Lawrence Kaplan, a senior editor for the New Republic (no friend of Bush) writes:
We know what John Kerry thinks of Iraq. But what does Iraq think of him?
[T]he overwhelming majority of Iraqis don't care who wins our election. Their concerns run closer to home--especially how to stay alive. There's an exception, however: the thousands of academics, lawyers, rights advocates and other educated elites leading the effort to create a new Iraq--nearly all of whom have hitched their fortunes to our own and nearly all of whom hope that President Bush wins. (emphasis mine)
Liberal Iraqis repeat the same question: Will the U.S. leave? These, after all, are the Iraqis building institutions, occupying key positions in ministries, and cooperating openly with the U.S. And they're the Iraqis with the most to lose in the event John Kerry makes good on his pledge to "bring the troops home where they belong."
This prospect, once unimaginable, has become very real in Iraq. The fear of abandonment has transformed meetings between Iraqi and U.S. officials, until recently arenas for grievance, into forums for the expression of solidarity. Leading Iraqis stayed up late into the night to watch the presidential debates. "Sophisticated Iraqis are listening closely," Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie says in a telephone interview. "Any discussion of withdrawal worries them." Echoing this, Manhel al-Safi, who recently left his post as an aide in the prime minister's office for a job in the Foreign Ministry, says, "There's a level of fear--people in the government are afraid the Americans will leave Iraq." He adds a personal plea to Sen. Kerry: "Mr. Senator, destruction is easy; building takes a long time."
As far as Iraqi elites are concerned, President Bush brought democracy to a land that knew only dictatorship. From Sen. Kerry, however, they hear no commitment to build a liberal state or, for that matter, any state. What they hear instead is a presidential aspirant who complains about "opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America," even as his campaign aides dismiss Iraq's prime minister as an American "puppet."
Not surprisingly, surveys by the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies find that, whereas Mr. Bush garners the most support in the Kurdish north and from Iraq's well-educated urban elites, Mr. Kerry draws his strongest support from what the Center's Sadoun al-Dulame calls Iraq's "hottest places"--hotbeds of resistance to the U.S. A poll taken earlier this month in Baghdad, for example, finds that while President Bush would win a higher tally in New Baghdad's Christian precincts, Sen. Kerry carries Sadr City hands down.
Leaving aside that speechifying about a U.S. withdrawal culminates in what Mr. Rubaie describes as "a huge moral boost to the terrorists": How does Sen. Kerry intend to work alongside the pro-U.S. Iraqis he denigrates at every turn? This is a practical as well as a moral question. By advancing the fiction that there's no such thing as bringing the troops home too soon and nothing to justify an adequate level of expenditure in Iraq, he's already signaled his willingness to forfeit America's obligation to rebuild the country it turned inside out. And he offers this as heightened moral awareness.
But if John Kerry, who famously demanded that the U.S. "stop this blind commitment to a dictatorial regime" in Vietnam, imagines history repeating itself in Iraq, he really ought to visit the place. Having passed through eight time zones and one looking glass, what he will find is not the reactionary playground of his fantasies, but a country where thousands of idealistic young men and women go to work each day in the hope of creating a democratic society. One of them, Mustafa Al-Khadimiy, who risks his life cataloging the depredations Saddam Hussein inflicted, has this to say: "The terrorists want to destroy everything and we're dying every day. If we're going to have democracy, the Americans cannot leave." Alas, he won't be voting on Tuesday.