American Enterprise Online | 12.19.05
By Alan W. Dowd
Like a wildflower transplanted into new soil, freedom is taking hold in Iraq. The Iraqi election commission is still counting, but even the doubters and doomsayers concede that 11 million Iraqis—perhaps 75 percent of eligible voters—walked, marched, limped and ran to the polls to prove they belong in the democratic family. Even the usually-agnostic world media took notice.
“Across Iraq, from Mosul and Ramadi to Basra and Kirkuk, the lines of votes hummed with excitement,” reported the New York Times. Iraq’s Election Day, conceded the usually cynical Times, was “strikingly peaceful, even in areas normally beset by violence…a significant triumph for Iraqi officials and for the Bush administration…a logistical wonder…a day remarkable for its calm.”
Indeed, thanks to US and Iraqi troops, there were just 52 reported attacks and only 18 against polling places, as the Times reported. By way of comparison, when Iraqis voted on their transitional government in January, there were 300 attacks—a hundred of them against polling sites.
Plus, millions more voted in this election. “Last time, if you voted, you died,” as one Iraqi Sunni told the Times, underscoring that the fear campaign is failing.
Nor was the success simply a regionalized, localized matter. The voters lined up in the Kurdish north and Sunni center and Shiite south. In Ramadi, the very epicenter of the Sunni resistance, polling places ran out of ballots.
“Let’s have stability, and then the Americans can go home,” explained a common-sense Iraqi voter. When John Burns of the New York Times told him that this sounded like President Bush’s formula for a troop withdrawal, the man replied: “Then Bush has said it correctly.”
As the Purple Thumb Revolution rolled on, CNN seemed intoxicated. “Many were seen happily thrusting their purple ink-stained fingers at photographers—the colored fingers a symbol of Iraq’s free elections.”
USA Today quoted an ebullient Shia voter in its report: “It’s a day of victory.”
The hand-wringing Associated Press concluded, “Turnout in what was a mostly peaceful election was overwhelming.”
“Iraq election fuels hope,” declared CBS.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper, known for its criticism of the US war effort, was forced to report the undeniable fact that “Iraqis of all ethnic groups turned out in large numbers.”
The cynical BBC grudgingly called it a “landmark vote,” and quoted a UN election official who praised the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq for the way it “performed its role under the difficult circumstances.”
But let’s give credit where it is really due: to the Iraqi people and the US military.
Iraq continues its relentless, rapid and remarkable march from repression to representative democracy not because of vote-counting bureaucrats, but because the Iraqi people are courageous. They have defied mass-murder and mayhem, terror and torture, to vote. They had to walk to the polls because of a nation-wide Election Day ban on automobiles (aimed at preventing car-bombs). In fact, even though car-bombs killed policemen and mortars rained down on schoolhouses in the days ahead of the election, three out of four Iraqis stood exposed to the terror—and faced it down yet again.
If, as one Iraqi voter told the New York Times, “Iraqis aren’t used to democracy, we have to learn it,” then they are quick learners. In fact, we could learn something from them. Few Americans would walk to their polling places; fewer still would risk their lives to vote. After all, lines and rain are enough to keep millions of us away from the ballot box.
But if we’re no longer enthralled by the power and wonder democracy, the men and women who defend us are. What they are doing in Iraq is at once historic and yet nothing new for them. Recall that they have already planted democracy in Afghanistan. Some of these same troops laid the groundwork for freedom in the Balkans. Their fathers and grandfathers guarded the far frontiers of freedom during the Cold War, fighting and dying in places like Vietnam and Korea. The “greatest generation,” which will soon have to share that honored title with the liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan, planted the flag of freedom on the rubble of Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich and Japan’s military theocracy—places the experts said democracy could never survive.
In short, Iraq’s march toward freedom may surprise a cynical world, but it should never surprise Americans. For we know, as our first president knew, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”