American Politicians Set Wrong Example for Iraqis

How the newly Iraqi government should behave itself, we Americans seem to know in detail: There should be moderation in speech and deed and a lot of compromise. So should there be a closing of gaps between groups with divergent interests for the sake of the greater good.

In other words, Iraqis should look at how American politicians currently are behaving, and then they should do the diametrical opposite.

 Division, bitterness, calumnies — if we could run automobiles and heat homes on commodities like these, we wouldn’t need Iraq’s oil, or anyone else’s.

As an example to the world of how sensible democracies function during crises, the United States flunks. What an irony it would be were Iraq’s elected officialdom to behave toward each other with a moderation and forbearance greater than, say, that which Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean employ when they speak of George Bush! As for Bush’s own Republicans, it might well and truly be said of them or, at any rate, a majority of them: What bunch of losers!

 On the left, salivating Democrats wave around The New York Times’ accusation that the Bush administration trashed the Constitution by authorizing "illegal" domestic wiretaps, trying to uncover potential terrorist activity. On the so-called right, Sen. John McCain uses his personal prestige to ram through a law that may oblige the United States to treat suspected terrorists with a politesse usually reserved in our criminal system for murderers with ACLU lawyers. At the same time, a weakly opposed Democratic filibuster sinks renewal of the Patriot Act over extraneous concerns, such as: Shall we let the government track patterns of library use?

 It took the Iraqis — oddly enough — to remind those of us who were paying attention that to practice and maintain democracy, you first have to defeat its opponents.

 No one, I think, would argue that democracy, Iraqi-style, stands in direct descent from Runnymede or, for that matter, from Tammany Hall. Yet some, I hope, might argue that the political pettiness and petulance on display in the liberating country — the United States — don’t make American-style deeply appetizing. Shall I just come out and say it? We’ve got people in Washington, D.C. — and I don’t mean the president — behaving like nut cases.

 For all that 30,000 Iraqis and 2,000 Americans have died in the carnage of the past three years, the American media and all too many American politicians — Democrats chiefly but not entirely — can’t see the forest for the trees. Consider The New York Times’ decision to publish during the Iraqi election an "expose" of domestic wiretapping. For one thing, it’s by no means clear these instances of wiretapping are prohibited. Still less clear is the question: Did the wiretaps serve a purpose — that of preserving innocent American life? Those making the ruckus about the wiretaps — without, of course, knowing the facts of the case — seemingly assume that "privacy" rights trump the governmental obligation to preserve citizens’ lives and limbs.

 Like heck they do. Has privacy no standing around here? You know it does; we all know it. But the winning of a dangerous conflict ought to enjoy some standing, too. As Bush noted at his Monday press conference: "I happen to know there is an enemy there. And the enemy wants to attack us." You know — "attack," as in fly airplanes into skyscrapers. Or worse.

Democracy presupposes choice. But not all choices are sensible or wise. Some choices, like that of powerful Democrats to undermine the commander-in-chief’s position whenever possible, are malicious and appalling. Maybe even "shameful" — Bush’s word for the leak to The New York Times of information on the eavesdropping. Nor does McCain help anybody or anything by hustling legislation that may make our extraction of information from captives all the harder.

An American can’t help wondering sometimes why other Americans give themselves such airs when it comes to politics. Do we play the game half as well as we think? Or perhaps that’s the point: We suppose politics all to be a game without real-world consequences. Let’s put the question to Washingtonians in a poll. Except I think I already know the result.