Michael Barone has a piece on the connection between democracy and freedom in regards to Iraq. Barone argues that Iraq is no more or less hostile to democracy than was Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.
I’m not so sure I entirely buy that analysis. Democratization is not an easy process, and most certainly does not guarantee success. Democracies cannot be formed from the outside – the people have to be willing to use them. Without the bedrock of civil society, democracy can never truly take hold.
Iraq has no concept of civil society, at least not as of yet. The Iraqi people are deeply divided, and brining the three sections of Iraqi society, the Kurds, the Shi’ia, and the Sunnis together may be one of the most daunting tasks this nation has faced.
At the same time, Barone is right. We have to be willing to take Iraq on the long and slow road towards democratization. Even if it offends "allies" such as Saudi Arabia. A culturally vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East would serve as a catalyst that would reshape the region.
One of the frequent criticisms of the war is that it will engender more terrorism against America. However, if we play our cards right, that won’t be true. Terrorism breeds in states that repress their people and stifle free speech, places with closed markets and closed minds. By reshaping Iraq, we show the Arab world that there is a better way. Many Arabs see the success of Israel and attribute it to some malice on the part of Jews. It will be much harder to deny the success of another Arab state. Iraq has the chance to prove that the Arab world can be something better – and there is no more powerful force in human history than the yearning for freedom. We see the public face of the Arab world as being one of religious fanaticism and anti-American hatred. Yet behind this image are people with the same basic desires and wants as anyone else. This was the lesson of Afghanistan, where Americans were largely welcomed as liberators rather than spit at as oppressors. Iraq is very likely to be much the same.
Iraqi democracy will be a long and difficult road. However, this stage in the war is critical. We fought a battle against fundamentalism in Afghanistan and won readily. Now we have to continue the battle. The lessons of history are clear – if we do not actively work to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism by removing the regimes that support it, then we will only see more terrorism. The dangers of inaction against Iraq far outweigh the dangers of action.