The interesting question is: If we succeeded in Afghanistan, why haven't we in Iraq? One would have thought Afghanistan, with its obviously less-developed human and industrial infrastructure, to be far less conducive to democracy. It is more tribal, more primitive, and has even less of a history of modern political development.
Yet that may have been an advantage. Iraq has for decades been exposed to the ideas of political modernism -- fascism and socialism as transmuted through Baathism (heavily influenced by the European political winds of the 1920s and '30s) to which Saddam added the higher totalitarianism of his hero, Stalin. This history has succeeded in devaluing and delegitimizing secular ideologies, including liberal-democratic ones. In contrast, Afghanistan had suffered under years of appalling theocratic rule, which helped to legitimize the kind of secularist democracy that Karzai represents.
Furthermore, Afghanistan had the ironic advantage of having just come out of a quarter-century of civil war. As in Europe after World War II, the exhaustion that follows is conducive to pursuing power by peaceful political means. In contrast, Iraq's Baathists, fresh from 30 years of unimpeded looting and killing, are quite prepared to ignite a civil war in pursuit of the power and privileges they have lost.
And finally, Afghanistan's neighbors have kept largely out of the postwar reconstruction. The most powerful and active neighbor, Pakistan, was made an ally in this effort and has supported the democracy project.
Iraq's neighbors are hostile to America and to our democratic project. The Baathist insurgents are heavily supported by Syria, from which some of the sheltered leadership provides funding and operational directives for guerrilla operations in Iraq. Behind Syria stands the Arab League, composed mostly of Sunni monarchs and dictators, carrying water for Iraq's Sunni minority that had ruled for 80 years.
On the other side is Iran, funneling money, fighters and, by some reports, even voters (waves of immigrants) to help elect not only a Shiite government, but a theocratic Shiite government. As Iraq becomes the cockpit for the regional rivalries, internal divisions are greatly exacerbated.
This does not mean we cannot succeed. It does mean that Iraq will be very difficult. It also means that against all expectations, Afghanistan is the first graduate of the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in rather hostile places. We should take a moment to celebrate a remarkable success that had long seemed so improbable.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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