Though it lasted only one day, it was important to see former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on trial. While some groups complained about the trial, those doing the judging or the possibility of capital punishment, it should have been recognized as one more milestone in a long road to transforming the Middle East. It will show the rest of the world what happens to brutal dictators. 2005 may yet prove to be one of the more remarkable years in the history of that region, and the world.
The past year has brought us democratic revolutions in parts of the world where it seemed most improbable. There’s still a long way to go, but the benchmarks are everywhere. Democratic revolutions have occurred in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. Elections have been held in Egypt, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pressure is mounting on countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran to begin their own democratic transformations. And these are not happening in a vacuum. They are happening because the U.S. and its allies are staying the course in Iraq.
The problem is that much of this gets lost in a fog of news in the U.S. that is more about discrediting the Bush administration, its motives for going to war, and its handling of various domestic issues. Certainly criticism and healthy debate are necessary, and many conservatives have been critical of the administration too. But looking through the fog, there is a lot of good news.
Several recent stories reflect those reasons for optimism. The Washington Times pointed out the increase in the vote that took place in Iraq between January’s parliamentary elections and October’s referendum on the draft constitution. Voter turnout increased from 58% in January to between 60 and 63 percent in October. Part of that is that many of the Sunnis who chose not vote in January were now convinced that it was in their interest. The Times quoted one citizen who voted against the constitution, and said, “Just to vote against was an amazing thing, and very important.” They also pointed out that this time around, the security for the election was handled largely by Iraqis trained and equipped and moving toward the new Iraq.
David Gelernter, the Yale professor who often writes for the Weekly Standard, wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times about Condoleezza Rice’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He points out that Rice got it right when she explained that while we went to war because of the potential threat of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism, the plan now is “for a freed Iraq to inspire and stabilize the entire Middle East and to promote democracy everywhere.” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had charged this amounted to a “bait-and-switch” by the administration.
Rice explained that that is how the world works. She gave the example of World War II, and that we didn’t go to war to build a democratic Germany. Boxer didn’t buy the analogy, and was apparently offended. Gelernter expanded on Rice’s analogy: “Democracies rarely declare war to improve the world?They fight to protect themselves, sometimes to fulfill treaty obligations. But once a war is underway, free peoples tend to think things over deeply. Casualties concentrate the mind. We refuse to let our soldiers die for too little. America at war has lifted its sights again and again from danger, self-interest and self-defense to a larger, nobler goal. Same story, war after war, Iraq fits perfectly.”
Another optimistic realist on the war is Cliff May, a former reporter for the New York Times, and now president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “This is not the kind of war the Pentagon ever wanted to fight,” May pointed out in a recent column, “?a war in which Stealth Bombers and nuclear submarines play no role. Nevertheless, against a determined and ruthless enemy, Americans have lost not a single battle. More and more Iraqi troops are being trained and deployed. U.S. Special Forces and Marines have been doing what Americans do better than anyone else in the world: identify problems and devise creative solutions. Day by day, a military machine designed for the 20th Century is learning how to win post-modern conflicts.”
In spite of the continuous negativity coming out of the media on the war and the constant questions about the administration’s ability to execute, sustain and win it, there is reason for optimism and gratitude. The sacrifices of our soldiers are for a noble cause that is transforming the Middle East.
Our side is winning. Of course, the media don’t like to think of themselves as being on “our side.” And that is part of the problem our troops face day after day.