Catalog and comment: After Afghanistan and Iraq, the deluge

Posted: Apr 14, 2005 12:00 AM

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. - Franklin Roosevelt

Doing things they say you can't is one of this life's most delicious aspects.

"They"- the imperious "they" who would rule operative opinion everywhere - disparage the very notion of nincompoop George Bush and America leading a successful crusade on behalf of liberty and democracy across the globe. Yet it's happening.

The too-often grim outcomes of terrorism in Iraq sometimes cloud the bigger picture of liberty on the march. Here's a post-9/11 catalogue, many of the entries quite recent:

- Success in Afghanistan, and the first elections there in 5,000 years.

- In Iraq, (1) astoundingly high turnout in the January elections; (2) in Baghdad's Fardus Square, where Iraqis and U.S. Marines toppled a statue of Saddam, a monument to liberty erected atop the same pedestal; (3) thousands turning out Wednesday to chant "no to terrorism" at the site of a suicide bombing that killed 125 the day before; and - as in Afghanistan - (4) the symbolic liberation of women through their voting for the first time ever.

- Prior to Bush's re-election, Libya renouncing terrorism and giving up its nukes.

- Among the Palestinians, seemingly positive movement (including election of a successor to the essentially self-appointed Arafat), but with the jury still definitely out.

- Elections in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan (and Kazakhstan soon to come?); local elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (men only of course, but the first elections anywhere in Saudi Arabia in four decades); and the promise of elections in - for heaven's sake - Egypt, by the incumbent 76-year-old autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

And . . .

- Lately in Lebanon, partly following the Ukrainian model, thousands in the streets leading to the collapse of the Syrian-based regime there. Said the retreating prime minister, incredibly: "I am keen that the government not stand as an obstacle for those who want good for this country." The demonstrations were triggered by the Syrian-engineered killing of former prime minister (and relentless regime antagonist) Rafik Hariri - his death easily seen in the aftermath as an act of prodigious Syrian miscalculation. Now even France has joined with the U.S. in demanding the withdrawal of Syrian expeditionary forces from Lebanon, where they have languished for 30 years. Next out, possibly: the Iranian-backed anti-Israeli guerrillas known as Hezbollah.

They said none of this could happen, and they are giving no credit to either the United States or President Bush. But consider these wide-ranging comments by participants or close observers:

- Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon's Druze Muslim community (and historically not enamored of the U.S.) - in late February, prior to Hariri's murder and the ensuing turmoil: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. . . . The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

- Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the anti-government demonstrations in Kiev last fall, and now prime minister of Ukraine - in a March, 2001, letter to the Financial Times of London: "(The Russian-backed puppet president of Ukraine) really does not realize the significance of democracy and a free economy, and perhaps he really does not comprehend how it is possible, following those values, quickly to substitute working democracy for the totalitarian rules of political and economic life in our country. . . . In protecting himself and his clan, in which both communists and oligarchs have united, he has conclusively demonstrated that he wants neither democracy nor reform in Ukraine."

- Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, manager of the Al-Arabiya news channel, last summer: "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."

- Brandeis history professor David Hackett Fischer, author of "Liberty and Freedom," writing in the Feb. 7 'New York Times': "The people of Eastern Europe have invented their own visions from traditions like Poland's collective memory of its 'golden freedom' during the 17th century. The same thing is happening in Ukraine and the Balkans, Latin America and Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Most of all it is happening in Islam today. We find it in the Baghdad monument that links liberty and freedom to the faith of Islam and the history of Mesopotamia. We see it in the ink-stained fingers of millions of Iraqis, held upright in a new symbol of courage against tyranny, pride in an ancient past, and hope for the future of a free world."

- Former Gulag prisoner (and current Israeli politician) Natan Sharansky, in his book "The Case for Democracy": "The diversity of the world ensures that there will always be argument and conflict. But I do believe that there can be an end to lasting tyranny - that we can live in a world where no regime that attempts to crush dissent will be tolerated." And: "Western leaders must not think the Arabs any less deserving of the freedom and rights that their own citizens enjoy - both for their sake and for ours."


President Bush widely urges the reading of Sharansky's book - saying it confirms "what I believe" and citing Sharansky's thinking as embedded "in my presidential DNA." Yet despite the mounting evidence, "they" dismiss Bush as a dunce, diminish his role in the seeming spread of democracy, and - recalling the communist-front days of old - are among other things mounting a campaign to "bring the boys home" from Iraq. (And speaking of recalling former days, a group styling itself Iraq Veterans Against the War evidently has taken a leaf from the group that first elevated John Kerry to the ramparts with the likes of Jane Fonda - Vietnam Veterans Against the War.)

As the pope and Ronald Reagan did for the Berlin Wall and Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement did in Poland, so President Bush and the United States are doing for people from Afghanistan and Ukraine to Iraq and Lebanon: liberating them from fear - the fear of speaking out, the fear of demonstrating, the fear of challenging oppressive regimes. Providing cover in the human quest for freedom that is man's ultimate cause.

Following 9/11, they said it couldn't be done. Then came Afghanistan and Iraq - and (now) the deluge. America in the van, America in the background, America the committed participant: Credit or no, America remains key to helping the fearful overcome.