One would expect — or at least hope — that an election in a country once tyrannized by rape rooms, poison gas attacks and aggressive militarization would bring some degree of happiness to self-described liberals. But as with many things in life, reality hardly lives up to expectation. When the United States captured Saddam Hussein in December of 2003, then-presidential candidate Howard Dean complained that Hussein’s arrest would do little to help his campaign, er, the war effort. Joe Lieberman’s response: The incoming chairman of the Democratic National Committee had “climbed into his own spider hole of denial.”
That description aptly characterizes many liberals in the wake of Iraq’s first democratic election in more than 50 years. The joyous scenes accompanying last month’s vote have put those who opposed the war into a difficult position. Many, in good faith, have put aside partisan attacks to celebrate what should be a non-partisan victory for democratic liberalism. But rather than welcome an event that ranks in the annals of human freedom with the fall of the Berlin Wall or the uprising at Tiananmen Square, many liberals, blinded by hatred of President Bush and the exercise of American power, have turned to the most cynical arguments to claim that the elections are a chimera.
To mask their resentment at the rightness of Bush’s cause, these cynics initiate any discussion of the issue with the requisite pleasantries about how elections and democracy are all well and good (with a few half-hearted words of disgust for Hussein thrown in for good measure) and then proceed to denigrate the enactment of the democratic process itself. This attitude has been on full display in both written and spoken form by Yale Coalition for Peace member Ishaan Tharoor (“For Iraq, an American dream that wasn’t,” 2/6). Asked what he thought about the Iraqi election, Tharoor told the News last week, “I think it’s important to remember these elections weren’t benevolently granted, but were disputed for a year and a half of Iraqi occupation.” Indeed, the elections were “disputed” by religious fascists who behead aid workers and maim their innocent countrymen in roadside bomb attacks. But for Tharoor and other individuals of his illiberal ilk, this sort of barbaric behavior constitutes legitimate acts of disputation, as long as it is directed at representatives of the Great Satan.
To deflate our hopes about Iraqi democracy, Tharoor and his ideological brethren have trotted out tired arguments. Apparently, that the once-ruling Sunnis stayed away from the polls in droves renders the election illegitimate. Just as, I assume, the fact that many Afrikaners protested the first democratic South African election in 1994 made that vote a sham. One anti-war student e-mailed, “Until this damage is undone, until the Iraqi people have adequate food, shelter, health care, education, jobs, freedom of speech, women’s rights, and environmental protections, they will not be free of tyranny and terror.” As if Iraqis enjoyed everything entailed in the U.S. Bill of Rights prior to the 2003 invasion. Contrary to what Tharoor and his cohorts might expect us to believe, Iraq will not turn into Sweden once the United States military departs.
It’s telling that the protests, teach-ins and signature drives of two years past — all committed to preventing the war that lead to last month’s exercise in democracy — drew hundreds upon hundreds of righteously indignant students and faculty. Yet when women and ethnic minorities voted for the first time in their lives, hardly anyone at Yale seemed to notice, or care.
The liberal response to the democratic process in Iraq is reminiscent of the reply to American military victory in April of 2003. On the very day that Baghdad fell to Coalition troops, when all the television cameras showed were Iraqis tearing down statues of Hussein and other remnants of his regime, several faculty members took part in a teach-in sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace. For the most part, their remarks were characterized by sheer resentment at the fact that citizens in Iraq were celebrating what these academics in New Haven considered to be a grave injustice against mankind. Most outrageous were those remarks by University Chaplain Frederick Streets, who premised his speech upon the news that the Rev. Franklin Graham was leading a group of evangelical Christians on a missionary trip to Iraq. What concerned Rev. Streets most was not the fact that Hussein had driven out every last Jew during his 35 years of rule, nor that he had murdered over 100,000 Kurds nor that he had killed thousands of Iraqi Shia — no, what disturbed this man of the cloth more than anything else was that Billy Graham’s son was going to pass out a few Bibles on the streets of Baghdad. Grasping at straws, Rev. Streets intoned that this was “religious imperialism.” I’m not sure, then, what that makes al Qaeda’s attempt to resurrect an Islamic caliphate from Andalusia to the Red Sea.
What is vital to remember is that the once-rare images of women voting in the Middle East, of long lines forming at the polls, of Iraqis crying tears of joy at their newfound right — none of these would exist had the United States abstained from invading Iraq two years ago. It is Tharoor’s “agents of occupation” who removed Hussein from power; it is their daily courage and ultimate sacrifice that allowed for last month’s election. The destruction of a thug regime, the imprisonment of its titular head and the flourishing of civil society all stand in testament to the wisdom of the Bush doctrine.
Opponents of the war had every right to make the case against President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. But in recoiling at the very presence of liberalism in its most classic form, these liberals have lost every right to label themselves as such.
James Kirchick is a junior in Pierson College. He is an occasional columnist.