Okay, so it would appear that elections in Iraq went off without any major hitches, which is fantastic. Despite threats of violence from, let's face it, lots of folks, Iraqi election officials estimate somewhere around a 60 percent voter turnout for Sunday's election, which is better than a lot of the elections here in the US (and American voters don't have to face down crazies strapped with explosives on their way to the polls). And while it sucks to say that the deaths of 44 Iraqis comprise a hitchless election, the fact that it happened at all is a good, good sign for Iraq.
Of course a shout-out goes to the Iraqi security forces that managed to keep the (relative) peace with such success, and an even bigger shout-out goes to the US troops that trained them - and especially those who gave their lives to make this happen. You'll never hear me say that the initial invasion of Iraq was a good idea, and I can't think of a single argument that will make me believe it, but the world is certainly better off without Saddam Hussein in power, and this first step toward real democracy for Iraq means that the abject chaos of the past few years might end well after all. Is it worth it? I'll have to get back to you on that. But in today's international climate, "ending well after all" is certainly better than nothing, and I'll be the first to admit that it's better than I had predicted.
So what happens next? Good question. Ted Kennedy seems to think that we need to pull our butts out of Iraq, and as much as I hate to say it - no, Teddy, no, for a lot of reasons. The first reason is the classic: we broke it, we have a responsibility to fix it. I won't argue that the presence of American troops isn't an irritant to most of the insurgents that are causing the trouble, but that isn't a reason to pull out before the job is done. I think that a scheduled pullout can be effective as long as departing US troops are replaced by equally trained and equipped Iraqi troops; otherwise, we're not only removing any source of authority but also telling all of the neighborhood kids when Mom and Dad are going out of town. As much as I hate to see Americans over there in the line of fire, I recognize that it's because Iraq isn't ready for us to go.
Bush has said that if the newly elected Iraqi government tells him to get out, he'll get out. Mr. President, I'm going to hold you to that. Among the many and ever-shifting goals you've listed for your invasion of Iraq is the spread of democracy to an undemocratic land, and that's done. If the democratically elected government says that they're ready to handle this on your own and that you need to be on your way, you have to respect that - even if you disagree. You can only give them as much help as they're willing to take, they'll have to have total self-government sooner or later, and a continued military presence in Iraq will do nothing but further chip away at your already shaky credibility. This is their party now, and you've given your word. Be a man for once.
On a completely unrelated lighter note - saw Laura Bush on the Today Show this morning, and she looked faboo. A woman her age needs to wear a little color around her face, as long as the color isn't that Barney-the-Dinosaur purple that she wore to meet Hillary Clinton at the White House. Laura, America loves you in that red suit - don't ever change.
Update: Sigh. Such is the price of premature blogging. I had only just hit the "publish" button when I came across this letter in the AJC, "Liberals owe Bush an apology." The letter writer says, "Now that the Iraqi elections have been held, I wonder whether the Democrats will have the character to congratulate President Bush on a job well done[.]"
Wonder no longer, Mr. Kazmarek - the answer is not no but hell no. Bush didn't do this. Thousands of coalition and Iraqi troops did this while he sat back and snarked for the cameras. Plus, while I'm still madly optimistic about peace and democracy on Iraq's horizon (which is odd for me, because I'm not the optimistic type), I also have to acknowledge the fact that this election isn't a magical Band-Aid that will quiet the insurgency, bring peace among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and make lions lie with lambs. The withdrawal of US troops - which has to happen sooner or later - might well lead to the collapse of an unstable country further destabilized by Bush's invasion. So no, I'm not going to congratulate President Bush on anything other than his own dumb luck. I'm going to congratulate the American and Iraqi security forces that made this possible, and I'm going to congratulate the ballsy Iraqis who took their lives in their hands for the opportunity to vote.