My immediate impulse is to be guardedly pleased with the seemingly good news of Iraq’s first true elections. It seems to tell me that the majority of Iraqis do not want to see the insurgents win (otherwise, why would they vote?), and that they really do crave this important freedom to choose their leaders.
On the other hand, Iraq is such a mess that no matter who wins, it’ll take a long time before we see any positive change. And, of course, the next government could take the country in an entirely unexpected direction and become another dictatorship. (Much stranger things have happened.)
Finally, I saw a clip (via Kos) from a 1967 NY Times article (unlinkable) that reminded me that one election does not a robust democracy make:
U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote :
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror
by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3– United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.
According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.
The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.
Deja vu all over again, no? It’s something to think about, though I honestly believe the political situation in Iraq is diferent enough from Vietnam in 1967 to offer at least a glimmer of hope. For one, the Iraqis are more urbane and better educated than was the average Vietnamese, and most Vietnamese adored our perceived enemy Ho Chi Minh; in Iraq, the insurgents are supported by a minority (although the US occupation is opposed by a majority). The only thing I can say with certainty is that things are incredibly dicey right now.
We’ll see, right?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.