By MARC MCDONALD
There's no doubt that if Iraqis approve Saturday's constitutional referendum, this will be hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a victory for the Bush White House's Iraq policy. No doubt, the Fox News Channel's talking heads will assure us that Iraq is now finally well on its way to freedom, peace and democracy.
Americans have always been suckers for stories where good triumphs over evil and everyone lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen in Iraq, no matter what the result is during Saturday's election.
No matter how many "feel good" speeches Bush gives, this is one story that's not going to have a happy ending. The ongoing disintegration of the Iraqi state is too far along for the process to be halted by anything the U.S. does at this point.
One would have to be pretty naive to suspect that Saturday's vote will really change anything in the long term. The fact is, ordinary Iraqis are simply preoccupied with surviving another day on the street to give much thought to lofty ideas about "democracy" these days.
Speaking of democracy, I find it ironic that if the Iraqi constitution passes, it'll actually be a setback for people's rights in Iraq, in many ways. Note that the proposed constitution will make Islam the primary source of legislation.
As The Wall Street Journal noted Thursday:
"(The charter) would overturn a tradition of secular family laws that gave women nearly equal rights. Hewing to Sharia, or Islamic law, it would leave women far fewer civil rights if they divorce, get into child-custody disputes or seek an inheritance."
In embracing Bush's simplistic, black-and-white view of the Middle East, many Americans are ignorant of the fact that, in many ways, Saddam's Iraq was actually in the forefront of women's rights among Arab nations. Women were allowed to get a college degree, drive a car and wear Western-style clothes.
By contrast, Bush's good friends and allies, the Saudis, permit no such rights for women, who're regarded as little more than property. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive, much less get a college degree, and in public they must keep themselves covered from head to toe at all times, lest they risk a beating from the state's religious police.
The Bush White House has long been looking desperately for any news from Iraq that it can seize on to hype as "the turning point" in that nation's tumbling fortunes. Every event, from the capture of Saddam to Iraq's first vote, has been hailed as a milestone that means that, at long last, the nation is on its way to peace and democracy.
Of course, the reality has been quite different. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the nation has descended into an incredibly bloody anarchy that has steadily gotten worse and worse, with no sign of a letup. While U.S. pundits ponder whether a civil war is in the offing, numerous observers who are actually on the ground in Iraq report that the nation is already in a state of civil war.
The fact is, the insurgency is growing, and it has only been nurtured by the occupying U.S. forces. With their short MTV-attention spans, many Americans have already forgotten about the horrors dished out by the U.S. occupying forces over the past two years, from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses to the bloody assault on Fallujah. And memories of these events will continue to feed the insurgency, as well as its base of support, no matter what happens during Saturday's vote.