16 December 2005

Iraqi Elections

I’ve done a good job thus far on this blog staying out of politics. With all the email questions I’ve received over the last week though, I thought I would delve briefly and gently into the area.

I know that there are about as many opinions on the war as there are people out there. But, ignoring the “why” we got into the war, the “how” it’s been executed, and the “why” we’re still here issues (that’ll cover about 70% of the controversies), you have to acknowledge, we’re witnessing a great thing here in Iraq with the elections this week.

In less than three years, we’ve gone from having a country with a ruthless dictator to one that has a democratically elected, constitutionally based government. From an historical perspective, that is absolutely incredible! But, people are quick to gloss over that fact--we're quicker to look at the latest bomb or casualty account in drawing our conclusions in how things are going. Never mind that we have more 20x the people dying every month from drunk drivers in the States than dying monthly over here in Iraq. I think in some regards, we have lost our perspective.

Over the last decade or so, we’ve gotten used to immediacy. I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I often get impatient if an email that someone just sent me takes more than a few minutes to arrive. And, God forbid if a webpage takes more than a minute to load on my computer. With regard to Iraq, if the best case scenario is not achieved in a quick time period, much of the media will conclude that the sky is falling and we’re heading down that slippery slope.

We also forget our history in smoothing out some of the “less important” details of the struggles of the people that came before us. The deaths, the injustices, the missteps, and wrong turns are all out there, but we don’t remember most of them. In many ways, that’s probably a good thing.

But, let’s put what's happened this week in perspective. In our country’s history, it took the United States 13 years from the date it declared its independence before our constitution was agreed upon. And, it wasn’t until 1796 (twenty years after the Declaration of Independence) that we had our first two-party national election (and that wasn’t even a direct election because of the electoral college that our founders set up).

On the international front, we occupied Japan seven years (from 1945 to 1952) before the Japanese regained their own sovereignty. General MacArthur’s staff actually drafted Japan’s Constitution, which has seen very little change over the years. In Germany, it took more than four years after the war before they adopted their Basic Law. As elsewhere, there was significant dislike of the US during the occupation (see, e.g., http://www.nationalreview.com/levin/levin200406011433.asp). I know I wouldn’t be appreciative of an occupation, regardless of the occupier's motives.

Don’t get me wrong, there are clear distinctions between Iraq on the one hand and Japan and Germany on the other--Iraq is not Germany or Japan, not even close. I think Iraq presents more challenges than the WWII occupations: (1) Iraq doesn’t have a homogenous population, (2) it has a very short history of being a nation (individuals often have more loyalty to their tribe rather than their nation, which makes the country more fractionalized), (3) the population is more heavily armed (after the war), (4) with Iraq, there wasn’t a prolonged war with significant casualties prior to the occupation (compare the 30,000 figure that President Bush recently cited with the 7,000,000 figure of German military and civilians killed), and (5) with the exception of oil, Iraq has little in terms of natural resources or an economic base. And I’m sure there are other distinctions that present challenges as well.

That's what makes what has happened this week nothing less than miraculous. True, the elections may yield a less than ideal result from the American perspective. But, at least we’ve seen a large step toward democracy here in the Middle East, which could have a profound, long-term positive effect on the region, if not the World. Let’s hope so.

It is difficult to fathom from only a few years ago the progress that the Iraqi people have made. I pray that the American lives, injuries and money will provide the fertilized bed for freedom to grow in the Middle East.

On the lighter side as you may be stationed on or near the Southern tier of Iraq, were there "hanging chads" or "roaming Floridians" noted in your area?

Merry Christmas to you and your company.
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