A Dragon, Eating Its Tail

It appears that Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi is finding fewer and fewer friends these days as now Saddam loyalists have turned against al-Qaeda and are promising to protect Iraqi polling places from violence. One of the large-scale goals that needs to be achieved to obtain stability in Iraq is to legitimize the political process – and it appears this is exactly what’s happening. Again, I return to Samuel Huntington’s work on democratization theory – by creating an environment in which even ex-Ba’athists feel that the political process and not the insurgency is the proper way to represent their interests, the chances for a lasting democracy have increased dramatically.

The feeling of marginalization among the Sunnis has helped drive much of the insurgency in Iraq, but finally the Sunnis are realizing that the political process will not go away and their previous actions in boycotting the elections only set them back. The Sunnis can’t necessarily win in a winner-take-all system. but in Iraq’s parliamentary system, Sunni parties can easily play kingmaker in a coalition government.

Furthermore, there’s a general sense of optimism in Iraq – in fact, the Iraqis are more positive about their own lives than Americans are. Two thirds of Iraqis polled believe that things will be better for them in the future. Most importantly, 57% of Iraqis support democratization, while only 14% would prefer to see an Islamic state – again, a sign that the Iraqi people see the process of democratization as an inevitability. The more people see democracy as their only valid option, the less support there will be for violent resistance.

The process of democratization is always a matter of two steps forward, one step back. The Sunnis, while increasingly accepting of the democratic process, still remain less optimistic than the rest of Iraq. Al-Anbar province remains a danger zone for the rest of the country. The government needs to do more to crack down on Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in the south of Iraq at the same time they fight al-Qaeda fighters in al-Anbar. The issue of abuse in Iraq prisons needs to be dealt with, and the government needs to set firm rules regarding the treatment of prisoners – and severely punish those responsible for abuses.

Those who say that Iraq is doomed to fly apart in bloody ethnic conflict are wrong. Iraq’s fate has not been written yet, and the democratic process is continuing to expand outward into Iraq’s Sunni population. We cannot expect Iraq to turn into Connecticut overnight – even after the 15th there will still be a long way to go before Iraq will have settled the many issues it faces in regards to ethnicity, politics, religion, and security. What matters, however, is not the speed of the process, but its direction. It is unquestionable that Iraq is going in the right direction. Our responsibility is to protect and support that process while the Iraqi people continue to work at rebuilding their country.

It is interesting to compare and contrast American attitudes towards Iraq with the attitudes of those who are in Iraq, both US troops and the Iraqis themselves. While the US public is fed a steady diet of slanted, negative reporting, the Iraqi people and troops in the field see life in Iraq as it actually is. Terrorism is losing its power in Iraq – groups like al-Qaeda have proven that they do not represent all Muslims as one combined ummah but are perfectly willing to slaughter fellow Muslims who do not represent their radical views.

The War on Terror, both in Iraq and elsewhere, is being won. The dragon is eating its own tail, it’s own violence destroying the very ideological cachet which sustains it. It’s one thing to be part of a group that represents freedom and an end to oppression and a return to a purer culture – it’s another thing entirely to walk around and slaughter all those who disagree, including innocent Muslims. The doctrine of terrorism is being exposed for the evil that it is, and the moderate Muslim majority is finally willing to speak out.

Muslims are rightly sick and tired of being associated with head-lopping fanatics. They are rightly sick and tired of living in autocracies that systematically deny them the basic rights that others have. They are rightly sick and tired of being poor, uneducated, and kept culturally backwards. One of the greatest achievements in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t be felt for another generation – as those students who are now in schools across those two countries build a new future for their nations.

The next generation could very well be the beginning of a new Renaissance in the Muslim world as the chains of radicalism are broken and a new sense of optimism spreads across the Middle East. Yet that future is no more assured than the predictions of imminent disaster. The US can do its part by continuing to foster the democratic process in Iraq, but it is ultimately up to the people of the Middle East to determine their own future.

One thing we do know, and everything we’re now seeing in Iraq is a reminder of this, is that there is no power in history comparable to the human desire for freedom. No autocracy or tyranny has ever withstood that power. In spite of all the violence in Iraq, the people of Iraq have gained more and more confidence in the democratic process. Democracy is not some arbitrary construct of Western society, it is the only system of government compatible with basic human aspirations and human rights. The people of Iraq are bravely forging a new future for themselves, and men like al-Zarqawi cannot stop the democratic process. The Iraqi see democracy as an inevitability, and they are right to do so.

The will of the Iraqi people isn’t represented by guns and bombs, but by votes, and it is time that our media and politicians realized which side needs and deserves our support.

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