Charles Krauthammer's column today is a shift of focus from domestic politics to the other side of the world.
Preoccupied as it was poring through Tom Daschle's tax returns, Washington hardly noticed a near-miracle abroad. Iraq held provincial elections. There was no Election Day violence. Security was handled by Iraqi forces with little U.S. involvement. A fabulous bazaar of 14,400 candidates representing 400 parties participated, yielding results highly favorable to both Iraq and the United States.
Iraq moved away from religious sectarianism toward more secular nationalism. "All the parties that had the words 'Islamic' or 'Arab' in their names lost," noted Middle East expert Amir Taheri. "By contrast, all those that had the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi' gained."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ... won a smashing victory. His chief rival, a more sectarian and pro-Iranian Shiite religious party, was devastated. Another major Islamic party, the pro-Iranian Sadr faction, went from 11 percent of the vote to 3 percent, losing badly in its stronghold of Baghdad. The Islamic Fadhila party that had dominated Basra was almost wiped out.
All this barely pierced the consciousness of official Washington. After all, it fundamentally contradicts the general establishment/media narrative of Iraq as "fiasco."
Krauthammer criticizes the conservatives who were naysayers after the first Iraqi elections, the ones who condescendingly view Iraqis as "primitives [having] no conception of democracy." They seem to have taken no notice of the growth of democracy and and the flurry of opinionated political debate there.
The big strategic winner here is the United States. The big loser is Iran. The parties Tehran backed are in retreat. The prime minister who staked his career on a strategic cooperation agreement with the United States emerged victorious. Moreover, this realignment from enemy state to emerging democratic ally, unlike Egypt's flip from Soviet to U.S. ally in the 1970s, is not the work of a single autocrat (like Anwar Sadat), but a reflection of national opinion expressed in a democratic election.
This good news, however, has the potential of being tarnished.
This is not to say that these astonishing gains are irreversible. There loom three possible threats: (a) a coup from a rising and relatively clean military disgusted with the corruption of civilian politicians -- the familiar post-colonial pattern of the past half-century; (b) a strongman emerging from a democratic system (Maliki?) and then subverting it, following the Russian and Venezuelan models; or (c) the collapse of the current system because of a premature U.S. withdrawal that leads to a collapse of security.
Averting the first two is the job of Iraqis. Averting the third is the job of the U.S.
When you become president of the United States you inherit its history, even the parts you would have done differently. Obama might argue that American sacrifices in Iraq were not worth what we achieved. But for the purposes of current and future policy, that is entirely moot.
Despite Obama's opposition, America went on to create a small miracle in the heart of the Arab Middle East. President Obama is now the custodian of that miracle. It is his duty as leader of the nation that gave birth to this fledgling democracy to ensure that he does nothing to undermine it.
I won't be holding my breath. President Obama seems out of his league with both domestic and foreign issues. We must hope that Obama keeps our military in Iraq until that country can stabilize and strengthen itself enough to maintain security without us.