January 26, 2005,
I asked last July what would happen to partisan Democrats certain of electoral victory if they ended up losing on November 2 by three or four points. The press seemed to be taking for granted a Democratic victory, and was certainly longing for it.
In much the same way, the press seems to be taking for granted a downward spiral in Iraq, and even longing for it. Many reporters in Iraq, especially but not only from the Associated Press, report the news that cheers our enemy, and leave out the stories that give comfort to our own troops. That is a constant complaint of military bloggers and military in the field sending e-mails to friends.
Press distortions have so lowered expectations about the January 30 election that the world may be startled by the outcome. The percentage of Iraqi actually voting may be higher than in the United States last fall. It might reach higher than 70 percent. It may rival turnout in Afghanistan.
Recent polling in Iraq by the International Republican Institute indicates that more than 90 percent of the Iraqi Shiites intend to vote, the women even more than the men. Staff members in the field report an intense desire among Shiites not to allow this opportunity of a lifetime to slip away from them. Polling also shows that the Kurds are even more intent on voting. Together, these two groups account for some 80 percent of the population.
Even among the 20 percent of the Sunni, the number who actually vote may be higher than currently expected. The Sunni live in the areas from which the violence and terror mostly come, and they are the most frequent victims of that violence. No wonder a growing number are looking forward to relief from the thugs among them. One of the best sites I have found for tracking the politico/military situation on the ground is www.strategypage.com, which has been particularly good in recent weeks on political shifts among the Sunni.
More and more Sunni are fed up with the terrorists. A significant segment among them is eager to have an important stake in the new Iraq which they will not have at all, if all Sunni boycott the election, as some of their leaders want them to. The best estimate I can draw from experts at the National Endowment for Democracy is that as many as 20 or 30 percent of the registered Sunni voters may end up voting on January 30. The analysis at the website mentioned above suggests to me it may be higher.
To be sure, people in Iraq are expecting a massive bloodletting by the terrorists on election day. As one of them wrote on his website, he has waited so long for one chance to express his will that he will gladly die to do so. He expects that the terrorists cannot kill everybody who wants to vote. (They may well concentrate on killing announced candidates for office. They may also try to kill a lot of Americans at once, to dominate the news coverage.) He recalls the humiliation of having to thank his torturers during the days of Saddam to thank them after they had tortured him or beaten him, lest they injure his family. He remembers the feeling of helplessness, and has vowed never to feel that again.
Naturally, an election, all by itself, will not work miracles. But this one will give Iraq a national assembly elected by a powerful majority of all Iraqis. Since power comes from the consent of the governed, the Iraqi people will have accrued more consensual power than any other current Arab regime.
This expression of popular will in Iraq will henceforth constitute a powerful argument against any so-called insurgency. These murderous forces will be shown to be merely an ugly fringe of a small minority of non-voters. These terrorists will have exhibited to the whole world their total contempt for the express will of the people of Iraq.
These murderers will be shown to be the anti-democratic fascists they are. They may continue to use Islamicist slogans, but they are a disgrace to Islam. These slogans do not disguise their fascist principles and methods of operation.
They are trying to make it impossible for a government of the people, by the people, for the people to take root in Iraq. They want to stomp down its tender shoots. Maybe they can succeed. But not in a land of the brave, as the Iraqi are about to show.
Michael Novak, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and to the Bern Round of the Helsinki Talks, holds the George F. Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.