Saturday, January 22, 2005

Consequential Times

In the Arab News, Amir Taheri writes "Iraq Election: Wider Significance":

Never have so many people pinned so much hope on a single day of voting, Jan. 30, 2005, that is to give Iraq its first freely elected Parliament plus provincial and regional councils.

The election will not only set the course for the 25 million Iraqis but could also determine a new balance of power in the Middle East. Beyond Iraq, the election will confirm or challenge the United States’ status as a “superpower” capable of reshaping the regional status quo. President George W. Bush has vowed to bring the Middle East into “the global democratic mainstream”, with Iraq as the starting point. Success could boost his prestige and encourage local democratic forces. Failure would mark the beginning of a decline in American influence, and revitalize forces determined to keep Muslim nations out of the modern world.

As the President intoned two days ago, these are "consequential times" indeed.

Here's an interesting statistic . . . I wonder why it's not more widely known?

Despite almost daily terrorist attacks most Iraqis appear determined that the election should take place. Almost 75 percent of those eligible to vote under a UN-established list have registered.

Just as Washington, Jefferson, and many others were willing to take great risks to establish our country, men and women in Iraq are prepared for (and are already making) great personal sacrifice:

“We know that there are criminals determined to blow us up,” says Abdul-Hussein Hindawi, head of the independent Electoral Commission. “But we cannot allow fear to shape our future. Iraqis know that they must take risks to build a free society.”

Here's another little-known fact:

Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the primus inter pares of the Shiite clergy, has issued a fatwa (edict), urging everyone to vote. “Taking part in the elections and building a democratic system are religious duties,” he asserts.

Interestingly, a Google News search of "vote iraq Sistani fatwa" turned up 60 articles, while "vote iraq car bomb" finds 9,930.

What about the man-on-the-street?

“I am hungry to vote,” says Ghazban Fayyad, owner of a bookstall in downtown Baghdad. “All I hope is that I am not blown up before I cast my ballot.”

And Syria and Iran?

Iran and Syria fear that, were the US to succeed in Iraq, they could be the next targets for regime change. They are, therefore, doing all they can to make sure that the Iraqi election does not produce a pro-American majority.

On to the conclusion:

The best-case scenario for Iraq in 2005 will run along these lines:

The election is held producing a Parliament that, in turn, will choose a new government of national unity. Enjoying people-based legitimacy such a government would deprive the insurgency of its claim of fighting against foreign occupation. The US and coalition allies would be able to scale down their military presence while accelerating the recruitment, training and deployment of the new Iraqi armed forces and police. That would make it possible for the US-led coalition forces to be withdrawn by 2007, the most realistic date for such a move.

Also in the best case scenario Iraq could mobilize its immense manpower and natural resources, to rebuild its economy. A little noticed report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), issued last November, [I think he's referring to this] shows that even now the Iraqi economy is, relatively speaking, performing better than anyone else’s in the Arab Middle East. The report makes a predication that some might find audacious: In the next decade, Iraq could become the engine of growth for the region.

The IMF experts are not being frivolous.

Iraq sits on top of the world’s second largest oil deposits. It is the only Middle Eastern nation with substantial water resources and arable land. At the same time Iraq has the highest rates of literacy in the Arab world plus a vast pool of skilled workers at most levels. With a minimum of security, Iraq could also attract up to 10 million Shiite pilgrims a year from all over the world. (Between June 2003 and June 2004 some seven million foreign pilgrims visited Iraq.)

The worst-case scenario is equally stark:

Widespread violence could disrupt the election while mass Sunni boycott casts doubt on the results. The insurgents could extend their attacks to Shiite areas, provoking Shiite counterattacks. This could lead to a de facto partition of the country or intermittent ethnic war of the kind Lebanon experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. President George W. Bush may try to stick it out until the end of his term. But his successor, lacking the stomach or the desire to stay the course, may galumph out of the quagmire. Then the Kurds may decide to set up a break away state, provoking clashes with Turkey and Iran. Iraq could become a black hole sucking the Middle East into the unknown.

Which of the two scenarios is more likely? I think the best-case scenario is more likely.

After reading his bio, I'm pretty sure that Amir Taheri is: 1) a pretty smart guy, 2) not just blowing smoke.

I don't expect the next 8 days to be pretty (or the many days following that), but the 8 years beginning in 1776 weren't pretty either, and we've turned out alright.

The majority of Iraqis are determined not to let fear shape their future, and despite the scare tactics of the MSM, I believe the majority of Americans agree with them. An incessant torrent of bad news stories didn't dissuade the American electorate from reelecting the man with the grit and determination to prevail in Iraq, and a successful election next week will be a major victory in the war between reality and spin.