"It's all about avenging his daddy," we said.
"It's all about imperialism and enriching the Military-Industrial Complex," we said.
"It's about the oil."
It just didn't make sense. After all, if they really believed in democracy, wouldn't they have insisted on counting all the votes in Florida, and abided by the results? Besides, you can't impose democracy at the point of a gun. Democracy is more than elections. Saddam had "elections." Democracy requires values, traditions, and institutions that require centuries to build. There was no history of it in Iraq.
But this week, humbly but gladly, I've had to take it all back. Democracy has indeed come to Iraq, and it could not have been made clearer than when prime minister Nouri al-Maliki told 150,000 foreign troops occupying his country and their commander-in-chief: You have to leave.
At issue is the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA, as in, we intend to recline here a while) governing the US military presence in Iraq, which must be negotiated between our two countries before the end of the year. The UN mandate legalizing our mission expires then, and without some new legal cover, our continuing to occupy that country would be nothing more than--an occupation.
But democracy is the theory that government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. The leaders either do what the people want or they're replaced by ones who will. It's a simple concept.
And if the roadside bombs haven't been enough of a clue, scientific opinion polls -- the most recent one in March -- have also consistently shown the people of Iraq don't want us there.
It seems that 79% of Iraqis have little or no confidence in US troops; 70% think we have done "quite a bad job" or "a very bad job;" only a third think the surge has improved security, and even lower numbers think it has improved the economy or political dialogue; overall, 72% oppose our presence, more than half of those "strongly" opposing it (plus or minus 2.5%).
Elections are scheduled for this fall, and this is what even Arabic-speaking political insiders refer to as "a no-brainer." No one's going to win an election by agreeing to the continued occupation by foreigners, to be ended only when the foreigners decide it's time. And especially not under the terms the Bush administration is seeking, which according to news reports, basically come down to "we can keep as many people here as we want, and they can go wherever they want, whenever they want, doing whatever they want to whoever they want, and you will have nothing to say about it."
So give Maliki credit. He's telling his people, "Vote for me and my allies, and we'll see to it that they leave." They're getting the hang of it. And coming so soon after the Fourth of July, I found it inspiring.
The Bush administration's response to this news can only be described as "shock and awe." The first reaction from the State Department's spokesman was, in effect, "This must be a mistake" (those being reportedly the precise words uttered by King George III the first time he heard about our own Declaration of Independence).
But Maliki's statements were followed the next day by even more forceful ones from his National Security Counselor, and these right after consultations with Iraq's most revered religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. No mistake, it seems.
Since then, the administration seems to have been all but struck speechless, and the decider has decided to proceed as if this wasn't happening. After all, it can't be happening. Who are the Iraqis to decide when they're safe enough for us to leave?
I always read The New York Times, if not to find out what's going on, at least to find out what I'm supposed to think is going on, and so it provided a helpful analysis from Steven Lee Myers.