Jewish World Review Feb. 2, 2005 / 23 Shevat, 5765

Robert Robb

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If Bush's war turns out to have worked, was it worth the cost? | Does the Iraq election vindicate President Bush's Iraq policy and the Bush doctrine of the United States being an active agent for the spread of freedom and democracy around the world?

The fair-minded answer, even by critics of the policy and the doctrine such as myself, is: partially.

Certainly, the vote was impressive, and moving.

The United States was founded on the natural law belief that freedom and democracy are the inherent right of all people. But whether they were the universal aspiration of all people, as Bush has asserted, was a more open question.

Some doubted whether Islam, as practiced in the Middle East, was compatible with secularized self-government, as opposed to submission to clerical authority in all matters.

The Iraqi vote was a convincing expression of the desire for representative government. The voter narratives — the defiance of threats, the sense of liberation and hope, the feeling of propitiation for past repression — were a testimony to the transforming power of democracy.

There is, obviously, a long way from this vote and a democratically governed, secure, stable and united Iraq. But there is reason for optimism that the country has started down that path.

The most powerful influence in Iraq, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has opposed direct clerical rule and supported a civil government at least in some measure independent of clerical control.

There appears to be a commitment among the majority Shiite leadership to create a government which minority Sunnis and Kurds find acceptable. The most promising development was the extent to which Iraqis provided for their own security in the election. The polls were protected by more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, with the United States providing largely unused standby backup. As the elections approached, local militias started stepping forward to volunteer to help with Election Day security.

The terrorists have been targeting Iraqis more than Americans. It appears that a critical tipping point may have been reached, in which Iraqis view the battle as less between the insurgents and the United States and more between the insurgents and their own future.

While, again, there is a long way between this election and a broader democratic movement in the Middle East, this vote and that of the Palestinians did reverberate. The prospects for democratic reform elsewhere will undoubtedly improve.

If Iraq becomes a stable, secure democracy, the international view of the Iraq war will undoubtedly change. The defiance of international opposition to invasion and the failure to find the precipitating weapons of mass destruction will give way to the success of the enterprise.

There are many difficult passages yet to negotiate. But if Bush's policy turns out to have worked, does that make it right?

Success — now and in the future — shouldn't be the end of the argument as to whether the Iraq war was a prudent exercise of American force. The liberation of the Iraq people, particularly if followed by secure and stable democratic governance, is a wonderful event. But the purpose of the United States government is to protect the freedom of and provide security to the American people.

The Iraq war, at least in the short-run, unquestionably makes the United States more of a terrorist target, not less of one. Islamic terrorists are inflamed both by U.S. intervention in their lands and by the prospect of secular democratic governance. So, the cause of their grievance has been doubled.

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A democratic Middle East would be less likely to spawn terrorism. Bush's invasion of Iraq may hasten its spread. But there was at least some indication that democratic change in the Middle East was already occurring organically.

The cost of the region's freedom deficit was beginning to be more widely acknowledged and discussed. Islam and the ruling elites have to accommodate modernity or fall further behind.

There was also the alternative strategy of attempting to insulate the United States further from Middle Eastern geopolitics, making the United States less of a presence and thus less of a target.

The security of the United States may have been better protected at far less cost than through the Iraq war. But if Bush hadn't invaded, the Iraqi people would still be being repressed, murdered and tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime this week, rather than participating in free elections to choose a government.

That's a difference even critics should acknowledge and celebrate.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


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01/05/05: Why is this any of the government's business?
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12/10/04: The challenge four more years of the Bush administration presents to conservatism's fundamental beliefs
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11/22/04: Tax reform limited by, uh ... tax reform
11/14/04: Empowerment agenda reality check
10/13/04: And what tax rate should Americans making over $200,000 a year pay? Some pre-debate advice for the President
09/24/04: Too many of the wrong people have too much ability to influence public opinion too quickly?
09/20/04: Kerry asks good question about security costs
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08/30/04: Bush's key task: His reinvention as a true uniter
08/20/04: Bush's burdening the Middle Class
08/13/04: For prez to win, he must change his campaigning style
08/03/04: Missing in Beantown was a sense of the art of the possible
07/26/04: Kerry inflated agenda reveals he's failed to truly make the transition from legislator to presidential candidate
07/12/04: Edwards punctuates Kerry fantasies
07/06/04: Kerry ups the ante in bid for Latino vote
06/30/04: High Court gave administration limits
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06/21/04: Al-Qaida-Iraq interaction strengthens case for war
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05/10/04: Border reforms fail on black-market issue
05/07/04: It wasn't Bush's recession nor Bush's recovery
04/28/04: Arizona to become test market on immigration as a political issue
04/23/04: Accusations that the Bush administration has been shredding civil liberties are hyperbolic
04/16/04: Learning the limits
04/14/04: Aug. 6 memo is not even a water pistol, much less a smoking gun
04/11/04: Once 9/11 Commission's political theater ends, we must debate real security issues
04/09/04: Fact checking Kerry's federal budget plans
04/08/04: Should the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq be delayed beyond the current deadline?
04/02/04: Kerry's tax epiphany makes some cents
03/31/04: What could have prevented 9/11
03/26/04: Knock off the high-stakes blame game
03/23/04: McCain a ‘straight talker’? Who is he kidding?
03/17/04: Bin Laden makes distinctions?
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02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate

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