For the Bush White House, the good news from Iraq just never stops. But the joy that President Bush has expressed over the country's latest election, though more restrained than his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, will similarly come back to haunt him.
Soon after Bush spoke of the Iraqi election as "a landmark day in the history of liberty," early returns representing 90 percent of the ballots cast in the Iraq election established that the clear winners were Shiite and Sunni religious parties not the least bit interested in Western-style democracy or individual freedom -- including such extremists as Muqtada al-Sadr, whose fanatical followers have fought pitched battles with U.S. troops.
The silver lining, of course, is that the election did see broad participation, if not particularly clean execution. And because all of the leading parties say they want the United States to leave on a clear and public time line, this should provide adequate cover for a staged but complete withdrawal from a sovereign country that we had no right to invade in the first place.
What we will leave behind, after hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lost lives, will be a long ways from the neoconservative fantasy of creating a compliant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. It is absurd for Bush to assert that the election "means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror," ignoring how he has "lost" Iraq to the influence and model of "Axis of Evil" Iran. Tehran's rogue regime, which has bedeviled every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter, now looms larger than ever over the region and most definitely over its oil. "Iran wins big in Iraq's election," reads an Asia Times headline, speaking a truth that American policy makers and much of the media is bent on ignoring: "The Shiite religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), not only held together, but also can be expected to dominate the new 275-member National Assembly for the next four years," the paper predicts based on the returns to date. "Former premier Ayad Allawi's prospects of leading the new government seem virtually nil. And Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Accord suffered a shattering defeat."
Allawi and Chalabi are the Iraqi exiles and U.S. intelligence "assets" who played such a huge role in getting the United States into this war. Chalabi, in particular, will go down in history as one of the great con artists of all time, managing to feed phony intelligence to the White House, the New York Times and countless other power players who found his lies convenient for one reason or another. Now, despite -- or, more likely, because of -- their long stints on the U.S. payroll, both of these wannabe George Washingtons have been overwhelmingly rejected by their countrymen. Chalabi, long the darling of the Pentagon, seems headed to obtaining less than 1 percent of the vote nationwide and will fail to win his own seat. Allawi's slate, favored more by the CIA, will end up in the low teens. As much as one should despise the role played by those two men in getting us into this mess, their abject failure is not a good thing for they carried the banner of a more modern and secular Iraq, which is essential to peace and human rights progress. But the Iraqi people will have to come to that truth on their own and not as a result of foreign intervention that only fuels the most irrational political and religious forces. Unfortunately, it is hardly an advertisement for our democratic way of life that the American people were so easily deceived as to the reasons for this war. Or that our president resists the condemnation of torture, renders captured prisoners to be interrogated in the savage prisons of Uzbekistan and Syria, and claims an unrestrained right to spy on U.S. citizens.
Nor does it help that this president is so publicly bent on intruding government-imposed religious values into American civil life, while urging secular tolerance upon the Islamic world. Or that he remains so blind to the reality of life in that world that he still does not grasp that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were on opposite sides of the enormous struggle over the primacy of religion in the Arab world. Iraq, for all of its massive deficiencies, was not a center of religious fanaticism before the U.S. invasion, and the Islamic fanatics that are the president's sworn enemy in the so-called "war on terror" did not have a foothold in the country. Now, primitive religious fundamentalism forms the dominant political culture in Iraq and the best outcome for U.S. policy is the hope that Shiite and Sunni fanatics can check each other long enough for the United States to beat a credible retreat and call it a victory, albeit a pyrrhic one.