Monday, January 31, 2005

Ink on the finger

All weekend I was fighting a cold -- sleeping as much as possible, and not good for much when awake. But I was able to follow news of the Iraqi elections, and I am in awe of the people of Iraq. I can't help thinking that this is a tremendous victory.

Of course, we may yet fail. But isn't there a sense that, with the success of the elections, the meanings of events have irreversibly shifted? It is much harder now to see Iraq simply as the oppressed victim of superpower aggression. It is much harder to see Zarqawi and his minions as anything but the thugs they are. And the President' inaugural rhetoric now seems less a flight of feel-good fancy as a sober description of exactly what we have been up to all along.

The Bush Administration has not gotten everything right. Heavens, no! On the other hand, they have gotten right some pretty big things. The President said that our enemies were motivated by hatred of freedom and democracy, and he was criticized for being simplistic. But in the run-up to this election, Zarqawi basically agreed with him. The Administration never wavered about the date for these elections, even under a hailstorm of punditry about how the date was impossible. But guess what -- they happened. And the Administration has been saying for ages that free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq would have a powerful salutary political effect throughout the region. From the signs so far, I'm guessing they're going to be right about that, too. Time will tell.

It's been suggested that the President should show up for the State of the Union address later this week with an ink-stained forefinger, to show solidarity with the Iraqis. I think this particular gesture would be a very bad idea. The ink-stained forefinger is a mark of the civic courage of countless Iraqis who voted, knowing there were bad guys who would try to stop them and kill them. It is their badge of honor, not ours. This is the time to step back, put the spotlight on them, and join the applause.

You show solidarity to give courage to your friends when they are facing troubles. You are telling them that they are not facing their troubles alone. When a victory has been won, though, "showing solidarity" is all about retrospectively claiming a part in the victory. In a word, it becomes grandstanding.

Watch for lots of gestures of solidarity from the Europeans in the time ahead. But ink on the President's finger? That might have happened, maybe, if the other guy had won our election.


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