Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Super Sunday

The build-up has been intense. The two sides are both predicting victory. It will be the most important Sunday of the year. Will the patriots win? Or will the insurgents declare victory?

One week before the Super Bowl, the Iraqi people will participate in a historic vote that will profoundly impact their future and ours. For Americans, a legitimate and peaceful election would be a welcome relief from the violence and disaster that has characterized post-war Iraq and would help us win respect from the rest of the world. For Iraqis, this Sunday is the first day of their new beginning, and despite their understandable frustration over the provision of public services and terrorist attacks, expressing the right to vote in a free election will hopefully restore some of their faith in Americans and our intentions.

For the insurgents, this election is ground zero. They will ramp up their attacks, intimidate voters, and do whatever it takes to stop Iraqis from voting. Democracy is their enemy, because in a legitimate elected government, they will be forced to express themselves peacefully and will likely have influence in accordance to their number, rather than their firepower. They are rightfully pessimistic about their chances in a democratic Iraq. The election will be the finale for Saddam and his Baathist Party and will prove to the world that most Iraqis want to move forward.

What about American domestic concerns? Well, the Bush administration and war supporters will surely rejoice if the election goes well, and will consider it a significant repudiation of the anti-war critics, especially those who said that we never intended to have a vote or never could pull it off. Anti-war folks are probably split somewhat, but my sense is that most hope the election goes badly, so that Bush is embarrassed, which means that they are still missing the point. I participated in a discussion on a popular liberal blog, www.washingtonmonthly.com, and I was shouted down and called names by anti-war commenters, many who think that the invasion was a neo-imperialistic oil grab. No democratic election will satisfy them because, according to their deeply held beliefs, Americans do not have honest intentions in Iraq, and any evidence to the contrary is either media propaganda or some conspiracy. To be fair, some of the war proponents are equally dogmatic, insisting that everything is going well, when it clearly isn't. No amount of disaster or destruction will convince them that they were wrong either.

My prediction is that turnout is high in Kurdish and Shiite areas, and thus high in Iraq overall. (remember that the Sunni triangle is not the whole country) Voting in the populous Sunni region will probably be dangerous and low turnout will result. The Bush administration will declare victory, citing statistics about 80 percent of the country having peaceful voting, while ignoring the dismal numbers in the insurgent-controlled regions. They will tell feel good stories on Fox News about women voting and Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis, holding hands and singing nationalistic songs. David Brooks and Tom Friedman will both write editorials expressing wonderment at the whole process and the messy business of democracy.

The critics will take pleasure in NYT front page stories about precincts with no voters, voters not knowing who or what they voted for, and violence on election day. This will spill over into liberal blogs and Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert's op-eds, where we will find out that most of Iraq didn't vote, the violence didn't stop, the insurgents are stronger than ever, and we are still fighting a war. We will still be occupiers and the winner of the election will be our puppet.

So what do you think will happen on Super Sunday? Where are the goal posts and who's trying to move them? I'd love to hear what you think. I'm pulling for the patriots.

R.C.

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