by Arianna Huffington

Quick, before the conventional wisdom hardens, it needs to be said: The Iraqi elections were not the second coming of the Constitutional Convention. The media have made it sound like last Sunday was a combination of 1776, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Prague Spring, the Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Filipino "People Power," Tiananmen Square and Super Bowl Sunday -- all rolled into one.

It's impossible not to be moved by the stories coming out of Iraq: voters braving bombings and mortar blasts to cast ballots; multiethnic crowds singing and dancing outside polling places; election workers, undeterred by power outages, counting ballots by the glow of oil lamps; teary-eyed women in traditional Islamic garb proudly holding up their purple ink-stained fingers -- literally giving the finger to butcher knife-wielding murderers.

It was a great moment. A Kodak moment. And unlike the other Kodak moments from this war -- think Saddam's tumbling statue and Jessica Lynch's "rescue" -- this one was not created by the image masters at Karl Rove Productions.

But this Kodak moment, however moving, should not erase all that came before, leaving us unprepared for all that may come after it.

I'm sorry to kill the White House's buzz -- and the press corps' contact high -- but the triumphalist fog rolling across the land has all the makings of another "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Forgive me for trotting out Santayana's shopworn dictum that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it but, for God's sake, people, can't we even remember last week?

So amid all the talk of turning points, historic days and defining moments, let us steadfastly refuse to drink from the River Lethe that brought forgetfulness and oblivion to my ancient ancestors.

Let's not forget that for all the president's soaring rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, free elections were the administration's fallback position, more Plan D than guiding principle. We were initially going to install Ahmed Chalabi as our man in Baghdad, remember? Then that shifted to the abruptly foreshortened reign of "Bremer of Arabia." The White House only consented to holding open elections after Grand Ayatollah Sistani sent his followers into the streets to demand them -- and even then Bush refused to allow the elections until after our presidential campaign was done.

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget that despite the hoopla, this was a legitimate democratic election in name only. Actually, not even in name, since most of the candidates on the ballot had less name recognition than your average candidate for dogcatcher. That's because they were too afraid to hold rallies or give speeches. In fact, many were so anxious about being killed that they fought to keep their names from being made public.

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget that many Iraqi voters turned out to send a defiant message not just to the insurgents but to President Bush as well. Many of those purple fingers were raised in our direction. According to a poll taken by our own government, a jaw-dropping 92 percent of Iraqis view the U.S.-led forces in Iraq as "occupiers" while only 2 percent see them as "liberators."

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget that the war in Iraq has made America less safe than it was before the invasion. According to an exhaustive report released last month by the CIA's National Intelligence Council, Iraq has become a breeding ground for the next generation of "professionalized" Islamic terrorists. Foreign terrorists are now honing their deadly skills against U.S. troops -- skills they will eventually take with them to other countries, including ours. Iraq has also drained tens of billions of dollars in resources that might otherwise have gone to really fighting terror.

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget the lack of progress we've made in the reconstruction of Iraq. The people there still lack such basics as gas and kerosene. Indeed, Iraqis often wait in miles-long lines just to buy gas. The country is producing less electricity than before the war -- roughly half of current demand. There are food shortages; the cost of staple items like rice and bread is soaring. According to UNICEF, nearly 1 in 10 Iraqi children is suffering the effects of chronic diarrhea caused by unsafe water -- a situation responsible for 70 percent of children's deaths in Iraq.

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget the blistering new report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, which finds that the U.S. occupation government that ruled Iraq before last June's transfer of sovereignty has been unable to account for nearly $9 billion, overseeing a reconstruction process "open to fraud, kickbacks and misappropriation of funds."

And the election doesn't change that.

Let's not forget that we still don't have an exit strategy for Iraq. The closest the president has come is saying that we'll be able to bring our troops home when, as he put it, "this rising democracy can eventually take responsibility for its own security" -- "eventually" being the operative word. Although the administration claims more than 120,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained, other estimates put the number closer to 14,000, with less than 5,000 of them ready for battle. Last summer, the White House predicted Iraqi forces would be fully trained by spring 2005; their latest estimate is summer 2006.

And the election doesn't change that.

And let's never forget this administration's real goal in Iraq, as laid out by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their fellow neocon members of the Project for the New American Century back in 1998. Long before Bush landed on freedom and democracy as the 2005 buzzwords, they already had their eyes on the Iraqi prize: the second-largest oil reserves in the world, and a permanent home for U.S. bases in the Middle East.

This is still the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the election, as heartwarming as it was, doesn't change any of that.

Publication date: 2/10/05

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