Some tips for DemocratsIn the past week, I've received several e-mail notes from Democrats about the Iraq elections, or heard comments from various Democratic lawmakers - always along the following lines: "Remember, Vietnam also had an election, and you recall how that ended." Or, "O.K., the election was nice, but none of it was worth $100 billion or 10,000 killed and wounded." Or, "You know, we've actually created more terrorists in Iraq - election or not."
I think there is much to criticize about how the war in Iraq has been conducted, and the outcome is still uncertain. But those who suggest that the Iraqi election is just beanbag, and that all we Americans are doing is making the war on terrorism worse as a result of Iraq, are speaking nonsense.
Here's the truth: There is no single action we could undertake anywhere in the world to reduce the threat of terrorism that would have a bigger impact today than a decent outcome in Iraq. It is that important. And precisely because it is so important, it should not be left to Donald Rumsfeld.
Democrats need to start thinking seriously about Iraq - the way Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton have. If France - the mother of all blue states - can do it, so, too, can the Democrats. Otherwise, they will be absenting themselves from the most important foreign policy issue of our day.
Here are four things Democrats should be excited about:
What Iraq is now embarking on is the first attempt - ever - by the citizens of a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state to draw up their own social contract, their own constitution, for how they should share power and resources, protect minority rights and balance mosque and state. I have no idea whether they will succeed. Much will depend on whether the Shiites want to be a wise and inclusive majority and whether the Sunnis want to be a smart and collaborative minority.
There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it will suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That will mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.
But - but - if Iraqis succeed in forging a social contract in the hardest place of all, it means that democracy is actually possible anywhere in the Arab world.
Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is America's Iran policy.
If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran.
In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.
The war on terrorism is a war of ideas. The greatest restraint on human behavior is not a police officer or a fence: It's a community and a culture. Palestinian suicide bombing has stopped not because of the Israeli fence or because Palestinians are no longer "desperate." It has stopped because the Palestinians had an election, and a majority voted to get behind a diplomatic approach. They told the violent minority that suicide bombing - for now - is shameful.
What Arabs and Muslims say about their terrorists is the only thing that will protect us in the long run. It takes a village, and the Iraqi election was the Iraqi village telling the violent minority that what it is doing is shameful. The fascist minority in Iraq is virulent, and some jihadists will stop at nothing. But the way you begin to drain the swamps of terrorism is when you create a democratic context for those with good ideas to denounce those with bad ones.
Egypt and Syrian-occupied Lebanon both have elections this year. Watch how the progressives and those demanding representative government are empowered in their struggle against the one-man rulers in Egypt and Syria - if the Iraqi experiment succeeds.
We Americans have paid a huge price in Iraq. I want to get out as soon as we can. But trying to finish the job there, as long as we have real partners, is really important - and any party that says otherwise will become unimportant.