Can we be permitted to report some good news about U.S. foreign policy?
The recent elections in Afghanistan are another important step in the ongoing democratization of the Middle East, though little noted or appreciated by the mainstream media. It was an election largely free of the violence that was predicted to accompany it. Yes, the Taliban is still around, and the poppy trade is flourishing. Old habits die hard, but Hamid Karzai is proving a great model for new leadership in the region.
The elections were for parliament, not for president. And as with our elections, when it is a presidential election year, the turnout is much higher. Fifty-three percent of the electorate, or about six-and-a-half million people, turned out to vote, a much higher percentage than we get in this country during non-presidential election years.
What was at stake were the 249-seat People’s Council and 34 provisional councils. It will take several weeks following the September 18th vote to determine the winners. Political parties were banned, and 5,800 candidates ran individually. Women comprised 44 percent of the registered voters, and 582 women candidates competed for 68 seats reserved for women.
Violence was generally held in check. According to an analysis by James S. Robbins for NationalReview.com, there were 19 attacks leaving nine dead. The threats were certainly there. The Taliban said the election was not lawful, and they wouldn’t honor any legislation the new parliament passes. They threatened all candidates, winners and losers, as not being “safe from [their] bullets.” And al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a tape calling the election a “fraud.”
But as Robbins points out, “not all the radicals agreed. This election was noteworthy for the participation of many former Taliban, under the conditions of a general amnesty President Hamid Karzai announced last spring, part of a general national reconciliation program.” The obvious purpose was to divide the opposition, and to expand the number of constituencies with a stake in the future.
While it is easy to explain away the general lack of coverage to the overwhelming news of hurricane disasters, the New York Times actually acknowledged the importance of this milestone. But it was done in the context of saying that, in contrast to Afghanistan, the democratic process in Iraq was somehow a mistake and not worth the sacrifice.
“Afghanistan and Iraq were both invaded by United States-led forces,” the Times said in an editorial, “which overthrew outlaw regimes. Both have new constitutions, guided by the same American diplomat. Both have foreign armies of significant size on their sovereign soil. But Iraq is careering toward civil war, while Afghanistan has just completed an encouragingly inclusive parliamentary election. Iraq cannot even begin to talk about defending itself without American troops. Afghanistan is already saying it’s time for the United States to cease major military operations on its territory.”
It is difficult even for the Times to criticize what is happening in Afghanistan. So it coupled its praise with criticism of the war in Iraq. Clearly it is not going perfectly in Iraq. But the election process continues with a referendum on a new constitution in October, the rebuilding of schools, hospitals and power plants, and an increasing security force that will one day in the next two or three years be prepared to take over the battle against the forces opposed to freedom and democracy in Iraq.
The same week as the Afghanistan elections, a significant military victory occurred in the western Iraqi town of Tal Afar, not far from the Syrian border. According to the Wall Street Journal, “a force of about 5,000 Iraqis and 3,800 Americans had killed at least 157 terrorists, detained 440 suspects, and discovered 34 weapons caches, all while suffering minimal casualties.” It was a very hopeful sign in a war that is perceived at home as becoming increasingly unpopular.
But to acknowledge the positive events going on might mean having to admit that our policy is working-that our effort to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, while far from smooth sailing, is at least continuing. The election in Egypt also took place, to little fanfare.
Ayman Nour, the parliamentarian and opposition leader who was jailed earlier in the year, came in second in the September 7th elections in Egypt, behind President Hosni Mubarak. But the fact that these elections took place at all, combined with elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the removal of Syrian troops who have occupied Lebanon for decades, are all consequences of the American-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam’s Baathist regime in Iraq, and al Qaeda.
These developments have provided hope to tens of millions of people, leading them to believe that in the coming decades they might actually have a say in how they are governed and have opportunities to develop as enlightened and prosperous societies.
This is news-great news. American forces have liberated tens of millions of people. But don’t look for any front page banner headlines about this from the liberal press.