AUSTIN, Texas -- Here's hoping.

The trouble with being a congenital optimist is that gloom-mongering feels so uncomfortable. The election in Iraq Sunday, like the one in Afghanistan last year, was moving, inspiring and hopeful. When there's a ray of light breaking through in a dark sky, I'd much rather concentrate on the ray than the black clouds.

But mitigating my optimism is the fact that I've been around for a long time. Not that longevity is any guarantee of wisdom, but it does provide perspective. I can remember when they had elections in Vietnam that looked hopeful in 1967. I can remember the elections in El Salvador in 1984. And I remember last year's election in Afghanistan, with the almost unbearably moving sight of Afghani women coming out to vote. Still, it didn't kill off a single raping warlord, did it?

In Iraq alone, we've been through "mission accomplished," then the violence would end once we captured Saddam Hussein, then the all-important handover of sovereignty that would make all the difference and next the destruction of Fallujah that was going to break the insurgency. (Well, it did destroy Fallujah.) Someday, we will actually capture al-Zarqawi, and I bet we find that doesn't make much difference, either.

I really don't like accentuating the negative, but I also don't like spin, especially after what we've been through with this administration and the truth about Iraq. It isn't helpful to write off 175 terrorist attacks on the day of the election as "relative calm." It isn't helpful to claim there was a 72 percent turnout rate and then have it fall overnight to 57 percent. It isn't helpful to set low expectations, then boast about doing "better than expected." And we also still don't know what we've got here.

We're potentially looking at an anti-American Shiite government that signs right up with the mullahs in Iran. What do we do then, re-invade?

I'm having a hard time believing this next one is true. Judith Miller of The New York Times, who was responsible for much of that paper's lousy reporting before the war, said on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that the American government is angling to get Ahmad Chalabi a top government post in the Iraqi cabinet. If true, someone not only needs his head examined, but should also be indicted for malfeasance. Chalabi is, of course, the noted crook and Iranian spy who fed this administration so much bad information before the war he should be considered a pariah for that alone.

That said, it was still pretty thrilling, wasn't it? God bless them. I hope they're going to make it after all. Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan -- which we dropped like a hot rock to go after a nation that not only had not done us any harm, but didn't even present the threat of harm -- all is not tickety-boo. Opium is once again the country's most important product, and the Taliban is still around. Al Qaeda, the people who did attack us, are also still around. Warlordism still rules in most of the country. And perhaps saddest of all, so little attention is paid.

We came in like gangbusters and promised the earth -- we were going to nation-build, put in infrastructure, all that good stuff -- and it got siphoned away to Iraq, including $700 million that had been appropriated for Afghanistan, according to Bob Woodward.

The good news (can't help myself) is that we did Afghanistan right, if you will recall -- went in with pretty much global backing and the support of all our allies. And they're still there helping out, 8,300 NATO troops, including the French, the Germans and the rest of "old Europe." Some of the country is secure enough for the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to function there. The commitments are starting to dwindle down now, but it's still more help than we had in Iraq.

Unlike Iraq, we've actually got some construction projects going (there was nothing to reconstruct in Afghanistan) and should be able to celebrate a highway opening before long.

I don't know whether these fairly dismal twin tales should be considered the alpha and omega of Bush's policy of exporting the shining light of liberty via military invasion, but at least we can learn from our mistakes -- and if there ever is a next time, we could try doing it right.

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