[This is the second of two linked posts.]
Impossible not to notice a certain reserve, verging on self-strangulation, in some quarters in response to the triumph - yes, triumph - that was yesterday's election in Iraq. A people that has had to endure decades of the most brutal oppression, punctuated by wars, and whose intending voters were under threat of death or terrible injury should they dare to take the path of democracy, faced down those threatening them and, in what is widely reported to have been in some places a festival atmosphere, recorded its democratic will. What else to call this but a triumph? It was a day to be enjoyed and celebrated by anyone with the interests of the Iraqi people at heart, whatever grave difficulties still lie ahead of them.
But for some the better option was apparently not to do this; or it was the urging of more cautious, hard-headed analysis upon those - a lot of us - who felt they wanted to share in the celebration of so many Iraqis. One site of such urging, as you might expect, was this morning's Guardian editorial page. Savour it, do - because even in its convolutions it is a thing of purity. The lead editorial opens, ringingly, thus:
The most obvious message to draw from yesterday's elections in Iraq is that it will be a long time before it becomes clear who the real winners are.There you go. That is what is most obvious about yesterday, and nothing even a tad more inspiring (whoa, steady there - Ed.)... oh all right, encouraging. Then the editorial goes with Kofi Annan: that this is 'only a first step', and 'it would be foolish to draw definitive conclusions'. However...
Those looking for grains of good news from the election will find it in the fact that the polls were held on time and - given the bloodshed of recent months - without death and destruction on the scale some had feared.Grains of good news, that's as much as one might look for, and these grains are timeliness and less bloodshed than feared. Nothing else. A long segment follows according to which some people might think there's something more positive here, but the Guardian leader for its part is back and forth and then back again, with its 'even ifs' and its 'yets'; the upshot of all of which is that...
When a nation holds its first elections after a long period of dictatorship, a temptation is to rejoice at the mere fact of its happening... It would be too simplistic to transfer that romance [appropriate it seems to 'the countries formerly encased in Europe's Eastern bloc, as well as... South Africa and Ukraine'] to Iraq...No...
Even if the elections have been some sort of success, we are still no closer to knowing when US and British forces will withdraw from Iraq.'Even if' and 'some sort of' success - not just a success, let alone a triumph.
Many entirely reasonable people may want to say here: So what's wrong with it? Really? Cautious, hard-headed analysis never did anyone any harm. It can even be of benefit. Joyful illusions are still illusions; realities have to be faced.
Indeed. But there is joy and there is illusion, and the two don't have to be shackled together. Liberals, democrats, people on the left, who could not yesterday, and cannot today, find it in themselves to rejoice about what Iraqis, in their millions and after all they've been through, bravely did... how miserable, what unfortunates. Just think how many of these same people would have been overjoyed had, say, George Bush lost last November to John Kerry. Would they have foregone immediate expressions of that joy for cautious, hard-headed analysis of the upcoming Kerry presidency? Would they hell. They would have been whooping it up from New York to San Francisco, from Auckland and Sydney to Berlin. The analysis, in that event, would have waited until tomorrow or the day after, or else been allowed to stand side by side with fulsome sentiments of celebration. But for the people of Iraq, different rules.
No, the truth, the thing that so many cannot digest or stomach, is that the road to what happened yesterday was opened by a Republican US president whom they despise and a New Labour prime minister whom they hold in only slightly higher regard than that, while they themselves were marching and otherwise disporting themselves in a way that would have closed off that road for who knows how long. Well, if you could not take pleasure from what happened in Iraq yesterday, I extend my commiserations. For Iraqis and a lot of other people who felt able to share in their celebration it was a very good day.