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A Drama-Free Election: The Iraqi vote was a victory for Prime Minister Maliki. Now he'll need to do something for the Shiite masses. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 02/16/2009, Weekly Standard)
Making sense of Iraq's January 31 provincial elections isn't easy. That they were an enormous success for Iraq, and for the United States, is certainly true. When remembering 2006, when Iraqis were dying like flies in what the New York Times's Dexter Filkins described as a "symphony of suicide bombers," and when even staunch pro-war American liberals and conservatives saw the invasion as misbegotten, I grow more respectful of my old history teacher Martin Dickson, who counseled to measure time, especially in the Middle East, in centuries, not years. In the streets of Baghdad, especially those deeply scarred by violence, where women and children now bustle about well-stocked stores and an almost incomprehensible array of political posters has been plastered, it's difficult to comprehend how a former pro-war liberal like Peter Beinart could opine, only two weeks before the provincial elections, that the Iraq invasion remained "one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history."

It's not a view, even with all of the horrific suffering that has occurred in the last six years, that has much traction in Iraq. At least not with the Shiites, who represent around 60 percent of the country's population, or the Kurds, who account for another 20 percent of Iraq's 28 million souls. Antiwar Shiites and Kurds are certainly out there--if a parent loses a child to war or sees a child disfigured by a suicide bomber, then nothing in this world could seem of higher value. And many Shiite Arabs and Kurds were Baathists, who understandably pine for yester-year. But what is striking in Iraq--at least among the Shiites with whom I've spent my time on this trip--is the seemingly unalterable conviction that the fall of Saddam, no matter what happened afterward, was a wondrous event. From the Shiite rich to the Shiite poor, from the most secular to the most religious, from those who have sought a terrible revenge against the Sunnis to those who have mourned their dead peacefully, I have heard the same word to describe their world since March 2003: mu'jiza ("a miracle").

Some Americans find that word hard to utter. Yet it is not too soon to suggest that Iraqis--perhaps because they have gone through hell--understand better each year that voting does matter, even if not nearly as much as they once thought. Iraqis just may have reached a point of no return on representative government. True, democracy could still fail here. Little would-be Saddams are everywhere. Inside government offices, they thrive. The complexity and corruption of doing business here boggles the mind: Listening to Iraqi businessmen complain about the predatory habits of officials becomes boring because the Iraqi practice is so crude, direct, omnipresent, and merciless. At least two generations of Iraqis were raised to brutally lord it over their fellow man if given the chance. Millions of men were thrown into the Iraqi Army in the last 50 years, when the military learned, with ever greater severity, to oppress and feed on civilians. (This is the same Sunni officer corps that official Washington and the press are now certain should have been maintained after the invasion.)

Yet, despite all this, even the would-be Saddams really want to vote. They want their votes counted, even if they are less concerned about the ballots of others. I listened to a conversation of low- and middle-ranking Shiite army officers on Election Day. These men, who'd voted a few days earlier, were proud and excited to be a small part of an election. My attempts to get them to tell me whom they'd voted for went nowhere. They clearly saw themselves--and this is a first in Iraqi history--as the people's guardians. For Iraq, for anywhere in the Muslim Middle East, this dynamic--this struggle between the authoritarian and democratic traditions--is something to watch. Only the deaf, dumb, blind, or politically perverse can't see that Iraqis have caught the democratic bug. A military strongman might still arise in Mesopotamia, but his climb to the top would surely produce a nonsectarian civil war. Too many Iraqis--too many with guns--now want a say in how they are governed.

I recently finished a book I found almost inexplicable: Failures of the Presidents by Thomas J. Craughwell. I'd like to think I'm as mindful of presidential failure as most anyone, but the manner in which the specific "failures" herein were chosen eludes me. As near as I can tell, beyond a couple inarguables--like FDR's internment of Japanese Americans and Pierce's repeal of the Missouri Compromise--Mr. Craughwell almost reflexively chose any even remotely imperial exercise by the United States and a smattering of anti-Progressive actions, but that's it. Some of the choices are odd because they are comparatively minor within the given president's own history of blundering: does anyone really believe that Woodrow Wilson invading Mexico was a worse failure than getting us involved in WWI and then fighting for the League of Nations instead of for colonial self-determination? The latter contributed not just to the advent of WWII and the Cold War but eventually the WoT. Likewise, wouldn't you have to consider Herbert Hoover's inept response to the the Crash to be a bigger "failure" -- given that it helped turn depression into Great Depression -- than dispersing the Bonus Army marchers? Now I'd understand that if the author were a raving Leftist, but the cover blurbs suggest past approval for his books from The American Spectator, The Times of London and The Chicago Tribune and his dust jacket bio says he's written for the American Spectator and the Wall Street Journal, so what's going on?

Consider the two most peculiar inclusions on the list: McKinley's war with Spain and W's war against Saddam. One might argue that writing before the surge was widely accepted as succeeding led to the latter--though the Introduction specifically mentions the danger of juding presidents contemporaneously--but the final assessment of the results of McKinley getting us involved with the Philippines suggests that being aware of W's success in Iraq wouldn't have mattered:
Astonishingly, the conflict forged a lasting bond between the two nations. The United States made good eventually on its promise of national independence. An American-style government was established in 1916, and the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth in 1935. Filipinos fought valiantrly side by side with Americans in World War II...
Okay, stop, rewind... If that's a "failure" then the word has been robbed of meaning.


Grade: (C-)


See also:

Thomas Craughwell Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Failures of the Presidents (Fair Winds Press)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Failures of the President
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Stealing Lincoln's Body
    -EXCERPT: The Bay of Pigs Invasion: John F. Kennedy (Failures of the Presidents)
    -ESSAY: Patron Saints for Modern Challenges (Thomas J. Craughwell, St. Anthony Messenger Magazine)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: PIUS DEFENDERS : Three long-out-of-print books by respected scholars address the Pope's actions to save the Jews during World War II. The evidence is incontrovertible. (Thomas J. Craughwell, Winter 1998, Latin Mass )
    -ESSAY: Saints Misbehavin': Even the holiest men and women were not always thus. (THOMAS J. CRAUGHWELL, October 27, 2006, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: The Gentile Holocaust (Thomas J. Craughwell, Catholic Culture)
    -ESSAY: Pius XII and the Holocaust (Thomas J. Craughwell, Catholic Culture)
    -ARCHIVES: The American Spectator : Contributors : Thomas J. Craughwell
    -ARCHIVES: Thomas J. Craughwell (Britannica Blog)
-REVIEW: of Failures of the Presidents by Thomas J. Craughwell with M. William Phelps (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of Failures of the Presidents (Jennie W, American Presidents Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Failures of the Presidents (Marc, Spinning Clio)
    -REVIEW: of Failures of the Presidents (Mark Whittington, Associated Content)
    -REVIEW: of Failures of the Presidents (Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty, Radical Academy)
    -REVIEW: of Thomas J. Craughwell. Stealing Lincoln's Body (Thomas R. Turner, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Society)
    -REVIEW: of Stealing Lincoln's Body (Eric Fettmann, NY Post)
    -REVIEW: of Stealing Lincoln's Body (David B. Williams, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Stealing Lincoln's Body (Harold Holzer, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Stealing Lincoln's Body (Michael Kammen, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Stealing Lincoln's Body (AW Perdue, Times Higher Education)
    -REVIEW: of Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell (Panorama of the Mountains)

Book-related and General Links: