Iraqis put us to shame for a day |

Iraqis put us to shame for a day

Alan Braunholtz

Life is good here. So much so that we take too much for granted. The images of Iraqis dancing in the streets because they had the opportunity to vote shames our apathy, bored ennui or sheer laziness where civic duty and elections are concerned.Sixty percent turnout in a country where the threats of car bombs, retaliation and the full menu of standard terrorist intimidation provided more than enough excuses to stay at home. The only excuse we have here is a dumb, self-fulfilling one: “It doesn’t matter. They’re all the same. Controlled by ‘outside’ interests!” Sure, the lobbyist sponsored parties at any inauguration can give this impression as they toast and throw money at their man – nothing to do with buying influence, of course, just happy to support good governance. But it’s our fault. We have the choice to elect someone not controlled by big business, unions, gun nuts, environmentalists, the religious right, etc. (talk to enough people and this list will never end!) if we bothered to educate ourselves beyond a slick TV ad. Read, read and read would be good advice for an issue or candidate you’re interested in. Imagine trying to explain any parenting issue in a 10-second clip. Nothing is that simple. TV dumbs us down and only gets away with it because of hypnotizing cool graphics and emotional manipulation.Iraq’s elections are a significant first step, and congratulations to the Iraqi prime minister and President Bush for not delaying the vote. If it was a gamble, it worked. This election wasn’t perfect. But few, including our own, are. You play with the rules you’ve got and try to make them fairer as you go. Ukraine shows what happens when parties abuse their power and go the other way.Now the insurgents, rebels or whatever aren’t fighting the U.S. as much as fighting the government of the Iraqi people. It’s a huge psychological shift, even with many Sunnis failing to vote. Strange that after some Sunni leaders organized a boycott they’re now saying this election doesn’t count because not enough Sunnis voted. Huh? The presence of Iraqi policemen protecting the polls reinforced that feeling of “this is our country and government” that the insurgents are desperate to destroy. Fighting outsiders is a much easier sell. Every policeman there is putting his and his family’s lives at risk to stand up for what he sees as his country. I hope I never have to make that brave a choice. The policemen are a symbol and part of the answer to the contradictory realities facing the new government of Iraq. Security-wise, the government can’t afford the for U.S. Army to leave. And politically, they can’t let the U.S. Army stay. The answer to this paradox will take the time needed for the development of Iraq’s own security forces and the political embrace of Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. Somehow, Allawi will have to convince these minorities that his government is their government, too.It’s a challenge for any democracy to represent all the people and hard enough in a country where there are no fixed barriers to the minority view gaining ground through force of argument. In Iraq – where religious, ethnic and tribal divisions create permanent minorities – it’s difficult. Without safeguards, majority rule can be a tyranny as bad as any for permanent minorities. That’s something our founders were painfully aware of, hence the three (hopefully) stubbornly independent branches of government and the Constitution. Amendments and lockstep judiciary appointments are something to be very wary of. I hope the U.S. will be there long enough to give all this a chance to happen. The shortsighted view of declaring victory, Iraq free of WMD and leaving Iraq in the lurch may play well here, but in that case the whole war really will have been a horrible waste of lives. Yes, we planned the initial occupation so poorly that we’ve added years to the time frame, but you can’t change the past.I don’t know how this will play out. It may need the support of other Middle Eastern powers. Some see these elections as a great democratic step, while others are more cynical about this U.S.-installed democracy. We’ve been a lot less forceful in promoting democracies in countries like Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, instead lending support in exchange for advantageous economic and political deals. If we’re going to push democracy, we should go whole hog and look past short-term real politick advantages where possible.Anyway, the struggles (and deaths) in Iraq are making me feel a bit pathetic with my political responsibilities. Here without threat of car bombs I can attend and give input at all sorts of meetings, but rarely do. The county master plan is even available on the Web for my input at With the county’s population set to double in the next 20 years, this plan should have a large say in our future quality of life – if we hold our elected officials to it. Visit the plan. Let your elected officials know you care, and then dance through the streets of Eagle afterward.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail Colorado

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