This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Jan. 29, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Hot story number one, moment of truth, and a big numero uno it is. In Iraq, nationwide election, less than two years after Saddam Hussein (search) had been toppled. And actually, the voting will start Eastern time here in the U.S., 11:00 p.m. tonight.
So it’s a, I mean, this is really historic, a great moment, a grand moment, as Bush has called it. This is the first of three elections this year in Iraq, 7,000 candidates running for 275 seats. They’ll draft a constitution, and it will be voted on, ratified or not, and then based on it, there’ll be another election, and a new legislature in Iraq.
So it’s — elections are, are really taking over. And Mort, I know you’re going to be delighted to know they have campaign ads, campaign spots on Iraqi TV. Watch this one.
Well, what do you make of this one?
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Pretty good, I think, pretty good, unifying the country, you know, children leading them and all that stuff, Kurds, obviously Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis you know, coming together.
BARNES: Now, you’ve heard me say this old saying, you know, in the Arab world, the dog barks, but the caravan moves on. And, and so far, the media’s concentrated on the dog, the violence there, and not the progress that is being made, which is really remarkable.
In Afghanistan, remember, the media largely said, Gee, they can’t have a serious election here. They did. And then the reaction was, ho-hum. It was a story inside the paper.
I hope that doesn’t happen here, because this is an election that is meaningful all over the Arab and Muslim world, that, if all goes well, will be an extraordinary encouragement of reformers and democrats all over that entire part of the world.
You know who understands the, the meaning of this in the context probably better than anybody else? George W. Bush. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On Sunday, the Iraqi people will be joining millions in other parts of the world who now decide their future through free votes. In Afghanistan, the people have voted in the first free presidential elections in that nation’s 5,000-year history. The people of Ukraine have made clear their own desire for democracy. The Palestinians have just elected a new president who has repudiated violence.
Freedom is on the march, and the world is better for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: Well, the other hot story is an outgrowth of this one, and that is, high stakes, very high stakes, for everybody involved here. Look at the insurgents, the violent thugs who are trying to disrupt this election succeed in, in holding down the vote to maybe less than a majority of the population. It’s going to be a blow to prospects for Iraqi democracy, to the prospects for democracy around the Middle East, to Bush’s foreign policy.
It will cheer no one besides the American press so much as the French, and, you know, to Bush’s entire presidency because he’s got, he’s basically staked his presidency on a decent outcome to the, to the war in Iraq.
Now, if the turnout exceeds expectations, or even if it, even if large numbers turn out, and especially in the Sunni areas, where expectations are very low, so it’s not going to take a lot to exceed expectations there, then I think that Bush will have done a lot to silence his critics, who, this week, were led by Teddy Kennedy (search), who basically said that the thugs aren’t the problem in Iraq, we’re the problem.
KONDRACKE: You know, which I think was irresponsible and designed to, to dampen down turnout there and to contribute to, to Bush’s defeat.
But nonetheless, look, the, I think that there’s, there’s every possibility that this could be a great success. Let’s hope it’s a great success.
Here’s President Bush talking about expectations, raising them a little and lowering them a little. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The fact that they’re voting in itself is successful. Again, this is a long process. It is a process that will begin to write a constitution, and then elect a permanent assembly. And this process will take place over this next year. It’s a, it is a grand moment for those who believe in freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: Recent polls show that a majority of respondents disapprove of President Bush’s handling in Iraq. FOX has it at 51 percent. And it’s been as high as 58 percent in the Washington Post poll. But asked, in our FOX poll, if the Iraqi people are better off because of U.S. intervention, 59 percent say yes, and 52 percent say that Iraq, a democratic Iraq would make the world safer for terrorism, and, significantly, a majority of the American people do not want to pull out the way Teddy Kennedy said they should. So the public is sticking with Bush, and you know, I hope it all works out.
BARNES: Sure you don’t have three or four more polls that you could, any poll numbers you can cite?
A lot of quibbles and complaints, not just from Teddy Kennedy, but from others, about, about this election. You know, why aren’t there separate electoral districts? Well, you know, it would have taken a census, a national census. Never been one in Iraq. The election would be two years from now.
Then there’s the idea, you know, that there won’t be enough Sunnis elected because the Sunnis will stay away from the polls. But look, even on some of the Shiite electoral lists, and this is being done by a proportional representation, they’re on the, Sunnis are on the Shiite lists, and there are ways to put more Sunnis in the legislature when people leave the legislature to join the cabinet.
I realize I’m getting down in the, in the weeds here.
KONDRACKE: So are you, are you rooting for the Allawi slate or the Sistani slate? Or do you care?
BARNES: I really don’t care. I think they’re both very good. Sistani’s a force for good, and certainly Allawi’s a force for good. But let’s not worry about the Sunni turnout should not be the measure of success in this election. It was a good idea regardless of the turnout in the Sunni area.
KONDRACKE: Hear, hear.
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