Iraq is no longer about Bush

Posted in Broader Middle East | 04-Feb-05 | Author: Thomas Friedman| Source: International Herald Tribune

Freedom Square in central Baghdad is covered in election banners.
WASHINGTON As someone who believed, hoped, worried, prayed, worried, hoped and prayed some more that Iraqis could one day pull off the election they did, I am unreservedly happy about the outcome - and all Americans should be, too.

Why? Because what threatens America most from the Middle East are the pathologies of a region where there is too little freedom and too many young people who aren't able to achieve their full potential. The only way to cure these pathologies is with a war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world so those with bad ideas can be defeated by those with progressive ones.

We Americans can't fight that war. Only the Arab progressives can - only they can tell the suicide bombers that what they are doing is shameful to Islam and to Arabs. But we can collaborate with them to create a space in the heart of their world where decent people have a chance to fight this war - and that is what American and British soldiers have been doing in Iraq.

President George W. Bush's basic gut instinct about the need to do this is exactly right. His thinking that this could be done on the cheap, though, with little postwar planning, was exactly wrong. Partly as a result, this great moment has already cost America over $100 billion and 10,000 killed and wounded.

That is not sustainable because the road ahead in Iraq is still long. We have to proceed with more wisdom and more allies. But proceed we must, and now we can at least do so with the certainty that partnering with the Iraqi people to build a decent consensual government is not crazy - it's really difficult, but not crazy.

But wait - not everyone is wearing a smiley face after the Iraqi elections, and that is good, considering who is unhappy. Let's start with the mullahs in Iran. Those who think that a Shiite-led government in Iraq is going to be the puppet of Iran's Shiite ayatollahs are so wrong. It is the ayatollahs in Iran who are terrified today. You see, the Iranian mullahs and their diplomats like to peddle the notion that they have their own form of democracy: "Islamic democracy." But this is a fraud, and the people who know best that it's a fraud are the ayatollahs and the Iranian people.

When any Iranian reform candidate who wants to run can be vetoed by unelected ayatollahs, and any Iranian newspaper can be shut by the same theocrats, that is not democracy. You can call that whatever you want, but not democracy. They don't allow bikinis at nudist colonies and they don't serve steak at vegetarian restaurants, and theocrats don't veto candidates in real democracies. The Iraqi Shiites just gave every Iranian Shiite next door a demonstration of what real "Islamic" democracy is: It's when Muslims vote for whomever they want. I just want to be around for Iran's next election, when the ayatollahs try to veto reform candidates and Iranian Shiites ask, why can't we vote for anyone, like Iraqi Shiites did? Oh, boy, that's going to be pay-per-view.

Then there is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This Charles-Manson-with-a-turban who heads the insurgency in Iraq had a bad hair day on Sunday. I wonder whether anyone told him about the suicide bomber who managed to blow up only himself outside a Baghdad polling station and how Iraqi voters walked around his body, spitting on it as they went by. Zarqawi claims to be the leader of the Iraqi Vietcong - the authentic carrier of Iraqis' national aspirations and desire to liberate their country from "U.S. occupation." In truth, he is the leader of the Iraqi Khmer Rouge - a murderous death cult.

The election has exposed this. Because the Iraqi people have now made it clear that they are they are the authentic carriers of their national aspirations, and while, yes, they want an end to the U.S. presence, they want that end to happen in an orderly manner and in tandem with an Iraqi constitutional process.

In other words, this election has made it crystal clear that the Iraq war is not between fascist insurgents and America, but between the fascist insurgents and the Iraqi people. One hopes the French and Germans, whose newspapers often sound more like Al Jazeera than Al Jazeera, will wake up to this fact and throw their weight onto the right side of history.

It's about time, because whatever you thought about this war, it's not about Bush any more. It's about the aspirations of the Iraqi majority to build an alternative to Saddamism. By voting the way they did, in the face of real danger, Iraqis have earned the right to ask everyone now to put aside their squabbles and focus on what is no longer just a pipe dream but a real opportunity to implant decent, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.