These days, editorials barely matter. Few people outside the professional political classes bother to read them. It's a form of writing as dead as the dodo, so we should find a specimen that is still in decent enough condition to be stuffed for the benefit of posterity.

By great good luck, the day after Christmas, the New York Times produced an absolutely perfect specimen of the editorial genre. Devoted to the elections in Iraq held on Dec. 15, it should be carted off at once to the Museum of Natural History and put in the "journalism" diorama next to the green eyeshade.

Now, nearly a week before the Times' editorial writer squared up to the topic, informed observers had scrutinized the preliminary results of the Dec. 15 poll in Iraq and noted that they confirmed pre-election presentiments. For example, writing in The UK Independent and on the CounterPunch website five days before Christmas, Patrick Cockburn concluded succinctly, "The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-western secular democracy in a united Iraq. Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities.

He quoted Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, as saying that in "In two-and-a-half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq."

In fact, it didn't even require Patrick's expertise to see that the elections, portrayed by President George W. Bush as a sign of success for U.S. policies in Iraq, in fact meant a tremendous triumph for America's enemies, both inside and outside the country.

I did a great deal of driving during the Christmas season, and more than once heard even-voiced commentators on NPR, one of them a New York Times correspondent, expressing gratification at the elections as a American triumph, launching the nation of Iraq on its first faltering stumbles along the path of liberal democracy.

The level of self-delusion reminded me of similar delusions among the left, after the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in Iran in 1978, when there were confident assertions that the Ayatollah had lived in Paris, had absorbed there from the spirit of the Enlightenment. It took the sight of thousands of leftists hanged en masse in Teheran to make the left realized that the Ayatollah had not spent too many hours in that Paris sojourn reading Condorcet.

So the post-Christmas Times editorialist went down into the valley and at last did manful battle with the obvious, always excepting the fact that the U.S. administration had sustained a terrible defeat. "The final votes must still be counted in Iraq, but the trend is already clear," the editorial crooned. "The biggest winners appear to be the Shiite religious parties whose politicians have run the ministries and whose militias have run the streets of southeastern Iraq for a year or more."

After noting Kurdish strength in its region, the editorial assessed the skimpy sub-20 percent for America's man, Ayad Allawi, and the 1 percent for Ahmad Chalabi and delivered its expert judgment: "the biggest losers were secular parties and those who tried to appeal to all of Iraq's communities, not just one religion or ethnic group."

Then, with a sad wag of the head, the editorial added gloomily, "Anyone who hoped that Iraq's broadest exercise in electoral democracy so far might strengthen women's rights, secular protections or national unity will be disappointed."

Say something twice, so why not three times? "Iraqi politics are settling into an unsettling pattern. Very few people vote as Iraqis; most vote as Shiites, Sunnis or Kurds."

By law, an editorial writer is duty-bound to detect "signs of progress," and the Times' writer did not fail in this duty: " It is progress that Sunni Arabs turned out in large numbers, but . " here a cautionary wag of the editorial finger, "that may not be enough to assure them a meaningful role in reshaping a dangerously divisive constitution and forming a broad-based government."

Already the editorial is lunging toward fantasy. Nobody in Iraq thinks the Constitution is going to be significantly amended. If the Kurds had thought so, they wouldn't have agreed to compromise in the pre-referendum period. A few paragraphs later, the editorial writer calls for such a constitutional rewrite to ensure that oil revenues "flow to the central government." Why would the Shia and the Kurds want to surrender the revenues from their own new super-regions?

But by now the editorial writer is ecstatic in his ghost dance, urging "the victorious parties" to summon "the sense to reach out to a Sunni Arab community that now has one foot in the political process and the other in the insurgency."

The strong vote for the Shiite religious parties, the editorial writer bravely continues, "does not necessarily mean that Iraqis have abruptly turned fundamentalist." Why not? Then, just like those leftists in 1978 thinking Khomeini had read Condorcet, he advises the Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the equally triumphant nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that "The legal rights of women, currently in limbo between civil and religious law, need reinforcement." As Patrick Cockburn pointed out, already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.

The Times writer scatters advice with a measured hand: "The victorious Kurdish parties need to face up to their larger responsibilities" and by the same token "The Sunni parties need to face practical political realities . The last thing they should be talking about is reviving the electoral boycott strategy that cost them so heavily earlier this year."

If the Sunni made such a mistake in boycotting in January, why is the New York Times and U.S. government so keen on conciliating them, drawing them "more deeply into political life." Obviously because they go round blowing people up.

Time for the editorial finale: "It is in everyone's interest to draw the Sunni Arab community more deeply into political life, not to shut it out. Otherwise, Iraq's future will be civil war and this election will have no real winners."

There's another way of putting this. The election was notice of Iraq's funeral, and the triumph of Islam.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at