Sunday, January 30, 2005

In Europe, the wise old foreign-policy “realists” scoff at the Iraq elections — Islam and democracy are completely incompatible, old boy; everybody knows that, except these naive blundering Yanks who just don’t have our experience.

If that’s true, it’s a problem not for Iraq but, given current demographic trends, for France and Belgium and the Netherlands a year or two down the line.

But it happens to be untrue. The Afghan election worked so well that, there being insufficient bad news out of it, the Western media’s doom-mongers pretended it never happened. They’ll have a harder job doing that with Iraq, so instead they’ll have to play up every roadside bomb and every dead poll worker. But it won’t alter the basic reality: that the election may be imperfect but more than good enough.

OK, that’s a bit vague compared with my usual psephological predictions. So how about this: Turnout in the Kurdish north and Shi’ite south probably was higher than in the last U.S., British or Canadian elections. Legitimate enough for ya?

But look beyond the numbers: When you consider the behavior of the Shi’ite and Kurdish parties, they’ve been remarkably shrewd, restrained and responsible. They don’t want to blow their big rendezvous with history and rejoin the rest of the Middle East in the fetid swamp of stable despotism.

Naysayers in the Democratic Party and the U.S. media are so obsessed with Donald Rumsfeld getting this wrong and Condoleezza Rice getting that wrong and President Bush getting everything wrong that they’ve failed to notice just how surefooted both the Kurds and Shi’ites have been — which in the end is far more important.

The Shi’ites, for example, have adopted a moderate secular pitch entirely different from their co-religionist mullahs over the border. In fact, as partisan pols go, they sound a lot less loopy than, say, Barbara Boxer.

Even on the Sunni side of the street, there are signs the smarter fellows understand their plans to destroy the election have flopped and it’s time to cut themselves into the picture. The International Monetary Fund noted in November that the Iraqi economy is already outperforming all its Arab neighbors.

You might not have gained that impression from watching CNN or reading the Los Angeles Times. The Western press are all holed up in the same part of Baghdad, and the insurgents very conveniently set off bombs visible from the hotel windows in perfect synchronization with the U.S. TV news cycle.

But, if the reporters could look beyond the plumes of smoke, they would see Iraq is going to be better than OK. It will be the region’s economic powerhouse. And the various small nods toward democracy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere suggest the Arab world has figured out what the foreign policy “realists” haven’t — that the trend is in the Bush direction.

When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would “destabilize” the entire region, he was right. That’s why it was such a great idea.

The “realpolitik” types spent so long worshipping at the altar of stability they were unable to see it was a cult for psychos. The geopolitical scene is never stable. It’s always dynamic.

If the Western world decides in 2005 it can “contain” President Sy Kottik of Wackistan indefinitely, that doesn’t mean the relationship between the two parties is set in aspic.

Wackistan has a higher birthrate than the West, so after 40 years of “stability,” there are a lot more Wackistanis and a lot fewer Frenchmen. And Wackistan has immense oil reserves, and President Kottik has used that oil wealth to fund radical schools and mosques in hitherto moderate parts of the Muslim world.

Cheap air travel and the Internet and ATM machines that take every bank card on the planet and the freelancing of nuclear technology mean Wackistan’s problems are no longer confined to Wackistan: For a few hundred bucks, they can be outside the Empire State Building within seven hours.

Nothing stands still. “Stability” is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

If you want a good example of excessive deference to the established order, look no further than Iraq. I am often asked about the scale of the insurgency and whether this doesn’t prove we armchair warriors vastly underestimated things, etc.

I usually reply that, if you rummage through the archives, you’ll find I wanted Iraq liberated before the end of August 2002. The bulk of the military were already in place, sitting in the Kuwaiti desert twiddling their thumbs.

But President Bush was prevailed upon to go “the extra mile” at the United Nations, mainly for the sake of Tony Blair. And thanks to the machinations of Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and company, the extra mile wound up being the scenic route through six months of diplomatic gridlock while Washington gamely auditioned any casus belli that might win the favor of the president of Guinea’s witchdoctor. All that happened in that time was that the fringe “peace” movement vastly expanded and annexed most of the Democratic Party.

Given all that went on in America, Britain, France, etc. during the interminable “extra mile,” it would be idiotic to assume that, with an almighty invasion force squatting on his borders for six months, Saddam just listened to his Sinatra LPs. He was very busy, as were the Islamists, and Iran, and Syria.

The result is not only an insurgency far more virulent than it would have been if Washington had followed my advice rather than Tony’s and invaded in August 2002, but also a broader range of enemies who learned a lot about how “world” — i.e., European — opinion could be played off against us.

I don’t believe Mr. Bush would repeat that mistake: He wouldn’t have spoken quite so loudly if the big stick weren’t already in place — if plans weren’t well advanced for dealing with Iran and some of the low-hanging fruit elsewhere in the region.

Mr. Bush won’t abolish all global tyranny by 2008 — that might have to wait till Condi’s second term. But he will abolish some of it. And Iraq’s elections are as important to that end as any military victory.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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