Yesterday, for the first time in their history, Iraqis went to the polls to exercise one of the most basic rights of a free people. They voted despite the U.N.’s failure to help, despite liberals’ predictions of disaster, and — most importantly — despite the terrorist declaration that democracy cannot exist in an Islamic society. The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declared that those who vote in democratic elections are “apostates,” the Islamic term for those who violate Islam’s laws and advocate competing religions. Zarqawi’s meaning was clear: that Islam requires its believers to accept religious dictators as their only legitimate leaders. When the Iraqis went to the polls in droves — many losing their lives to do it — they rejected Zarqawi’s message and opened a gaping wound in the jihadist ideology.
The Iraqi election is a milestone in the war against terrorism, but whether it is a major victory won’t be known for years to come. Yesterday’s election was only to select a provisional national assembly (and leadership) that will, over the next year, draft a permanent constitution for Iraq that will be presented to the voters. Whether the assembly succeeds, or whether the insurgents prevent it, are still open questions. But the turnout among Iraqi voters — something over 70% — shows that the insurgents do not have the popular support that’s necessary for them to win.
No matter how many times Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, and John Kerry insist otherwise, Iraq looks more like 1945 Germany than 1972 Vietnam. One of the reasons we’ve had so little success in establishing effective Iraqi security forces has been the fact that before soldiers and policemen will risk their lives, there must be a something for them to swear loyalty to. Until yesterday, there was nothing in Iraq for them to swear allegiance to other than the tribal, ethnic, and religious groups that have comprised Iraq from its birth, or the American-appointed Allawi government. Now, even though the national assembly is temporary, it is Iraqi: chosen by Iraqi voters themselves and not appointed by an outside power or imposed by a home-grown despot. It is such things that soldiers and policemen can claim to be their own and willingly risk their lives to defend. Difficulties remain, but one of the biggest obstacles to creating a self-sustaining and self-protecting Iraq has just been overcome.
IT WOULD BE AN ENORMOUS mistake for us to withdraw from Iraq, or even establish a date to do so. On Sunday evening I had the bizarre pleasure of debating this point on MSNBC with Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif. Need you even ask?) who said that we need to take our soldiers out of Iraq now and let Iraq’s neighbors come in to help. This member of the Democrats’ Von Braun Caucus apparently thinks that Syria, Iran. and Saudi Arabia are chafing at the bit to help Iraqi democracy rise above the Halliburton-driven U.S. occupation. She thinks the terrorists won’t be mad at us anymore if we replace our troops with peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers. Fortunately, no one outside of northern California knows or cares who Ms. Woolsey is, far less what she thinks.
The insurgents — now unable to escape the label “enemy of the Iraqi people” — are still supported by Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Those despotisms realize that their days are numbered if Iraqi democracy succeeds. They will become increasingly desperate to make the Iraqi democracy fail, and we will have to be in Iraq to protect it from them for the foreseeable future. President Bush is correct in saying that the election creates momentum behind the Iraqi democracy experiment. But momentum can be lost if we quit too soon. That is one of the central points we will hear on Wednesday when Mr. Bush delivers his State of the Union address. And it is one that the Democrats and their holy of holies – the U.N. — can’t bring themselves to answer.
President Bush will call for more nations to come to the aid of the fledgling Iraqi democracy. He will praise the sacrifices of our real allies, challenge the U.N. and all its members to support freedom with economic aid, with engineers, construction crews, and all those things needed to put Iraq on its feet. They will smile politely, applaud feebly, and again ignore his call to action.
Yesterday, on Meet the Press, John Kerry said over and over again that the road to success in Iraq depends on our obtaining the support of the “international community,” by which he means the U.N. and Old Europe. President Bush realizes — as the American people did in choosing to reelect him — that we cannot depend on the EUnuchs and the despots and dictators who make up three-quarters of the U.N.’s membership to do anything to fight terrorists and the nations that back them. To take any risk to support democracy in Iraq would be too much for Kofi Annan, because he doesn’t want President Bush to succeed in what Annan called an “illegal war.” The U.N. and Old Europe are too busy to help. The first thing on their agenda is still constraining the United States in this war. Convincing them — or the democrats — to do otherwise is simply impossible.
THE PRESIDENT WILL SOON ASK Congress for a supplemental appropriation of $80 billion for Iraq. (Five billion of it is for the State Department’s efforts there which are, to be charitable, hard to discern.) The Democrats will fight against the appropriation, seeking to leverage some plan for withdrawal of our forces before the job is done. They have obviously missed the lesson the election taught former senator Tom Daschle: obstructionism is not a policy. But they will obstruct as best they can, on the funding for the war and on everything else the President seeks to do.
George Bush can’t win the global war against terrorism by the time he leaves office in 2009. But he can — as the Iraqi election proves — make enormous progress toward victory. In his State of the Union speech, the president should issue a call to all Islamic nations to follow the example of Iraq. The sooner those nations are rid of jihadism and religious dictatorships — by us or by their own peoples — the sooner the war against terrorists and their ideology will be won. There is every reason to be skeptical that the Islamic nations can reform themselves. But as more of their people see what freedom looks like, the momentum the President sees in Iraq will grow, and — so long as we stand ready to help — grow fastest in places where it is least welcome.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).