Commentary - #11 January 31, 2005

On The Iraqi Elections

May those who doubt the importance and promise of the Iraqi elections remember Lt. Hoes, U.S. Marine Corps, and honor his service. For only a few days prior to the voting, Lt. Hoes was shot dead by a terrorist sniper while passing out leaflets urging people to vote. His tragic death reminds us that the tragic sacrifice of some is the foundation of freedom for many. It has always been so, and will remain so until, as President Bush recognizes, tyranny has been defeated worldwide. Lt. Hoes? courage has been multiplied by that of the millions of Iraqis who risked death in order to vote. As if we needed to have the reality of this risk highlighted again, it was brought home to us by the deaths of several dozen Iraqis killed by terrorists while trying to vote. Along with that of Lt. Hoes and over 1400 other American soldiers, these deaths have not been in vain, notwithstanding the cynicism of media pundits inclined to put a negative spin on almost any sign of human hope that they encounter in public life. For as President Bush stated in his inaugural address, the fabric of democracy is seamless. If we do not advance and defend it abroad, as a key to ?life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? of millions of others, then the risk of losing it at home is greater. And vice-versa: if we do not defend and advance our own, home-grown democracy at home, then the likelihood of our being able to do so abroad is less. To fail to recognize this interdependence is to say, in effect, that human life abroad has far less value than here or that, somehow, we can establish a ?Fortress America? that would maintain democracy in the U.S. of A., and to hell with the rest of the world. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill knew otherwise; so do George Bush and Tony Blair (a fact one should be willing to admit even if we do not put the latter in the same league as the former).

Who would discount or deny the victory of courageous Iraqi voters, not only over terrorist cowards but over many of us, people of little faith and less courage, who have lost sight of their own American revolution and of what it takes to win and maintain a democratic politics? We were once a beacon of democracy to Iraqis and people of other nations worldwide. Perhaps Iraq has become a beacon. Iraqis can now shine the diminished and refracted light of our democracy back to us with a sharper focus. How diminished? How refracted? See the revelations of WE, THE PEOPLE, a new book on needs and ways to revitalize our democracy in the U.S. [excerpts can be found by signing onto].

It is Iraqis who pulled our chestnuts out of the terrorist fire, not the other way around. For all the media focus on ?turnout?, we did not do nearly all we could or should have done to ensure that more Iraqis who wished to vote could do so. Isn?t it ironic that, in spite of all the talk about promoting ?democracy? and ?freedom,? the U.S. and its closest ally in the campaign for Iraqi Freedom, Great Britain, each provided few voting sites to enable expatriate Iraqis to vote. Those that did cast their ballots with great difficulty and personal sacrifice, having not to walk but to drive, fly, take a bus or ride a train hundreds homes to polling places were at least as long, not in terms of distance but of danger and much greater, potential personal sacrifice. For some, the infirm elderly or disabled, the distance to be traversed was also great in terms of difficulty, as TV reporting revealed.

Isn?t it also ironic that some of the electoral reforms that have been adopted by some states in the U.S.A., notably election day registration, voting early, liberal absentee voting and voting by mail, could not be put in place to enable many more Iraqis to vote? There were many who?

? if expatriates, could not get time off from work or afford the money to travel long distances to register and vote, or who were among the infirm elderly or disabled here in the U.S.; or?

? if in Iraq, were understandably reluctant to put their lives on the line by showing up at designated times and locations likely to be known to terrorists.

Thus, the already impressive turnout of Iraqi voters would have been even greater if we had done more to translate our democratic words into actions that could have enabled more Iraqis to vote. Democracy and life are bound up together. As expressed by our own Declaration of Independence, they are seamless and without bound. The seams that the media liked to play upon in Iraq seemed to provide a basis for insinuating that perhaps the Iraqi elections should be postponed. They were wrong. Cynicism is destructive of both life and democracy. The Iraqis proved the cynics wrong. Good for them. Good for us.

Peter Bearse, February 1, 2005

Writing from Amman, Jordan, enroute to Iraq to help advance democracy and development -- from where yesterday?s banner headline in The Jordan Times read: ?Millions defy attacks to vote?.

Any feedback is welcome.

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