Yes it's cheating. But why should the Bush administration be the only one to play games with numbers?
There've just been too many stories and too many possibilities to write about this past week. Not all of them have been about "insurgents" or Kafkaesque electoral logistics. I've felt moved if not hopeful reading the words of expectant Iraqi voters; I've been more disgusted than ever at the bluster and denial coming from the White House; and I've been shocked into doubtful silence at the increasing violence and viciousness threatening Iraqis in their "sovereign" homeland, and the threat of more. (This includes the thousands of civilian victims of American military actions, whom the Iraqi government is finally officially accounting for). In the end, all I can think of is that tomorrow those possibilities will narrow down to more bodies, more smoking ruins, and more screaming survivors. For the outside world, if not for the Iraqis themselves, the success or failure of these elections may depend on a run-off of media images: will the pictures of living voters, bravely exercising their right to self-determination, outweigh those of Iraqis who never lived to see the result of their vote, or to vote at all.
One thing that's nagged at me this week is how much these "ordinary" Iraqis, living and the dead, will be the victims of forces that have nothing to do with Iraqi interests and Iraqi hopes, whether of democratic accountability or ethnic supremacy. The decision to fix the date of voting on January 30, and accept all the risks that go with it, had vastly more to with the American presidential elections, and returning the Republicans to the White House, than what was best for Iraqis, of whatever political or ethnic affiliation. I have to agree the fierce logic of the Sunnis who argue that voting in this election represents collaboration with the interests of an occupying power. The Iraqis who die hoping to bring representative government to their country will, in a very real sense, have sacrificed their lives for two elections, their own and ours.
I found myself thinking yesterday of the words of Bush’s presidential opponent, John Kerry, after he’d returned from an earlier failed adventure in American values: “How do you ask someone to be the last man to die for an idea?” At least in Vietnam, we were only asking that question of our own people. And the idea, hollow as it was, was something more than four more years of George Bush.