[Homestead] Votes are a transforming event

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 28 15:06:30 EDT 2004

Not in Florida of course where Harris and Hood were appointed to scrub 
thousands of black voters off the voting rolls (too likely to vote 
Democrat).  But in El Salvador and in the truncated Iraq where entering 
a voting booth is not suicide, it is the best transforming event too.

The New York Times

          September 28, 2004


    The Insurgency Buster


Conditions were horrible when Salvadorans went to the polls on March 28, 
1982. The country was in the midst of a civil war that would take 75,000 
lives. An insurgent army controlled about a third of the nation's 
territory. Just before election day, the insurgents stepped up their 
terror campaign. They attacked the National Palace, staged highway 
assaults that cut the nation in two and blew up schools that were to be 
polling places.

Yet voters came out in the hundreds of thousands. In some towns, they 
had to duck beneath sniper fire to get to the polls. In San Salvador, a 
bomb went off near a line of people waiting outside a polling station. 
The people scattered, then the line reformed. "This nation may be 
falling apart," one voter told The Christian Science Monitor, "but by 
voting we may help to hold it together."

Conditions were scarcely better in 1984, when Salvadorans got to vote 
again. Nearly a fifth of the municipalities were not able to participate 
in the elections because they were under guerrilla control. The 
insurgents mined the roads to cut off bus service to 40 percent of the 
country. Twenty bombs were planted around the town of San Miguel. Once 
again, people voted with the sound of howitzers in the background.

Yet these elections proved how resilient democracy is, how even in the 
most chaotic circumstances, meaningful elections can be held.

They produced a National Assembly, and a president, José Napoleón 
Duarte. They gave the decent majority a chance to display their own 
courage and dignity. War, tyranny and occupation sap dignity, but voting 
restores it.

The elections achieved something else: They undermined the insurgency. 
El Salvador wasn't transformed overnight. But with each succeeding 
election into the early 90's, the rebels on the left and the death 
squads on the right grew weaker, and finally peace was achieved, and the 
entire hemisphere felt the effects.

I mention this case study because we are approaching election day in 
Afghanistan on Oct. 9. Six days later, voter registration begins in 
Iraq. Conditions in both places will be tense and chaotic. And in 
Washington, a mood of bogus tough-mindedness has swept the political 
class. As William Raspberry wrote yesterday in The Washington Post, "the 
new consensus seems to be that bringing American-style democracy to Iraq 
is no longer an achievable goal." We should just settle for what John 
Kerry calls "stability." We should be satisfied if some strongman comes 
in who can restore order.

The people who make this argument pat themselves on the back for being 
hard-headed, but the fact is they are naïve. They've got things exactly 
backward. The reason we should work for full democracy in Iraq and 
Afghanistan is not just because it's noble, but because it's practical. 
It is easier to defeat an insurgency and restore order with elections 
than without.

As we saw in El Salvador and as Iraqi insurgents understand, elections 
suck the oxygen from a rebel army. They refute the claim that violence 
is the best way to change things. Moreover, they produce democratic 
leaders who are much better equipped to win an insurgency war.

It's hard to beat an illegitimate insurgency with an illegitimate 
dictatorship. Strongmen have to whip up ethnic nationalism to lure 
soldiers to their side. They end up inciting blood feuds and reaping the 

A democratically elected leader, on the other hand, can do what Duarte 
did. He can negotiate with rebels, invite them into the political 
process and co-opt any legitimate grievances. He can rally people on all 
sides of the political spectrum, who are united by their attachment to 
the democratic idea. In Iraq, he can exploit the insurgents' greatest 
weakness: they have no positive agenda.

Of course the situation in El Salvador is not easily comparable to the 
situations in Afghanistan or Iraq. On the other hand, over the past 
30-odd years, democracy has spread at the rate of one and a half nations 
per year. It has spread among violence-racked nations and to 18 that are 
desperately poor. And it has spread not only because it inspires, but 
also because it works.

It's simply astounding that in the United States, the home of the 
greatest and most effective democratic revolution, so many people have 
come to regard democracy as a luxury-brand vehicle, suited only for the 
culturally upscale, when it's really a sturdy truck, effective in 
conditions both rough and smooth.

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