[Homestead] Votes are a transforming event
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
*By DAVID BROOKS*
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
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
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
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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