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Give Iraqis the Vote. Our Vote.

Most Iraqis agree on one thing: Regardless of a political shift in the White House, U.S. policy in Iraq is on a set course, determined by special interests. So if we're going to rebuild Iraq, we need to rebuild our credibility among Iraqis-a constituency largely lost in the yawning gap between the rhetoric..


Most Iraqis agree on one thing: Regardless of a political shift in the White House, U.S. policy in Iraq is on a set course, determined by special interests. So if we're going to rebuild Iraq, we need to rebuild our credibility among Iraqis-a constituency largely lost in the yawning gap between the rhetoric in Washington and the reality in Baghdad. There is one real and radical way to make sure this happens: We should offer the Iraqi people the opportunity to vote in the 2008 American presidential election.Letting Iraqis vote in our election would tether us to the fate of the Iraqi people and force us to own this war in a way that-despite the ultimate sacrifice of more than four thousand American soldiers-we haven't as a country. It would change the dynamic between Iraqis and Americans working on the ground in Iraq for a better, more stable, lasting democracy. And it would have a tremendous impact on our credibility in the region, perhaps even persuading some of the estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries to return home to rebuild their country.I don't mean to suggest that Iraq should become America's 51st state. This would be a one-off, temporary measure. But its impact could be enormous. Iraq has a population of about 28 million-that's more than Texas but less than California, the most populous state in the union. Perhaps McCain and Obama would go to Iraq to campaign in Fallujah and Samarra, Basra and Erbil. This would allow them to hear from Iraqis directly, and it would bring news coverage of Iraq back to the front page.
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McCain and Obama would come to Iraq to campaign in Fallujah and Samarra, Basra and Erbil.
Giving Iraqis the vote would shatter conceptions of the United States as an aloof, imperialistic force, and instead demonstrate to the world our commitment to democracy in the region by sharing with Iraqis the process we cherish so deeply at home. This would be more than just a public-relations stunt aimed solely at improving our reputation-though it would be that as well. We should let Iraqis vote in the election because we invaded their country and broke open sectarian tensions, religious animosities, and deep-buried hatreds. And as long as our forces are the only ones strong enough to hold the country together, we should give Iraqis a say-not the final say, but a say-in how those forces are deployed. It's not just that we owe Iraqis the chance to vote for our president, it's that any Iraq watcher today knows that our presence there is unquestionably intertwined with Iraq's own damaged political process. The American embassy in Baghdad feels like no other embassy in the world not because it's in one of Saddam's former palaces, but because it is the nerve center of Iraq's future, the ultimate seat of power.Americans must be disabused of the false notion that Iraq is on an independent path to freedom and democracy at peace with itself and its neighbors, as was stated time and again by Bush administration lackeys in the early days of the war. That goal was always "just around the corner," a refrain to justify our continued presence. It was a lark.When I was in Iraq earlier this year, most people hadn't heard of Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton was a familiar name, but conventional wisdom stated that the Republicans would maintain power for the next four years. In one of the more absurd moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator Clinton told Tim Russert that Iraqi politicians "follow everything that I say." Not quite. But Iraqis know that their fate is tied to that of the American presidential candidates. Let's make it explicit.
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