounding neighborhood would be destabilizing. But she had at least discovered what I, along with Saudi Shia dissidents and other Shia intellectuals, had been saying all along: that the probable smashing victory for democratic practices in Iraq would resonate in the Saudi kingdom, with its restive Shia minority, subject to systematic hate and repression by the Wahhabi state. She even cited the typically unnamed U.S. official, as follows: "'At the core of Saudi concern is this prejudice against the Shia they never enunciate in a policy. They just cite the Iranian bogeyman,' said an administration official, referring to Iran's Shiite theocracy. 'That's not something we see happening.'"
I felt as if I were in a special sort of echo chamber, bouncing back my own words in distorted form. That's fine; there's nothing wrong with being ahead of the curve, even when it twists like a rollercoaster. But speaking of echoes, haven't we been here before? Has everybody forgotten how, in 1990, the U.S., Canadian, and European media drastically miscalled the first free election in Sandinista Nicaragua? In that instance, 92 percent of U.S. media reported the Sandinistas held a lead; 60 percent predicted a Sandinista victory. On Nicaragua, 76 percent of American media coverage was critical of the candidacy of Violeta Chamorro, who was elected president, while 64 percent assailed the "negative" effects of U.S. support for the Nicaraguan opposition.
Iraqis voted the way Nicaraguans voted: enthusiastically, even deliriously so. Baghdad's voting urns are very likely to become, for the presidency of George W. Bush, what the fall of the Berlin Wall, which made the Nicaraguan election possible, was to that of Ronald Reagan. Bush may be judged as great as Reagan, and the Republican Party may permanently become a heroic force for global liberation.
Since the Iraq intervention began, leftists and other Bush-bashers have snidely called for "regime change" in America. But what we really need is a sign of commitment to the democratic values President Bush so actively and correctly defends, on the part of our media. How long will we have to wait? A generation? Or just the time it takes for the democratizing domino effect to take effect in the Arab world, after which the absurdities of the anti-democratic left and right will disappear from memory, as the pro-Axis agitation of the despicable America First and their short-term allies in the American Communist Party were forgotten once the second world war ended, and as mistakes of academics and political experts about Soviet Communism were politely elided from the record after the process that began with the fall of the Wall in 1989.
In 1992, I had the unforgettable experience of participating in the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, the fabled "Sherpa Club" of highest-level Sovietologists, in the aftermath of the failed 1991 Moscow coup. American professors and analysts who had spent their whole careers preaching the gospel of Communist permanence complained, "History has failed us!" History will fail those who have dedicated decades to the proposition that Arabs will not enter the world of popular sovereignty, entrepreneurship, and accountability; that is, of successful bourgeois democracy.
But history will not fail those of us who recall, and choose to live by, the words of poet Archibald Macleish, a fervent supporter of American involvement in the second world war: "How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always and in the final act, by determination and faith." As President Bush has affirmed, freedom is on the march!