I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What exactly do Iraqi elections prove?

Pro-war bloggers aren't just engaging in dreadfully predictable and self-congratulatory chest-beating war dances over the Iraqi election yesterday. They are doing that, of course, with a crazed and smug giddiness characteristic of a cheerleading squad for a triumphant college football team. And they are even digging up all of those poetic paeans to Purple Fingers which were so solemnly paraded around the last time the Iraqis had elections, on January 30 -- the date many of them proclaimed had immediately become the Greatest and Most Significant Day Ever.

But beyond this gloating self-satisfaction, war bloggers have apparently decided that this election, and the reaction to it by war critics, proves once and for all that war critics realize now that they were wrong. Apparently, war critics didn't say enough about the elections yesterday, and this silence has not gone unnoticed! To the war bloggers, this proves that the war critics have lost the debate over the Iraq War and just can't face up to it, so they are pretending that the proof of their defeat -- this election -- simply doesn't exist.

This "idea" was first put forward yesterday by one pro-war blogger, Kevin the SoCal Pundit, who trumpeted the fact that "Liberal Blogs Choose Silence over Iraqi Elections." According to Kevin, this is because war critics want to see violence and death in the Middle East and so they can't stand when good things happen:

[A]ny sign of progress on peace in the Middle East plays poorly in the Leftosphere. . . .Meanwhile the Iraqi people, Coalition military and support forces as well as The White House have reason to gloat. The elections appear to be a smashing success. Regardless of who wins what in the end, FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY are the order of the day today. And screw the liberal blogs for not giving a damn.

This post unleashed an all-out orgy of pro-war taunting over this "silence." We were thus subjected to a run-down of non-Iraq issues which "liberal blogs" had the nerve to talk about yesterday instead and were then told how that proves that war critics only care about violence in Iraq ("Perhaps some sites are waiting for results. Or a really nasty explosion or something"). That was followed by a decree that war critics somehow "lost" yesterday ("BIG LOSERS of the day so far: Howard Dean, Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the reactionary, fuddy-duddy leadership of the Democratic Party"), which then gave rise to an uncontrollable infection of run-of-the-mill gloating -- all based on this same, ostensibly revealing silence.

Left unsaid amidst all of this sloganeering and melodramatic genuflecting to purple ink is what, exactly, these elections are supposed to have proven in the greater debate over the Iraqi War. Aside from the emotional manipulation which these elections afford – nobody raised in the U.S. and instilled with an appreciation for democracy can help but feel some pleasure for Iraqis as they vote to choose their leaders – exactly what arguments advanced by war critics are supposed to be undermined by these elections, and what pro-war justifications are bolstered? The answer is none.

Pictures of smiling Iraqis with purple ink on their fingers is no more of an "argument" in favor of the war than pictures of the incinerated corpses of Iraqi civilians is an "argument" against the war. Both tactics are equally crude and slothful attempts to emotionally manipulate rather than do the work of making substantive arguments. Anyone with doubts about this should see the wildly manipulative post of pro-war hero Captain Ed where he stands tall at high noon and proclaims: "Look the people with purple-stained fingers in the eye and tell them that. I double-dog dare you."

Pro-war bloggers are almost always silent whenever the latest Iraqi police station is blown up or guests at another Iraqi wedding party are slaughtered by American bombs. Why is that silence less revealing than the relative silence of war critics about the elections? George Bush recently revealed that he believes that 30,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as a result of this war -- 30,000 Iraqi civilians dead-- and I don’t recall reading much in pro-war precincts about that. Is it a persuasive argument to say to pro-war advocates in response to their celebrations: "Look at the Iraqi civilians with the loved ones incinerated by U.S. bombs and tell them that. I double-dog dare you."

As moving as it may be to watch a country vote for the first time, causing that to happen is simply not why we went to war, spending billions upon billions of dollars and losing thousands of American lives (and counting) in the process. The fact is that bringing democracy to a country imprisoned by tyranny is not even close to being a sufficient rationale which justifies invading that country and waging war. And the dispositive proof of that proposition is the cliched but nonetheless true point that there is an endless list of countries suffering under a tyrannical hand and nobody (other than perhaps Mark Steyn and Michael Ledeen) thinks we should invade them all and change their governments. Indeed, many of those non-democratic tyrannies, including hardened dictators in the Middle East, are our allies and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

What will determine whether this war was worth fighting is whether it advances the interests of the United States. That was the argument that sold this war to most Americans and to its Congress, and that is the reason we fought this war. The war’s purpose was not to help Iraqis; that was to be an incidental benefit used to take some of the hard edges off our invasion of a country which did not attack us, and the fact that we were taking out a reprehensible dictator was something which could be used to resolve doubts in favor of regime change if the question of whether to wage this war was otherwise a close call.

But the rationale for the war was not to help Iraqis. It was to help Americans -- by reducing or eliminating threats to American citizens and American interests. These elections say absolutely nothing one way or the other about whether we are moving towards, or away from, the central goal of this war.

Democratic elections are not inherently helpful to American interests. Elections are what produced the intensely anti-American Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, not to mention the Chancellorship of Adolph Hitler. Iran itself has had parliamentary elections -- some legitimate and some not, and yet it remains the greatest Middle Eastern threat to American interests.

What matters is not whether there are elections, but the type of government which those elections produce. No matter what else can be said about this war, nobody will be able to reasonably claim that the waging of this war was a prudent decision if Iraq ends up being governed by a Shiite cleric theocracy which is, in turn, loyal to and controlled by the Shiite mullahs in Iran. And yet that is not just a possibility at this point, but one of the likeliest outcomes of our invasion. Iran’s influence in Iraq’s internal affairs is vast and growing, and an election which is certain to hand the Iran-loving religious Shiite parties great power is hardly an antidote to that severe danger. The opposite is true.

Moreover, the January 30 elections -- which identically caused war bloggers to sneer that war critics "decided to mark this historic day by hiding under their bedcovers" -- did not make Iraq safer or more stable. Quite the contrary. Since that magical day in January, Shiite-Sunni sectarian tensions have worsened to the brink of a full-scale civil war; Al Qaeda’s new Iraqi branch launched its deadliest and most complicated terrorist attack in Jordan; government-sponsored death squads have become the norm; and, worst of all, America’s real enemy in that region, Iran, has increased and consolidated power inside Iraq. These elections yesterday would be rightfully celebrated if the January 30 elections had brought the U.S. closer to its goals in Iraq, but few people can claim that to be the case.

These elections are not an argument in the pro-war contingent’s favor. At best, they are a neutral (albeit emotionally satisfying) event which affords the opportunity to use symbols and manipulation in lieu of substance in order to try to prove that this war is turning out to be a good idea after all. But the election does no such thing. It does not reflect one way or the other on whether our occupation of Iraq is helping or hurting U.S. interests. All of the pro-war celebrations don't change that fact. It just obscures it for a few days.

Since that is the only real issue that matters in the ongoing debate over this war, it should not be a surprise that the only people yelling about these elections are the ones who want to dance around, cynically exploiting the emotions of yesterday, all in pursuit of some sort misplaced and unwarranted sense of vindication. The U.S. is no closer to achieving its goals in this war today than it was last week or last month, and there are compelling arguments to be made that it is, in fact, further away from those goals than ever.

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