In the Iraqi election on Jan. 30, the nation’s first exercise of the democratic process in half a century was realized, neither triumph over totalitarianism nor a climax in the war on terror. Only the harsh memory of history will be able to arrive at any such conclusions. Rather, it was an unintentional litmus test that, in the end, provided all parties with the one conclusive fact that will arise out of Iraq’s blood soaked ground: The Iraqi people are strong. If there is any cause for celebration in the aftermath of a flawed election held in the shadow of a flawed war, it is that the strength of a nation’s people has been unshackled and now has a voice of its own.
There is something special about bearing witness to large scale shows of solidarity. Our own patriotic passions bubbling over in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 moved many across the globe. Ukraine’s nationwide stand against a fraudulent presidential election last year similarly engaged the democratic nations in their noble struggle. And the remarkable resolve demonstrated by the stunning 60 percent turnout of eligible Iraqi voters staring death in the face and saying “Not today” should similarly draw our respect.
It is difficult to separate one’s emotions from an event made possible through the worst variety of lies and deceptions with the decency of the event itself. Yet, while we continue to fight policies and administrative processes that have seen the unwarranted death of 1,400 Americans, we must step back and accept the strong steps that the Iraqi people have made in defining themselves as a people and a nation. If we do not owe it to ourselves, at the very least we owe it to them.
Let us not walk away from Jan. 30, however, with any misconceptions about what was accomplished. First, regardless of how positive you interpreted the election, this was not our victory. We attacked and occupied Iraq with the intent of dismantling a weapons program that was never established. We attempted to snuff out a threat that never existed. One never heard any consistent language concerning Iraqi freedom until the mythological weapons of mass destruction never appeared. If a baseball player hits an easy fly ball that the outfielder drops, it is not considered a hit. In the same way, if you kill thousands of people while sacrificing the lives of your soldiers for an outright lie only to turn around and fall back on your contingency plan, you have no claim to victory in the matter.
Secondly, this was hardly a democratic election so much as it was a symbolic one. While American and Iraqi security forces did a remarkable job in protecting the polling sites, security in the months leading up to the election was so porous that most candidates remained anonymous out of fear of death, a fate that a few candidates had already suffered. An election where voters have no basis on which to make their decision is hardly democratic. That candidates feared for their lives in running for the government hardly suggests that “freedom is on the march.”
Despite the surprisingly large turnout overall, there was a notable absence of Sunni Muslims in the proceedings, which has prompted some skeptics to be wary of long standing worries that a divisive government that could lead to a civil war. It is far too early to tell what possible ramifications might occur from their absence, but an election that an entire populace feels disenfranchised from is cause for concern.
Let us be humbled by the bravery of these Iraqis but let us also recognize the elections as by no means the solution to the problem. Rather, it is a firm foothold on a large mountain.
Noah Potvin can be reached at npotvin@Gmail.com.