It’s one of the oldest military axioms: “The enemy gets a vote.”
And it couldn’t be any truer than it is in Iraq.
The enemy — the insurgency — has voted against the national elections scheduled for the end of January. It has voted with bombs and kidnappings and the murder of innocents. It has forced the national government of Iraq to make a choice: Postpone the plebiscite (search) until national security improves or follow through with the promise to deliver a government by the people and of the people on schedule.
So far, Iraq’s leaders have chosen courageously to stick with the timetable. Let us hope they continue along this path.
Wars involve choices, and they never go quite as planned. Sticking to the strategy can be the hardest part, as Americans have learned before.
On Oct. 1, 1957, as the nation awaited a report from a presidential commission examining the state of national security during one of the most trying times of the Cold War, a flicker of light reached into the sky from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (search) in Kazakhstan. It was the Russians launching Sputnik (search), a 184-pound “hunk of iron almost anybody could launch,” sniffed a U.S. Navy admiral. For the rest of America, however, it was a warning. The Soviets had launched a satellite into space. What would keep them from launching a nuclear-tipped missile at New York City?
Sticking to the strategy would prove impossible. The president’s commission report, compromised by Sputnik hysteria, vastly overstated Soviet capabilities and called for a $32 billion civil defense program. It also set the stage for equally hysterical warnings from the president’s commission. But President Eisenhower didn’t yield. He refused to endorse a national shelter-building spree. He rejected the significance of Sputnik and the dire predictions of the commission, and he decided stick to the Cold War strategy.
Ike told his staff he had learned an important lesson from World War II, where war plans also came under attack from critics.
“We never abandoned [the plan],” he told them. “It was a good plan, a long-range plan that had been carefully worked out. We went on and won.”
The Iraqis need to go on and win, too. Terrorism continues to grip the country, but it need not stall the march to democracy. Several countries, after all, have moved to democracy despite the presence of active insurgencies.
Indonesia transformed itself from a dictatorship to a democracy in six years despite being plagued with two active, violent separatist movements. Filipinos have taken part in several national elections since the overthrow of Fernando Marcos in 1986 despite an active insurgency and a violent separatist movement in its midst. Sri Lanka has been embroiled in an ethnic civil war for decades but still manages to hold elections. Colombia began to make progress in its battle with narco-terrorists (search) only after it elected a courageous national leader to direct the counterattack against violence and chaos.
Furthermore, delays would only make the security situation worse. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani (search), the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia population, has issued a religious fatwa (search), insisting that elections be held on time. The Kurds, originally sympathetic to a postponement, have changed their position and now support holding the elections on time. If the Shia Arab majority (60 percent of the population) and the Kurds (20 percent) sense that their legitimate political rights were compromised because the Iraqi government succumbed to intimidation from Sunni Arab (search) terrorists, the existing relative peace in Iraq outside the Sunni triangle would be shattered.
Also, military operations in Fallujah (search) and elsewhere by coalition and Iraqi forces have not only disrupted terrorist networks and sanctuaries, they have created a “window of advantage” to hold elections before terrorist forces regroup and reorganize. That window won’t stay open for long.
And let’s not forget that some of those who call for postponement of the election for security concerns actually want to buy more time to improve their negotiating position and/or electoral prospects. This means they have envisioned an Iraq where democracy rules, where true competitive politics and civil society are facts of life. In a place where dictatorship and despair have ruled for decades, this is good news.
It may not seem like it now — just as it may not have seemed like it during Ike’s time — but the strategy of Iraq’s leaders is working. Certainly, this is no time to abandon it, no time to surrender to the hysterics of the moment, no time to go soft. Democracy is within Iraq’s reach. If its leaders can stick with the plan another 60 days or so, democracy will be at hand.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow in defense and homeland security, and Dana Dillon is a senior analyst, at The Heritage Foundation. Helle Dale is deputy director of the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.