Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2004 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Paul Greenberg

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The bright side: Two elections to cheer | Not all victories occur on the battlefield. The most meaningful and enduring can come at the ballot box. For in the end, it will be elections that determine whether democracy can take root abroad - and so make us safer at home.

Slowly and painfully, we in the West have come to realize that our best defense lies in giving others a chance to assure their own freedom and dignity. If they will only seize it.

The people of Afghanistan seized it. These were the first free elections in that country's turbulent history. They said it couldn't be done - that there were too many factions still nursing their wounds and grudges from decades of war for elections to be held. Between the remnants of the Taliban terrorizing any would-be voters and the armed factions dominating different parts of the country, we were told that the dream of a democratic Afghanistan would remain just that - a dream.

After all, that ancient realm had been defeating the dreams of conquerors since Alexander. But this all-too-conventional wisdom had overlooked an important difference: America and her allies had come not as conquerors but as liberators.

As Afghans went to the polls last week - on foot, by mule, in turbans and burkas, in remote valleys and crowded cities and all across that rugged land - a great truth became clear: A freedom tide is still rising in this world despite all the skeptics' talk and free men's own deep fears. The people of Afghanistan were voting. Despite everything. By the millions. And they would not be intimidated. They knew this was their chance - and they took it.

The experts who saw only a quagmire waiting in Afghanistan had failed to consult the Afghans. On this Saturday in October, voters by the million came out for an election that not even globe-trotting Jimmy Carter had dared supervise.

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Yes, there were snafus and complaints - and threats not to recognize the legitimacy of the results. (Gosh, just like Florida.) But the people voted. And their victory was ours.

There was another election the same day. In a well established democracy. A rambunctious, outspoken democracy - Australia's. Its prime minister, John Howard, has stood with America from the first of this war, and it's cost him. He was assailed by the opposition Labor Party as an American puppet. And some thought his support for Washington would bring him down.

Labor's leader, Mark Latham, argued that Australians have become "less safe in the war against terror because of the conflict in Iraq. Why? Because it diverted so many resources from the real task, and for Australia the real task is in our part of the world, Asia." (Sound familiar?)

John Howard would have none of it. Rather than "cut and run," he argued, the Aussies would "stay and finish the job - that's the Australian way." Pulling out would only "send a message that one of the original coalition has weakened and buckled." Canberra was not about to pull a Madrid.

When terrorists attacked a nightclub in Bali and killed 88 Australian tourists, the prime minister said his country would feel free to strike back at terrorist operations abroad - with or without approval from the United Nations. "International law," he said, "has to catch up with that new reality." He was not going to sacrifice his country's right to self-defense, even pre-emptive defense. (Sound familiar?)

When the election results came in, John Howard's government not only had won but had increased its number of seats in parliament. The Australians, whatever their feelings about the war, weren't about to abandon the coalition of the willing - not now, when their support is most needed. Our ally had held fast.

It's something to cheer. Or better yet, to toast with a good Australian shiraz. Allow me to recommend the Black Opal label; it has a bit of a bite to it, enough to let you know you're alive and free. These days it beats any French champagne. Compared to Australian shiraz, even the best French vintage belongs where Captain Renault tossed that bottle of Vichy water at the end of "Casablanca" before walking off arm in arm with his American friend Rick. The beautiful friendship between America and Australia continues. There are no friends like old friends, especially in a pinch.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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