Democracy taking root?

By Mark Follman
Published February 1, 2005 1:00AM (EST)

First things first: It is possible to hope for democracy to succeed in Iraq -- to wish for the best possible outcome for the Iraqis themselves, and for the rest of the world -- while still being fully critical of the Bush administration's numerous disastrous war policies. Setting aside all debate about the war's inception, it is possible to criticize Bush's policies precisely because one wishes for the best possible outcome in Iraq.

The high voter turnout across Iraq on Sunday, in defiance of terrorist violence, is a victory in its own right; President Bush is currently making that case to the Europeans, who, as Tom Friedman argued recently, have at least as big of a stake as the U.S. does in seeing Iraqi democracy succeed.

Still, many on the political right are quick to argue that skepticism amounts to betrayal of the cause -- that any talk of a quagmire or any comparison of Iraq with Vietnam is not only defeatist, but is no different than rooting for the terrorists themselves.

Perhaps they've forgotten the adage: He who ignores history is doomed to repeat it. A blogger over at Daily Kos posted this article today from the New York Times archive, which makes for some interesting reading at the moment.

"U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote:
"Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

"by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times -- Sept. 4, 1967

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

"According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

"The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

"A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.

"The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government."

As we know, the last U.S. helicopter took off from Saigon more than seven years later, on April 30, 1975, and the nascent government fell shortly thereafter.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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