That's hardly the problem. The problem is that U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world will underhype this election. When millions of Iraqis risk their lives and then dance with joy at having been initiated into the rituals of democracy, a fact has been created. And the old clichés that America went to Iraq for oil or hegemony begin to look hollow.
Some U.S. allies have not lifted a finger to help bring about this new day in Iraq. They have justified their passivity by saying they opposed the war, and that opposition they in turn justify as grounded in concern for the sovereignty, safety and dignity of the Iraqi people.
Well, the sovereignty, safety and dignity of the Iraqi people are now at stake. So where are the allies? The inaction of the other Arab statesfollowing their obstructionism in calling for a postponement of the electionshas exposed that concern about the welfare of Iraqis as fraudulent. Their concern turns out to be their own narrow, often dynastic interests. Those Arab states are ruled by monarchs and dictators who are practically all Sunni. Iraq is about 60% Shi'ite. A democratic Iraq would inevitably become the Arab world's first Shi'ite-dominated statea prospect from which the Arab leaders recoil for reasons of bias or fear. They also recoil from any demonstration of the possibilityindeed, the popularityof free elections. Aside from the occasional harmless municipal election, those Arab states have either no elections or ones with only the great man on the ballot.
Expect nothing from those Arab leaders. But what about the Europeans? They too were surprised by Iraqis' celebrating on election day. Their first instinct, like Kerry's, is to downplay. Hence the questioning of the legitimacy of the election on the grounds of inadequate Sunni participation. That concern for full participation in an Arab election is as touching as it is novel. Europeans have never had trouble recognizing the legitimacy of regimes in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus, where there is no participation by anyone. Indeed, many Europeans championed the inviolability of Saddam Hussein's regime, under which election participation was routinely 100%at the point of a gun.
Moreover, the entire argument about Sunni participation is empty. Yes, the legitimacy of the election would be in question if the government had denied Sunnis the right to vote. But low Sunni turnout was hardly the work of the Iraqi government. To the contrary: the coalition authority and provisional Iraqi government did everything they could to allow and encourage Sunni participation. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers died to protect poll workers and voters in extremely dangerous places. Americans are being told that they must now reach out to Europe and bridge the transatlantic gap created by the Iraq war. If I thought that a major grovel might help get real European assistance for Iraqi reconstruction, I might favor a little false humility. But what exactly is the U.S. to apologize for, bringing the first free elections to Afghanistan? To the Palestinian territories? And now to Iraq? The apology should come from those Europeans who have stood on the sidelines.
That is not to pretend that the U.S. undertook Iraq for reasons of pure humanitarianismas America undertook the rescue of other Muslim peoples (with varying success) in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. We would never have invaded Iraq to depose Saddam without 9/11. After 9/11, we finally understood that helping build decent, representative, tolerant societies in the Middle East is ultimately the only way to prevent endless generations of young Arab men from finding fulfillment by crashing airplanes into buildings filled with infidels. Europe has a similar interest, having suffered, with the train bombings in Madrid, the kind of fanatic nihilism that visited the Twin Towers.
Now that Jan. 30 has voided the claim that resisting the American democratic project is in the service of the Iraqi people, it is time for Europe to look to its common interest in helping Iraq succeed. But don't ask for a Condoleezza Rice apology in return. No apology ought to or will be given. The U.S. may not be the world's most artful liberator. But it is hard to think of a more sincere one. Ask the 8 million Iraqis who for the first time in their lives enjoyed that singular democratic experience: the free and secret ballot.