Friday, January 21, 2005

The Lost Elections 3

The Washington Post report on Iraqi elections is unlikely to convince those who regard it as 'illegitimate' otherwise because the polling results on which the story is based were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 -- An overwhelming majority of Iraqis continue to say they intend to vote on Jan. 30 even as insurgents press attacks aimed at rendering the elections a failure, according to a new public opinion survey. The poll, conducted in late December and early January for the International Republican Institute, found 80 percent of respondents saying they were likely to vote, a rate that has held roughly steady for months.

"Despite the efforts of the terrorists, Iraqis remain committed to casting their vote on election day," IRI President Lorne Craner said in a statement. The organization, which is funded by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, commissioned the poll, which surveyed 1,900 Iraqis in all but two of the country's 18 provinces. Poor security made two in the far north, Nineveh and Dohuk, inaccessible. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wouldn't the only way of verifying the poll predictions be to hold the elections? That would assume the existence of compelling objective arguments which still persuade both sides of the current debate over the War on Terror. Peggy Noonan is afraid that the time of argument is over; positions have become an article of religious faith. In an article entitled Too Much God, Noonan says:

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul." It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission.

The Left has been on a mission for a long time; what alarms them and even some conservatives is that they may have conjured up their own mirror image on the Right. This is less an intellectual development than an emotional one. Wars do not alter the underlying causes of conflict, but they fundamentally sharpen the attitudes of those who fight them to the point where the ultimate goal of the struggle becomes victory itself. The armies of the First World War could not bring themselves to retreat from strategically insignificant ground simply because they had paid so much in blood for it. They had to keep or declare it was not worth the price. You could not break the faith on Flanders Fields. The intractability of modern Leftism is the understandable result of the defeat they have endured in recent years. But until recently large parts of Conservatism exuded the easy air of the Reagan years, and answered in the part-humorous, part-taunt of P. J. O'Rourke. But the grim struggle with domestic Liberalism and foreign terror has left its mark. "Man, I look old" President Bush was reported to have said when he saw his photo on the cover of Time Magazine.

Whatever the War on Terror is, it is a duel to the death. A glance at Juan Cole's website -- which is a reliable thermometer of Leftist temper -- is a case in point. It should be the website of a respectable academic but it's a shrine to half-forgotten causes and a casket of exorcisms against half-apprehended devils. To illustrate the right of peaceful assembly he has a photo of flag-draped military caskets being shipped home. To illustrate the the 8th Amendment he has an Abu Ghraib photo. Noonan worries about religion. So do I, coming upon a room of stubbed out and smoked ideas. As for the elections, Cole says they are a joke, and it is doubtful if any poll would persuade him otherwise.

"These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan. "The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.

If so, he is the only one laughing, though maybe we all did once, and I forget whether that's a promise or a threat.