Iraqi unexceptionalism

We now have a pretty clear picture of how the recent Iraqi provincial elections turned out. The Washington Post editorial page paints it for us:

Voters strongly rewarded Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his forceful action against extremist militias and his secular nationalist agenda — and punished religious parties perceived as too sectarian or too close to Iran. The nonsectarian alliance of former prime minister Ayad Allawi also appears to have done well, and nationalist Sunnis gained influence in areas where they had lacked it because of previous election boycotts. In short, Iraq appears to have taken a step toward becoming the moderate Arab democracy that the Bush administration long hoped for.

The election thus gives the lie to the view, articulated mostly by liberals but also by some on the right, that democracy could not take hold in a country like Iraq. In fact, Iraqi voters behaved just the way voters usually behave in democracies – they rewarded success and punished those seen as obstacles to success; they rewarded those who put the national interest first and punished those who exalted extraneous interests.

In short, the left was wrong about this crucial matter, just as it was wrong about whether the “surge” would succeed. ( Peter Wehner provides a more complete discussion of the “settled judgments” in need of revision following the elections). There is no shame in this. Virtually everyone has been mistaken about some important aspect of Iraq, and many of us have been mistaken about more than one.

The shame would come if, now that we see the success of the Iraqi democracy, President Obama were to undermine that success by a premature withdrawal. The Washington Post, nearly unique among the liberal elites in this respect, sees the matter clearly :

President Obama, who has been a skeptic both of progress in Iraq and the value of elections in unstable states. acknowledged that “Iraqis just had a very significant election with no significant violence” and called that “good news” — but only in the sense that it could justify withdrawing “a substantial number” of U.S. troops this year. While such a drawdown is certainly a desirable goal, the president would do well to recognize, value and exploit the very real political progress Iraq has made — and to be careful not to undercut it by acting too quickly on his exit strategy.

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