Iraq: An update

Posted: May 17, 2005 12:00 AM

"I was standing near the center and all of a sudden it turned into a scene of dead bodies and pools of blood." That?s how police Sgt. Khalaf Abbas described to the Associated Press one of the multiple car bombs ripped through Baghdad last week, as insurgents stepped up the level of violence following the appointment of Cabinet members to the interim Iraqi government. Over the last month, insurgents have raised the number of attacks to about 70 per day, according to Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq.
All of which raises the question, has Iraq become more or less secure since the United States got involved?  In many ways the situation is undeniably worse. The scene in Baghdad becoming all too familiar: plumes of smoke settling over the capitol like a dark cloud, fiery car wrecks litter the streets. Ambulances race over the broken glass, their sirens screaming throughout the night.
The deterioration of Iraq serves as an unmistakable reminder of the flawed manner in which we carried out this mission. A global democracy works only when countries trust one another. America?s insistence on burrowing into Iraq without substantial proof that they possessed weapons of mass destruction frayed that trust, and will inevitably sew problems into our foreign relations endeavors for decades. It also served as a touchtone, uniting our enemies. The longer we stay, the more people will come from all over the world to fight us?not to fight for Iraq, but to fight against the United States.
We spoke of how we would bring democracy to the Middle East. But democracy has a dark side. It places an extraordinary faith in the mob. When I ask citizens of Zimbabwe or other E. African countries why they don?t push harder for democratic rule, the response is always the same: they feel physically safer with a dictator in place. In America, where the experiment has worked, we often take for granted that democracy is the best course for the people. We urge other nations to construct a constitution resembling our own. But we do not pause to consider that other nations have tribal divisions that have existed for centuries before our country was even founded. It is terribly na? to think that other countries can simply flip a switch and become a democracy. In Africa the citizens have been through too many bloody ?democratic? revolutions. They know all too well that without a strong infrastructure, a democratic revolution can quickly turn into a holocaust.
This is the lesson that the Iraqi people are now learning. And it is a dangerous one. If we lose the faith of the Iraqi citizens, the area will become a breeding ground for terrorism. The influence Iran exerts will grow. And Anti-western sentiment will become so pervasive as to threaten the stability of several Arab states.
That is not to say that we should have ignored the regime of Saddam Hussein. Going into Iraq forced the Saudi government to stop funneling billions of dollars to Wahabist fanatics. And it is undeniable that our presence in Iraq was the major impetus behind Libya?s decision to abandon its nuclear program. And most importantly, because of US military action in Iraq, 3.3 million people were able to vote in Iraq?s first free vote in over half a century. The image of millions of people risking their lives to vote for the first time is the image of good triumphing over the evil of oppression.  

But insurgents continue to strap bombs to their bodies and detonate themselves in public squares. And the rest of the world is having trouble supporting the United States. You cannot lead in a global democracy, if people do not trust you. It is undeniable that we went about this in a very flawed manner. We need to admit that. We cannot solve the problem of terrorism by asserting our will on the world. We need to engage the rest of the world in bringing peace and democracy to Iraq. Otherwise the deterioration of Iraq will intensify, serving as a sad reminder of the failed promise of this mission.