Iraq's most recent elections represent only a conditional victory for the U.S. Joining Israel, Turkey, and Kuwait as the only democratic-esque states in the Middle East, Iraq now acts as a foothold of freedom in a part of the world accustomed to authoritarian rule, where U.S.-style democracy tops few lists of desirable values.
Only time will tell if democracy sticks, but attempting to bring an elected government to Iraq is a great way to reconcile relations with the states of West (who would dare attempt to score political points by decrying democracy?) and a poor way to endear it to the states of the Middle East and the region.
Just south of the budding democracy lies the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, named for its ruling House of Saud. To the west is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, headed by its peace-making philosopher king. To the north is the Syrian Arab Republic, under military control since 1963. To the east is the Islamic Republic of Iran, a model authoritarian theocracy.
What are the leaders of all these states to think, now that the U.S. has effectively rejected in Iraq the region's preferred form of government? Certainly, they might not be comfortable to see that fellow Arabs are doing well using a system of government devised by the infidels that allows people to have freedom and equality. And the idea of an indigenous insurrection in any kingdom, where rabble-rousers rise in favour of democracy instead of against it, is certainly more of a threat now than a week ago.
What are the people in these other states to think? Perhaps that the U.S. or some benevolent outsider protecting the voters and candidates is a necessary part of the democratic process. Perhaps that in a democracy, leaders must rule in anonymous fear for their lives, instead of ruling with force of arms. Perhaps that they, too, could agitate things enough that the democratizers will appear. Perhaps their agitations will bring the wrath of the infidels.
In any case, the elections have resulted in a great uncertainty for the people and governments of the region, and a great certainty that more changes are to come to Iraq affirm or undo the actions of the United States. Unfortunately for them, the U.S. lacks the influence to control all the possible outcomes, rendering it unable to reassure its allies that the peoples' rule will not spread like a plague to the peoples of various kingdoms and authoritarian regimes.
The end of the history of totalitarianism in Iraq represents a new beginning for the people, which now have the United States as one of many alternatives on which to model themselves. Iraqi values, not ours or anyone else's, should determine the future of Iraq.