Begin the World Over Again

The brave Iraqis queued in long lines, undeterred by threats of violence, to cast their ballots must have believed in the words of Thomas Paine¬ís Common Sense, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” By becoming the first Arab state in the region to have democratic elections, the Iraqis may indeed be beginning, not only their local world, but their entire region over again.

In one important sense, the argument about Iraq is definitely over. After the immediate euphoria of liberation from the Saddam regime, the extent to which the Iraqi people wanted to move toward a democratic society or would side with the “insurgents” and lapse back into tyranny was an open question. It is no longer. Iraqis have made clear that they want to control their government, rather than be controlled by it. There are many steps from tyranny to a fully functional democracy and the Iraqis may or may not make it, but it is now obvious they aspire to democracy. The insurgents do not represent the Iraqis and no longer even pretend to be a popular movement. They openly intend to acquire and maintain power at the point of a gun.

There are certain crucial or historic turning points that we emotionally recognize by the fact that the hairs on the back our necks prick upward: a marriage, the birth of a child, watching ecstatic Germans chipping away and toppling the Berlin wall. The Iraqi election passed this “back of the neck test.” The joyous dancing, the broad smiles on people dressed up out of respect for the importance for the election, and two fingers, one dyed with purple ink, held up in a defiant victory sign all bespoke an authentic embrace of democracy.

What is disheartening is how people here on the Left can not bring themselves to rejoice fully in the election even if they have legitimate and honest questions about American Iraqi policy. You do not have to be a Bush supporter to recognize that something very good happened this on January 30, 2005 in Iraq. The problem is not only people like Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio who several days before the election cynically predicted it would be a “farce” [1]. Kucinich long ago relinquished the right to be considered a serious or thoughtful critic. It is pundits like E. J. Dionne, Richard Cohen, or John Nichols who acknowledge the importance of the elections, but who feel compelled to nitpick and to caution incessantly about the future, who are putting an unnecessary damper on elation over the Iraqi election. Sure there will be many more problems ahead, but those can wait a while.

This petulance is analogous to watching a child struggle to take their first step. We rejoice and remember that first step, even though it is immediately followed by more falls then steps. Yet the child grows and is soon on the soccer field not only running, but juggling a ball with its feet. The future will come without our hastening it and now is a time for celebration unspoiled by ill-tempered nay-sayers and obstructionists. Remaking the world represents a long journey and the Iraqis have taken their first bold step.

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