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The optimistic anticipation of the Iraqi people was detected by polling in the days before the election:
Interviewers found that 71% of [Iraqis] questioned said things were currently very or quite good in their personal lives, while 29% found their lives very or quite bad.
When asked whether their lives would improve in the coming year, 64% said things would be better and 12% said they expected things to be worse.
American soldiers are similarly upbeat about Iraq’s prospects:
When I told people that I was getting ready to head back to Iraq for my third tour, the usual response was a frown, a somber head shake and even the occasional “I’m sorry.” When I told them that I was glad to be going back, the response was awkward disbelief, a fake smile and a change of subject. The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw. Depending on which poll you believe, about 60 percent of Americans think it’s time to pull out of Iraq.
How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic divergence between American public opinion and the upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the fighting?
We know the streets, the people and the insurgents far better than any armchair academic or talking head. As military professionals, we are trained to gauge the chances of success and failure, to calculate risk and reward. We have little to gain from our optimism and quite a bit to lose as we leave our families over and over again to face danger and deprivation for an increasingly unpopular cause. We know that there are no guarantees in war, and that we may well fail in the long run. We also know that if we follow our current plan we can, over time, leave behind a stable and unified country that might help to anchor a better future for the Middle East.
One factor contributing to this optimism may be the growing marginalization of terrorists within Iraq:
In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find.
The shift is encouraging for Washington, which hopes to draw Sunni Arabs into peaceful politics in order to defuse the insurgency.
Far from our actions creating more terrorists, as some argue, it appears that the terrorists are creating more people eager to support democracy. Whatever the outcome of yesterday’s elections, Iraqis and the chances for democracy and peace are the big winners. For the third time in a year, facing the prospect of death, Iraqis turned out to vote in far higher proportions than we Americans do. Some might even say that Iraq, like most societies still in the process of cleansing the bloodstains of tyranny, savors the promise of freedom and democracy far more than we do. We’ve had 219 years to become complacent about liberty, whereas the scars of the Saddam regime are still visible, quite literally, on the Iraqi people.
Arab News looks at the elections and declares them “a vote for peace”:
It was the voice of the Iraqi people that was being heard yesterday, not the bomb blasts of the terrorists. What little violence there was as millions crowded toward their local polling stations only served to demonstrate how incoherent and pointless are the efforts of the men of violence to change the country through further bloodshed.
[V]irtually every voter who was asked agreed that this was a momentous day, which well deserved the often party-like atmosphere that gripped the heavily patrolled, traffic-free streets. Time and again Iraqis told inquiring journalists that this was the moment when they took control of their country, the beginning of the end of the US-led occupation and — though this was generally voiced more cautiously — the beginning of the end of insurgent violence.
Meanwhile, the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, which rarely miss a chance to declare Iraq a complete failure, couldn’t be bothered to say anything about the Iraqi elections. James Taranto notes a contradiction in the media coverage of Iraq:
There is an interesting disconnect in the U.S. media, and it goes beyond the usual complaints of pessimism or hostility to the American war effort. Go back and look at the transcript of NBC’s “Meet the Press” for Nov. 27, which we noted the next day—and in particular the journalist roundtable, which features five senior Washington journalists, all of whom seem to agree that democracy in Iraq is a dead letter. The only mention of Iraq’s then-forthcoming election was in a setup quote from the White House press secretary. To hear the journos talk, it was as if they hadn’t even heard that Iraqis were going to the polls.
And yet the producers at CNN and Fox appear to have regarded a genuine election in Iraq as such a routine event that it didn’t merit continuous live coverage. (Both stations did break into the recorded fare for occasional live updates.) It’s quite a striking indication of just how out of touch with the outside world are those within the Beltway media bubble.
The media pessimism can’t last forever. Eventually, people will recognize the truth about Iraq. In the meantime, though, large portions of the media and many politicians are setting themselves up for future irrelevance. What happens if you spend years declaring Iraq a disaster and it turns out not to be? What happens when you continually tell voters that we have no hope of winning and we do? Fear of success more than fear of failure may be driving the recent calls for an early departure from Iraq. After all, with each passing day there is less of a chance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And if we succeed in our mission in Iraq, there are going to be a lot of people whose credibility is utterly destroyed. Luckily for them, credibility is not a requirement for employment in politics or the media.
It’s still far too early to declare Iraq a complete victory, but given the tremendous progress that the country has made in less than three years, how anyone could possibly claim Iraq is a lost cause is beyond me. By what measure is Iraq is a disaster? Compared to what war is Iraq a failure? Anyone with a passing knowledge of history knows that every war will have its setbacks. There were many times during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II, for example, when the eventual victors looked certain to lose. Compared to most wars in history, what has been achieved in Iraq to date can only be considered a stunning success. We’re helping the Iraqis build a republic. Let’s hope they can keep it.