Two of the more aggressively anti-Bush newspapers had repeatedly question the timetable for the Iraqi elections in its editorials over the past few weeks. Now that the elections have been proven a spectacular success, I thought a visit to the editorial pages of New York’s and Los Angeles’ leading papers would be revealing.
The LAT appears more ready to concede that the elections were a resounding success and give credit for Bush’s tenacity for holding to the promised schedule for voting:
It takes courage to vote with the sound of mortars and gunfire still ringing and memories of terrorist beheadings still fresh. Whatever the final tally of the turnout Sunday in Iraq, the willingness of millions to defy suicide bombers and killers who threatened havoc at the polls provided some unequivocal good news. Not least, the world could honestly see American troops making it possible for a long-oppressed people to choose their destiny. …
Turnout appeared low, as expected, in Sunni areas, higher in Shiite and Kurdish strongholds. Insurgents managed to kill more than 40 people, despite traffic bans. President Bush said last week, “I urge people to defy these terrorists.” Many did so, leading Bush to proclaim Iraq committed to democracy. He was somewhat ahead of events, for commitment will require forming a government that continues to advance peace and stability. But the Bush administration was proved right in sticking to its election timetable.
All in all, the Los Angeles Times provided a reasoned, balanced, and fair look at the election and its meaning, although I think it missed the truly historic and strategic nature of the event. Acknowledging that Iraqi self-determination is good does not take much risk in an editorial, after all. However, they still manage to outdo their East Coast counterparts:
This page has not hesitated to criticize the Bush administration over its policies in Iraq, and we continue to have grave doubts about the overall direction of American strategy there. Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day.
But once the votes are fully counted and the new governing and constitution-writing bodies begin their work, those errors, particularly the needless estrangement of mainstream Sunni Arabs and their political leaders, must be urgently addressed. In the longer run, this election can only be counted as a success if it helps lead to a unified Iraq that avoids civil war and attracts a broad enough range of Iraqis to defend itself against its enemies without requiring long-term and substantial American military help.
That day has now become easier to envision. But it still appears very far off. It’s impossible to say, in the glow of election day, how many of the millions of Iraqis who voted did so in hopes that they were making the first step toward a Shiite theocracy. Many – though certainly not all – Shiite leaders have said repeatedly that that they want to work toward an inclusive secular state in which all groups have a stake. What happens next will depend to a considerable extent on the wisdom and restraint the largely Shiite victors show in reaching out to Sunnis who have felt unfairly marginalized.
The Gray Lady cannot bring herself to utter the three most obvious words taken from yesterday’s news: Bush was right. Not only that, but we get more defeatism in the midst of victory with the NYT fretting about whether voters wanted to use democracy to create a theocracy, and how the Sunni feel “unfairly” marginalized by a voluntary boycott.
I have to admit, though, that the New York Times at least managed to outdo the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Despite its overheated and incoherent rhetoric on all things Bush, utter silence has fallen over the Strib’s opinion page today. The editorial board of the state’s leading newspaper has absolutely nothing to say about the remarkable victory of democracy over fear in Iraq yesterday, or the liberation of millions of people from former tyranny and the present threat of Islamofascist oppression. Not one word. Cowards.