Thank You President Bush: Iraq Is The Change We Can Believe In by Gregory Hilton

The election in Iraq is a very important vindication of George W. Bush’s vision that the way to correct a lot of the instability in the Middle East is to bring democracy to countries that haven’t experienced it. American policy before that was set in effect by FDR in World War II—the view that we had a greater interest in stability in the Arab world than in change. Bush’s understanding was that this was NOT the best way to secure U.S. interests in the long run.
It’s amazing! There was an election in the Arab world in which no one knew what the outcome would be. This has never happened before. And next, they have to negotiate to form a coalition. Representative government is possible in the Arab world.
Also note that Iraq’s Shiites have taken to democracy in a vibrant way. People need to focus on what this means for a Shiite democracy across the border in Iran.
President Obama is a bit of a mix. He’s cut back on the democracy-building budget in the region. And I’ve been disappointed, to be honest, that the administration has not been as outspoken about promoting democracy in the region as Bush was.
– Ambassador Paul Bremer, Chief Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, 2003 and 2004.

Iraq has now completed its fifth election since 2005 and there will once again be a peaceful transfer of power to the opposition. Over 13 million people went to the polls and the turnout was 62%, which is better than the 52% average of Americans who participated in presidential elections over the past century.

  • The lead editorial in today’s Washington Post notes “Iraq held a competitive election that puts most of its neighbors to shame. On Iraq’s borders are, among others, a despotic theocracy in Iran, a despotic monarchy in Saudia Arabia and a despotic hereditary fiefdom in Syria. In Iraq, more than 6,000 candidates vied for 325 legislative seats. They represented parties of wide ideological range. Turnout was higher, proportionately, than for U.S. presidential elections. The voting and counting, according to international observers, were generally free and fair.”
  • From a U.S. viewpoint, the election was a huge success because Americans want a broadly based Iraqi government. The outcome is still not certain, but Iraqi’s are showing a willingness to compromise and the new government will be secular and it will not be based on sectarian or geographical considerations. It could well be a coalition which includes Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
  • The top two vote-getters were coalitions which rejected ethnic and sectarian politics in favor of a national, multi-sectarian vision.
  • A significant difference between the 2005 and 2010 election is that this time there was no Sunni boycott. In 2010, there was a very high turnout in the Sunni provinces (Anbar, Nineveh and Salahuddin). The Sunni’s ran Iraq under Saddam Hussein by now they have adapted to the new system.
  • Iran was the big loser. As the Washington Post notes, the “results are a defeat for Iran’s efforts to unify Iraq’s Shiites into one bloc and then control Iraq through that bloc. The vote is at least potentially a victory for an Iraq in which members of all sects believe their voices can be heard.” The Iraqi National Alliance (which included Muqtada al-Sadr) and the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq both did poorly in the election. They lost many seats and their dream of a monolithic Shiite bloc has fragmented.
  • Newsweek said the election “most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.”
  • Thomas Friedman of the New York Times says “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right.”
  • Many liberal politicians in both 2004 and 2006 claimed the United States was “imposing democracy on Iraq.” The results of this fifth election demonstrate that Iraqi’s are enthusiastic participants in the democratic process.
  • Vice President Joe Biden is now saying Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” However, the credit clearly belongs to the Iraqi people and the Bush Administration.
  • Peter Wehner of Politics Daily noted: “We might be able to agree, too, that the new counterinsurgency strategy announced by President Bush in January 2007 — a strategy that was fiercely opposed by Messrs. Biden and Obama, by virtually the entire Democratic Party, the political class, and almost all of the foreign policy establishment — was a wise and politically courageous decision. . . But it’s clear, I think, that the commonly held view that Iraq was ‘probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history’ (Joe Klein) was wrong and foolish.”
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