A SUNNI BREAKTHROUGH

The bottom line is surely this. With each election, Sunni Arab participation has risen this year. Yesterday, there was a clear indication that some deal had been made between the Sunni Arab political leadership and the insurgents to halt violence. That means that a) Sunni Arabs want in on an equitable Iraq and that b) the insurgency can indeed be destroyed by politics. American policy must now be a relentless attempt to facilitate concessions to the alienated minority, especially on oil rights, that can continue this process. Zalmay has his work cut out; and the dealing will, of course, be determined by the precise result. But this is an amazingly good opportunity for progress. Moreover, I believe as a matter of faith and of history that each time a people votes for its own future, the practice of democracy deepens, the sane majority strengthens, the appeal of extremism diminishes. Our job is now to keep this momentum going, to force the parties to deal, quickly and expeditiously, with their differences, and to lean on the Shiites to understand it is in their interest to make concessions to the people who tormented and oppressed them for so long.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT BUSH: I should add that pure domestic partisanship on this matter – and even recriminations and criticisms of the past – need to be abandoned in America right now. We are asking the various Iraqi factions to put the past behind them and work constructively for a better future. President Bush is the commander in chief for the next three years – the crucial years for Iraq – whether you like it or not. It is in all our interests – Democrat, Republican and Independent – that he succeed. Scoring points – as distinct from making clear and constructive criticism – is not what we need right now. Here’s a reader who sums up my own feelings pretty well:

I voted in the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. There were long, long lines of people. Everyone was happy, smiling, black, white, rich, poor. The election changed everything, absolutely fundamentally. Ten years on, South Africa is a country with a lot of problems – AIDS, unemployment, violence. But the economy is booming, people are optimistic overall, and there’s no doubt it’s a way better place than it was in the dark days of apartheid. Democracy is powerful, powerful medicine. As a Democrat watching the Iraqi elections today, I could not help feeling very positive about the future of Iraq, and also what the United States has accomplished there. Despite all the screw-ups, and the moral lapses (like torture), George Bush may well be hailed as a visionary in ten years time by many in the Arab world, and the world at large. Liberals today should drop their hatred of George Bush, and hope this is a new beginning for the Iraqis and the future of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. As liberals, we should be wanting that more than anything.

Just as the Sunnis are splitting into those who want a constructive future and those who want to fester in the bitterness and divisions of the past, so the Democrats need to distance themselves from the humiliate-Bush-at-any-price extremists who can shout the loudest. the Iraqi people deserve better than that from us. And we owe them our support.

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